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Black Light: The Deplorable Savior

2306: The Year It Began

Chapter 01 – Scott Vale

 

“Scott, get up.” I woke up just in time to see a pair of icy blue eyes staring through me. “It’s time to get started.”

I whipped out my knife and thrust it where his throat would have been, but he was suddenly gone. I figured it must have been my imagination.

“Tex, was someone here?” I nudged him, but he didn’t wake up. I didn’t try further. He hadn’t slept well in a long time. It was hard adjusting to being out on the cold concrete.

I put away my knife, but noticed something in my other hand. It was a colorful pamphlet that read:

 

Is your son or daughter the pinnacle of their generation? If so, come to the Temple before the end of the month to apply to join our new something, something, something…

 

I didn’t really give a fuck about what it said, until I noticed that they were giving out free room and board to those who made it through.

“Hmm, maybe we should apply,” I said, not remembering that Tex was still asleep. I decided to tell him about it when he woke up. It looked like it might be a good opportunity for a couple of homeless kids from the Gray District.

Chapter 02 – Ross Keller

 

Always remember good hygiene.” That’s what the billboards spouted again. The streets were always crowded with that not-so-subliminal messaging. I didn’t enjoy listening to it, but it was playing every time I walked home from work.

I quickly removed my nametag and carefully placed it in my front pocket, while listening to the billboards shout tips at me for building a brighter tomorrow.

All of the messages were sponsored by the Men of the Temple, who felt that it was their duty to babysit the entire city. Their video screens and audible memos made Jamestown’s Sunset District, where every building was wrapped in ever-changing neon lights, even more of a clusterfuck for the senses.

Impoverished Homo Sapiens held up signs by the road saying how they needed money for food, had broken their legs or had gone blind. Some even said they needed heart or brain surgery, but when the container you tossed your money into was half of an old carton of box wine, you got a pretty good idea of where your money was really going.

I had no idea who kept letting those guys into the Ring. I’d seen Sapiens in the Cages who lived better than these guys did, begging for change and scraps.

However, there was one that made me stop, even after walking past dozens of beggars; an old Sapien, who was relatively clean, with a wide brimmed hat pulled down over his face. He wore a thick coat and his right hand was tucked inside. Instead of a cardboard sign, he had a box of chocolate bars sitting on a blanket. Occasionally, kids would pull their mothers over and put a dollar in his jar so they could have one, or the mothers would pull them away out of the fear that being close to this old man could give them lice, the flu or anthrax.

I pulled out a dollar and passed it from my left to my right hand before dropping it in his jar.

“Hey, boy!” I heard him say. His voice was scratchy, but resonant.

“I was just trying to help.” I said back to him.

“What does this say?” He tipped down his hat so I could see the top. He had written in block letters around the brim, ‘Candy Bars $1’.

“I don’t want any candy.”

“Then what did you pay me for?”

A crowd was starting to gather now. “Fuck, fuck, fuck,” I muttered under my breath. Being the center of attention always made me nervous and twitchy. Fortunately, the people went back to what they had been doing when I held out my hands and reassuringly told them, “It’s ok. I’m a liberal.”

I walked up to the old man, coming down on one knee right in front of him. “I’m sorry. Take the money. I’m just trying to spread the wealth around.”

“And what does that mean, exactly?”

“I’m an archivist for the government. I’ve been out in the Cages several times. I know where you probably came from and how hard it can be for you people.” I had also heard horror stories about men who worshiped dog-beasts living in the Cages, but I didn’t mention them.

“What do you mean by ‘you people’?”

“You know what I mean. Sapiens.”

“Ah, you mean to say danks.”

“No, I would never use that word,” I assured him. “Can’t you just take the money?”

“Oh, now I get it. You think I’m a prostitute.”

I could just imagine the crowds that that would draw. “What? No, not at all!”

“Yes, you do. You see, prostitutes give you sexual satisfaction, but with no commitment. You can use her, and walk away feeling nice and good about yourself. When you help out an old man like me, especially because I’m a poor little Homo Sapien and you’re a big bad Homo Omniscient, you feel better about yourself and get mental satisfaction. Then, after you’re done you walk away thinking, ‘I’m just a great fucking human being.’ Therefore I am your mental prostitute. You paid me to mentally pleasure you.”

“What is wrong with you?! Why can’t you just take the dollar?!” I screamed at him.

“For two reasons. The first being that prostitutes cost a lot more than that, so next time put some real money in the jar. Secondly, don’t try to help me, help yourself. Listen to what the world is telling you.”

He pulled a dollar out of his coat and put it in my hand before yanking the brim of his hat back down over his face. I got up and walked away, unable to even attempt to respond to what he had just said to me. Only at the end of the block did it occur to me that he had pulled the dollar bill out of his coat, when his jar was close to empty.

I pushed that out of my mind. He said to listen, so that was what I was going to do, though I wasn’t sure of exactly what I was supposed to be hearing. I had heard everything before. It was all just white noise now.

However, some small realization started to hit me as I mouthed along the words spoken by the Temple’s video billboards, and so I listened once more, intently this time, to the messages I had heard a thousand times before.

A good society is built on good people, and society must have the best people to be at its best. Always remember good hygiene, because good racial hygiene makes for a cleaner, happier society.”

Chapter 03 – Sirius V

 

“Join together hand in hand! Together, and we shall make a world that is beautiful and pure. We shall make a world where everyone has a place and no one is outcast. Through cultivated evolution we shall achieve this. We shall make a better world.”

The Temple Men kept talking forever. They could spray their words in all directions here, but even those who stopped to listen would not truly accept them. Those fairies were old and weak. Wolves only followed the strong.

The Cages were always busy. Men hung chickens and ducks by their necks. Others sold trinkets. Many women washed clothes and children played. We had built our own society here, away from the “Homo Omniscients”. I hated saying those pretentious words. They dared to classify themselves “all knowing humans”? They were just weak little fairies to me.

As I started to get angry, I took a moment to put my thoughts back in order. The Wolf’s Heartbeat continued to play from the loudspeakers overhead. Whenever I needed to center myself I simply stopped to listen, and felt Canis once again fill my body.

I saw a man standing down the block. He, whispered to men as they walked by, but they all hurried away from him. A woman stood nearby, wiping tears from her eyes.

I took out a cloth and wrapped it around my head, as many did to battle the dust that hung over this part of Jamestown. I walked past him and as I grew close he pulled at me. His wedding band dug into my arm.

“My wife is a fine woman. Send a little something my way and she is yours for the night.” At hearing those words I almost tore out his tongue. The idea that he could wear that band with dignity sickened me.

I took the rat by his scrawny throat and lifted him off the ground. With my other hand I tore the cloth from my head, exposing myself. The tattoos across my face made him shrink and cower in my hand.

“Sirius! I will obey! I swear! Please, do not harm me!”

I let go of him. He dropped down to his knees and groveled before me, but I would not let a disrespectful worm go unpunished.

“Give me your hand.”

“Sirius, I shall never again forsake Canis. I will follow till the day I die.”

“Yes, you will, because this loss will forever remind you to stay the path. Now, surrender your hand or I will take your head.”

The worm was silent. He lifted his hand and trembled like a bitch. I took a moment to inspect his wedding ring. It was perfectly carved. The woman must have put much care into it. It was a shame it had to go to someone like him.

My eyes met those of his wife. She was beautiful. Her face relaxed as she looked at me, and no more tears were shed. She then looked at her former husband with a touch of sadness, but mostly with satisfaction. I looked down where she gazed and saw him crawling on his belly; fitting for a worm.

I found that he was on the ground, because I had inflicted his punishment without realizing it. His finger was in my hand, and it occurred to me that I was stronger than I thought. I held it up and took one last look, before ceremoniously removing the now blood covered ring from the worm’s severed finger and handing it to his former wife. She took it and triumphantly clutched it in her fist.

I heard boots come thumping behind me. The fairies had sent their petty police to quell the show. I turned to look at the three of them. The black ink on my face made them step back, but their guns stayed level.

“Shaman, put your weapon down.”

I hadn’t even realized I had pulled my machete.

As I listened to the sound of the Wolf’s Heartbeat and let its power flow through my body. As the sound of drums centered my mind I tore off my shirt to show them my full tattoo. “I am not a Shaman, I am a warrior, a wolf, and you will leave my cage, fairies.”

The police exchanged glances to determine who would disarm me, knowing that the first one to try would lose more than their arms. They decided not to try and simply left like cowards, but they took the worm with them, probably to the hospital. He cried like a bitch all the way down the long dusty road. They fled out the steel doors of the cage, under the triangle with our numeral inside it, number five. The same insignia was inked on my forehead, to symbolize my power. Here, on the fifth dusty block, surrounded by metal bars, I was both a citizen and a ruler.

I looked back to the woman who was once married, but no longer. “Come with me,” I told her, and she followed, passing by dozens of wood and metal shacks constructed along the walls.

My house was the largest in Cage V, but many others lived in it. Two women came to greet us as we entered. One of them put out her palms and I handed her my machete so she could put it away. I kissed her on the forehead. When she left I told the other, “This is our guest. She will be staying with us for a while.”

“I must thank you for your hospitality. What is your name, warrior of Canis?”

“I go only by Sirius V. That is my symbol and the only name I need.”

She seemed confused, but that did not shock me. Most did not comprehend the workings of Canis’s inner circle.

“Well then, Sirius V, thank you for saving me from that wretched man.”

“You are more than welcome.”

The happily divorced woman was led upstairs to another room.

“She is pretty. Will you ask her to stay?”

“You know I can’t do that,” I told Haylow. I knew it was my second wife before I even saw her.

“She has to ask, but do you plan to seduce her? To make her want to stay?”

I had thought about it, but not much. “Maybe. Her husband was a cretin. She needs a strong man. She deserves one who will treat her with respect, one who will protect and serve her.”

Haylow came close to me, wrapping her arms around my neck, but pulling back just an inch when I tried to kiss her. “With that spectacle you made of her husband, and his treatment of her, she may need time away from this place. It would be best if you didn’t seduce her. It may even be best for her to leave this cage.” She kissed me, and in less than a heartbeat I belonged to her. “Besides, you don’t need any more wives.”

“No, I suppose not.”

I began to kiss her neck and slid my hands under her clothing, and perhaps if my mind had been alert I would have heard her whisper, “Good boy.”

Chapter 04 – Scott Vale

 

“I’m glad to see the two of you made it.”

The whole room stopped as we walked in.

“Sorry,” I said. “Every building looks the same around here.”

“Oh, you must be our other candidates from the Gray District. Have a seat, please.”

There were nineteen others sitting in the Temple’s main hall, and all of them were around seventeen or eighteen years old, just like us.

Sitting in the front were six older men and women in red and white robes. One was at the pedestal speaking, while the others sat behind him, watching us and looking high-and-mighty in their expensive clothing.

“I will say this once again, since we have some new people in the room. My name is Father Frollo. I’m head of the Men of the Temple and the Elected Official presiding over the Sunset District. Do you all know why you’re here?”

A girl up front raised her hand. “Because we were chosen to form a group of intelligent social elites, who will set an example for the youth of Jamestown, as well as serve as a trained police force under the command of the Men of the Temple, assisting the people of the Sunset District.”

That shiner set a new standard for ass kissing. What she had said was a direct quote from the pamphlet.

“That’s very good. I can see why you were chosen,” Father Frollo said to the girl, with just the slightest hint of condescension.

“Your test scores were the best out of all young Homo Omniscients throughout the city. As stated before, we need you to be an example to the youth here to let them know that they can be something better. You will be the pinnacle of what they can achieve. You will be pushed to your mental and physical limits, but you will also be given the best equipment and resources money can buy, so that you may symbolize a better future.”

I didn’t trust the Men of the Temple. They had always seemed like a bunch of pretentious creeps… but, they had offered us free housing after we aced the test and Father Frollo was surprisingly charismatic. The intelligence and passion in his voice made me almost want to believe what he was saying… almost.

“You two.” He looked right at us. “Please stand up and tell us your names.”

I stood up and spoke first. “My name is Scott Vale and I don’t know a single one of you. That’s probably because none of you rich kids have even been to the Gray District before.”

“Oh, really?” Frollo said. “I think you might be surprised. How about everyone who is from the Gray District raise their hand?”

Tex and I raised our hand, and so did someone else; a guy who was sitting way in the back. That was the second biggest surprise of the day.

“It seems you are not alone. It’s a good thing we got you boys out of there before it was too late.”

“I’m so freaking glad you did,” I said in my most sarcastic voice, while plopping my butt back down in the seat.

“Hi, everyone. My name is Tex Mecklen, but my friends call me Tex Mex.”

Everyone else in the room chuckled, except for Frollo.

“Now let’s not laugh at this boy’s name. It is a strange one, though. How did you get that nickname?”

“My dad was light skinned and my mom was dark skinned; dark skinned like a Mexican.”

“Well, I think you’ll find that when we speak of race here, it is based only on science. And besides, if you, and your friend, were able to make it this far, then you must have some amazing genes.”

Tex Mex looked so proud of himself. It was an adorable moment, watching him blush as Frollo smiled at him.

“Since we’re on the subject of race, who can tell me which is better; Homo Sapiens or Homo Omniscients?”

The same girl from before raised her hand again.

“Homo Omniscients are better, because we’ve been scientifically enhanced.”

“That is absolutely untrue.” That response from Father Frollo was the number one surprise of the day. “We must remember what the study of evolution has taught us. I’m going to read you a passage from The Templegoer’s Guidebook of Evolutionary Teachings, written many years ago by yours truly:

 

If any two creatures are to be placed side by side and one said to be superior and the other inferior, they can only be categorized as such in one specific setting or environment. No creature can be said to be better than all others in all settings, and thus, for every setting in which a particular creature can be found to be superior to another, another must exist in which the roles are reversed, making he who was superior, inferior, and he who was inferior, superior.

 

“You’ll have to learn these teachings one day, but for now just know this one simple rule; everyone who works hard has a place in society, even if they come from a currently inferior race. Everyone belongs somewhere. Now, we’ve wasted enough time. Let’s finish up introductions so Father Michael can show you to your living quarters.”

Everyone went around the room introducing themselves, and I found out that the female kissass’s name was Jane. She was from a wealthy family in the Sunset District. In fact, most of the others came from families with a lot of money. Why they would sign their kids over to the Men of the Temple is a question I still ponder to this day.

When introductions were done, one of Frollo’s lackeys led us out of the room. Tex Mex and I followed in the rear, and with us was the guy who had been sitting in the back.

“Well well well, I expected to be the only one here from the Gray District.”

“We’re as surprised as you are,” Tex told him.

“You guys are going to help me teach these shiner assholes a lesson, right? We need to take them down a peg.”

“Yeah…sure,” I told him, half-heartedly. As I started to look around at this nice clean building and think more about what Tex and I had could gain from staying here, I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to risk missing out on hot food, a warm bed and a free education.

“Your name is Thomas, right?” Tex asked him.

“Thomas Byrd, but I go by Byrd. And you’re Tex and Scott?”

“Guilty as charged.”

We all found our way into the lobby, where the Men of the Temple had set up a bulletin board. On it was a poster with some kind of symbol and an “O”.

“We were thinking this might be a good name for our new group,” said Father Michael. “We wanted it to be something intelligent and catchy, and this is what we came up with; The Infinite Zeros!”

“Motherfucker, that’s the worst name I’ve ever heard,” said somebody that I wanted to give a pat on the back.

Byrd stepped up to the poster. Without saying anything he took the tacks out of the corners, pulled down the poster and ripped it right in half.

“What are you doing?!” Father Michael said, horrified, but Byrd quickly put the two halves back up on the board with the infinity sign turned sideways.

“Here is a much better name for a group representing a district covered in neon lights with an abhorrent fashion sense, The 80’s.”

Chapter 05 – Nathaniel Clark

 

“Now children, what do you most need to remember?”

“Everyone should practice tolerance,” we said, like robots. How long could she keep us here? There had to be some kind of law against having your class be this boring. We were just going over stuff we had learned two years ago, back in second grade.

“Emily, will you please come up front?”

I wanted to puke. Emily just sucked. I hated her. I made a face at her when she walked by. She made one back. It made me hate her more.

“What do you need, Mrs. Clements?”

“You’re so sweet. Emily, will you please tell us the correct names of the two different races of humans?”

“Why yes, Mrs. Clements. In order of importance, they are Homo Omniscients and Homo Sapiens.”

“Very good, Emily. You can sit down now.”

She made a face at me on the way to her seat. Something in my chest felt like it jumped and I almost smiled. I hated her so much.

“Can someone else come up and tell us about how the racial divide came to be? Anyone? How about you, Nathan?” She pointed right at me. I shook my head no, but she pulled me to the front of the room anyway.

“Tell us what you know about the history of the racial divide.”

I couldn’t remember, so I stood there until Mrs. Clements gave me a book with an open page and said, “Just read what it says here.”

“Jamestown was founded after the outbreak of Lykan’s Virus.” I read aloud. “The outbreak deci… decimu…”

“Decimated.”

“…decimated the population of the world, killing many and turning the rest into strange creatures. To combat the virus, a vaccine was created. Those who received the vaccine evolved into an advanced race of humans, now called Homo Omniscients.”

“Very good. You can sit down now, Nathan.”

I got back to my desk as fast as I could.

“Ms. Clements?”

“Yes, Bobby?”

“Why can’t we just say shiners? That’s what we are right?” Everyone chuckled.

“Because you are much too educated to use words like that. We are Homo Omniscients. Calling yourself anything less is an insult. Now class, Homo Omniscients and Homo Sapiens are easily distinguishable by factors other than just where we live. We know that it’s mostly Homo Omniscients that inhabit the Shining Ring, while Homo Sapiens live in the Cages. How does a Homo Sapien look different from you or me physically? Anyone?”

“My daddy says that Omniscients are the only real humans,” said a kid in the back.

“Oh really? And what does that make everyone else?” Ms. Clements asked him.

“He says they’re danks!” I laughed so hard when he said that. Everyone did. We all knew you weren’t supposed to say that in class.

“Now John, that’s not very kind of you. Remember that we are never to use that word in polite conversation. What you say at home is your business, but here in school we do not say bad things about the inferior race.”

“But that’s why they live in the Cages. It’s cause they’re infer… infer… it’s ‘cause they suck!”

“John, you need to sit down and be quiet right now! Understood?”

“Yes, Mrs. Clements,” he said.

“Now, it’s about lunchtime anyway, so you kids head out and come back in a bit. We’ll continue the lesson when you return.”

Chapter 06 – Paige Wilson

 

“I just don’t see why things need to change.”

“No, I think you do,” I said, getting angrier and angrier by the minute.

“Madam President, the Homo Sapiens have lived in the Cages for a very long time. Letting them out could be damaging to them.”

“There is no evidence of that. In fact, Mr. Rusk, you yourself are a Sapien who lives outside the Cages. The fact that you are here proves that that statement is wrong.”

“Well,” the fat bastard said, as he paused to think and take a bite out of his third pastry. “They wouldn’t have anywhere to live. They’ll be reduced to nothing but street urchins, just like those parasites in the Sunset District; the ones you always see begging for change. I’ll bet you never considered that.”

It took every ounce of willpower I had not to strangle him. “I did consider that. In fact, I considered it more than a year ago. If you had helped me pass my Improved Housing Act, that issue could have been avoided entirely, and the Sapiens, Omniscients and even the beggars would have places to live.”

“Oh, uh… Well, maybe Madam President… maybe you should be careful before you continue your argument here.”

“Excuse me?”

“I mean, are you sure you aren’t… emotionally unstable… at this time…”

“I’m trying very hard to be patient here, Mr. Rusk. Please don’t give me a reason to lose my temper.”

Before that idiot could say anything else, his associate placed a hand on his shoulder and spoke for him. “All Boris is trying to say is that the citizens living in the Cages should simply stay where they are. That would be best for everyone.”

“I don’t agree with that. Ever since I became President, I’ve worked to get the Cages eradicated. My goal is to create a more unified Jamestown.”

“But, we both know that the backlash against the government increases with every Homo Sapien allowed to enter the Ring. Homo Omniscients don’t want the Sapiens living near them, and the Homo Sapiens don’t trust the government. This campaign of yours will do more harm than good.”

My shoulders slumped. Based on how my efforts had turned out so far, I couldn’t say he was wrong. “I’m trying to do what’s best for them.”

“The people don’t want what’s best. They want a quick fix in simple terms. Perhaps you should look to other solutions, should they present themselves. This meeting is over.”

I kept up my professional facade, until the doors swung closed behind them. I’d never felt so defeated. If it had just been Boris, maybe I could have bullied him into making progress, but that associate of his was much tougher, and his eerie blue eyes were haunting. I’d never seen that color in a human eye before.

“Why did I ever want this job?” I asked myself out loud.

I opened up a fridge by my desk, pulled out a cold towel and slung it over my forehead. I let it sag down over my eyes as the heat finally started to abate.

Boris Rusk was the Elected Official in charge of the Cages. He had been for almost eight years now, but the only reason he got the job was because he had been appointed by his brother, Camden, just before he disappeared. Ironically, there hadn’t been an election in many years, and sometimes it felt like I was the only person in the whole damn Shining Ring who saw that as a travesty.

I took the towel off when condensation started running down my face. I stepped over to the sink to wring it out and noticed how loud my footsteps were in the large, empty office.

“It’s better this way. I like being alone.”

Saying it out loud didn’t make it any more believable.

Why do you try so hard to fool yourself? Just because you’re the President doesn’t mean you can’t have friends and a family.”

“Actually, it does,” I said while putting on another towel, desperate to cool down my head.

Oh I forgot, you’re the President first and a woman second.”

“And you’re an ass first and nothing second.”

My thoughts were interrupted by a knock at the door. “Madam President, I just saw Mr. Rusk leave. Would you like your usual brandy?”

“Yes, thank you. And two glasses.”

“Are you inviting someone else?”

I started to correct him, before I remembered that I was the only other person in the room.

“Sorry, I’m not sure where my mind is at today. Just a single glass, as usual.”

“Right away, ma’am.”

“I’m the only person here,” I said to myself once the door was shut. “I have too much on my plate to waste time talking to myself.”

I’m insulted by that,” Fischer said. “How can you consider me a waste of time?”

“Madam President,” one of my bodyguards said, opening up the door and walking in with a tray. “Here is your usual, along with some ice water.”

“Thank you so much.”

“It’s no problem at all. Oh, and before I forget; due to his excellent performance in school, your nephew is being bumped up a grade level. His nanny wanted me to tell you right away.”

“Tell him I’m very proud of him.”

“I will. Goodnight, ma’am.”

“Goodnight.”

And the pile of regrets just keeps getting bigger,” he said as soon as the door closed.

“I’m far too busy to be raising a child. You know that.”

Well, I’m a figment of your imagination, so if I don’t believe that, then you obviously don’t.”

“He shouldn’t be around the people I deal with on a day to day basis.”

Like Boris? Oh please, he’s harmless and dumb as a rock.”

I stared down at my desk. I’d been clutching those excuses for the last eight years. Did I know how thin they were all along?

They say this is a very important time in a woman’s life. Now that certain doors are closed to her she may start to regret her past decisions. She may think about what she could have done differently, or even become a little… imbalanced.”

“I may have regrets, but there is nothing imbalanced about me. I’m just…

I can see the tagline now; The lonely President Paige Wilson, 48 years old and having no family or friends, is haunted by the ghost of her dead husband. The archivists will have a field day when they’re compiling your life story.”

I poured out a rather large glass of my special post-idiot brandy and chugged it like cheap beer. “I really need to stop talking to myself.”

Who else do you have to talk to?”

I had another drink, this time so I could forget the truth behind that last statement.

Can I try some?”

I looked up from my glass and didn’t see my ex-husband sitting there ready to judge me. Instead, I saw James Fischer Jr. at fifteen years old, stealing booze from the liquor cabinet at his house to impress me.

I refilled the glass and sat it on the desk for him. “Knock yourself out.”

It was funny to imagine his face contorting at the horrible taste and to remember how I did the same thing after drinking for the first time.

God, that’s terrible.”

“It gets better with age,” I said, and then polished it off. “Come with me.”

I went up to the roof of the building; the tallest in the entire city. It had the best view for miles around. When we were kids, we must have snuck up there a hundred times.

The Cages were off in the distance. I could see the cloud of red dust that always hung over it, and faintly hear the drumbeat that always pumped out of the sound system. The five short streets were lined up, in parallel, with steel bars keeping anyone from leaving, or even interacting with people in the other blocks. A pit formed in my stomach, as I looked at them. Even though the metal still looked clean and new, it didn’t change how ugly and crude they looked to me, when I thought about the people locked inside.

To the left was the Gray District. Two tall metal walls, built on the sides of a freeway overpass. Houses made of sheet metal and scrap materials were built into the walls, and connected to one another with rickety stairs and catwalks. The almost completely vertical district was the first place people settled after Lykan’s Virus turned much of the population turned into monsters, and it was quite an impressive piece of apocalyptic architecture.

When people eventually started moving off the overpass, they built a stone and metal wall around the city to protect themselves from the creatures in the forest, and, when the population increased in size, they expanded it. They did so several times, the most recent one being the extension to make room for the Cages, that turned the, originally, circular Jamestown into a keyhole shape.

The Presidential District was right below us. It was the smallest of the four, really just a collection of government buildings and brownstone apartments, built right alongside the overpass, long before this place came to be known as Jamestown. An enormous underground farming facility was built underneath, which was where all Jamestown’s food came from. One of the reasons the founders had built the wall was to protect this valuable resource from the monsters outside.

Finally, the Sunset District was to the right, glowing as it always did. Construction on this District had only been finished shortly before the Cages, and it was built to show just how far Jamestown had come since the outbreak. My father had green-lit it’s construction, and seemed to spend all his time there, during his later years. I, on the other hand, had always found it unnerving. Maybe it was because of the neon lights that traced every building, or maybe it was the architecture. However, more than likely, it was because the Sunset District was where the Men of the Temple were based; those creepy, cultish bastards terrified me, and I had heard a lot of rumors about the mysterious man they had entrusted to keep the neon lights running.

“Do you remember this place?” I asked Fischer. “The rooftop?”

Of course. We always used to come up here when we were kids. We had to sneak past the guards because your dad was afraid we’d fall over the edge.”

“Oh yeah, I lied to you about that. The truth is my dad was afraid that if we kept sneaking off I would end up pregnant.”

Really?” He laughed, but then he looked sad again. “How different do you think our lives would be if that had happened? Do you think we’d still be married if we had had kids?”

“Having a child wouldn’t have stopped you from cheating on me.”

You never know.”

“No, I do know. You were determined never to grow up, but I had bigger issues to deal with. You were off partying, while I tried to save the city that I love. That’s why things had to work out this way.”

I’d been holding that inside for a very long time, but when I looked over, he was gone. In his place were two teenagers, head over heels in love with each other, stretching out their arms and pretending they could fly as the wind blew through their arms.

Then I saw the entire brass section of the Presidential Orchestra, which Fischer was forced to be a part of when he was eighteen. God, he hated playing the trumpet and that awful suit he had to wear.

And then there were the dozens of times we snuck out together; that mailbox we smashed and the tram we took for a joyride; a negative pregnancy test making us jump for joy at seventeen and cry at thirty-four.

And finally, I saw where I was right now; a bitter woman starting menopause, still holding on to all the anger and hatred she’d accumulated over the last forty-eight years; the leader of a city, and spokesman for almost two thousand people, spending her nights sitting on an empty rooftop, alone.

Chapter 07 – Geoffrey Klein

 

“Counselor Geoffrey, how come we can’t go camping outside the walls?”

“Because you get eaten if you go outside,” said another camper.

“No, you don’t.”

“Yes, you do. If you leave the city you die.”

“That’s not true.”

“Yes it is. If you leave the city you’ll get eaten by giant dogs. Isn’t that right Counselor Geoffrey?”

They looked at me. I didn’t like it when people looked at me. “Uh, kids… let’s not, uh… I don’t think… Let’s go over our packets again. Now, if you ever need to find food in the wild-”

“No, Counselor Geoffrey! We want to know about the giant dogs!”

“Yeah, tell us about the dogs!”

“TELL US ABOUT THE DOGS!”

Oh, fudge. I didn’t think I’d have to be the one to talk to these kids about this subject. Well, somebody would have to tell them sooner or later.

I sighed. “Alright kids, gather round. Do any of you know exactly how Jamestown was founded?”

“It was by Omniscients! They built walls to keep out the dog people outside.”

“That’s very good, but not the entire story. It all started a few hundred years ago, before anybody in Jamestown was born. There was a man named John Lykan who was obsessed with trying to make humans better, so he…”

“He created Homo Omniscients right?”

“No, he didn’t. He was trying to make humans stronger and faster by splicing the DNA of humans with dogs.”

“Counselor Jeffrey, I’m not sure that makes sense.”

“Well… just… That’s how it is, ok? Now stop interrupting! John Lykan kept trying to cross the DNA, but it never worked. His last attempt involved creating a powerful retrovirus-”

“Is that what a virus from the 90’s is called?”

“I said stop interrupting! He made a virus that could alter human DNA to more resemble that of a dog, but when his human test subjects died, the police came to arrest him. Before they could, he injected himself with a sample of the virus and became a half-dog half-human that killed everyone he saw, and every time he bit someone he spread the virus to them. Everyone started turning into monsters, but a group of philanthropists from around the world stepped in to try and make things right…

“What’s a philanthropist?”

“Goshdarnit, will you just stop!”

“But Counselor Geoffrey…”

“No! I’m telling the story. You are listening.” I couldn’t remember the last time I had stood up to someone like that. I would have felt empowered, if I wasn’t talking to a group of ten year olds.

“These philanthropists called themselves the Human Corps. They started building emergency facilities in cities and they even created a vaccine for the virus. They didn’t have very much though, so eventually they had to start only giving it to people they thought were worth saving, which caused a pretty big divide.”

“So that’s where Homo Omniscients come from?”

“Yes. Homo Omniscients are the descendants of people who received the vaccine. They evolved to a better state, so, in a way, John Lykan did create better humans in the end.”

“And what about Homo Sapiens?”

“Their ancestors didn’t get the cure, and that’s why the live in the Cages. If there were ever to be an outbreak inside the city, they could all turn into the half-dog creatures. A lot of people think they’re too dangerous to be around the rest of us.”

“What do you think Counselor? Do you think they should be locked up?”

I thought for a second, and told them honestly, “I think that there is no good answer.”

 

2307: The Year of Change

Chapter 08 – Scott Vale

 

“How are you doing, Scott?”

“Feeling pretty good. You?”

“My fingers are pretty sore. I don’t know how you made it up that wall so quickly.”

“When you live in the Gray District, you learn to climb as soon as you can stand.”

“Really?”

“The whole district is nothing but busted-ass catwalks. It’s just something you pick up.”

That wasn’t entirely true. While the walkways in the Gray District had always been in dire need of repair, kids learned to climb and run so they could steal. That was how we survived. Of course, I didn’t want to tell Jane that. She was a pretty nice person, once I got to know her, and I didn’t want to go on and on about my crappy childhood.

The sound of gunfire made our hands instantly go to our holsters, but it was just noise from the training grounds below. Through the bulletproof glass we could see Tex and someone else making their way through the urban obstacle course, helmets on, heads down and weapons at the ready.

“I’m glad you and Tex are here. I’d never met anyone from the Gray District before I met you.”

“Really?”

She nodded. “Even now, I’ve never met anyone else from there… except Byrd, but he’s kind of an asshole.”

“Well, I hope I’m not as bad as he is.”

She laughed. “You’re not. You’re smart and brave, and you’re always looking after Tex.”

Another burst of fire made me turn to check on him. I worried every time I saw him go through a course with live ammunition.

“How did you two meet?”

“I ran into him after I’d been living on the streets for a few years. His parents had been arrested a few days earlier.”

“What for?”

“Selling drugs. Something called hex, I think, or it might have been this other nasty drug called vapor. I’m not sure.”

“That’s so sad,” she said, having obviously never heard a story like that before. Where I came from they were quite common.

“Worse things could have happened, but it was only a few months before we came here, so he’s still trying to cope with it.”

“Oh, I feel so bad for him.”

“He’ll be fine,” I said, just as Tex ran across the finish line without a scratch. “He’s a tough little guy.”

As Jane and I took a walk through the building, she continued to ask me questions about the Gray District. Most of my answers were watered down or sugar coated. I didn’t like talking about that place. There wasn’t any culture or architecture or history to the Gray District, just a bunch of poor slobs grinding through life. The only person who always had steady income was the reaper, the man who hauled away the bodies of mothers, fathers, sons, daughters and junkies alike. We always had plenty of bodies. Everyone else had to steal to survive or work for pennies at low paying jobs in a rich part of the city. Then, once they brought those pennies back home, they spent them at shops that sold food for prices so low that it made you question whether those chunky bits in the slop really were chicken.

“Are they any good?”

“What?” I asked, realizing I had zoned out.

“Are the restaurants in the Gray District any good? I’ve always wondered what the food was like there. Is it any different than here?”

“It’s different, but I wouldn’t recommend it.”

We kept walking, talking about nothing in particular. The enormous building had hallways so long we could tell each other our whole life stories before we got to the end. The entire place had once been a huge storehouse built right next to the Temple, but it had been modified to become a home for the 80’s, the Men of the Temple’s newest project.

All twenty-one of us lived, dined, trained and learned here, and Jane’s mention of the Gray District made me start to see just how much all this stuff must have cost. We had a chef who cooked all of our meals and the food was top quality. The dorms were spacious, as were the classrooms where our tutors laid out their lesson plans. They drew information from endless stacks of books on topics ranging from business and agriculture to algebra and military tactics; and that wasn’t even mentioning the expensive armor and weapons.

“Where do they get all this?” I asked Jane, completely breaking the flow of the conversation.

“I don’t know. People give donations to the Temple all the time, and some of the members are very wealthy.”

“I guess that’s true.”

“I’m sure those donors are glad to know that their resources are going to a good cause. We’re going to inspire a lot of people.”

As I thought back to my time running through the obstacle course and spending hours memorizing tactics and procedures, it occurred to me that inspiring people might not be the Men of the Temple’s goal.

“I need to go. I’ll see you later.”

While she went to the classrooms, I headed back to the dorms. I’d had a suspicion in the back of my mind that the Men of the Temple were up to something. Now, I was wondering if anyone else felt the same.

“Byrd?” I said, walking into the dorm. “Are you in here?”

“He left a few minutes ago.” The voice came from Fox, who was in the middle of a card game with his twin sister, Elka.

“Do you know where he went?”

“Probably to the roof again,” Elka told me. “He always hangs out there.”

When she turned to speak to me, I noticed the scars on her face. A window had been shot out a little too close to her during a training session, but she’d finished anyway. The cuts still hadn’t completely healed.

“How’s your face?”

“Just fine. I think the scars will make me look tougher. What do you think?”

“They look like they hurt.”

“She’s on a shit ton of painkillers,” Fox said, continuing to play cards as they spoke.

“Shut up. It was just aspirin. If this had happened a year ago I would have freaked out and left, but now I’m just shrugging it off. It’s like we’re real soldiers.”

“Even better; we’re 80’s.”

“Stop calling us that,” Elka told him.

“Why? I like the name.”

“You’re only saying that because you know I hate it.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he said, with a big smile on his face.

“I have to go,” I told them.

“Good luck finding Byrd. He’s never around when we need him.”

Fox was right. Byrd had a habit of vanishing into thin air, and sometimes we didn’t see him for days. As I headed up to the balcony on the roof, I thought about all the times I’d seen him stuff things under his mattress when someone walked in the room or sneak out late at night. The only other person who had a habit of doing that was…

“Durango?”

Byrd wasn’t on the balcony. Instead I found my least favorite 80. I didn’t think Durango was a particularly bad guy, he was just blunt and never gave a shit about anyone or anything.

“What’s up?” he said, tossing a match off the balcony.

“What are you doing?”

“Trying to set the gutters on fire.”

I looked over at the dried leaves packed into the rain gutters and the smoldering matches lying on the roof next to them. Like I said, the guy never gave a fuck about anything.

“Have you seen Byrd?”

“Of course not. He’s never here.”

“Shit.”

“Why do you need him?”

“I just have to ask him something personal.”

“Sounds sketchy. Tell me what it is,” he said, turning away from his pyromaniacal pastime.

I figured there was no real reason not to tell him. “I’m starting to think that the Men of the Temple are up to something.”

His response came drenched in sarcasm. “A bunch of racist geezers start indoctrinating teenagers and arming them with the best weapons in Jamestown, and you think they might be up to something? You’re a fucking genius.”

“Fuck you. You don’t have to be a dick about it… but what do you think they’re up to?”

“If you ask me, these guys are all crazy. Maybe they’re planning on staging a coup to kidnap the President or hijack the farming facility, or maybe they really do just want to inspire people by marching us through the streets. I don’t know and I don’t really care.”

As he went back to flicking matches, I considered what he had said. Was it possible the Men of the Temple wanted us to go to war with the police? Stage a coup? Kill people? Elka said she was starting to feel like a real soldier. Would she be willing to put her life on the line for these men? Would she or the others pull a trigger for them? Would Tex? Would I?

“You look worried, Scott. Is this the first time you’ve considered that they might ask us to do more than march in a parade?”

“I only took the test because they promised free food and a place to stay. I didn’t sign up for this.”

“Well, it’s always possible we’re just being paranoid. Byrd will probably be back soon. Talk to him when he gets here and find out what he thinks. He’s always skulking around in places he shouldn’t be, so he probably knows more about what our benefactors are planning than anyone.”

“And if he doesn’t show?”

“He will eventually, but if you’re in a hurry you can always talk to Frollo yourself.”

“That’s true. Thanks, Durango. Stop trying to burn the building down.”

“I’ll think about it.”

Chapter 09 – Julia Munford

 

“I just need to do it one more time.”

“You said that two days ago. Hell, you’ve probably told me that a thousand fucking times!”

“It helps me sleep.”

“Stop saying that! You’re nothing but a no-good, vapor addicted sleazebag!”

“Julia, don’t yell. You’ll wake the kids.”

“Do you really think I care? I want you out of my house, right now!”

We heard the sound of plastic hitting the ground in the other room.

“You need to calm down. I’m going to check on my daughter.”

“Sit down!” I yelled, and kicked my dumb bastard husband’s legs out from underneath him. Seeing him go crashing to the floor gave me a warm fuzzy feeling inside. He looked so pathetic, his hands trembling and his face white as a sheet.

I walked past him and into the other room. “Shh, Cindy, it’ll be ok,” I whispered to my little girl as I rocked her back and forth. I picked up her toy and placed it back in her hands. My second born was always throwing things to get our attention. She refused to ever cry.

“Is everything ok, mom?” I heard from behind me.

“Yes, just go back to sleep, dear.”

“I heard you and dad yelling. Are you mad at him?”

“Just go to sleep.” Finally, the five year old walked back to the family room.

I carefully placed Cindy back down and took one last look at my no-good husband before stepping outside, trying my best to not disturb my son, Benjamin Jr., as he tried to go back to sleep on the couch.

The night was warm, but the metal catwalk felt cold against my bare feet. Down below a few people raced to get home and a couple of very suspicious looking characters lurked in the darkest corners.

“Oh my God,” I said to myself. “I am the worst mother in the world.”

I could see the ambient light from the Sunset District changing rapidly, briefly lighting up the street, the houses and the red cross painted on the clinic five doors down. “It must be Sunday,” I thought.

I still worked for a family there. I cleaned their house every Thursday. The mother of the house always talked with her kids about being prepared and knowing what they wanted to do with their lives. Once they turned eighteen they had to go and make it on their own, but they had jobs and apartments lined up as soon as they left. I’d be lucky if I could just afford to feed my kids tomorrow, not to mention for eighteen years.

I broke down, crying over the railing. My tears fell down to the street below, joining the endless river shed by all the mothers, lovers and family members in the Gray District. There was no food, no money, no nothing. I just had to hope I could keep my son living at home as a teenager. There weren’t many children in the Gray District, but the ones who were here were usually lucky if they could stay at home past age twelve. It made me angry to think about throwing my son out onto the street, and my anger made me cry even harder.

I stood up and wiped away the tears. That wasn’t going to happen. They were going to get good jobs, get married, raise their kids in the Sunset District and never set foot here again. They were going to make something of themselves. They had to.

Once again, I tried to be quiet when opening the door. I didn’t want to wake anyone up. I stopped while walking past Ben Jr., who was now fast asleep on the couch. His face and hair were dirty, but he slept with a smile on his face. He was so beautiful.

“Good night,” I whispered to him as I walked back to my bedroom, expecting to find my husband passed out in our bed. He wasn’t there. Instead, I found a glass vial. I’d become used to finding these things lying around, but usually they were empty. This one was still about three quarters full.

Slowly I pressed open the door of the next room. There he was, holding our little girl in his arms, wrapped in the purple blanket she loved so much. Another cheap plastic toy had been tossed to the ground. His hands weren’t shaking and some of the color had returned to his face. He looked worried when he saw me walk in, but seemed relieved when I smiled at him. I went up and kissed him on the forehead, careful not to wake the girl.

Our life was horrible, that was just fact. However, even in the darkest of times, life can surprise you, and before you know it you find yourself smiling despite everything wicked that’s been thrown your way.

Chapter 10 – Ins Vera

 

The streets were always full of shiners and most of them were willing to toss a few coins to a pretty Truand girl. Mothers turned up their noses and pulled their children away, but the fathers fought for a second look. Whether businessmen in fancy suits or craftsmen in dirty overalls, all of them were enthralled. Many passed by every day and some took extra-long routes to and from work just so that they could see me. I was fine with that. More passersby meant more money.

I danced on the sidewalk while another Truand strummed a worn out guitar and yet another played a set of hand drums. We’d placed an old felt hat next to us, so that the shiners could throw in coins and crumpled bills.

The Truands, a large collection of dank inhabitants in the Shining Ring, lived proud lives. We performed, bartered or stole for our food, but we felt no shame in it. I was proud to call these people family.

By the time the sun started to set one of us had already gone home, but I didn’t want to end the day just yet… until I saw a pack of white robes heading straight for us.

The Men of the Temple often showed up to drive away Truands, even when we weren’t doing anything illegal. They held a lot of respect though, so our leader had ordered us to run when we saw them.

“Be gone you vile freeloaders! Your lives harm all of society! You have no right to breed.” I’m not joking, that’s really what they said.

My friend quickly threw his drums in a sack and ran into the alley. I followed him, stopping only to grab the hat with the money we had earned. The Men of the Temple did not chase us, but I could hear them shouting for the police. At the other end of the alley the other Truand ran off in a different direction. We looked back at each other once, but kept running apart.

I found myself on the very edge of the Sunset District, right by the stretch of grass that separated the Ring from the Cages. There was no way to quickly make it home, so I looked around until I saw an alley with a green “X” painted on it. I rolled aside a dumpster, praying to find something useful underneath it. There was a t-shirt, a thick coat, some long pants and a little bit of food. I put the shirt and pants on to cover my dancing clothes, but I left the coat and food there for someone else before leaving the alley.

I walked past a rusty sign on my way down the street. “Welcome to the Shining Ring”. A dank would get strange looks walking around here alone and the Grandfather always told us to never stay out after dark. I needed a place to sleep and I needed to find it soon. Unfortunately, there was only one place that I knew would take me in.

It was in one of the richest sections of Jamestown, and was easy to find thanks to the high glass tower that rose from its roof. Its lavishness stood out, even when compared to the rest of the Sunset District. It was the Omniscients’ monument to good breeding and narcissism, constructed of iron, glass and neon.

“Why my sweet little girl, are you alright?” a frail woman came up and asked me. Like the others who worked at the Temple she was old, but looked like she may have been good looking, years ago. She was also very kind, but I knew that that would change if she knew I was a Truand and not just a random homeless Sapien.

“Yes. I was just looking for a place to sleep,” I told her, flashing my biggest and saddest puppy-dog eyes. “It’s so hard living out on the street, and all I want to do is get married, have babies, work for a nice Omniscient family and then have more babies. Would you help me?”

Her eyes lit up. “That’s wonderful,” she exclaimed, eating that shit from the palm of my hand. “You know, you are so pretty and you seem smart too. We need to make sure you pass those genes on. You would have adorable children. Please, come right this way.”

The Temple hadn’t changed much since the last time I had stayed here, except that a few of the residents seemed a tad more senile.

The woman led me to a man who wore robes that seemed different than the others. They were much more ornate.

“Father Frollo, this young woman would like a place to stay.”

My heart raced when I heard that name. I hadn’t expected to see the leader of the Men of the Temple. Frollo was the king of the crazies.

“What’s your name, sweetheart?”

“Vera.” I was very proud of that name. My mother had named me after herself, so it was one of the few things I never lied about.

“You have a lovely name and you’re a beautiful girl. Be sure to pass those genes on. You would have adorable children.”

“Thank you,” I said to him. I had forgotten how strange it felt being on these people’s good side. Most of my encounters with them involved being shouted at, chased, pelted with rocks and being called a freeloader. They really loved that word.

“We would be happy to give you rest for the night, although we do ask that you submit to a physical examination first. We just want to be sure you don’t have any obvious genetic abnormalities.”

“Of course.”

The woman led me to a stark white room where another old shiner took a sample of my blood, before poking and prodding my arms, legs and everywhere else I allowed him. I made sure to not let my dancing clothes show. They would have made it pretty obvious that I didn’t plan on following their ways.

When his exam was done, and the blood sample turned out clean, the old woman gave me a big smile and walked me back to Father Frollo.

“This young girl is as healthy as a horse.”

“Fantastic. I was hoping for good news. Be sure to pass those genes on. You would-”

“I plan on having children,” I said, cutting him off. “And I’m sure they’ll be adorable.”

“Great. It’s like you read my mind. You can have a room upstairs. Feel free to stay as long as you need to. We are also going to have a lecture in about an hour and would love for you to join us.”

“Thank you so much. That sounds fantastic.” There was so much sarcasm embedded in those words that I’m still amazed they didn’t hear it.

“Great. I suppose we’ll see you there.” Frollo turned to the woman, and spoke to her, directly. “Linda, would you be a dear and go get me some tea? I’m feeling a bit hoarse.”

“Of course, Father.”

“Thank you so much. And you, Vera, would sit with me for just a moment?”

“Um, I suppose I could do that.”

“Fantastic.”

The two of us sat down at one of the pews that lined the main hall, but even once we were there it was still a few moments before Frollo finally spoke.

“Listen, Vera, I know that you think we look down on your race and I wish I could say that that wasn’t true. The policies of the Men of the Temple are anti-Truand, but we only oppose the Truand lifestyle. If you, as an individual, choose to work hard and follow the law, then we believe that you should have the same opportunities as everyone else. If you can rise above your race, I promise to give you every opportunity we can provide, so please, don’t think of us as your enemy.”

I wanted to smack him for assuming my race was something I needed to rise above, but at the same time I almost wanted to trust him. Who was this man, who made me want to believe that the Men of the Temple were here to help me? Where was the man I had been warned about by the Grandfather? Was he standing behind Frollo, ready to pop out and yell “I fooled you”? Was he just a myth or did he lie somewhere beneath the winning smile and charming personality?

“Thank you, Father. I’ll remember that.”

The old woman led me up to a very small, but private room. There were dozens on this floor just like it. I sat down on the bed, remembering that I still had the rolled up hat with all my money in it. I was halfway through counting it when I heard Frollo’s lecture echoing through the building. I opened up my door to let the sound in as I kept counting out the bills and coins.

“A society is built on people, and thus society must have the best people to be at its best. The Temple has been spreading this message for decades now, and we are continuing to grow every day. It is our duty to spread the value and the truth of evolution, so that as Jamestown grows in size, so too will it grow in beauty, until nothing on earth can match the unblemished purity that is our city.”

The applause was so loud that it was almost deafening.

“Many say that we favor certain groups, but that is not true! We love humans in all forms. Whether Homo Sapien or Homo Omniscient, it does not matter. We will cut away the impurities from every human sect. I will now read a published statement written by yours truly, which illuminates the cornerstone of what we believe.”

 

Our Brother race is as a rose bud; full of untapped inner beauty. It only needs a firm root, water and a wise gardener to bring it to its full potential and unlock its boundless splendor. We must be the hands of that gardener and cultivate our brother race until he has reached a level of purity and beauty equal to our own, while still maintaining the differences that evolution has blessed them with. We who did not have to struggle, and were simply born in the favorable eye of both evolution and social class, must take it upon ourselves to bring others to our level of consciousness, and help them attain higher civility and intelligence. This is our burden and we bear it with pride.

 

I was once again deafened by applause. I had to admit, Frollo was a very eloquent speaker. I tucked the bills in my pocket and started to walk towards the lecture hall. I felt drawn to his voice, like a moth to the flame, but at the last moment, out in the hall, I saw something move in the corner of my eye. It was a person, quickly ducking into a stairwell.

I walked further down the hallway, but stopped when I heard the stairs squeak. I looked around the corner. There were no lights on, so I could only make out a small neon lamp and a twisted shell that looked somewhat human before it turned and started up the next flight. I wouldn’t have followed the creature, but I heard something… Weeping? Mumbling? I swallowed my fear and started to follow it. On the ninth step I slipped and the weeping instantly stop. The creature began to race up the stairs, stopping only to shout threats like “Stay away” and “It’s not safe here”. The threats were made ineffective by his choked voice, and with every step he made both a loud squeak and a metallic clank. I chased after it for reasons I still don’t fully understand. Maybe it was destiny pulling me forward or maybe it was just reckless stupidity.

The last flight of stairs was pitch black. The ambient light from the halls below no longer reached up to me. I was going to turn around, after all this person could have been a psychopath for all I knew, but then the top suddenly became bathed in red light.

“Who are you?” asked an oddly mechanical voice.

“My name is Vera. I saw you crying and I just wanted to know if you were ok.”

“You came to see if I was alright?”

“Yes.”

I heard heavy footsteps approaching and the creature strode out of a shadow in the center of the room. He had a severely hunched back, and heavy metal plates were grafted to his arms and legs. Tubing and wires came from his head and ran down to his back and chest. Other wires ran all over the length of his body. Dirty hair hung down into his face, and he only had one eye. Well, he had one normal eye, and a metal one that glowed the same changing neon colors I saw in the Sunset District. He had no mouth, but instead a metal plate covered the lower half of his face and a round speaker was grafted where his mouth should have been.

I wanted to run away at the sight of him, but he didn’t seem to mean any harm. In fact, his tubing, metal plates and wires made up most of his size. Without them he would have been quite small and frail.

“Would you like to see my lights?”

“Um… what does that mean?” I asked him.

“Here, I’ll show you.” As quickly as he could, he moved over to a far wall. I noticed that his right leg was completely mechanical and was the source of the squeaking and clanking. He flipped a switch and the red room disappeared. The only light was his glowing eye, which I watched slowly move to the other side of the room, bobbing with each step.

A soft light came up and brought the room back into focus. As the darkness ebbed away I saw his finger sliding along dimmer switch, that caused the walls to glow with intricate patterns in the most beautiful blue-green color I had ever seen. Each wall was completely different, but all of them gorgeous. Then, the lights on the floor, which I had assumed were just garbage, glowed in pink and orange and soft blue. The baby colors all played off one another and wove into a beautiful pattern across the ground.

“Did you build all of this?”

“Yes. Do you like it?”

“It’s amazing.” He seemed to take my compliment to heart. He might have danced with glee if not for the machinery weighing him down.

“I have more to show you.”

He ran back over to his original hiding space, which I now saw held some kind of extensive control board. He motioned for me to come closer and I did. He pressed a button and we rose up off the floor. We went up and up through the glass tower to the highest point in the building. It was just a small room with clear walls, but below us stretched the entire Sunset District. I had never been up this high and I had never stayed out in the Sunset District this late at night. It was so pretty, the way the neon lights danced under the night sky.

He put his hands on two disks in the middle of his control board and the light in his eye went out. Then, to my shock, all the neon lights in the Sunset District went out. The billboards on the high buildings all changed to 12:00 AM and switched off. Omniscients crowded the streets and looked out their windows. The whole city was black. Everyone stopped to watch.

I saw one hand move just slightly and the whole district glowed brighter than before, but the soft and perfectly blended colors somehow drew in your eye. The other hand moved and a haunting musical tone carried across the city. Both his hands moved in perfect unison. He traced different symbols with each individual finger and somehow they translated into gorgeous lights and music. The city had a heart that was beating, and the red and orange colors grew brighter and softer with each thump. Then it moved like an ocean as the sounds of a haunting melody rolled over it. Then it was the forest. Animals ran through the thick green grass, as cold rain streaked through the canopy. The Sunset District changed a thousand times in those 60 seconds, when this lonely creature held a piece of civilization in his hands.

When he was done the people’s lives continued. They put their heads back inside their windows, went back to their walking and the trams and billboards started running again, and the colors settled into a dim haze of red, orange and yellow.

“These are my favorite colors,” he told me, as his hands moved away from the controls.

It was so beautiful that I was saddened that I hadn’t seen it before.

“My name is Nearly.” Once he told me, I realized that I hadn’t even bothered to ask the poor creature.

“I’m Vera.” We were lowered slowly back down into his attic, where his lights were still shining. When we reached the bottom I stepped off the platform, admiring the four walls, all so intricately created. “You really are an artist.”

“Not really. I just make what I’m told.”

“By Frollo?”

“No. He doesn’t like my lights, but I listen to him. I always listen to him. I even sneak downstairs to hear his lectures sometimes.”

“Why?”

“Because he’s my father. When I was born, I was born bad and they had to fix me. Now, I always obey him.”

“What does he make you do?”

“He makes me control the lights, but I would do it anyway. He says that having the lights makes people happy and making the lights change makes me happy.”

“Well, you’re father is a terrible person, but I’m glad you’re happy.”

His one real eye looked like how an eye might look when smiling, I think. It was hard to tell when he didn’t have a real mouth. I went back to the walls, tracing the green lights with my eyes. They were amazing.

“I was never much of an artist. I tried sketching, but I never knew what to draw.”

“I just listen to what the voices tell me.”

“The voices?” I suddenly became concerned

“Yes. They tell me all kinds of things. It’s nice to hear from them because I get pretty lonely up here. I write down the things they tell me. The things they say. I create it. I put it in my patterns. The voices are in my lights.”

He still seemed harmless, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to take chances. “Ok. I have to go to away now,” I told him while backing away slowly.

“Oh. Will you come back to see me tomorrow? Or maybe later tonight? I can clean up if that would make you more at home. I’ll do anything.”

“I’ll be back tomorrow. Goodbye, Nearly.”

“Goodbye, Vera!” he said, waving one of his weak little arms.

I didn’t really plan on coming back, but the little guy seemed so excited that I felt bad. I didn’t want to tell him that he was crazy.

Chapter 11 – Scott Vale

 

“Thank you so much, Mr. Howitzer. Your resources will be in good hands,” Frollo said, speaking to one of the Temple’s wealthiest donors.

“If it’ll help you teach these kids to drive off the freeloaders, then it’s all worth it.”

“I’m glad to know that you understand our cause. We’ll send an agent tomorrow afternoon. Please feel free to stay for our six o’clock lecture, if you would like.”

“Will you be giving the lecture?”

“No. We’re giving one of our younger members a chance to put his public speaking skills to the test. I have business to attend to elsewhere.”

“I’m sure you do. The Sunset District would fall apart without you.”

“I’m aware.”

As the other man walked back towards the main hall, I ran after Frollo.

“Mr. Frollo!” I called, catching him before he could start up the stairs.

“I’ve told you before, Scott, please call me Father.”

“Father Frollo, I need to ask you something.”

“What is it?”

Now that I actually had the opportunity to ask, my nerve was gone.

“It’s just…I…”

He reassuringly put a hand on my shoulder and smiled down at me like a wise mentor looking upon his protégé.

“If something is troubling you, you can tell me.”

“I wanted to… I need to know why I’m here. I mean, I’m grateful for everything you’ve given me, but why are you giving us weapons? What is this all for?”

“You’re not the first person to ask me that. More than once I’ve caught Thomas sneaking into areas where he’s not supposed to, probably looking for the same answers you are.”

“So, what is the answer?”

“To be completely honest, it’s far more mundane than you might think. You see, Scott, I once had a dream in which I was leading Jamestown’s youth to a brighter future. A voice told me that I should work to create a better generation.”

“You listen to your dreams?”

“Don’t be ludicrous. Dreams are only fantasy, but I liked the idea and so I made it a reality. I’m creating a new and better Jamestown where discipline and duty are the most important qualities one can have, and you boys and girls are where I’m starting.”

I couldn’t help but be filled with a sense of pride as he told me that. I was just some stupid kid who’d been living in the street. Now I was part of a plan to make the city a better place? It was mind boggling.

“Thank you, Father. I’m honored to be able to help.”

“Don’t thank me, Scott. You earned the right to be here, just like everyone else. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to take care of something upstairs.”

I stood at the bottom of the staircase for several seconds, feeling very… I guess it was a feeling of accomplishment, but I didn’t know it then. It had been a long time since anyone had been proud of me.

“Maybe they’re not so bad,” I said to myself as I walked to the modified warehouse we called home.

“Did he convince you?” asked a familiar voice, just as I reached the front door.

“Byrd?”

“Did he convince you that everything he’s doing is to make a better Jamestown? That’s the speech he gave me when I asked him.”

“Yeah, that’s what he told me.”

“I figured as much. Come with me.”

I followed him through the front doors and down the hall, until we found a dark and uninhabited classroom.

“Go turn the lights on,” Byrd told me. “I need to grab some stuff first.”

It took me a minute to find the switch, but as soon as I turned the lights on Byrd rushed in and dumped a pile of folders and documents onto the nearest table.

“I took as much as I could carry without getting caught. These are recorded donations to the Temple, messages they’ve sent, and all the dirty secrets they’ve been trying to hide… You ok, Scott? You look pale.”

My heart skipped several beats as I looked at the papers spread out across the tabletop. Before I delve into what happened next, I should clarify my state of mind. It was years before I came to terms with how I felt; scared, angry, but mostly just desperate. I was desperate to keep things from changing. Frollo looked out for me. I had plenty of food, a warm bed that was all my own and I didn’t have to worry about something happening to Tex. My life was good, and I didn’t want to lose that.

And that is why I threw the papers into the trashcan and tried to set them on fire.

“What the hell are you doing?” Byrd yelled, smacking the lighter out of my hands.

“I don’t… I don’t…. I…”

“I thought you were different, but you’re just another fucking shiner!”

While Byrd collected the papers, I stammered for almost a full minute. Like I said, it was years before I even realized exactly why I had done it.

“They owe us. You realize that, don’t you? I don’t know your story, Scott, but it probably wasn’t too different from mine. My family didn’t have shit, and every single day I got beaten and bullied by those ghetto shitheads back home. But Frollo and these others, they spent their whole lives in the lap of luxury. They had butlers, friends, plenty of food and probably hired poor kids from the Gray District to wipe their asses for them. We deserve to have everything they have and they deserve to have it taken from them. Don’t you understand that? The world owes us.”

Chapter 12 – Scott Vale

 

I decided to blow off steam in the shooting range, hoping it would distract me. I passed by the armory where racks of assault rifles, shotguns and other weapons were stored, but I opted to use the jet black pistol that I always kept at my hip. It was simple, durable, reliable and deadly.

A thirteen round clip became thirteen clean headshots on the small paper targets, and it did help to distract me from the incident with Byrd, if only for a second.

“Great shot.”

“Thanks,” I told Tex, as I reloaded my weapon. “I saw your latest course time. Nice work.”

“It was nothing.” He aimed a large caliber rifle down the range and hit his target square in the chest. “So, what’s been up with you?”

“Nothing.”

“Really? You seem upset,” he said, as he hit another target in the neck.

I debated whether or not I wanted to talk about my worries with him. On the one hand, he was my best friend and like a little brother to me. On the other, I was the one who brought him here in the first place. I was the one who wanted us to take that test so we could get out of the Gray District. Now we finally had hot meals and clean clothes… it seemed wrong to tell him our good fortune could be in jeopardy.

“I lost one of my textbooks and I’m afraid I’ll get in trouble.”

“Is that all? I’m sure you can get another one. If not, you can borrow mine.”

He aimed down the range once again, but this time found himself unable to pull the trigger.

“Looks like a hog got out of its cage.”

The Men of the Temple kept several animals, mostly pigs, chickens and a few rabbits, penned up in the back of the warehouse. The chef used them for meat, but they were also used for teaching survival skills like skinning and cooking in the wild, and occasionally for target practice, when Frollo wanted to put on a show for an especially rich donor.

“Should we try and take it back?”

“I’d rather not get raked by its tusks trying to wrestle that thing. We should just put it down and take it to the kitchen.”

He aimed again, but I could see the gun start to shake in his hands.

“You ok, Tex?”

Bang

The hog screamed like a banshee as the bullet tore through its haunches. Without thinking, I drew my pistol and put two shots in its head.

We stood in silence, both in shock. I almost thought I could hear the rhythm of Tex’s heart, and mine was beating so hard I thought it would leap out of my chest.

“Are you ok?”

He nodded.

“It’s an animal. Everything is ok.”

He nodded again, his face completely white. “Let’s just get it out of here.”

Suddenly, I was glad I hadn’t told him.

Chapter 13 – Ross Keller

 

“…good racial hygiene makes for a cleaner, happier society.” I mouthed along with the words as they were spoken above me. I still wasn’t sure exactly what that old man had wanted me to hear, but he had sparked my curiosity about a different subject; the Truands.

I’d spent every moment of the last year gathering information on them and today was no different. I was huddled behind a row of garbage cans, watching them intently. I knew I was close to a breakthrough.

There was an alleyway across the street, and six Homo Sapiens had entered it in the last hour. Only one had come back out; an especially grimy looking vagrant who might have been drunk.

I once again used my camera to zoom in on the alley, hoping that the man about to pass by would be number seven. He wasn’t. In fact, this Sapien seemed just as naive about the alley’s contents as all the Omniscients around him, but I knew what was there.

It had taken me months, but I finally tracked down the entrance to their secret hideout. The government used to have records of this place, but they were long gone. They’d been destroyed years ago, right around the time the Truands stopped allowing anyone else inside.

“Looking for something?”

I shot up at the sound of his voice, knocking over two trash cans as I did.

“I was just trying to get a good view of that building. I was hired to take some photos…” I trailed off when I realized who I was speaking to.

“Do you really think I’m that stupid?”

“No, uh… I’m sorry.”

The old Sapien looked towards the alley and then back at me. “I recognize you. You’re that city archivist who hates candy. I think I failed to introduce myself last time we met.” He pulled his wide brimmed hat from atop his head, while extending his other hand to me. “My name is Fells Barrow. If there’s any information you want to get from the Truands, I can provide it.”

“I’ve heard of you. Every Truand I’ve talked to has spoken very highly of you.”

That was a serious understatement. All the Truands I had talked to had rambled on and on about Fells Barrow, aka The Grandfather. He was an incredibly important figure to his people, which was why it was so surprising that he turned out to be this dingy old man whom I had, only a year ago, seen selling candy bars like a common street peddler.

“I’m glad to see that you’ve heard of me. Now tell me why you’re spying on us.”

“I uh… I’m sorry. There are a lot of stories about the Truand’s secret underground base, but there aren’t any records of it. They were all…”

“Destroyed,” he finished for me. I hit the button to turn on my voice recorder as subtly as I possibly could, just before he spoke again. “We didn’t like the idea of anyone being able to just waltz into our home.”

“Did the Truands really destroy the records, Fells Barrow?” I asked him.

I saw the suspicion in his eyes, but there were a lot of hoops I had to jump through before the recording could be added to the archives.

“Yes.”

“Can you tell me anything about the events that made the Truands hunt down and destroy the records of their underground base?”

His answer wasn’t what I expected. “Would you like to see it?”

“See what?”

“What do you think?”

This day was getting better by the moment. “Yes, of course!” I said, as I checked my camera, inserting fresh batteries and emptying the memory card.

“You can’t bring that.”

“What?”

“You heard me. You can’t bring the camera.”

“Oh come on!” I said, pleading with him. “Don’t you want people to know about your culture? Don’t you want them to be informed?”

He walked up to me, getting uncomfortably close.

“I trust you because you seem… passionate. I think you genuinely care about getting to the truth.” The rough edges and fatherly wisdom in his words faded in an instant, leaving only a voice that seemed to speak directly to my soul. “But sometimes secrets are better. Transparency would be the death of my people.”

“Ok, I understand,” I said, partially out of respect, but mostly out of fear.

“Put it on the ground.”

I did what he said without question. “Happy?”

“Smash it,” he said, making his request in a calm and flat tone.

“What? That’ll come out of my paycheck!” It only occurred to me after I made that statement that I was speaking to a man who sold candy bars on the street for a living.

I don’t know if it was out of monetary guilt, a deep seeded need to find out what was going on inside this hideout or perhaps it was my unspoken hatred for that shitty camera and its power switch that shocked me when I turned it on, but I did smash it. I crushed it under my right foot, then my left foot and stomped on it until it was nothing but scrap metal and sparking wires.

“Good work, boy,” he said, his voice returning to its rough state. “But there is one last thing keeping you out.”

“What else could you possibly want me to do?” I asked him, intensely frustrated.

He didn’t respond with words, but simply lifted my voice recorder from my shirt pocket and tossed it into the street.

He waved at me to follow, and I did, all the way across the street and into the alley. Along the way I tried to look for my recorder, but it was lost in the sea of people rushing home from work and kids running home after school. A few private trams rolled by as well; a method of transportation used only by the wealthiest people in the city. I hoped that my recorder hadn’t landed on the tracks and gotten crushed.

“Turn around,” Fells told me after taking me into the alley and around a corner, out into a large open space between two buildings.

“Why?” I demanded to know.

“It’s because we danks like our privacy.”

“Can’t you just level with me?”

When I asked him that honest question, his face seemed to soften, as did his voice, which changed to be more like the one he had used earlier.

“We like to keep the entrances hidden. It’s a safety precaution, and with the Men of the Temple coming after us…”

“Wait a second, there’s more than one entrance? Where?”

He looked at me condescendingly before giving his final order, “Boy, just turn around.”

I did as I was told and a second later found my eyes covered by a dingy piece of cloth.

“What are you doing?”

“Don’t speak again.”

He spun me around and started to rub my face with dirt. At least I hope it was dirt. He did the same to the rest of my clothes, put a worn out cap on my head and wrapped something around my shoulders. It turned out to be a jacket and as I pulled my arms into the sleeves I wondered where he had found it in this seemingly abandoned alleyway.

After scuffing my clean leather shoes and pulling a ragged baseball cap over my head he finally told me, “You’re ready. But don’t let anyone know that you’re a shiner.”

“Will they hurt me if they find out?”

“No, but they won’t be happy about it. Now walk forward.”

I knew better than to question him this time, so I just followed his orders. It was difficult to make myself move at a quick pace however, since I was blindfolded.

“Faster.”

I forced myself to walk a little faster, but stopped. If my memory was right, the building should have been right in front of me.

Rather than asking this time Fells smacked me on the back to make me move forward another few steps and, amazingly, I didn’t hit anything. Instead, I felt a rush of cold air and the smell of wet clay started to replace the fumes of hot asphalt and spray-on-deodorant that always covered the Sunset District in the summer.

“Just keep walking,” Fells whispered into my ear.

“When can I…”

“No talking!” he whispered forcefully.

I kept walking forward, completely blind. After a few feet, we began to go down a gentle decline, which quickly turned into a very steep one.

On the way down, I could hear several pairs of voices pass us. Some were traveling up and some passed us on their way down. A few stopped to say hello to Fells, but he never said more than a few words to them.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” I muttered, hoping he wouldn’t hear me. Moving downhill while completely blind was stressing me out. I don’t know how long we walked for, but I remember that just as was about to turn around and tell Fells to take me back up the decline stopped.

“We’re almost there. Just a little bit further.”

I trusted him and kept moving. A soft blue light leaked through the fabric of my blindfold and I started to feel an odd sensation on my skin. It was like a gentle hand was running it’s fingers over me. It felt strange and almost violating at first, but soon was relaxing. My heart even began to slow as I felt my stress melt away.

“Barrow, where have you been?”

“I went out for a bit, then I helped our friend make it down the tunnel.”

“He’s blind?”

“And mute.”

“Nice. My brother got heart disease today.”

“And what were you doing?”

“Procuring a few things from a house on the east side of the Sunset District. Everything went well.”

“Good to hear.”

“Yeah, but we had some trouble getting back. Do you know when they’re going to fix the entrance under…”

“You should go!” Fells yelled, cutting him off. “I mean, you should go and check with the team working on it. Go there now.”

“Ok,” the Truand said. He sounded a little suspicious, but I heard him walk away without another word.

I soon lost his footsteps amongst the dozens of others. From what I could hear, the place was quite busy.

“I can’t stay blindfolded. You told me I could see it.”

“You will. Just be patient.”

I didn’t want to be patient. It had taken me a year just to track down this one entrance. I had to make the most of this opportunity, because I might not get another one.

I reached up to try and untie the dingy rag covering my eyes, but was stopped.

“I told you to be patient.”

“I want to see it now.”

He ripped my hands down and held then next to my sides. “That isn’t how this works. You’re in my home, so at least have the courtesy to follow my rules.”

I reluctantly took his words to heart and left the blindfold in place. He led me forward again for several more feet until the ground started to become very muddy and the blue light became much brighter. I trusted Fells and allowed him to lead me into a pool of water until it came up to my waist. The water was warm and the bright reflections from its surface allowed me to make out a few figures standing around me. There were several others in the water. All of them were chanting a poem I had heard while researching the Truands. Each of them was at a different place, and as each individual person finished the poem they placed something in the water and pushed it away.

“Do you know what they’re saying?” Fells asked me.

“I think so. I saw it written somewhere in the archives.”

“Say it and take off the blindfold.”

At first I couldn’t quite remember, but I filled the gaps in my memory by listening to the others.

 

Goddess of Light from the darkness of Hell,

Shepherd of Purgatory guide me well,

To our home that survived when Heaven fell,

This place, the Court of Myracell.

 

My heart sped up again when Fells untied the blindfold. As he took it off, I had to hold up my hands to shield my eyes from the bright light, but once I could see… words cannot describe that moment.

Myracell, the goddess worshipped by the Truands, was engraved on the ceiling and traced in bright blue, purple and green. I looked closer and saw that the lights were actually tiny glowing crystals that shimmered so perfectly as to make her almost seem like a vision from the sky.

“Here,” Fells said, handing me the blindfold. I looked around me and saw Truands putting cardboard signs, paper mache casts and makeshift crutches into the water before releasing them, allowing them to be carried down into a drain on the other side of the pool.

I placed the blindfold into the water and pushed it away, and it was strangely liberating.

“Stay close to me and keep that cap pulled down,” Fells told me. I followed him out of the water and finally was able to look around and see the place I had spent so much time hunting for.

The Court of Myracell was an enormous circular room of concrete and metal, with rusty signs and broken clocks on every wall. The ceiling was an enormous rotunda and the floor was made of marble. Everything was lit by white crystals, which covered most of the ceiling both here and in the smaller rooms adjacent to it. However, they didn’t shimmer like the image of Myracell did.

Fells took me to see the wings on both sides of the circular room. Both of these rooms were smaller than the main chamber, but still enormous. One had been turned into a bunkhouse for the dozens of Truands staying there. Wooden walls had been erected to divide the wing into sections, which Fells told me were each inhabited by a different family. The other wing was a marketplace. Here people traded goods like food, blankets, clothing and other amenities. I could only assume most of them were stolen.

“Does it ever bother you that you’re begging and stealing to survive?” I asked him.

“No.”

I was hoping for a better answer than that, so I kept up the questions. “Don’t you ever think about the people you steal from?” I pointed to dozens of bags of dried meat from a table. “This is a lot of food. Don’t you wonder if the family this was taken from needed it to survive? And what about guilt tripping people into giving you money? Do you really think that’s ethical?”

Based on his answer, which was the last thing he said to me before showing me to the door, I got the feeling that he had thought about this a lot.

“Do you know what happens to a Truands when they apply for a real job or a decent living space? They get laughed at. Most of us have been stealing since we were born, but now that we have families and kids of our own, we want to have amenities like everyone else. We want to give our kids what we never had. Would you have reacted the same way if, instead of piles of healthy food and clean water, you saw us eating scraps and drinking from the toilet? Does having less opportunities mean that we aren’t allowed to dream of giving our children new shoes and toys? You still haven’t learned to listen. In fact, you haven’t learned shit. You don’t care that we’re thieves and panhandlers, because as long as thieves and beggars live in the shit filled corners you won’t touch, you don’t bother them. It’s not that we’re poor that bugs you, it’s that we still give ourselves luxuries. It’s not the fact that we’re thieves that bothers you, it’s that we’re good at it.”

Chapter 14 – Scott Vale

 

“I know what the truth is,” I told myself. “Byrd must be wrong.”

Five.

That was the number of fingers Turner held up. I thought back to what had led to this moment, crouched behind the crates, the three of us with our guns trained on these low level drug makers.

Four.

“Scott, I need your help.”

“What is it?” I asked, so eager to please him.

Frollo told me about the drug ring the police had discovered in the Sunset District. They were only observing the building for now, but would soon be infiltrating it. He needed a small team to go in, eliminate everyone inside and destroy every document we found.

Three.

“I don’t believe you,” I told Byrd.

“Whatever. You’re the one who asked to see them.”

“They’re all fake. I know they are.”

“Bullshit! I worked hard to steal these! If you don’t believe me, why don’t you take a look at whatever documents are inside that building Frollo is sending you to. If you want proof, that’s where you’ll find it.”

Two.

“They used us,” Byrd told me. “Frollo never cared about you. He doesn’t care about any of us.”

It was all connected; their resources, the drugs in the Gray District and the building they wanted purged. They were covering their tracks.

“You are the instrument of my will. Scott. I need your help to spread our way of life; the correct way of life.”

That was what he told me as I buckled on my shiny new armor and picked up my brand new weapon. Expensive toys given to me by my father.

One.

“Your father is dead, Frollo betrayed you, your first home was a slum and the second was a lie. Scott Vale, no one will ever care about you.”

I needed to know if that was true.

Bang

Three perfectly synchronized gunshots were followed by the sound of three bodies crashing to the floor. Turner and Fox stepped out from behind the crates, while I stayed behind to cover them.

“Clear,” they each called out after a quick search of the room.

We all pulled off our helmets and I followed after them, stepping over the bodies and into the lab.

“Oh, God.”

“You ok?” Fox asked me.

I wasn’t. At the first whiff of vapor, I was instantly transported back to the Gray District. I was scrounging to get by, walking past junkies with every other step. It was a brutal and disgusting trip down memory lane.

“Come on, Frollo gave us strict orders. We have to burn all this stuff,” Turner told me, his arms filled with documents.

“I’ll take care of it. You guys keep lookout.”

“Why?”

“In case the cops bust in.”

“Isn’t that what…”

“Now!” I screamed at Turner, causing him to flee.

Fox wasn’t scared of me, but left anyway. I guess he realized I wanted to be alone. “I’ll see you at home, Scott.”

And then, everyone was gone. Crates of vapor were to my right. A drug lab was to my left. Stacks of paper were spread across the floor and tables, and three dead bodies were at my feet. I continuously repeated to myself that the Men of the Temple couldn’t be connected to all this. I looked up to Frollo. This couldn’t have been him.

Impressive. I didn’t think you had it in you.”

It took me a second to find where the faint voice was coming from, but I soon realized that someone was speaking to me through the radio in my helmet, which was sitting on the ground.

“Hello?” I said, after detaching the radio and wearing it like an earpiece, rather than putting on the whole helmet.

It’s me. I said, I didn’t think you had it in you.”

“Byrd?”

Were you expecting Durango?”

“I wasn’t expecting anyone. Why did you call?”

I was just curious about what you found.”

“Nothing yet. Give me a minute.”

There were dozens of journals with brown leather covers, each with a date on them. When looking at the most recent ones, I realized that each spaced about two weeks apart. The journals themselves were just filled with numbers and names, but to fill up one of these every fourteen days… god, they must have been shipping their drugs by the crate load.

“The Men of the Temple aren’t mentioned anywhere. You were wrong, Byrd.”

Keep looking. The proof is there. It’ll match the papers I showed you, I promise.”

I regretted ever going back to him and asking to see the documents. I should have preserved my innocence.

“No, it’s not. Frollo didn’t-” I was cut off by what I saw next. Sitting on one of the tables was a red journal with no date written on it. It was older than the rest, but had no dust. It had been opened recently.

Did you find something?”

“Shut up.”

I flipped through the pages and what I found was far worse than I could have imagined.

“It’s a notebook,” I told him, before reading it out loud. “The people of the Presidential District seem reluctant to begin using our product. Unsurprisingly, the blight has failed to take hold here.”

Before finding their notes regarding the next district, I flipped through several pages of names, most of them either dealers I knew back in the Gray District or Men of the Temple.

“The Cages are a special case. Our orders are only to infect one, two and three. They have been deemed unworthy, as they are the least genetically sound. Unfortunately, they are distrustful of our dealers. Every time they try to make a sale, either the citizens call them fairies and run off, or tattooed freaks show up and attack them. The one in the second cage is especially crazy. He’s actually killed two of our dealers. Once again, our efforts to spread vapor addiction have failed.”

More pages, more names, more anger. I felt it building up inside me.

“The Truands have refused us, but that’s not surprising. When we learned that many of the homeless Sapiens aren’t actually Truands, we tried to hire them to sell for us. We thought that having another dank dealing to them would make them more trusting, but even the bums refused our product. Every single one of them is distrustful of Homo Omniscients. We have failed, yet again.”

The next set of notes were on the very next page, but my anger doubled in the time it took me to flip it over. I knew what was coming next.

“The Gray District is the one place that has accepted our new product. The jobs have been drying up recently, ever since Frollo asked the people of the Sunset District not to hire them. He says they barely qualify as Omniscients, and should be subtly purged to keep the gene pool pure. Now that people are getting desperate, they need an escape from their problems. At least, I assume that’s why they love vapor so much. The blight has taken hold and within a few years I think we’ll have up to one fourth of the population completely addicted. It’s unfortunate that this is the only district where we’ve been successful, but perhaps the others will follow, given enough time.”

I told you they were selling vapor. You should have believed me.”

“That’s the only time Frollo is mentioned. Maybe he didn’t know.”

Of course he knew about it! What the fuck is wrong with you? This whole time I’ve been trying to make you see…” He suddenly stopped, not saying anything for several seconds. I waited for him to speak, but when I finally heard his voice come over the radio again he wasn’t talking, he was laughing like a fucking madman.

I finally understand,” he said, once his outburst had passed. “When I first saw you, I knew we were one in the same. We’re determined, cold and vicious; the kind of people who’d kill to get what we want. That’s why I was so surprised when you didn’t want to expose the Men of the Temple. I thought maybe my instincts were wrong, but they weren’t; we just wanted different things.”

“What are you saying?”

Do you know what my childhood was like, living in the shittiest part of the city, while these pricks were raised with silver spoons in their mouths? I would rip the throats out of every single person in the Sunset District, without batting an eye. You, on the other hand, would kill to be one of them.”

“That’s idiotic.”

Really? The proof is right behind you. You killed to stay in Frollo’s good graces.”

I turned back to see the terminated employees of the drug lab.

“I only did it because I was ordered to.”

That’s your excuse? You’re Frollo’s bitch?”

“Shut the fuck up. I didn’t kill all of them.”

You didn’t kill ALL of them,” he said, in an overly sarcastic tone. “Well, in that case you’re a goddamn saint.”

“It was only.. he was… they would have sent someone else.”

Stop giving bullshit excuses. You’re a killer, Scott. There’s nothing wrong with that, it just means we’re similar people.”

As a new layer of guilt washed over me, I felt as if I was going to throw up.

I hope you’ll finally realize what I’ve been trying to tell you all along; they owe us. Everyone in this fucking district owes us, Scott.”

“For what?”

For everything! They’re responsible for everything bad that ever happened to us, and it’s time we took revenge. We grew up poor, they grew up rich, so we should take everything from them, at the first chance we get. We should seize any opportunity given to us. We’ll get girls, money, fame and get to watch those rich pricks crawl through the mud and fight for the scraps of food we toss them. It’ll be a better life for you and Tex. Hell, go home and get all your old friends. If they grew up like us, they deserve a better life. What do you say? Are going to help me kill a few more of these shiners?”

“You want to kill people just because you grew up poor?”

A long pause followed. While neither of us spoke, I took the time to look back at the man I had shot in the head. Fox, Turner and I had done this so casually. Perhaps it was only a few short leaps from paper targets to animals to human beings. None of us had even given it a second thought.

All this time I’d been trying to protect my ignorance. I’d fought like hell to keep it and pretend like anyone could actually give a shit about me. But Byrd was right. Frollo didn’t care. He’d had his own agenda the whole time and I was just a pawn to him.

I couldn’t stay there any longer, watching the blood and gray matter leak out onto the floor. I ran out the doors, past a very confused Turner and started sprinting for the Temple as fast as I could.

I kept running, ignoring the weight of my armor and not caring that I had left my rifle behind. I ran through the streets crowded with Omniscients and Truands, and only stopped to catch my breath when I finally reached the doors of the Temple, ready to barge in and demand Frollo tell me everything. But just as I opened the doors, I heard the familiar half second of radio static before Byrd spoke. These were the last words he said over the radio, but not the last ones he would whisper in my ear.

Nobody cares about us. That’s why we have to be bad.”

Chapter 15 – Ins Vera

 

“I love supporting the arts,” said a young shiner girl, probably about nineteen or twenty years old. “The Truand’s culture is amazing.”

“Yeah…” was all her boyfriend could mutter as he emptied his wallet. I always felt proud when my dancing managed to draw men’s eyes away from their significant others.

Yeah, I was a real bitch back then and I loved it.

On Sundays, the younger and more open minded shiners always showed up in droves, and they were very loose with their cash. Usually, it was a good day for the Truands all over the Sunset District, but none of us knew that something horrible was about to happen.

All at once, we lost the people’s attention. A few started screaming, some of them began to run and soon it was a full-fledged stampede. I pressed myself against a building as tightly as I could to keep from getting trampled, and wondered what the hell was making everyone go crazy.

Gunfire erupted from where the commotion had started and as quickly as people had started running, they stopped. Some even slowly wandered back.

While the crowd was thinned, I went down the street to see exactly what people were running from and I almost couldn’t believe what I saw. I had only ever seen pictures of them before, but I recognized it immediately. It was a monster from outside the walls, and it was surrounded by bloodied human corpses. I might have thrown up at the sight of it, but instead I froze when I saw something scarier; soldiers armed to the teeth, covered in black armor from head to toe.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I suggest you all take a good look at this body.” The voice came from the roof of the Temple. There, I saw another of the soldiers, but this one was different. His armor was covered in gold lights, including a glowing chest piece and a bright yellow mohawk on his helmet. “This is what we get when these Homo Sapiens are allowed to roam free. The infected vagrants turn into monsters! If the Men of the Temple had done more to push these Truands out of our district these infected tramps wouldn’t be here.”

As more and more people continued to gather, the creature’s body was strung up for everyone to see, hanging below the man in gold.

“The Men of the Temple tried to solve this problem, but their methods aren’t good enough anymore. Sapiens not only beg and grovel and manipulate, but they steal from you. How many of you have turned and found your wallet or purse missing, or come home to find your jewelry and family heirlooms gone? And now, as if that wasn’t bad enough, they’re infected! Soon enough they will all turn and attack us.”

As the crowd started to buy into what he was saying, I tried to make my exit, but couldn’t get through the dense mob.

Suddenly every billboard in the district suddenly lit up with his masked face.

“People of the Sunset District, Lykan’s virus has arrived in Jamestown. The Truands are turning into feral creatures and the Men of the Temple have done nothing to stop it. You need to take action, for the safety of your family and friends.”

As the camera showed the corpse of the dog creature up close, with its deformed limbs and hairy body, the crowd started cheering in approval. Meanwhile, I fought to get away from them before things got out of hand.

“As of now, the Men of the Temple are done! Now the 80’s are taking over, and we will put down these walking time bombs one by one!” The crowd erupted, but I still couldn’t get out. I kept trying to claw my way through, until I ran straight into the chest of a large burly man.

“Hey, I’ve found one! It’s a…” He was interrupted when he was struck in the face. Something was pulled over my head, and I felt myself being drawn away. I struggled and tried to tear the cloth from over my eyes, but did so without success. Whoever held me had an iron grip. I was dragged and dragged until I just gave up. I couldn’t escape it. This was the end.

When my eyes were finally uncovered, I was in an alley with a different man standing in front of me. “Are you alright?” he asked.

I had intended to attack as soon as the cloth was pulled off my eyes, but he seemed to have no intention of hurting me. In fact, he seemed genuinely concerned.

“Yes, I think so,” I told him before noticing something strange. He was wearing the same black armor as the other soldiers.

“Let me go!”

“What are you doing? I’m trying to help you.”

“You’re one of them. You’re one of the 80’s. You’re trying to kill Truands.”

“No, I just used to be.”

I finally managed to pull myself away from him, but found blood on my arms.

“What the hell did you do to me?”

He paused, as if speaking was painful. “That’s not yours.” In my fear I hadn’t even realized that he was holding his side, one hand pressed on a spot between the armored plates.

“You’re bleeding.”

“Like I said, I’m not with the 80’s anymore. I went to the Temple to meet with Frollo and… I left on bad terms.”

The crowd started running through the streets, tearing apart everything.

“How can they do this?” I asked, as I reached under a dumpster. Thankfully, there was a stash of clothes there.

“They’re just scared. A dog creature hasn’t made it inside the walls in a long time. Once the panic subsides, things will be fine. I’m sure of it.”

“Do you think Frollo will make them stop?”

He was slow to respond and seemed to tear up as he answered. “No, that’s not going to happen.”

As I finished putting on the long pants and winter coat I found in the stash, and pulling the hood as tightly around my face as it would go, another member of the 80’s ran into the alley.

“Scott? Are you ok?”

“I’m fine, but we need to get out of here. Byrd is going to tear the city apart.”

“You need a doctor,” he said, pouring rubbing alcohol onto a sponge and pressing it to the wound. “This was all I could find.”

“Damn Tex, that hurts! We can’t go to a doctor here. We’ll have to find Revy.”

“The Gray District is way too far.”

We heard more things shattering and breaking in the streets and two thunderbolts cracked overhead in quick succession, almost as if Myracell knew her children were in danger.

“It’s our best chance and we need to get as far away from this place as possible. Let’s go.”

They started to leave, with the injured one leaning on the other for support, but he turned around when I didn’t follow. “Aren’t you coming?”

As much as I wanted to run back home, deep underground, and crawl into my bed, I knew I was better off staying with the two armed men, assuming they really did want to help me.

“You’re shiners. Why should I believe you’re on my side?”

“Believe whatever you want, but this crowd is hunting danks and they’re out for blood. If you want to stay, be my guest.”

I didn’t stay.

Chapter 16 – Rae Johnson

 

The world seemed so peaceful. The sky was blocked out by clouds rolling in. I could smell rain coming and the strong wind carried hundreds of orange and yellow leaves out of the forest. They flew up into the air and fell like rain. Many of them settled inside the Cages, and several crunched under my feet as I crept up to the bars.

The last thing Revy had said to me was still on my mind, “Rae, you’re going to get yourself hurt.” He didn’t realize that I was perfectly capable of taking care of myself. I wasn’t some little girl for him to order around.

My business partner was waiting on the other side. He was easy to distinguish, since he was covered in tattoos. After checking for the fourth time to make sure the coast was clear, I stepped into view.

“There you are,” he said. “Did you get it?”

“Of course I did.”

“Hand it here,” he reached through the bars. “Did you look inside?

“Yeah, I saw the needle.” His eyes grew very wide when I told him that. “It’s ok. My father is diabetic. I don’t think any less of you.”

“Uh, yes… that’s very kind.” He opened the small black box and pulled out the single syringe inside. I could see the ripped label while he inspected it; “Type 6”.

“So… didn’t you promise me something?”

“Huh? Oh, yes.” He lifted the bag sitting beside him and handed it to me. This was only my second delivery for him, but both times we had traded without any argument. That boded well. I started to think that maybe it would be a good idea to work with him in the future, but, before I could ask, I looked up and saw him walking away.

I opened up the bag. Inside were several food items, wrapped in recycled wax paper and tin foil. Everything was marked “Cage V: Sustenance Package”. The Presidential District always gave huge food shipments to the Cages, since they were locked away and couldn’t exactly get regular jobs. Many of the people there were willing to sell their surplus food in exchange for items they couldn’t acquire on their own, and it was usually poor folks from the Gray Districts that acquired these items for them.

“May I ask you something?” I nearly jumped out of my skin at the unexpected voice. He had returned to the bars, while I was busy looking through the bag.

“Sure.”

“Do you live in the Sunset District?”

“No. I’m from the Gray District.”

“Oh, ok,” he said. “I don’t know much about that place.”

“It’s not a great place to live. The people there are pretty poor.”

“There are poor people in the Ring?” he asked, utterly shocked.

“Yeah, my whole district is full of Omniscients that don’t have very much money or food. Why do you think I’m here trading with you?”

He looked down at the ground. I couldn’t tell what exactly he was feeling, but it looked like a mixture of confusion, surprise and a small amount of shame.

“If you are poor, why do you stay there? There must be other parts of the Ring that are wealthy, right? Is it because of your husband or children?”

“What? I don’t have a husband.”

“Oh, I didn’t realize… so it is your wife that makes you stay?”

“No no no, I’m not married at all. I’m way too young for that.”

He tilted his head as I said that, like how a curious dog might do.

“Then why do you stay in this unfortunate place?”

“I don’t have anywhere else to go.”

His eyes softened up and I could see pity in them. He looked as if he had something he wanted to tell me and even opened his mouth to speak, but chose not to. Instead, he simply left.

I took my time getting back to the Gray District, being more careful than I really needed to be when sneaking around the handful of guards posted at the Cages. I needed time to think. He really didn’t know there were poor people in the Shining Ring? Did everyone in the Cages think we lived in mansions and ate gold for breakfast? Then again, I didn’t know much about the Cages, so I probably didn’t have the right to judge him.

My walk home took me underneath the overpass on which the Gray District was built. I wanted to avoid being seen by any cops in the Presidential District. Luckily, it hadn’t rained in the past few weeks, so it was relatively dry. The area underneath was just big concrete ditch, and it acted as an enormous storm drain during rainier times of year.

When I was almost to the entrance, I started sprinting as fast as I could. Two cracks of thunder told me that a storm would be coming soon and this place would start filling up, fast. I sprinted up the ramp leading to the entrance, up two metal staircases, and past several houses until I found the red cross outside of Revy’s clinic. I busted through the door so fast that I almost broke it off its hinges. Jack and Revy were surprised by my sudden entrance, but glad to see what I carried.

“Got anything good?”

The two of them were playing poker on the examination table, but moved their cards so I could dump out the contents of the sack; tortillas, very rubbery cheese, some jerky and a few other things. Jack immediately unwrapped the meat and tore into it like an animal.

Meanwhile, Revy and I sat down at the table to eat like civilized human beings. I carefully peeled off layers of cheese and wrapped them in the tortillas, while he picked up the last of the deck.

“Did you trade for this stuff at the Cages?”

“Yeah. All I had to do was bring a guy some medicine.”

“Did you know this guy beforehand?”

“No. Why does it matter?”

“Because you shouldn’t be trading with people you don’t know. It’s dangerous.”

“Do you really think I don’t know that?”

“That’s not it, I just…” He got flustered. Communicating his feelings wasn’t something Revy did well.

“I know you’re just concerned because you care,” I said, wrapping my arms around him.

“Can you two decide if you’re together already?” Jack said, blunt as usual. “And while you’re at it, get a room.”

“I own this place, Jack. They’re all my rooms.”

“Whatever man.” He grabbed a bottle of spirit from a cabinet and pulled up a chair. “Who wants a drink?” He poured three glasses, but Revy and I watered ours down. Jack picked up his glass of dark liquor and made a toast, “To living with no promise of tomorrow.”

We clinked our glasses and drank, but none of us knew that, after tonight, nothing would ever be the same.

We sat around the table for a while, talking, eating, having a few drinks, though Jack did most of the drinking, and we listened to the sound of rain on the tin… well, everything. The whole district was made of sheet metal, and when it rained it sounded like a steel drum orchestra. The night was turning out to be a pretty enjoyable one, but it came to a halt when we heard something outside. We weren’t sure what it was at first, but we started to hear voices over the sound of the rain.

Someone knocked. Revy went over to the door, while I followed close behind. Jack did to, but he had to work pretty hard not to trip over his own feet.

Of all the things I expected to find outside, when Revy pulled the door open, two armor clad soldiers and a dank were not among them.

“We need help.”

Chapter 17 – Revy Micer

 

“Goddammit, that hurts,” Scott said, as I continued to scrape debris and dead tissue from his wound.

“Stop squirming, unless you want to end up with a necrotic infection.”

“If I could get a few more of those pills, it might help me stay still.”

“They’ll interfere with your tetanus booster. I can give you some if you’re still hurting in an hour.”

“Oh come on, Revy. Please?”

Eyebrows raised by approximately eight millimeters. Mouth held slightly agape. Lower lip slightly extended by the contraction of muscle tissue in and around the mental region. He was making an attempt to evoke pity.

“It’s not going to happen.”

“Fine, whatever.”

I continued working, unaware that he was angry at me for not giving him the pills. “You’re going to end up with one hell of a scar. It was a nasty wound.”

“I got scars already. One more won’t make me any uglier.”

“It would take a hell of a lot to make you any uglier, Scott,” I said, jokingly.

“Fuck you.”

Anger? What did I do wrong?” I thought to myself before pushing it out of my mind. “Eh, he’ll get over it. They usually do.”

I took full advantage of Scott’s silence, starting to enjoy my work once again. Cutting away pieces of dead white flesh, electrocauterizing tiny blood vessels and removing pieces of dirt and black cloth while my skin tingled from the cold antiseptic mist dispersed above. Most people found it disgusting. As for me, it was the only job I had ever done and ever wanted to do.

“You know, some patients find that talking helps them take their mind off the pain.” I told him this in the hope that I could get him to stop squirming.

“Fine,” he said. Now that I was already aware of it, I could hear the angry tone in his voice. “What should I talk about?”

“Well, you never told me how you got this nasty cut.”

Slight droop to the mouth followed by an audible exhale. Visible relaxation of the facial muscles, allowing for the release of tension around the eyes, forehead and jaw. He’d moved from anger to depression.

“Is it a sad story?”

“No it’s…I mean… Revy, I killed someone.”

“Oh, ok.”

“No, that’s not ok!”

“What? Oh, yeah, of course it’s not.”

He relaxed once again, making me think he was done talking.

Moral subjects were a difficult topic, as every person had a different moral code that I needed to memorize for future conversations. Obviously, I had forgotten Scott’s during his time away from the Gray District. I usually avoided certain topics, especially death, since other people always seemed so much more sensitive about those things.

Thank God that’s over with,” I thought to myself, not realizing what a huge can of worms I had opened. At first I thought the conversation was done, but then I heard him sigh. Sighing always meant they had something more they wanted to say. I kept cleaning the wound. He sighed again. People who came into the clinic usually wanted me to stitch them up, which I’m good at doing, but then they always had problems they wanted to talk about. Usually, I could tune them out, but some of them just never wanted to shut up.

I finally decided to suck it up and ask, “Do you want to talk more about it?”

He began speaking almost immediately. “The Men of the Temple recruited Tex Mex and I to become members of this new paramilitary force called the 80’s. We were OW-” He jumped when I hit a sensitive spot.

“Sorry about that.” I didn’t tell him this, but my hand slipped because I was so shocked that his story was actually interesting. Usually, people just complained about their daddy issues, suicidal thoughts and other crap like that.

“So, that’s where you’ve been all this time?”

“Yeah, I was working for the Men of the Temple. Do you think everyone here will hate me for that?”

Ugh, another moral topic.” I tried to deflect it. “Does it matter? You could always leave. I’m sure you don’t want to come back and live here forever.”

“I don’t think I can go anywhere else. The 80’s and I parted on bad terms.”

“How so?”

“They stabbed me.”

“Oh… right.”

The stitches were done, so I started redressing the wound after turning off the mist of disinfectant. I didn’t want the bandage getting wet. “Is there anything else you would like to talk about?”

“I don’t know. Maybe.”

I knew enough about normal conversation to understand that “Maybe” actually meant “Yes, but I don’t want to admit it.”

“Just tell me what it is.”

“Before I left the 80’s, the Men of the Temple sent us to clear out this drug den. They were producing vapor there. There were three of us and three hostiles, so we took them out; one apiece. I shot a man in the back of the head.”

“Good work.”

He raised an eyebrow at me. I didn’t know that the hell that meant, so I just improvised.

“Uh… I mean… It was a clean shot. It was quick. That’s a good thing.”

“Yeah, it was quick, but I’m still angry at myself for doing it. I just want to forget.”

“Death is hard for some people to cope with, but you’ll come to terms with it.”

“How? How do you get comfortable with death?”

As much as I dealt with people who were sick, dead or dying, I had yet to contemplate that question. I tried to remember the last time any death had seriously affected me. Maybe it was when I was finishing up with my most recent dead patient, getting her ready before the reaper came to pick her up. She was a vapor junkie who died on the table Scott was now laying on; the third one that week. Maybe it was the man who’d been beaten so badly over his inability to pay a gambling debt that he’d bled out. Or perhaps it was the newborn that had drowned in his own vomit during a seizure. His mother had the slight discoloration of the eyes that was common among vapor addicts. That damn drug caused most of the deaths around here.

“Eh, you just kind of go numb to it.”

I finished up the bandage and told him, “Take it easy for a few weeks and don’t enter any sit up contests. We don’t want the stitches to pop open.”

“Thanks Revy.” I helped him sit up on the table. “Can I ask you something?”

“Sure.”

“Why do you still run this clinic? When we came here last night, part of me expected you to be long gone.”

“What else would I do? I love being a doctor.” I really meant it when I said that. I often found that I was most honest when I didn’t think too much about what I was saying. “Besides, I have one of the best houses in the Gray District, no one ever messes with me on the off chance they may need my help someday and I meet a lot of interesting people.”

“Yeah, speaking of that, who was that girl who was here last night?”

My hand slipped and caused a few of my tools to fall to the floor. “Her name is Rae. She’s a friend of mine,” I said, as I picked up the forceps, scalpels and other odds and ends.

“She was cute. I definitely wouldn’t mind seeing her again. She available?” he asked as he laughed. I didn’t realize it was a joke.

Before I knew what I was doing, I brought my fist down onto the table next to him. I didn’t know I could get angry that fast. Hell, I didn’t know I could get angry at all. It took every ounce of self-control I had to calmly state to him, “No, she isn’t.” Even then, I didn’t need to list off his emotional symptoms to see the surprise and slight dash of fear on his face.

When I was unable to lift my fist from the table, I looked down and found that I had driven one of my scalpels through it, in the space between Scott’s middle and index fingers. I yanked it out and put it on a tray.

There was a silence that hovered over us while I disinfected my equipment, including the broken scalpel. I enjoyed the eighty-three seconds of quiet, but another bit of information I had picked up over the years was that other people found silences unpleasant and would eventually try to break them. The word I often heard to describe pauses in conversation was “awkward”, but I had no idea what that word meant. In fact, I still have yet to find anyone who can actually define it for me.

“You never really seemed the type to settle down.”

“Excuse me?”

“You never seemed the type to settle down. I don’t remember you ever being in a steady relationship.”

“Well, Rae and I really aren’t in a relationship. It’s just…” I trailed off.

“It’s complicated?”

“Only for me.”

There was another pause of approximately twenty-two seconds before he broke it.

“What do you think I should do with that stuff?” He pointed to the corner where his black armor was lying.

“You’ll look pretty conspicuous if you wear it around here.” Even after I told him that, he still continued looking at the thick metal plating. “Are you sad?”

“A little. I mean, I never want to see that armor again, but I liked being one of the 80’s. I felt like I was going to make a difference; like I had something to fight for. The Men of the Temple always told us we were going to make Jamestown a better place. I wish I’d known what their definition of ‘better’ was beforehand, and I wish I’d known how it would end.”

“If you liked having something to fight for, why don’t you just fight for the Gray District?” I asked him.

He looked confused for a moment, like he wasn’t exactly sure what I meant.

“You still have all the knowledge they gave you. Just use what they taught you to fight for your actual home.” The concept seemed simple to me, but Scott seemed to have trouble grasping it.

“How would I even do that?”

I pulled out a bin of discarded clothing I had accumulated through the years, and rooted through it until I found what I was looking for.

“Try that on.”

“A black leather jacket?” He stood up from the table and put it on, then pulled up the dingy hood that had been stitched on by the previous owner. “I like it, but why would I ever wear it?”

“Because it’s like the Gray District; it’s worn out and dirty, but rugged. That armor is like the Sunset District; it’s clean, polished and very expensive, but it didn’t do anything to protect you from getting a knife in your back. Wear that jacket, be tough and go out and make the Gray District a better place. Kill the dealers who are flooding the streets with vapor. Feed hungry children so they don’t have to steal anymore. Maybe even fix a few of the broken catwalks. If you liked being one of the 80’s, then keep being an 80, just be an 80 in the Gray District… does that make any sense?”

“Yeah, actually it makes a lot of sense.”

He stood there for fifty-three seconds, his eyes tracing the seams stitched into the leather. I don’t know what he was thinking, that’s only for him to know, but the decision he made at the end of those fifty-three seconds was one of the most important in the history of Jamestown.

“I’m going to fix this place. You, me, Tex, Jack and maybe even Rae can start making a difference in this shitheap.”

“What about that Truand girl?”

“Her? She’ll probably go back to her people once things calm down in the Sunset District, but she can help if she wants to.”

“You never did tell me what happened over there. Was it some kind of riot?”

“A monster got inside the walls. One of the 80’s used it as an excuse to stage a coup and turn everyone against the Men of the Temple.”

“Damn. I thought maybe a block party got out of control or something. And the girl?”

“I found her in the crowd and dragged her to safety, then Tex and I let her tag along with us.”

“What about the wound? You never actually told me the specifics.”

Nine seconds of silence. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Fair enough, I suppose.”

Scott walked over to the mirror and looked at his reflection in the glass. I noticed how different his posture was. Even with the pain in his torso, he still walked with his head up, shoulders square and feet pointed directly forward. Despite my having encouraged him to pursue fighting for the Gray District, that moment, seeing him in the black jacket, standing with his head held high and wearing a facial expression I have only ever seen on soldiers, something I can only describe as calm ferocity, was the moment I realized that he really did have a chance; that things could actually get better.

“The first thing I want to do is eliminate the vapor problem, once and for all. If we drive out all the dealers, the junkies will have to either get clean or leave. But, maybe we should try to wean them off gradually? What do you think is best, Revy? You’re the doctor, after all.”

I thought for only a moment before deciding on my answer. “We may as well do it quick. The length of time won’t matter.”

“Ok then, let’s get started.”

 

2308: The Year of Growth

Chapter 18 – Sirius V

 

“Prepare yourself, young one.”

My heart was beating faster than ever before. Excitement was boiling deep inside me.

“I am ready.”

The Shaman of Honor pulled the curtain aside, allowing me to see the transcribed history of my people for the first time. I had waited years to finally be able to lay eyes upon Canis’s Testimony. Deep in the tunnels beneath the Cages, below the eyes of the fairies and their pitiful police force, the Shamans discussed our people’s future and plotted our course to ultimate triumph. It was also where the Empowered Ones came to speak to one another and where young wolves came to learn the history of Canis.

“Sirius V, on this wall is carved the story of our people; past, present and future. Canis himself handed down this knowledge to the Shaman of Prophecy and it was recorded here.”

He moved over to the wall, explaining every intricately carved picture.

“The story begins with the creation. The Great Power was released and it spread quickly. Every person who was bitten became one with Canis. The Omniscients, being cowards, feared the Great Power. They built walls to halt those under Canis’s influence and they keep us caged to protect themselves. They say that it is because we are a threat and they are right to think that. Wolves cannot remain caged forever.”

Despite my excitement and how much I had looked forward to this moment, something about the next picture was unnerving. Enormous wolves stood with bloody fangs around stacks of bodies, many of them torn and broken. I finally realized what was so unnerving about it when I saw a young girl being ripped in half by a beast. She looked just like the girl who brought me the serum.

“We shall become more than wolves or men, young one. We shall become a mighty army for Canis. Using the dog serum, we shall kill the fairies and lap up their blood with our tongues.”

“That is… exciting.”

“Of course it is. Our destiny is to use the serum to render every fairy lifeless.”

“Was the first dosage put to good use?”

“It was. On the night our brother left, we could hear the sounds of chaos from the district where the sun sets, home of the Men of the Temple. Our brother did not return, but he did his job well.” The Shaman pulled a black box from his sleeve; the spare dosage we had kept. “They think us beasts and so beasts we shall become.”

“Will we continue to send people to die?”

“Young one, we are not sending them to die. We are sending them to live with Canis.”

“But we know how the police treat beasts. They respond with no mercy.”

“It is a one way journey, but an important one. Their efforts put fear into the hearts of the fairies, the government and the Men of the Temple.”

Despite what he told me, and even though I hated the Men of the Temple, the deaths of our people still made me uneasy, and the words of that fairy girl still echoed in my ears.

“Shaman… what if not every person in the Ring lives a decadently?”

“What are you talking about?”

“What if some of them are poor? Is it possible that there are Omniscients who are oppressed? And if so, perhaps they could be brought into our fold. They wouldn’t deserve to die, would they?”

He laughed. “Oppressed fairies? There is no such thing. When we leave this place you will see for yourself. They are lavish and wasteful, and deserve only death.”

“I apologize, Shaman,” I said, not entirely convinced. “And after Jamestown, when we gain enough of the serum for all of us to turn and we bring the city down, what is next for the Tribe of Dogs?”

The Shaman smiled. “Once Jamestown is nothing but hot ash and cold bodies, the true battle starts.”

I looked to the next part of the wall. It showed us, the Tribe, opposing a huge and menacing silver creature.

“What is that?”

“The dragon. It has been foretold that when Canis has led us out of this place, the dragon will return. We shall hold the power of the wolf and he shall hold many powers of his own, but we will slay him regardless and eat his body to gain his power.”

“May it be done as prophesied,” I said, though I hoped that not everything would come true.

“May it be so young one. However, there is one more thing you must be aware of.”

“What is that?”

“It is possible that you shall become Canis’s truest servant. You will have the chance to lead our people into this new age, as our singular leader.”

“I would be honored to do so.”

“You will have to prove yourself, first. When we are ready to leave, the Empowered Ones from each Cage will fight to see who is the most worthy. The one who wins will lead us on this glorious campaign, but, for now, we will continue to terrorize the fairies; put the fear of Canis in them.”

Again, the image of that girl crossed my mind. “And after that, they’ll all die?”

“We will kill every last one of them, leave Jamestown a shadow of its former self and carve the world in the image of the wolf.”

A stone seemed to fall into the pit of my stomach. “I must… I must go,” I said, stuttering as I tried to excuse myself.

“That’s right, you have a delivery coming, don’t you?”

“Yes, Shaman.”

“Bring it back to me as soon as you can.”

“Yes, I will do as you say.”

Chapter 19 – Scott Vale

 

“Are you ever going to sell here again?”

“No,” he said, blood dripping out of his nose.

“Who owns this district?”

“The Black Jackets.”

“That’s right,” I said, before kicking him in the gut. “Now get the fuck out of here.”

Jack released the drug dealer from the full nelson, allowing him to drop to the ground. Admittedly, I probably took a little too much pleasure in watching him crawl away through the snow, but I couldn’t help it. These fuckers deserved what they got.

“Damn, Scott. You really love kicking the crap out of these vapor dealers.”

“I have a lot of frustration I need to work out.”

“You should show me some of your moves sometime. When you restrained that last guy, that was some military shit, right there.”

“What can I say? I’m talented.”

Ok, I was definitely taking too much pleasure.

“Hey,” Jack called to a sketchy looking figure in an alley. “What are you doing out here?”

They took off like a rocket and we chased after them.

“Get the fuck back here!”

Lucky for us, the bastard slipped on a patch of ice and went crashing to the ground. I jumped on them and pinned them down, careful not to slip on the ice myself.

“Holy shit, it’s a girl.”

“Get the fuck off me,” the dealer yelled. “I didn’t do anything!”

I started searching her pockets and found a vial of vapor in the very first one.

“I’m holding that for a friend.”

“Yeah, sure you are,” I told her, my tongue dripping with sarcasm.

“I say, we teach her a lesson,” said Jack. I was about to agree with him, before I looked up and saw him holding a fire axe.

“Where the fuck did you get that?”

“Found it.”

“We’re not cutting her with an axe, Jack. Put it away.”

“Well, don’t go soft on her just because she’s a girl.”

She cried out again, “I told you, I didn’t do anything! I’m not dealing.”

I wanted to believe her, but it only took thirty seconds of searching to find seven more vials in her pockets.

“Do you know what this shit does to people?” I asked her.

She didn’t respond.

“Keeping quiet, huh? Maybe I should help you find out.”

I grabbed her jaw, trying to force her mouth open.

“If you struggle, I’ll just pour it up your nose.”

She stopped squirming as much, allowing me to slip the entire vial of colored liquid into her mouth, with the cap still on tight.

“You know how dangerous this stuff is, don’t you?”

She nodded, her whole body shaking and her eyes wide with fear.

“But you’re selling it anyway?”

She nodded again.

“Are you going to keep selling it?”

She frantically shook her head, telling us no.

“Open up.”

I pulled out the vial and threw it against the nearest wall. She breathed a sigh of relief as the glass shattered and the neon liquid dripped harmlessly into the snow.

“The next time you deal vapor, I’m going to take every vial I find in your pockets and shove them down your throat.”

I allowed her to stand and she ran off as fast as she could.

“Goddamn. I thought she was going to piss herself. If she comes back, are you really going to make her drink a whole vial? That could be dangerous, without a tolerance.”

“Nah, I just wanted to scare her. But I will beat the shit out of her next time.”

“Good, don’t go soft on her.”

I looked to the sky above us and saw the first rays of sunlight starting to peak out, reminding us both how long we’d been outside.”

“I’m going to head home, Scott. Goodnight, man.”

“Goodnight, Jack.”

He walked off, still holding the axe he had found. I made a mental note not to let him bring it the next time we went patrolling. I didn’t want things getting out of hand. Just because I enjoyed a little violence now and then didn’t mean I wanted my crew turning into hardened killers.

“So this is how you help people?” a female voice said from behind me. I turned and saw a black jacket standing there, but had to think for a second before I recognized the voice.

“Oh, Vera. You’re still here?”

“Nice to see you to, asshole.”

“Why are you wearing one of our jackets?”

“It’s Rae’s. She doesn’t want to be seen in it, because she thinks you guys are acting like a bunch of immature bullies and, from what I just saw, I think she’s right.”

“Do you mean what I did to the dealer? She’s garbage. All of them can die for all I care.”

“What about the guy you were beating up before her? He was bleeding and could barely walk.”

“He was a dealer too. I’m taking care of the vapor problem and making the district a better place.”

“Do you really think that beating people to a bloody pulp is the best way to help?”

“Hey, you don’t get to judge my methods. You don’t know what this drug does to people. I’ve seen junkies drop dead from this stuff, foaming at the mouth like a rabid dog. I’m doing the district a favor.”

She reached into her jacket and pulled out a sheet of paper. “Take a look at this.”

I unfolded it and read the first line out loud.

“Marty Frost, age thirty-two, wants a new house. What the fuck is this?” I asked her.

“Rae and I went around the entire Gray District asking people how we could make their lives better. A surprising amount of them are just simple things. Maybe you should read it before you keep attacking people.”

“Look, Vera, I know what’s best for the Gray District. While we’re on the subject, why do you even care? This isn’t your home.”

Just before she looked down at the ground, I saw tears well up in her eyes. That was one of the lowest points in my life, making a girl who had lost her home feel like she wasn’t welcome in mine.

“I’m sorry, that was a horrible thing to say.”

“It’s fine. You’re completely right. This isn’t my home.”

“No, it is! You’ve already done more to help this district than I have by making this list. Without it, I never would have known…” I quickly looked down at the second name. “…that fifteen year old, Timmy Hull wants to learn to read… Wait, how can he not read?” I asked, totally perplexed. “He’s fifteen years old. He should know how to read by now.”

“I guess you don’t know as much about your people as you think.”

I felt like a complete ass. I guess I just hadn’t realized that there was more to making a difference than just beating up bad people.

“I’ll do better.”

“Really?”

“Yeah,” I told her, and I meant it. “Is this the full list?”

“There are seventeen more pages.”

“Fuck. Well, then I guess there’s no time to waste. May as well get started.”

Chapter 20 – Rae Johnson

 

Assholes. They were all assholes, and I wanted nothing to do with them. I was so hot under the collar that I’m surprised the falling snow didn’t boil on contact with my skin.

I didn’t care as much about being stealthy, both because I was distracted and because there had been less police officers patrolling the Cages recently. However, I still stopped and hid in the bushes for a moment and took a quick look to make sure the coast was clear.

The only one there was my business partner, standing on the other side of the bars with a big bag of food for me. He seemed sad, but it was hard to tell. The tattoos made his facial expressions hard to read from a distance.

He perked up as I stepped into view, a smile coming across his face.

“You came,” he said, as if he was surprised.

“Why wouldn’t I? We’re still trading, right?”

“Oh, yes. That’s what you came here for.” With definite sadness, he picked up the bag and handed it to me, not even waiting for me to give him his package first.

“Don’t you want this?”

“Oh, right.” He reached through the bars and took the black box. “Thank you.”

“Are you ok? You seem depressed.”

“I am disappointed, but I’m sure you have better things to do than listen to my woes.”

“Not really. Actually, I’m a little interested to know about your life. I don’t know much about what it’s like living in the Cages.”

He smiled again, even wider than before. “I would be glad to tell you. My people worship Canis, the wolf god, but following him has become difficult for me lately…”

He stopped talking, and at first I didn’t know why, but I realized a moment later that the look on my face must have given away my confusion.

“Don’t you know about Canis?”

“Uh… no?”

“I assumed you didn’t worship him, but you know nothing?”

“Not at all.”

“Then what god do you follow?”

“I think my dad used to be Catholic.”

“Then what moral compass do you follow? What afterlife do you work for? Why do you get out of the bed in the morning?”

“I still have to get out of bed to eat.”

“But what larger picture do you aspire to be a part of?”

“I hadn’t really thought about it.”

“You hadn’t thought about it? How is that possible?”

“I… I… I just hadn’t.”

He tilted his head, the way he always did when he was confused. “Your people are so strange.”

I wanted to tell him that he was the strange one, at least from my perspective, but it seemed a rude thing to say.

“You said you were having trouble following your religion, right?”

His curiosity was replaced by sadness. “Yes. My people have a prophecy which we hold very dear.”

“Ok. What’s the problem?”

“The prophecy is… violent.”

“How so?”

“I shouldn’t say more. I’m sorry, but you’re not one of us.”

I was taken aback when he said that. “I didn’t mean to pry.”

“No, it is alright. I enjoy speaking with you. The way you act, the way you look and even the way you speak is so different from the others here; different from everyone I have ever known.”

“So are you,” I told him, and I meant it. I didn’t believe in his religion or share all his beliefs, but talking to someone who was so different was intriguing.

“I should go. The Shamans are waiting for me.”

“Wait,” I called to him, sticking my hand through the bars. “My name is Rae.”

“I am Sirius V.”

“Really? That’s such a strange name.”

“So is yours. Will I see you again soon?”

“Sure, whenever I bring the next delivery. See you then.”

I walked away from the bars feeling better than I had in a long time, but my mood fell when I remembered I still had to return to the Gray District, where Scott was probably bullying everyone into doing what he wanted. He was a jerk, but even if he wasn’t going to hold himself to his promise of making the Gray District a better place, Vera and I could still do it. We had a long list projects and were ready to start.

I walked up the ramp, the walk home having taken less time than I thought, but, halfway up the metal incline, I saw a figure dressed in black.

I kept walking, hoping he would ignore me, but he didn’t.

“Rae! I’m so glad you’re back.”

“What do you want, Scott?” I asked him, though all I really wanted was for him to go away.

“I wanted to tell you that I’m sorry for being an asshole.” This took me off guard. It was the one thing I hadn’t expected for him to say. “Vera gave me the list you made and it made me realize that this place has a lot more problems than just vapor; problems that can’t be fixed by punching them.”

“Oh… that’s great!” I said, after the shock wore off.

“I want to get started on it as soon as possible, so I’m going to go see the President of Jamestown. Tex and I are going to ask for a meeting to see if he’ll help us improve this place.”

“You know the President is woman, right?”

“Really? I never would have guessed. Anyway, I’m going to ask for her help getting new clothes and better food for the people here, in addition to taking care of the vapor problem.”

He held something out to me; the jacket I had loaned to Vera.

“Will you please take this back? We could really use your help.”

I grabbed it out of his hand and hugged him, “Of course I will.”

Chapter 21 – Scott Vale

 

“Thank you ma’am. We appreciate your time.”

“I’m happy to help. This neighborhood used to be so nice years ago, before everybody lost their jobs. Do you kids really think the President will help us?”

“We hope so,” Vera told her.

“Well, I hope you come back with good news, tomorrow.”

After the woman shut her door, we could hear the tumblers turn on at least five locks. I was surprised she didn’t have more.

“Looks like food is the most common request today,” I said.

“I’m not surprised. When Rae and I first started making the list, a lot of people complained about the slop shops.”

We stopped out in the middle of a catwalk and looked out over the district. People rushed about below us. A few looked like they were going to work. Some were talking. Some were drunk.

There was a long line in front of the nearest slop shop, just like there always was. Dozens of people waited patiently for their bowls of hot mush-water.

“Scott, did you ever eat at those places? I mean, back before you left?”

“A few times, but I usually stole enough that I didn’t have to. I was one of the only kids brave enough to steal from the Presidential District. There were a lot of cops, but their security sucked. I used to sneak into doctor’s offices to steal antibiotics and trade them to a guy in the Cages named… Caro? Kajin? I don’t remember. They all have fucking weird names.”

“And Scott Vale is a normal name?”

“Sure it is. Do you think it’s weird?”

“No, but I don’t think you can classify names as normal or weird.”

“Oh, I get it. You must have a weird name, right?”

“Maybe.”

“What’s your last name?”

“My family name is Ins, but it comes before my individual name. Truands are strange like that. My mother named me after her. She was Ins LaVera and my grandmother was Ins Dalia.”

“That’s beautiful.”

“Thank you. You have a very beautiful name to, Scott Vale,” she said, chuckling.

“Hey,” said a voice from nearby. “You’re Scott Vale?”

We looked and saw a teenager standing nearby, who seemed just a few years younger than us.

“Yeah. Do you need something?”

“My name is…” He stopped for a moment, taking the extra second to stand a little straighter and puff out his chest. “My name is Tom Hull,” he said, deeper this time. “I heard you were the one beating up all the dealers in the district.”

“That’s me.” I rested my hand on my waistband, ready to draw on the off chance he turned out to be an angry junkie.

“I was wondering if… I mean… Can I join you guys? I heard you Black Jackets were going to see the President and that you wanted to make the district better, so… can I help?”

“Um, ok,” I told him, mainly because I wasn’t sure how to respond.

“Awesome! I have some friends who want to help too. Can they join?”

“I don’t see any reason why not. Come by the clinic later, I guess.”

He started to run off, but turned back. “You mean the one here? With the creepy doctor?”

Vera stifled a laugh.

“It’ll be fine. Just come by in a few hours.”

“Your first recruit,” Vera said, after he left. “Are you proud?”

“I don’t know. I hadn’t expected anyone to want to join up.”

“You must be a natural leader. It certainly couldn’t hurt to have a few extra hands on deck. It’s going to take a lot of work to fix this place.”

Almost as if on cue, the reaper rolled his cart under us and continued down the street, carrying dozens of corpses in his rickety cart. Every conversation stopped as he walked by, snuffed out by the stench of gasoline and bile that radiated from his black hooded cloak. Every corpse had the look of a vapor junkie; discolored eyes, saliva turned neon colors and foam around their mouths. The image served as a reminder of everything we wanted to change.

“Yeah, we have a long way to go.”

Chapter 22 – Sirius V

 

“We still don’t have enough serum. The young one has failed!”

“The prophecy could still come true. We just need to save what we have,” said Sirius I, sensible as always.

However, Sirius II was forever a slave to his anger. “We can’t slow down now. The Men of the Temple have finally stopped coming here to preach. That proves they have become afraid of us.”

“Be still,” the Shaman of Honor told them. “We didn’t call this meeting to argue in circles. The prophecy will still come true and we should be thanking Sirius V, not berating him.”

“He didn’t bring us enough of the dog serum.”

“It is enough, for now. More will come later, right?”

I nodded to him. “Yes, I’m sure of it.”

“You see? There is nothing to worry about. It is simply a delay. The prophecy will happen, just as we always intended, and our efforts to intimidate and frighten the Omniscients will continue. It will happen, just as the prophecy foretold.”

Chapter 23 – Scott Vale

 

“Seriously? The President is a woman?”

“I know, right? I never would have guessed either. How old do you think she is?”

“Why does that matter?”

“I just want to know what I’m in for. Maybe I should ask one of her guards.”

“Stop worrying so much. You’ll do fine.”

While Tex went back to examining the artwork on the walls, I paced back and forth, thumbing through all nineteen pages of the list. As my nervousness grew, I became unable to tell whether the handwritten text was smudged by my sweaty hands or if my vision was going blurry.

At first, I didn’t know why I was so nervous. I assumed it was because I was meeting the leader of Jamestown, but, as I flipped through the pages one last time, it finally dawned on me.

He will see you now, Scott.”

“She’ll see you now, boys.”

Tex and I walked through the doors and into a lavish office, with a large desk seated in the center and a woman, who looked to be in her late fifties, sitting behind it.

You wanted to see me?”

“What can I do for you?”

“We, uh…” I couldn’t complete my sentence. Everything was getting blurry. Flashbacks hit me like a freight train.

“We’re from the Gray District,” Tex told her, jumping in as I trailed off. “As you know, a lot of the people there live in severe poverty and we’ve come here to ask for your help.”

“What is it you want me to do, exactly?”

“Scott, give her the list.”

Still unable to speak, I handed the pages to her.

I found this journal in the drug lab. It says that the Men of the Temple were producing vapor and were one of the reasons the Gray District is so poor.”

As Tex watched the President thumb through the pages, I watched Frollo reading the red notebook.

Scott, I’m going to be very honest with you, and I need you to understand where I’m coming from.”

“I can’t help people who can’t help themselves. Perhaps, if they had worked harder, they wouldn’t be living in such poverty now.”

They aren’t worth saving, Scott.”

“How can you say that?” Tex asked her, absolutely furious. “These are human beings we’re talking about, just like you and me!”

There is no place for them in the world we’re building, and their suffering helped pay for your education.”

But I’m one of them. Are you saying that I’m worthless to?”

You’re an exception.”

“You boys seem smart. Why are you wasting your time trying to rebuild a drug ridden slum?”

“Because it’s our home!”

I grew up there. It’s where my family lives.”

Perhaps, if they had worked harder, they wouldn’t live in such poverty.”

“I’m sorry, but I’m not going to help you. It’s a dirty, disgusting and rotten place. We’re better off leaving it behind.”

Think of it as good hygiene.”

I don’t remember what happened next. All I remember was more arguing, and then… then I woke up, with my hands around Frollo’s throat. He was pressed against the desk, fighting for breath, but I wouldn’t allow it. As I realized what I was doing, and was about to let go, I heard a voice in my ear; Byrd’s voice.

He’s nothing but a drug peddling creep. Kill him so we can take everything he owns. We’ll turn the Temple into our own personal palace and the Sunset District into a kingdom. They don’t care about us, that’s why we have to be bad.”

“Scott, you need to let her go!” Tex screamed in my ear.

I finally released my grip, but as I was thrown to the ground and beaten by the President’s guards, the thing that hurt most was my knife wound, which burned as I relived my refusal to go along with Byrd’s plan.

“We’ll take them to the cell block, immediately.”

“No, I don’t want them here. Dump them back in the shithole they came from.”

Chapter 24 – Scott Vale

 

“It feels like we were just here yesterday, doesn’t it?” Revy said, walking in the door of the clinic.

“Unfortunately so.”

“Tex told me things didn’t go so well. You’ll have to think of a nice way to break to the news to everyone. They’re pretty excited to hear from you.”

“Just get to work.”

Without saying another word, Revy disinfected his hands, grabbed his tools and started fixing my stitches.

“You’re squirming a lot less this time.”

“Anger is the best painkiller.”

He only spent a little while longer restitching my knife wound, which had popped open when the President’s pet pigs were punching and kicking me. As I waited for Revy to finish, I imagined all the things I wanted to do to them; pulling out their teeth one by one, beating them senseless, knocking their heads together…

“Scott, are you alright?”

“Fine.”

“I don’t think you are.”

“Are my stitches done yet?”

He looked at me, obviously concerned. “Yes, but I want you to…”

I didn’t stop to listen. I hopped off the table and walked over to his cabinet. My pistol and armor were sitting in the lowest drawer.

“What are you doing?”

“What does it look like? If that bitch won’t help us, I’ll just take what we need. I’ll steal as much food, medicine and clothing as I can, and probably stop to kill a few cops on the way.”

“You can’t do this, Scott.”

“Sure I can. They don’t care whether we live or die, so I don’t care about killing a few of them.”

“No, I meant you can’t do this because it’s fucking stupid. Do you think they just keep food in medicine in big piles for you to find? Do you actually think you’ll walk into the Presidential District and find a magic door that says, ‘Everything The Gray District Needs’?”

“I’ll figure it out,” I said, my hand on the doorknob and my armor strapped on.

He blocked the door. “I can’t let you leave.”

“Get out of my way!”

I tried to push out from in front of the door, but Revy was determined to stop me. He threw a single precise blow right between the plates in my armor and popped my stitches open yet again.

Before I knew it, I was rolling on the ground. “What the fuck is your problem?”

“I should ask you the same thing. How will getting yourself killed help anyone?”

“What does it matter? Nobody cares about me.”

“Nobody cares about any of us!” Revy screamed at me. It was the angriest I had ever seen him. “Do you remember how you met Tex? His whole family was carted off to jail and the only reason he escaped was because he happened to be out buying groceries. Jack was kicked out of his house when he was a kid, just like you. Vera has been separated from her family for a month and doesn’t even know if any of them are alive, and I got stuck running this clinic after I watched my mother and father take a suicidal swan dive over the railing. Hell, even Rae has to deal with the guilt of being the least fucked up out of any of us.”

I sat in stunned silence.

“We’re all scarred, but that doesn’t mean we give up on life. Do you remember how happy those people were when you told them how you were going to see the President? They believed that you were going to make a difference. You’re the first ray of hope these people have had in years, and if you go to war they will follow you. They’ll march out to the Presidential District, rioting and taking what they want, and be killed, just like you will. Or, at best, they’ll stay here and nothing will change.”

He grabbed my hand and helped me up off the ground.

“Take off that armor, put on your jacket and go talk to them. If you set an example, you can still make a difference. If you stay angry and bitter, you’ll just end up going numb. You don’t want that to happen.”

Piece by piece, I stripped away the armor and threw it in the corner. This time, it was going in the trash.

After Revy restitched me yet again, I told him, “I feel like I failed.”

“You didn’t. The government failed you. We’ll just have to find a creative way to obtain all the things we need. You can still help everyone and they’ll still follow you.”

I raised an eyebrow at him, a little uncertain. “How do you know I mean that much to them?”

“Because they’ve been waiting outside since you came back.”

I got up off the table and pulled my jacket on, unsure of how many people he meant.

“Wish me luck.”

“You won’t need it.”

I stepped out the door, ready to tell Vera, Jack, Tex, and Rae the bad news, but it wasn’t just the Black Jackets waiting for me. Standing down in the cold streets, up in the catwalks and even sitting on both sides of the clinic, were the people of the Gray District. Some were new recruits, but most were just regular people; brothers, sisters, moms and dads, and every single one of them was looking at me.

“We…” I started, and saw them lean forward to hear. “We aren’t going to get any help. The President said no.”

They started mumbling and some started to walk away with their heads hung low.

“But we can’t give up hope. We’re still going to make things better.”

“How?” That was the question I knew they wanted to ask. I could see it on their faces.

“We’ll just…” I stuttered. Speaking was difficult with so many eyes watching me. “”We’ll just need to get creative. I promise, I’ll find a way to bring food and books and clothing and medicine to everyone here.”

“We should just take it!” someone shouted. Other’s started to agree, but hearing someone else say it made me realize how ridiculous the idea of fighting the government straight on really was.

“We can’t do that. We can’t sink to that level, even though… even though no one cares about us. We’ll find a way to survive, and we’ll make better lives for ourselves, I promise, but we can’t become violent. If we do, we’ll just be acting like the savages they think we are.”

The crowd continued to lean in, soaking up every word I said. It was an amazing feeling, as well as being absolutely terrifying.

Then, something popped into my head; something that had been said to me, that I now knew to be false.

“Nobody cares about us. That’s why we have to be better; better than they expect us to be and better than they deserve.”

Chapter 25 – Paige Wilson

 

Boy, I guess it’s a good thing that kid didn’t have a knife.”

“Shut up,” I told Fischer, the voice of my own making.

Three months later and it still feels fresh. You can still feel his hands around your throat, can’t you?”

I sat my empty glass on the desk and picked up the bottle, ready to fill it for the fifth time.

“Madam President?” called a voice from beyond my door.

“Come in.”

“I’m sorry to bother you, but there’s been another incident at the barricade.”

“What happened?”

“Some denizens of the Sunset District wandered too close and the officers were forced to open fire.”

“Were they hurt?”

“They were definitely bleeding, but were well enough to run away.”

“Come back if anything else happens. You’re dismissed, officer.”

“Madam President, these attacks are getting more frequent. With all due…”

“I said, you’re dismissed. Do I need to repeat myself again?”

“No, Madam President. I apologize.”

I started refilling my bourbon before the door had even closed.

You haven’t drank this much since we were teenagers. Don’t you think you might have a problem?”

“I probably do,” I told him, taking a swig.

Boy, those kids really got to you. First they tell you they need help, then they try to kill you.”

“I can’t afford to divert resources right now. The Sunset District is still in chaos and we have yet to get it back under control.”

What other excuses have you got?”

“My police are exhausted from protecting the district so we don’t have the manpower to distribute food and supplies to the people in the Gray District. If we just hand it over they won’t be smart enough to ration it on their own.”

What else?”

“All our workers from the Sunset District stopped showing up the night the Men of the Temple were overthrown, leaving our manpower in the facility slashed, and rendering us barely able to produce enough food for ourselves.”

And?”

“And, if those pricks had worked harder, they wouldn’t need us to save them.”

Ding Ding Ding! You finally found the real answer. All that buried prejudice finally bubbled up over the surface.”

“Every one of those answers is legitimate.”

They are, but you’re a politician. You make excuses like other people make dandruff. Just admit it to yourself, you wouldn’t help them even if you could, because hate poor people.”

“No, I hate lazy people. My father always taught me to work hard and that’s how I got here.”

And the fact that your father was the President had nothing to do with it?”

“After he died, I had to fight to get this position. I busted my ass for years to become President.”

I’m sure a lot of the people there work hard to, but maybe they just had a string of bad luck.”

“Maybe.” I started to reconsider my viewpoint, but my father’s words still echoed in my ears. “Never trust a freeloader, sweetie. It doesn’t matter what their race is, they have to be willing to work.”

“Madam President?”

“Didn’t I tell you that you were dismissed?”

“I just wanted to let you know that our next shipment is on its way to the Cages. I apologize for bothering you.”

“That’s excellent news. Now, go away.”

This time, I didn’t have to repeat myself.

I looked out over the city, seeing the Gray and Sunset Districts on the opposite edges of my vision. One side was where Jamestown started, but was now reduced to a slum. The other was built to show how far Jamestown had come, but was now overtaken by rioting and chaos. The Presidential District, my realm, was the only one still in order.

“God,” I said to myself. “This city is fucked.”

Chapter 26 – Scott Vale

 

“Just because we’re peaceful doesn’t mean we’re pussies,” I thought to myself, as I grabbed a police officer from behind and stabbed a syringe into his neck. My arm covered his mouth, muffling his screams and keeping other three seemed completely unaware. To them, this was just a routine job they’d done a thousand times before.

Once a week, dozens of pallets of food were transported to the Cages on carts. With less than two hundred people living in each cage, it was more than they needed.

Shoan and Jessie, both recent recruits, snuck up behind two more of them and knocked them out simultaneously, just the way I had taught them.

“Hey, what the…” the fourth cop said, turning and spotting us just before Vera knocked away his weapon and injected him in the side.

“Fuck, that was close.”

“Did we do well, boss?”

“Excellent.”

“What about me, Scott? Or should I address you as boss?” Vera said, punching me in the arm. She thought it was funny that the new guys called me that.

“You didn’t do too bad, for a girl.”

The huge metal carts were hooked up to a small locomotive that pulled the caravan and steered it along the four hundred yard asphalt road between the Ring and the Cages, which was flanked by grass on both sides. We unhooked the five carts in the rear, after collecting the officer’s weapons, and turned them around, heading back to the Gray District with enough food to feed everyone for a few weeks, if we rationed it properly.

As we approached the back end of the overpass, the end that didn’t have a ramp built up to it, eight more Black Jackets approached to help us pull the carts. Most of this area was grass, with a few trees near the walls. This made the carts very hard to pull since they were off the road.

“Is the machine set up?”

“It should be ready in just a minute, Mr. Vale.”

“Great, but don’t call me that. Call me Scott or boss or… really anything except Mr. Vale.”

An enormous door swung open from the District’s back side, way above our heads, and an enormous pulley was wheeled out, leaning out over the edge. Next, we uncovered the enormous weight which had been camouflaged as a bush, and the wide metal tray which was too big to hide, and had been covered with sod.

“Tex, this better work,” I said to him.

“It will,” he told me from above. “Just trust me.”

A set of cables was dropped down on us from above, which we hooked up to the tray, in the center and on all four corners. Once it was done, Tex grabbed the other end and dropped down, his weight more than enough to lift the tray on the other end of the pulley system.

Once he touched the ground, we quickly hooked the cable to the enormous weight and signaled to the others at the top when it was secure. They stepped onto the tray, one at a time, each tying themselves to the safety winch above, so that they would be safe in case the cables snapped. Soon, they had enough weight to gently bring the tray back to the ground.

“I can’t believe this is actually working.”

“Don’t jinx it.

We moved one of the carts onto the tray and had the Black Jackets untie themselves and step off individually until it slowly rose up, bringing the pallets of food to the Gray District.

“What would we do without you, Tex?”

Even in the dark, I could see him smiling.

“We’re all set,” the Black Jackets above told us as they pulled the carts through the door. “We’re sending it back down.”

We had to make four more trips, but each was faster than the last. Everyone knew their jobs by the time the last cart was being lifted, and had no problems executing them quickly and efficiently.

The rigging was unhooked and the tray was slowly lowered back to us, by hand. Tex’s pulley was rolled back inside, the weight was hidden and the tray was covered once again, leaving no evidence that we’d been here other than a set of tire tracks that mysteriously ended in the middle of the grass.

“Those injections should be wearing off anytime now. We need to go.”

The group of Black Jackets started heading towards the other entrance, praising Tex and his invention the entire way there. Meanwhile, Vera and I walked behind the others, leaving him to soak up all the well-deserved attention.

“So, Scott Vale, when everyone wakes up tomorrow you’re going to be a hero; the man who brought food to the Gray District and commander of the Black Jackets. What will you do now?” she asked, pretending to shove a microphone in my face.

“I’m just a guy. I couldn’t have done it without everyone else.”

“Boy, you sure are humble.”

“Well, it’s true. Tex designed the pulley system. Revy gave us those drugs to knock out the guards. The new recruits have been doing a lot of heavy lifting. This plan wouldn’t have worked without everyone.”

“And we wouldn’t be here if not for you. Or, at least, I wouldn’t.”

“What are you saying?”

“I guess I’m trying to say thank you, you know, for saving my life and letting me stay here. I never thanked you for that.”

“It’s not a big deal.”

“No, it really is, and I owe you for that, big time… which is why this next part is really hard for me to say.” She turned to me, a look of sadness on her face. “I’ve stayed here for too long and I can’t be a Black Jacket anymore. I need to go back and find my people.”

Her statement took me off guard, but, in retrospect, I should have seen it coming.

“Why? I mean, I know the Truands are like family to you…”

“They are my family.”

“Right. I know they’re your family, but think about the risk. One of those dog creatures was in the city. That means that Lykan’s virus is inside the walls. The other Truands could be infected. They might have turned already. Plus, we don’t know what happened during the riots or if they ever ended. All of the Truands could be… you know.”

“Dead?”

“It’s a possibility.”

“Well, I have to know for sure,” she said, taking off her jacket and handing it to me. “I’m sorry.”

“Keep it. You’re one of us now. I’ll get a few guys together and we’ll escort you back.”

“You don’t have to do that.”

“Actually, I do. You’re my friend, whether you like it or not.”

“Thank you, Scott.”

We finally made it back to the ramp, heading home for the night.

“So, how do you want to celebrate your last night as a Black Jacket?”

“Go home and get a good night’s sleep.”

“Really?”

“Do you have a better idea?”

“A few, but all of them involve going back to my place.”

She smiled and punched me on the arm, really hard this time. “You wish.”

Chapter 27 – Julia Munford

 

Even though they said they were working to make this place better, the idea of thugs in black coats roaming the streets still made me nervous. I thought they would only make our horrible lives worse, but I had to admit, the Gray District seemed a lot more peaceful now. Plus, those thugs had tracked down anyone who had ever sold vapor and either sent them packing or beat them into submission. My hope was that with the dealers gone, maybe my junkie husband could finally kick the habit.

However, no matter how questionable their methods were, those guys in the black jackets were helping my family. They’d started handing out free food, just for the hell of it, so that we no longer had to eat at the slop shops. I had a pretty good feeling that it was stolen, but I didn’t care; no one did. Feeding my family was the most important thing to me, and I couldn’t thank those thugs enough for giving real food to my children, not cold gruel or watery soup.

As I climbed the last stairwell and walked up to my front door, I could hear something inside. I thought it was nothing at first, and pulled out my keys to unlock the door, but once I heard screaming I knew that something was very wrong.

I unlocked all six deadbolts as fast as I could and ran inside.

“Mom! Mom! Something’s wrong with dad!”

“Oh, God,” was all I could manage to say when I first saw him. His entire body was shaking violently, and foam was spilling out of his mouth.

“Mom, what’s happening?” I grabbed Ben Jr. and pulled him away, shielding the eyes of my six year old.

“Honey, I need you to run to the clinic as fast as you can. Go get the doctor and bring him back here. Ok?”

“I can’t mom.”

“Yes, you can,” I said, desperately pleading with him. “I need you to be a big boy and go get help. Run to the clinic as fast as you can.”

He sprinted out the door and I ran to the bedroom. Ben always kept his stash in there, away from the kids. He said he’d been feeling down since he tried to quit, but I hadn’t expected anything this bad. There were almost two dozen vials in the dresser, but every one of them was empty. There wasn’t a single drop left.

I ran back out to the rocking chair he was sitting in, but had no idea of what to do. A feeling of helplessness overwhelmed me as my husband fought to breath. I grabbed a towel and started gently wiping away the foam from around his mouth, but as soon as I touched him he began shaking worse than before.

“Mom!” I heard, as the door busted open. “I found him!”

“Thank you so much!” I yelled as I ran towards the doctor. “I need your help. Something is wrong with my husband.”

“I’ll take a look.” The young physician stepped over the groceries, which I had spilled across the floor in a moment of blind panic. “Shit, another one of these. He’s a vapor addict, right?”

“Yes. You’ve seen this before?”

“About a dozen just like him in the past week. Junkies have been dying left and right.”

“Don’t you dare call my husband a junkie!” I screamed at him.

“Ok, I’m sorry. I’d better call the reaper.”

“No, don’t call the reaper! Fix him!”

“But there’s nothing I can do.”

I can still vividly picture him saying that. It was such a matter-of-fact statement, with no room for argument. He may as well have looked me in the eyes and told me, “You are going to watch your husband die, slowly and painfully choking on his own vomit.”

I collapsed onto my knees. Even with everything I had said and done, I had never wanted Ben to die; not like this.

The doctor continued to do nothing, until he saw the small child still watching his father die, at which point he ushered him out of the room saying, “You don’t need to see this.”

“What do I do?”

“About what?”

“My husband, you idiot! How do I help my husband?”

“Uh… you can’t…”

I refused to accept that answer. “What kind of doctor are you?”

“A realistic one. There’s no way you can… Wait, I know. Grab onto his nose with your thumb and index finger.”

I followed his orders, trying not to get the foam on my hands. “What now?”

“Grip tightly enough to close his nostrils.”

I did what he said, but it only made the shaking worse.

“It’s not working!”

“Hold it tighter.”

I held his nose until my fingers started to turn purple. His shaking got worse and worse, but I held on tighter than before, hoping that I had found a way to bring Ben back to me; back to his family.

It seemed like hours before the seizing stopped. Suddenly, he wasn’t shaking at all… or breathing.

“Oh, God, what did I do?” I sat on my knees, staring at the lifeless corpse.

“Vapor is a nasty drug. Even if you take it once, it stays in your system for years, and it forms a dependency faster than anything I’ve ever seen. It’s actually a marvel of modern chemistry.” The doctor stopped for a moment to check my husband’s pulse; or rather, he made sure he didn’t have one. “I’ll call the reaper. It shouldn’t be more than a few minutes until he comes to get the body. Will you be ok?”

I didn’t respond to him. Everything seemed so wrong; like the world was spinning while standing still at the same time.

“Alright then. Good luck, I guess.”

The last things I heard before the reaper came for Ben was the door shutting, my six year old son sobbing behind the couch and my little girl in the other room, crying for the first and only time in her life.

Chapter 28 – Ins Vera

 

Before we left the Gray District, Rae pulled me aside and said, “You may not like what we find. It might be better not to find out.”

“I have to go,” I told her, adamant about finding the Truands. “I need to know what happened to my family.”

Now, I knew. Tex, Jack and Rae put their arms around me, trying their best to console me as I watched the bodies swing back and forth in the breeze; hung from rusted girders like strange fruit from some god-forsaken tree.

Where was Myracell? Where was our savior? Where was god or the government? Did the other Truands ask the same thing about me? Did they ask each other, where is Vera? Shouldn’t she be here? Shouldn’t she be helping us? Why the fuck is she over in the Gray District?

“I’m so sorry,” Rae said to me, but it didn’t make me feel any better.

Scott stood on the roof’s edge, looking out over the Sunset District. He seemed to be taking this almost as hard as I was. We could see spotlights and hear music playing in the distance, but all the buildings around us were gutted, lifeless and falling apart. Only the neon lights that traced their skeletons were left intact. They continued to run, even though the streets and buildings were filled with the corpses of Truands, Omniscients and a few Sapiens who were half or fully converted into dog-creatures.

“We need to go,” Scott told us. “We’re not safe here.”

“Some of them might still be alive. I need to get back home.”

He leaned down, putting a hand on my shoulder. “Vera, I know that you’re…”

“You don’t know anything!” I said, swatting his hand away. “I’m going to find my family.”

“What if they infect you? There are dead lykans sitting out in the streets. The virus is in the city, for certain.”

“I don’t care.”

“Don’t you understand? You’re not safe with them. You’re safe with us.”

“It doesn’t matter.”

He started pacing back and forth, frustrated by my stubbornness.

“Fine, whatever. If you want to die, than be my guest. Run off and find your goddamn family, even if it gets you killed!”

He looked away, angered at my decision.

“Scott, we can’t leave her.”

Tex seemed to state what the others were already thinking. Even Jack, who was carrying his axe slung across his back with an old rifle strap, looked downright pitiful.

“If some of them were left behind, where would they hide?”

“In the Court of Myracell,” I told Scott. “It’s an underground complex with entrances all over the Sunset District. The nearest one is about a block away.”

“Alright, I’ll radio Revy and tell him what’s happening. We’ll take you there and then… Then the rest of us will head home. Everyone stay hidden. Keep out of the light.”

As he said that, I remembered something, or rather, someone.

“Nearly.”

“Vera, come on. We have to go.”

“No, stop. There’s a man named Nearly. He lives in the Temple and we need to make sure he’s ok.”

“Are you fucking serious?” Unsurprisingly, that outburst came from Jack, but everyone seemed to share his response.

“Tex and I spent a lot of time in the Temple and we never met anyone named Nearly.”

“He lived in the attic, out of sight.”

“Is he a friend of yours?”

“Well… no. But he’s a poor crippled kid that Frollo used to keep in his attic.”

“Goddammit, Vera.”

“Please?” I pleaded.

“Fine, Tex and Rae, go drop her off and then get back home. Jack and I will check on your friend, but you’d better…”

I cut him off, kissing him on the lips. It was something I had wanted to do since he had saved my life and I figured it would be the last time I’d ever see him.

“Goodbye, Scott.”

I walked down from the roof, Tex and Rae escorting me to find the last of my people. I looked back at Scott, one last time, still able to taste him on my lips, but the last thing I heard as I left the rooftop was Jack saying, “Damn, I don’t even get a goodbye?”

“Goodbye, Jack.”

We started down the street, following Scott’s instructions. The three of us ran from cover to cover, keeping the neon lights from exposing us.

We passed several people, all walking in the direction of the music. There was something off about them. Their eyes had turned strange colors, just like vapor junkies did, but it was worse than I had ever seen. They almost seemed to glow, and even their skin had a slight violet tint.

We didn’t take the time to inspect them closely. The entrance was nearby and I was anxious to be home again. I wondered if the other Truands would be angry. Would they berate me for not coming back sooner, or condemn me to some horrible punishment? Of course they would, and I would deserve it. I knew I was a traitor for ever leaving.

“This is it,” I said, as I ran to the hidden door. On the ground, next to it, were several bricks with no cement rooting them to the ground. I dug them up, scraped the dirt underneath, flipped the concealed switch beneath them and… nothing.

I flipped it over and over again, but the door didn’t open.

“Is something wrong?”

“It should be unlocked. The door should be opening up. Why isn’t it letting me inside?” I got angrier with every passing moment. I pressed my fingers to the seam of the doorframe and tried desperately to pull it open.

“I don’t think it’s working.”

“Shut the fuck up,” I told Tex, screaming in his face.

I started beating my hands against the door as hard as I could, yelling, “Open up you bastards!” until my voice was hoarse and my knuckles bled. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m sorry I left! I was just so scared!”

Rae grabbed me from behind, putting her hand over my mouth.

“You need to be quiet.”

“I don’t fucking care! I want to see my family!”

As Tex helped her pull me to the ground and silence me, I finally gave up. My family had locked me out. My mother, my cousins, my uncles, my aunts and my friends were either dead or wanted nothing to do with me. All of this was my fault and Myracell was punishing me. I wasn’t a Truand anymore.

Chapter 29 – Scott Vale

 

The music got louder as we got closer to the Temple. Hundreds of people were crammed into the streets, partying like there was no tomorrow.

“Are these the same people who killed the danks?”

“I don’t know. It’s possible. Why?”

“They just… they just look like regular people.”

He was right. This mob didn’t look anything like the one that had rampaged through the streets, tearing down signs, smashing windows and kicking Truands to death. They seemed to just be having a good time.

“Hey, Scott, you brought your binoculars, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Check out those bodies hanging from the Temple.”

Up above the rave, where hundreds of the Sunset District’s citizens were having the time of their lives, hung the bodies of Men of the Temple, Truands, Omniscients, infected Sapiens, and even…

“Oh, God.”

Frollo was hanging from the glass tower, with large bloody gashes cut into his robe.

“Look alive, Scott. Something’s happening.”

The lights dimmed and the music started to slow, but a moment later it started rising back up again. They were building up to something.

The partiers screamed with delight as the music kept building and building, until, suddenly, every billboard showed Byrd, dressed in his black armor with new flamboyant yellow attachments, rising up out of the roof of the Temple. The crowd went absolutely insane. Fireworks went off, lights flashed and smoke billowed off the stage and filled the streets. He pulled out a brightly lit cane and held it up high in the air, before striking the ground and causing the music to pulse and the lights to shine brighter than before. He walked down from the roof of the Temple, seeming to float above the crowd. I took a second look and saw that he was walking on a clear bridge strung between the Temple and the building across the street, but the crowd still seemed to be in complete awe. They clamored to get close to him, and even climbed on top of one another. Byrd reached down with his cane and whacked a few of them away, swinging it like a golf club. When one girl managed to get her hand on the bridge, he stomped on it with all his might. She fell back and was swallowed by the crowd, but they loved him all the same.

“Everyone’s distracted and out of the Temple. We should move.”

“You know Vale, you never told me how exactly we’re getting over there.”

“That’s because I knew you wouldn’t like it.”

I found the air conditioning unit on the roof. Inside of a hidden slot was a safe with a combination lock.

“What’s in there?”

“Hover packs.” I tossed him one of the metal backpacks and started strapping myself into another. “Frollo had them stored on buildings near the Temple. They were supposed to be used as an emergency entrance, so we could get back home under the radar, in case of an emergency. They’re one of the last great inventions from before the outbreak, but were never perfected.”

“How so?”

“The battery only lasts about fifteen seconds.”

“Fifteen seconds?”

“We’ll have to swing around to the backside of the Temple, but it’ll still be more than enough time to get us across. Just pull the ripcord to start them up. You’ll travel in whatever direction you’re pointed towards, so face the Temple and stick close to me. They’re easy to control, for the most part.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Landing is a bitch.”

Just as another round of fireworks went off, I told him, “Let’s go!”

I grabbed the cord, took a running start and leaped off the building. I yanked it as hard as I could, causing me to stop falling and shoot forward like a rocket. I counted the seconds until impact, bracing myself for it while aiming for roof on the back end of the Temple.

Just as we hit the halfway point, two 80’s walked out from behind the glass tower. “Fuck!” I thought to myself, but just as I thought we’d get caught for sure, Jack veered away from me. I followed his lead, altering my course to run right into them.

Our fifteen seconds ran out, causing us to start dropping. Jack swung around and extended his legs like a bobsled driver, while I pulled my head down to let my shoulder take the impact. I felt something pop as I made contact with his chest and hoped it wasn’t something of mine.

“Fuck,” said Jack, struggling to get to his feet and clutching his chest. After colliding, we had both slid another ten feet across the roof.

“You ok?”

“Peachy.” He pulled a flask from his jacket before peeling it off. There was a gash on his back, right behind his left shoulder. It didn’t look life threatening, but pretty painful. He poured out some of the flask’s contents onto the wound before taking a long pull himself.

I walked back to the two 80’s we had just knocked out. A pit formed in my stomach when I pulled off their helmets. The one I had hit was Dale, a nice guy who usually kept to himself, and the other was Jane. They both had bruised faces, Jane’s breastplate was shattered and Dale’s arm looked like it had been broken in at least two places, but they were alive.

“What now?” Jack asked me, pulling on his jacket.

I made my way over to the edge of the roof, crouching the whole way. Byrd was still out on his bridge, looking over the crowd. No one else seemed aware of our presence.

“I don’t think we were spotted. Now, we just need to find Nearly, make sure he’s safe and get the fuck out of here.”

“You really think he’s in there? If he’s smart, he would have left.”

“I know, but we’re doing this as a favor to Vera. If he’s not here, then we’ll just leave.”

That response seemed to console Jack, but only because I failed to mention that I had no idea how we were getting out of here.

We found an emergency access hatch by the glass tower and started to open it up.

“Vera said this guy wasn’t really her friend. Why should we save him?”

“Because we’re already here and we may as well just get it over with,” I told him, fed up with his questions and bad attitude. “Now shut up.”

I finally managed to open the hatch, but couldn’t make myself go down. Jane was still on my mind and I needed to know that she really was ok.

“Let’s go. We need to get the fuck out of here.”

“Shut up, Jack.”

I walked back over to the two 80’s collapsed on the ground. Both were still breathing, although Jane’s seemed labored.

“Jane, I need you to wake up.”

“What are you doing? She’s the enemy.”

“I said, shut up, Jack! Go down the hatch and wait for me there.”

“It’s pitch black. I’m not going down there alone.”

I turned my attention away from him. “Please, Jane. Wake up.”

Her eyes fluttered open, and in them I saw both tears of joy and the familiar tint that signaled vapor addiction.

“Scott, you came back.”

“Yeah. Are you ok?”

More tears filled her eyes, but her faint happiness melted from her face. “I have to do what Byrd says. Please, get me out of here.”

I was caught off guard. I’d wanted to see if she was ok, but I hadn’t expected that.

“I’m going to get you out of here; I promise.”

“I didn’t think you were coming back.”

I couldn’t stand to tell her that I was only here as a favor to someone else.

“Of course I came back. I couldn’t leave you behind.”

I tried to pick her up, but she screamed in pain. It was so loud that I had to check to make sure no one had heard it.

“My chest is on fire.”

“That’s ok. My friend is a doctor. He’ll patch you up and you’ll be good as new.” I pulled the radio off my belt. “Revy, I need your help.”

What is it?”

“I found a friend of mine at the Temple. She’s hurt and I don’t know what to do. She got kicked hit in the chest pretty hard and she’s in a lot of pain.”

It might just be a bad bruise. Can you move her?”

“No, it hurts her too much.”

“Scott, I want to get out of here.” Her words were pained and she almost sounded like she was gargling as she spoke.

“Don’t worry, you’ll be fine. Revy, I’m going to bring her back.”

That’s not a good idea. If her lung is collapsed you might end up causing more damage, or causing her to suffocate.”

“Then what the fuck do I do?”

There might not be anything we can do. What do you have in your person?”

“My pistol, a knife, some coins…” I stopped to search through Jane’s pockets, as well as Dales. “…And a few vials of vapor.”

Where did you get vapor?”

“She had it on her. My friend did. I think she’s been taking it.”

Fuck.”

“What’s wrong?”

Scott, if she’s been doing vapor, then fluid is going to start filling her lungs, and if one or both of them have collapsed, she’s not going to make it. You should put her down.”

“Put her down? She’s not an animal!”

If you don’t, her decreased lung capacity will cause her to slowly drown in her own bodily fluids. Is that what you want?”

I threw the radio away. I couldn’t stand to hear more.

“Are you going to take me away?”

“Yes, Jane. We’re going somewhere much better.”

She tried to sit up, despite obviously being in pain, and leaned against my chest.

“I missed you.”

“Shh, don’t talk. You’re going to be fine.”

“I don’t want him,” she said, tears running down her face as foam started to leak from her mouth. “I don’t want Byrd.”

“It’s ok. Everything is going to be ok.”

“Oh, God,” I thought to myself. “Why didn’t I take her with me? Why didn’t I come back sooner?”

“What did you do-” She was cut off when she had to stop to cough. “What did you do after you left?”

“I started a new group. We’re like the 80’s, but in the Gray District. We’ve been feeding people, and we’re going to set up a school and fix everything that’s wrong there.”

She smiled, in between coughing fits, as the foamy slurry of saliva and glowing bile continued to choke the life out of her.

I pulled off my jacket and shoved my pistol through the sleeve, wrapping the rest of the material around it to muffle the shot.

“Shit, did I do that to her?” Jack asked, standing above us.

“Go wait by the hatch.”

“But…”

“Just wait by the hatch,” I told him, more forcefully.

I held the gun, and it’s makeshift silencer, against Jane’s chest, facing upwards to her forehead.

“I’m sorry, Jane.”

“Scott?” Her voice came only a moment before I would have pulled the trigger. “You forgot about me, didn’t you?”

Fireworks lit up the sky. The rave music was drowned out. Jane’s head fell away from my chest as she tried to cough up the fluids involuntarily filling her lungs; fighting her own body just to take a breath. Despite that, her hands still clung to me, like a woman hanging over a cliff, grasping the edge for dear life, and all the while, Jack stood under the glass tower, sucking every drop out of his flask and repeating to himself that it wasn’t his fault; that he wasn’t trying to hurt her. It was all just a mistake; a terrible mistake.

Bang

Chapter 30 – Scott Vale

 

“Jack, I need you to look at me.”

“I didn’t mean to.”

“I know you didn’t mean to hurt her, but we have to keep moving. We need to be strong right now, ok? Do you understand?”

He nodded, but his body was still shaking.

I opened the hatch and we climbed inside, after taking Jane and Dale’s weapons. It was a bit of a shock to go from the well-lit rave into the pitch black room, but once we shut the hatch we saw that there was a light in the center. Under a red spotlight was a man, suspended from the ceiling. Metal covered half of his body. He had tubes and wires coming out of his back, but many had been torn out and stretched in different directions, making it look as if he was trapped in a horrific spider web.

“Is he dead?”

“I don’t know.”

Jack stepped forward and reached out to the creature to check its pulse, but as soon as he touched the monstrosity it raised its head, making us both jump back.

“Help… me.” When he spoke, I noticed the speaker where his jaw should have been. It added a whole new level of disgust to the… thing. Calling it human would have been a stretch.

“We came here looking for a man named Nearly. Do you know him?”

“I… am Nearly.”

“What? Vera sent us to check on a robot?”

“Vera?” it said, responding to her name.

“Vera is the woman who sent us here to find you.”

“Vera… My lights…” He didn’t say anything helpful after that, just repeated those words over and over again. We cut him down, and after seeing his back and the ports where the tubing was supposed to attach, we did our best to reassemble him.

We draped his arms over both our shoulders to carry him out of the attic. He was a lot heavier than he looked. “What do we do now, Vale?”

“We’ll take him out the back door. The crowd shouldn’t be as thick there.”

As we carried Nearly down the stairs, his metal leg rattled and clanked, making me worry that we’d be discovered. Halfway down the stairs to the main hall, I signaled to Jack, making him halt. I’d just seen something move.

“Is someone there?” I called out.

At first, they didn’t answer, but eventually a voice came. “Is that you, Scott?”

“Fox?”

He came out from behind a corner and ran up the stairs. “I can’t believe you’re alive! We all thought you were… what the fuck is that?”

“His name is Nearly. It’s a long story. Help us get him down the stairs.”

Fox carried Nearly’s legs, making it easier for us to move quietly, but it still took some time for us to move him.

“How did you guys get in here?”

“The hover packs. You?”

“I’ve been hiding here for days, waiting for Byrd to be alone, so I can kill that bastard.”

“Who’s Byrd?” asked Jack.

“He’s the creep who’s running this district now, but he calls himself the King in Lights. The whole place went to shit after you and Tex left, Scott. Byrd got the other 80’s on his side. He drugged some of them and convinced the rest that the Men of the Temple were evil; then drugged them. Now, they do whatever he says.”

“How did you escape?”

“Elka and I refused to join up and were smart enough not to hang around. We knew this place was going to hell and we were long gone by the time that dog-thing showed up, and Byrd used it to set off the riots. We were living in a building that wasn’t completely destroyed, searching through abandoned houses for food and supplies, but Elka had a breakdown. She started using the drugs Byrd gives to the people at his parties; said she couldn’t live like a cockroach anymore and she needed help dealing with it. A few days later, she came back here to get more drugs and now Byrd has her.”

“We’ll find her, but first we need to get an escape plan.”

“I already found her. She was lying in his bed, high off her ass with a bunch of his drugged whores.” Tears welled up in Fox’s eyes. “She’s as good as dead, so I’m going to kill him.”

“You should come with us. Tex and I have been over in the Gray District, helping the people there. We could use you.”

“If I make it out of this alive, I’ll see you there.”

He walked off, undeterred from his original plan.

Jack and I carried Nearly to the back door, but we found it to be almost impassable. The streets were crammed with both ravers and a hazy fog that made it hard to see more than twenty feet.

“That crowd is just as dense as in the front.”

“We’ll have to risk it.” The doors were locked, but from the inside. I turned the latch and cracked them open, only to collapse immediately.

“Vale? Are you ok?” Jack had rushed to my side after letting Nearly drop to the ground.

All I could manage to utter was “Fog… vapor.”

“What is it?”

“There’s vapor in the fog.”I struggled to get up and relocked the door. There was no way we could get out that way.

As I looked out the doors, I saw the billboards overhead. Byrd’s helmet covered face stared down at me from a thousand different directions. I have never felt so small as I did at that exact moment, watching him watch me.

“You ok?”

“Yeah… Just fine.” I turned around and didn’t look back outside.

“What do we do now?”

“I’ll figure something out, just make sure Nearly is ok.”

“Nearly? We can’t worry about him right now. We’ll be lucky if we make it out ourselves.”

“Just shut up and do it.”

Jack reluctantly went back to Nearly’s side, but the cyborg did nothing but mumble, “My lights… Vera… my lights…”

I collected my thoughts and found myself suddenly filled with energy. I ran between the rooms as fast as I could, both to try and find an escape route, and because I was unable to stand still. My whole body was buzzing.

And then, when I was almost done searching, an angel descended from on high to guide me.

Yeah, the vapor was really starting to kick in.

“Scott,” he said to me, his ivory skin and piercing blue eyes shining. “Go to the lobby and break through the floor under the iron statue. You will find a tunnel to lead you out, but must close it after you go.”

“What the fuck is happening?”

“Do as I say if you want to live. Go through the tunnel and then seal it. Understand?”

He disappeared as soon as I nodded back to him.

I sprinted back to the lobby as fast as my legs would carry me and finally found what I was looking for.

“Hey, where are you going?” Jack yelled. “I could use some help.” He dragged Nearly with him as he followed me, struggling with his injured shoulder.

“Well, what do you know.”

There was a tall but very thin iron statue sitting next to one of the pews in the main hall. In one motion I picked it up, lifted it over my head and brought it down, cracking the floor under it.

I began hitting the stone floor over and over until a tunnel was revealed.

“Oh, shit.”

“Yeah, I can’t believe there was something actually here. I thought I was just tripping.”

Our amazement was interrupted by the sound of gunfire. Jack quickly jumped inside the tunnel and I lowered Nearly down to him.

“Which way should we go?”

“This way, I guess,” I said, as I pointed to the end of the tunnel that I thought was in the direction of the Gray District.

Even though I wanted to get the fuck out of there, I almost turned around. Just before we left, over the gunfire and electronic music, I heard Fox screaming in the distance. Over and over he repeated the phrase. “Come and get me!” Until he, and the gunfire, suddenly stopped…

Chapter 31 – Thomas Byrd

 

A touch of magic and a whole lot of love. These were the new ingredients to my specially made vapor, and the people just loved it.

As I crossed my special bridge, they called out and cheered. All those eyes were pointed right at me. All the attention and praise was for me. That was my drug. Power and attention were my vapor.

“They’ve captured more Truands and want to show them to you,” Turner told me.

“Looks like it’s show time.”

The extra lights and pieces attached to my armor added about ten more pounds, but the extra carry weight was worth it. A king always needed to look fabulous.

I stood up from my throne, on the building across the street from the Temple. I’d set it there just so I could have an excuse to build my walkway, where the entire crowd could worship me from below. They just couldn’t stop applauding as I made my way down closer to their level. Those stairs were hell on my ankles, but I could handle some pain if it meant that I got to watch those drugged chimps kill each other at the prospect of being able to lick my boots.

Several burly men held five young Sapiens hostage. The poor things were scared out of their minds.

I motioned for the dj to turn down the music and addressed my adoring public.

“These men and women will turn into monsters soon enough. Do you want them to live?”

“No!”

“Should we spare them?”

No!”

“Who’s the greatest?”

“The King in Lights!”

Manipulating them was so easy. Taking advantage of their hatred of the Truands was a stroke of genius. I knew getting them to turn on the Men of the Temple would be the difficult part, but that attack by the dog creature created the opportunity I needed. It was almost like it was planned, just for me. I had everything I had ever wanted, and I got it by stepping on the necks of the people I hated most. It was easy. So easy, in fact, that it was boring.

“Alright. Do as you will,” I told them, starting to lose interest.

I didn’t bother watching what happened next. Why would I want to witness something so barbaric? I took no pleasure in death, but there was this addicting satisfaction to be had by getting others to give into their more… carnal urges.

How goes the enslavement, Byrd?”

“Why are you calling me?” I asked, using the radio in my helmet.

There’s been a break-in at the Temple. You should come see this.”

“Can’t you handle it on your own?”

I could, but I thought you might like to know that Frollo’s son has been stolen.”

“Why would anyone want him?”

How should I know? Just get over here.”

Before I left to see Durango, I made another call. “Turner, turn off the gas. I want them to keep craving me long after I’m gone.”

Yes, my King.”

What a loyal little boy he was.

On my way across the bridge, I stopped to look out over my subjects, and I recited a verse I had heard as a child in the Gray District; one that had defined my life:

 

O daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,

Blessed is he who repays you,

According to what you have done to us.

Blessed is he who seizes your infants,

And dashes them against the rocks.

 

Once I crossed back over the bridge, I took the elevator from the roof down to the lobby and found Durango along with a few other 80’s gathered in the main hall. “Who the hell knocked a hole in my perfectly good floor?”

“It was the thieves. This must be how they made their escape.”

“Did they take anything else?”

“Not that I’ve seen. We think they came in through the roof. We’re going to search there next, and then sweep the whole building. Oh, and Fox came back.”

“What did he want?”

“Apparently, to kill you.”

“Did you deal with him?”

“The other 80’s did, but he took a few down with him.”

“Excellent. That takes care of yet another loose end. Keep investigating.”

“I think you owe me a bonus for this.”

Durango was one of the few 80’s who had adamantly refused vapor, but this had turned out to be a blessing; he was the only servant I had with any brains left.

“You want money? I have stacks of it in the basement, next to the electronics and truckload of jewelry. If you want a girls or servants, I’ve got them lining up by the boatload. Take what you want.”

Durango went back to work as I walked away, stripping some of the extra lights and flare from my armor. Not the mohawk, of course. That was my favorite piece.

I went over to the glass front doors, and the people outside started smothering one another to be close to me. I gave a big smile to the girl who clubbed her friend so she could take her spot by the door. Their devotion was so beautiful.

“They really are loyal,” said Elka.

“Yes. Yes they are.” I had created a perfect little flock of sheep who would do absolutely anything for me. However, it grew more boring by the minute. There was no politics or argument. There were no great battles or struggles for power, and there was nowhere near enough bloodshed; just drugged chimps.

I looked back and asked her. “Do you need something?”

“I have information. I think it might be important.”

“What is it?”

“It’s about the Gray District. There is a new faction rising there. These men have been beating up our distributors, and are, apparently, very well trained.”

“Do you know anything else?”

“Just that they identify each other by the black jackets they wear. It’s their signature.”

A new faction rising from the Gray District, fighting dealers and training soldiers? One particular name came to mind. I’d left him bleeding in Frollo’s office, but his body had disappeared when Tex did. Perhaps Scott was alive after all.

“Do you think it’s nice there?” said Elka.

“What?”

“I just… Everything here is so loud and… the people… and the killing…”

“Shh, sweetie. Calm down.”

I took off both her helmet and mine, and ran my hand down her cheek. Her eyes had just the slightest pink tint to them. “Things here are exactly how they should be.”

“But you’re…”

“Stop. I think maybe you should go take your medicine.”

“No,” she stated to me.

“But don’t you remember what it’s like? Do you remember the euphoria? Being able to unlock parts of your mind you’ve never used before? Seeing colors you’ve never witnessed? Sounds you’ve never heard?”

Her skin began to tingle and her breath caught in her throat. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a small vial.

“Let me,” I said, taking it from her. She shed her armor of her own accord, but tensed up when I tried to unzip the back of her jumpsuit.

“Don’t you trust me?”

Her tension didn’t lesson. Fortunately for me, I had a hidden feature installed in my armor. I loaded the vial into a slot in my forearm and ran my fingers against her once again. With the press of a button, a hidden needle shot from my index finger, sending a full dosage of vapor directly into her veins.

She looked as if she was about to scream, but stopped short. Instead, as the pink glow to her eyes grew brighter, she whispered as if post-orgasm, “It’s amazing.”

“Do you trust me now?”

“Of course, my king. I would do anything for you.”

I looked behind her and saw that the other 80’s had joined her in taking their dosage. All except Durango, who had disappeared.

The rest of them ran through the lecture halls, tearing down curtains and works of art.

“Who do you love?” I asked her.

“You and only you.”

I tore off the last off her clothing, and she screamed with arousal as I pressed her bare chest against the glass.

“Who is as good as me?”

“No one even comes close,” she told me, as I ripped off my clothing. “No one compares to you. No one is as strong, or as bold, or as amazing. I never want to have any other man inside me.”

“Turner! Get the fuck over here!” I shouted, as I fucked her against the glass.

“Yes sir?” asked the bitch, twitching with energy.

“Take off your helmet and get on your knees.”

He did it without question or pause. He did exactly what I said, revealing his glowing green eyes.

As I kept fucking Elka, I smacked him across the face.

“Who’s the greatest?”

“You are!”

I smacked him again, hard enough to knock him to the floor and turn the back of my hand red. All the while, the rest of the 80’s screamed and ran and swung from the rafters as their medicine took hold.

“Who do you love?”

“You and only you!”

“Who owns this pussy?” I screamed at Elka.

“You, my King! You own every part of me!”

“Turner, who owns your ass?” I screamed at him as he tried to pick himself up off the floor.

“You, my King! You own me!”

“Who do you love?” I screamed to the crowd as they clawed at the glass doors until their fingers bled, just for the chance to touch me.

“The King in Lights!”

“Fucking right you do!”

Chapter 32 – Paige Wilson

 

They were tearing each other apart. In between the dancing and the screaming, I saw people taking bites out of each other and bashing their own heads into the concrete. It was sickening.

Well, Madam President, how are you going to handle this?”

“With a strong and concentrated effort by Jamestown’s police force, spearheaded by myself and the chief of police,” I said, still looking at the Sunset District from the rooftop. “Together, we will put an end to the chaos that has broken out, and restore order.”

That’s a great speech, but what are you really going to do?”

“Pray very, very hard.”

At least the barricades are keeping those vapor-crazed rioters out. Everyone is safe, for now.”

I looked again at the people being tossed around and torn apart. “Not them. Not the Omniscients that have been conned and drugged by the Lightning King, or whatever he calls himself. Not the Truands who got caught in the middle and are now getting slaughtered en masse.”

There’s nothing we can do about it, so just let it go.”

“I can’t.”

Why not?”

“Because it’s my fault. Everything that happens in Jamestown is my responsibility.”

That’s completely insane, and trust me, I know what insanity is. I’m inside the mind of woman whose conscience manifests itself as her ex-husband. That’s insanity.”

“God, I hate you so much.”

If you spend your life holding the world on your shoulders, eventually, it will break you.”

“But there must be something I can do!”

“You can leave.”

My pistol shot out of my sleeve and was centered on his chest in half a heartbeat.

“I didn’t mean to startle you,” he said. “I sometimes forget how easy it is for me to sneak up on others.”

When the startled haze abated, I finally recognized the stranger. It was the same man who had come here the last time I saw Boris; the one with the haunting eyes.

“How did you get up here? There are six locked doors between the lobby and this rooftop.”

“I walked in,” he said, so casually that I felt stupid for asking. “But that’s not important.”

“Why are you here?”

He smiled. “That is a much more relevant question. I’m here to tell you that Jamestown is falling apart.”

“No, really?” I said, sarcastically and without thinking. It was almost like Fischer had hijacked my tongue. “Everything is under control. The city will not fall apart on my watch, so return to your home.”

“I think you misunderstand me. I’m not a concerned citizen, I’m an omen. Events are in motion, agents are at work and, within three years, Jamestown will be rubble.”

Crackpots came into my office at least once a month telling me how aliens were about to invade or the mole people were about to attack, but the cold and calm way this man spoke, made me almost want to believe him.

“This city will not fall. As President of Jamestown, I promise that that will not happen.”

I could hear Fischer groaning at my canned response.

“You conviction is the reason I want to save you. The people of this city are pampered and fickle, and you won’t be the only leader to find that out. Please, consider leaving.”

“I won’t abandon them.”

“You can feel free to save as many as you can, but you won’t be able to save everyone.”

“Then that’s not good enough,” I said, as I put my pistol away. “My city isn’t falling apart anytime soon, so you can just get off my building, before I have you thrown you off.”

“Your’s isn’t the only exodus in the works. Jamestown will fall, I assure you of that, but hundreds of lives are in your hands. Do the right thing, Madam President. Put your pride aside and prepare to evacuate.”

He walked back out the door with a stride so confident I could have sworn he was the leader of Jamestown, not me. I looked back out over the Sunset District and I said to myself, “How dare anyone proclaim themselves to be a king in my city? And now a man insults me and says I can’t protect my people? How dare they!”

Paige, none of this is your fault. Maybe he’s right. Maybe we should consider leaving.”

“Never. The people here are loyal to me, and only me. They’ll realize that and fall into line, eventually.”

My pistol extended from my sleeve once again. I always felt in control when the cold steel was in my hands. I ran my fingers over the engraving, “Dedrod.” My father had had the assassin’s weapon specially ordered for me thirty years ago, and had even taught me how to shoot. He believed it was important for a future leader to know how to defend herself.

“Things will go back to normal, right?”

“I’m just your conscience. Any answer I give you will be what you already know.”

He was right. I did already know what I needed to do, so I decided to change my tactics for dealing with the fall of the Sunset District, and decided to make a few other changes as well.

Chapter 33 – Rae Johnson

 

It had been several days since we’d returned, but all of us were still shaken by what had happened in the Sunset District; especially Vera. She was so upset that she had barely left the house, so I decided to take her somewhere that I knew would make her feel better.

The creaking of the front door was both annoying and oddly comforting. It made me remember how much I hated it when I was younger, but, at the same time, made me feel like a kid again.

“Who’s at the door?” said a voice from the kitchen.

“It’s me, mom.”

She popped her head out before running to hug me.

“Oh, my little Raincloud, it’s so good to see you. Why don’t you visit more often?”

“I came by a week ago.”

“Well, you should come and see your poor mother more than once a week. That’s not nearly enough.”

“Sorry, mom. Oh and I hope you don’t mind, but I brought a friend.” I turned and looked back at the door. Vera peeked in, her black hood still pulled tightly around her head.

Hesitantly, she stepped inside. I closed the door and reached to pull her hood down, but she stopped me.

“You shouldn’t-”

“I already told you, they won’t care.”

She still had a lot of worry in her eyes, but she did let me take down the hood.

“Oh my goodness. Dear, I haven’t seen one of your kind in years.” Vera, once again, tried to put the hood back up, but my mother took it down. “Stop worrying. Rainy is right, I have no problem with Homo Sapiens.”

“I’m sorry for being so paranoid. You just can’t be too careful these days.”

“That dialect… you’re a Truand aren’t you?”

I smiled when Vera looked at me, utter surprise on her face. “How did you know?”

“I spent years living with the Truands. Come with me.” She motioned for us to follow her as she stepped into another room.

“I told you not to worry,” I whispered to Vera under my breath.

“Yeah, I guess you were right, Raincloud,” she said, snidely. “What a great nickname.”

“Actually… that’s my legal name.”

“Seriously?” She smiled even wider, and tried to hold in her laughter. “I’m totally going to start calling you that.”

“Please, just stick with Rae.”

Mom opened the door to her library. The tiny room was crammed not only with books, but also with enough paintings to fill every inch of wall space, and several trunks.

“Did you make these?”

“Some of them. I was quite the artist back in my day. Jamestown used to be a very cultured city, before all the drugs and politics. I actually used to be a government archivist, and spent years studying everything about the Truands.”

“She was one of the first Homo Omniscients to step foot in the Court of Myracell,” I told her, bragging a little about how cool my mom was.

Vera stared intently at a painting of the Presidential District, with its archaic brown buildings of stone and brick. “That’s amazing.”

“It’s just a bunch of buildings.”

The voice was unexpected, but I recognized the bitter tone instantly.

“Hello, dad.”

He was standing in the doorway, his usual blank stare still cemented to his face.

“The real world is a lot more ugly than in that painting.”

“Albert, leave us alone and go check on the food.”

He did as she said.

“I’m so sorry about my husband,” mom told Vera. “He doesn’t have much appreciation for the arts.”

“Maybe I should just leave.”

“Nonsense, you’ll stay and have dinner with us.”

“Are you sure you want me in the house?”

“Of course I’m sure. It’s my damn house, after all. You’re going to stay and have dinner with us, but first I have one more thing to show you.”

Mom went to an old chest sitting in a corner. After entering a six-digit combination into the lock and removing the chain that further held it secure, she pulled out one of the several paintings inside. None of them had frames, and the wood that held some of them together seemed to be falling apart.

“I went through hell and back again to get this piece,” she said, as she unwrapped it from the plastic cover.

I remembered her showing me this painting, when I was younger. I had always thought it was beautiful, but, when Vera saw it, her eyes went wide, like it was the most amazing piece of art she had seen in her life. The painting was of a woman, laced in blue and with hair like green flame. Her arms were outstretched and traced in shimmering crystals, yet, even with how beautiful, elegant, and goddess-like she was, her gaze was comforting and she seemed almost motherly.

“Myracell…” Vera whispered, a tear running down her cheek.

“Are you ok?” I asked her.

“I’d almost forgotten how much I miss her.”

Mom put her hand on Vera’s shoulder. “Keep the painting. You should have something to remind you of your people.”

“Oh, I couldn’t do that. Don’t you know how much this is worth?”

“I do, which is why I want to pass it on to someone who understands its value. I know you’ll take care of it.”

The tender moment was interrupted by a knock at the door.

“Dinner is ready.”

Vera carefully rewrapped the painting and sat it by the front door, where she wouldn’t forget it.

As we passed through the doorway, I walked right by my father, who still didn’t seem anxious to speak.

“I’m glad you’re here, dad.”

“Where else would I be?” he said, completely monotone.

I walked away before he could see the tears start to well up in my eyes, rushing past him to get to the dinner table.

“Rainy, what happened?”

“Nothing, mom.” She must have seen how upset I was. She always had a sixth sense when it came to things like that.

“Is your father being as ass again? Oh, you know he loves you. He just has a hard time showing it.”

“I know.”

“It’s just because of his old police training. He always tries to act tough on the outside.”

“Can we just eat now?” I asked, frustrated by her questions.

She didn’t say anything to me, just moved several bowls and plates to the table in silence.

“Albert Johnson!” she shouted to him when he didn’t show up. “Quit brooding and get in here.”

He came in a moment later and sat down across from me.

“Can you pass the potatoes, Lexi.”

“Sure.” Mom grabbed the bowl. “But first, don’t you have something to say to your daughter?”

“Nope.” He took the bowl from her hands without a second word.

“Rainy, are you still seeing that handsome doctor?”

“No, mom. We’re just friends now.”

“Oh, you can never be just friends with an old lover. You should get back together with him. Your father always liked him; right, Albert?”

“I don’t like anyone who’s plowing my daughter.”

“Albert!”

“What the hell, dad? Why are you always such a dick?”

“I’m trying to teach you to toughen up. The world isn’t a pretty place, Rae.”

“I don’t need you to tell me that.”

“Don’t I? You and your friends have been running around, stirring up trouble all over the place. And now, you’ve been stealing food from the government? How dumb are you?”

“We’re trying to help people, dad!”

“Oh, really?”

“Yes! We’re giving out food and medicine to help people. Most of the people here didn’t have it as good as I did, and I want to make sure everyone gets a fair chance. I’m trying to help everyone, just like you taught me.”

We sat there for a long time, just looking at each other. It was yet another in a long line of fights between us. When I was younger this happened almost every day.

He pushed out his chair and got up from the table, before walking around to me.

“Stand up.”

I did so, ready to apologize if he was angry, but, before I could, he wrapped me up in the biggest warmest hug he had ever given me.

“I was always proud of you. I just don’t want you to get hurt.”

I hugged him back, smiling as I did.

“I love you dad.”

“I love you too.”

“Does this mean you’ll be ok with meeting my next boyfriend?”

“Let’s not get carried away.”

Chapter 34 – Scott Vale

 

I walked down the now expanded catwalk system that linked the two walls of the Gray District. We’d found a couple of welders who offered to improve the walkways in exchange for first choice of the supplies we’d stolen. Moving through the district was a lot easier now, but we still didn’t have a steady source of food. However, I still felt proud of our accomplishments. Problems like these needed to be tackled one at a time.

And speaking of problems, I saw another of mine throwing up over a railing.

“Jack, you look like shit.”

“I’m fine, boss,” he said, slurring his words. “Just a little sick.”

“You’re drunk. Go home and sleep it off, but I don’t ever want to see you drunk while on guard duty again. Got it?”

“Sure thing, Vale.” Surprisingly, he seemed genuinely regretful. “What was her name?”

I didn’t have to ask who he was talking about. “I told you already, it’s not important.”

“Stop being such a hardass and tell me her name!” he shouted.

I grabbed him by his collar, pulling him close enough that I could smell the whiskey on his breath. “Go home, Jack.”

He fell back on his ass after I released him, but ran home as soon as he was on his feet.

We’d all been hit pretty hard by the events in the Sunset District and we’d all found ways of dealing with it. Jack had been drinking more than ever, Vera barely left her house, except to see Rae, who seemed to be doing the best out of any of us, and Tex disappeared whenever he wasn’t on duty. The whole situation was just shit.

“You ok, sir?” asked a Black Jacket, standing guard outside a tin shack.

“Fine. What’s your name?”

“Shoan.”

“Alright, Shoan, how has your shift been? Is Nearly holding up ok?”

“Well, he’s fucking crazy, but I think he was that way when he got here. All he’s been doing is drawing on the walls and talking to himself all day. We brought him a chalk board, and when he filled that up we gave him an entire stack of pencils and paper, but he won’t stop marking up the walls. I don’t think we’ll be able to stop him, without tying him up.”

“I’ll talk to him. Thank you, Shoan.”

She unlocked the door. The twisted metal man didn’t even seem to notice me as I walked inside. He was too busy using a black marker to scribble on the walls, each of which was packed to the brim with his drawings.

The first picture was covered in shapes, and drawn partly on the chalk board and partly on the wall. There was a line of triangles traveling all the way across it, near the top, and a sea of squiggly lines on the left side, with huge blank areas flanking that, along with other assorted figures. The second wall had circles, hexagons and connecting lines covering most of the surface, and tiny, but surprisingly detailed, English and Greek letters drawn in the gaps. Bits of paper had been tacked up on the third wall, and then been drawn over, as if he had needed to correct a mistake. This one was also covered in circles and lines, but also tiny dots, and was void of any of the letters that appeared on the second wall. He was halfway done with the fourth when I walked in.

“Nearly? Are you ok, buddy?”

“I’m fine,” he told me, his voice eerie and mechanical.

“You know, we brought you those papers so that you wouldn’t have to draw on the walls anymore.”

“Not large enough. I need a bigger canvas.”

“Was the chalk board not big enough?”

“No.”

“Ok then. I suppose we can always clean them later.”

“You believe my drawings are strange,” he said, stating it as a fact. “Do you think I’m crazy?”

“Of course I do,” I thought to myself.

“Of course I don’t,” I said out loud.

“You’re lying. Now that father is gone, no one will ever understand me.”

“Your father?”

“Yes, Frollo. The King in Lights killed him.”

“Frollo was your father?”

“Did I not make that clear?” he said, getting fed up with me. “Go away, I need to keep working. They’re still speaking to me.”

I turned around, ready to leave the angry little contraption alone, but something caught my eye. In the first picture, drawn on the chalkboard, deep inside a mass of curved lines, I saw something…

“Everything alright?” I heard, as the door creaked open.

“Shoan, come here.”

She walked over to me. “Yes, sir?”

“What does this drawing look like? The entire wall, I mean.”

“Um… there’s a spot at the bottom that looks like ocean waves.”

“And what about this spot?”

“Curvy lines?”

“It’s a forest.”

Between the lines, I saw a shape that told me exactly what Nearly had drawn on this wall; and that shape was a tiny keyhole.

“This is Jamestown, outside of that is the forest, and the rest is a map of… well, everything.”

“The entire world?”

“Maybe, or what’s left of it.”

“Wow.” I was surprised to learn that Nearly was the one who said that.

“Didn’t you know what you were drawing?”

“I simply do as the voices say. I take the information and display it. Nothing more.”

“I need you to make a more detailed version, on paper. Shoan, get him whatever he needs.”

“Hey,” she shouted to the others outside the door. “We need paper. A lot of it.”

I kept staring at the map, completely in awe.

“This is amazing,” Shoan said. “I’d never realized what this was.”

For a moment, I was too enthralled to hear what she said. “We’re so small,” I mumbled.

“What do you mean?”

I placed a finger against the tiny shape, less than two inches in diameter. “Everything we’ve ever done, everything we’ve ever seen, everyone we’ve ever known and everything that made us who we are has been contained inside this little speck. All the best and worst things that have ever happened to us haven’t made an impact outside this tiny little pinprick.”

“Fuck.”

Two more Black Jackets burst in, carrying poster board, paper, pencils, markers and tons of other supplies.

“Will this be enough?”

“Ask Nearly,” I told them. “Get him whatever he needs. Can you make me a detailed version of this map, buddy?”

“I think I can.”

“Good. Get to it. In fact, make several of them.”

I left the room, while Nearly told the others everything he needed. I think he was excited by this project, now that he knew what he was making.

I started walking back home, dreaming about collapsing into bed. It had been a long day.

“Hey, Scott.”

The greeting came as the door was halfway open. I stood there for a few seconds, stunned to see Byrd sitting in my favorite chair.

“Come in, please. Make yourself at home. It’s your house, after all.”

I locked the door behind me, and sat down on the bed.

“Nice place. I’m surprised it was available.”

“We had some vacancies. A lot of the junkies left, after we kicked out all the dealers.”

“Interesting.”

“Why are you here?”

“What, am I not allowed to come visit? You stopped by my home just a few days ago, and, now, I’m returning the favor.”

“Get out.”

“You’ve turned so bitter. Was it because of that incident with Frollo, or were you always like this?”

“You stabbed me.”

“Only once. I’m your houseguest, Scott Vale, show a little hospitality.”

“Did you come here to kill me, or not?”

He laughed. “Do you really think I want to kill you? I mean, I know that I stabbed you that one time, but things have changed. I came here as a friend, to warn you.”

“Warn me? Really?”

“Of course. Back in the Sunset District, I thought you were going to be a threat to me. I offered an olive branch, the chance to help me bring those shiners down, and you refused. At that point, I could only assume you were my enemy. That’s a fair assumption, right?”

“I want to kill you so badly, right now.”

“But, you won’t. You’re too good a person to do that, and it’s why I love you. Also because you can’t be sure if I’m armed, right?”

I didn’t answer.

“Now look, ever since that little mix up, we’ve been doing our own things. You’ve been here, playing the role of the heroic thief, and I’ve been back in the Sunset District, being a good leader.”

“How the fuck are you a good leader?”

“I was hoping you would ask me that. You see, what you’re doing is only temporary. You’re giving the people what they need, and that’s great, but it’s never going to be enough. They’ll get greedy, they’ll get angry, or worse, you’ll fail them and they’ll get hungry. When that happens, they’ll eat you alive.”

“Are you done?”

He sighed. “I suppose so.” He got up and started towards the door, but, before he left, he stopped and put a hand on my shoulder. “I really am worried about you. One day, you’ll realize that they don’t want better lives. They don’t want what’s best for them, because average people are just fucking stupid. They want scapegoats, parties and drugs; easy answers in simple terms. How long do you think it’ll be before trade you for a golden calf or a wooden effigy? If you really are set on continuing this crusade, I wish you the best of luck, but you will fail.”

Chapter 35 – Scott Vale

 

“Should we call Jack to get a second team ready?” asked Mark.

“What? Sorry, I must have drifted off.”

“You look tired, boss.”

“I’m fine. What did you see down there?”

“It’s a little suspicious looking. There’s only six guys guarding the biggest shipment I’ve ever seen.”

“Let me see that,” I said, grabbing the binoculars away from him. He was right, there were only six police officers down there. I was expecting a dozen, minimum, and a much smaller shipment.

“Do you think we should go for it, or call Jack? There’s only five of us.”

“We’ll be fine on our own. Get to your strike points. You know the plan.”

Mark, Jed and Shoan ran to take positions behind the caravan, leaving Tex and I behind.

“Scott,” he said, putting a hand on my shoulder. “We shouldn’t do this. It’s obviously a trap. After we stole from them last time, it doesn’t make sense to send the next shipment with even less people guarding it.”

“I know, but if we don’t take this opportunity, people are going to get hungry.”

“Is it worth risking the Black Jacket’s lives?”

“They’ll be fine.”

In just a few quick moments, Jed and Shoan each took out a guard. The Black Jackets grabbed them from behind and jabbed them with the needles, just like they’d been taught. Shoan pulled out a pistol and the others picked up the officer’s weapons before shouting to catch their attention.

“Put your hands up!” There were now three armed Black Jackets and four armed policemen squaring off. They shouted back and forth for a moment, until Tex and I snuck up behind the nearest two and took them both out.

I whistled, making the last two guards turn and see that their friends were down, and there were two more automatics pointed at them. They quickly surrendered, and submitted to having their hands bound. With all the guards now either tied up, passed out or rolling on the ground without a clue which direction was up, it was time to get moving.

“Let’s get this out of here.”

“Can I have a word with you first, Scott?”

I turned to the voice and saw a lone woman standing out in the cold. She was wearing a thick snowsuit, but nothing covering her head.

“Madam President.”

Tex looked at her with anger, but the eyes of the other Black Jackets were wide with disbelief, darting between President Wilson and myself.

“Why would the President be so dumb as to walk up to a group of armed soldiers?” Shoan asked her.

“Why would a group of armed thugs be dumb enough to point their guns at the President?”

Shoan turned pale.

I turned and put my stolen rifle on the cart, before telling the other Black Jackets, “Take the weapons to the clinic and start distributing the food.”

“We’re not going to just leave you here.”

“I’ll be fine, Tex. I need you to be the leader now. Make sure this stuff gets home safe. Can you do that for me?”

He nodded.

“Good. Now get moving.”

I turned back to the President as everyone else left. “What do you want?”

“I want you to stop stealing our rations.”

“It doesn’t look like you’re equipped to stop us.”

“That’s because this delivery was never meant to go to the Cages. It was a gift.”

“Really?”

“Yes… well, except for the one thing I want in return.”

“Of course. Everything comes at a price.”

She laughed. “Very true. What I want in exchange is very simple; next time you need food, you come to me and ask for it, rather than stealing it.”

“We tried that once. It didn’t go well.”

“Regrettably, that’s true, but I’ve had a change of heart. I’ll give you all the food you’ll ever need.”

“In exchange for what?”

“You’re so pessimistic, Scott. There may be another favor you could assist me with in the future, but we’ll deal with that when the time comes.”

Scott, we’re about to set up the dumbwaiter. Are you ok?”

“Fine,” I told Tex over the radio. “But just take it to the ramp.”

What if the police see us?”

“The police won’t stop you. Right?” I asked the President. She nodded in response. “Yeah, it’s safe. Just take it the long way.”

You got it.”

“I’m happy to send you a few shipments a month,” she told me. “Life would be much easier for both of us if we just cut out the middleman.”

“I would consider it, if I trusted you. You said we were lazy and that we were poor because we didn’t work hard enough.”

“Look, Scott, I could go through the long process of convincing you of how I’ve changed my ways and how I’ve come to my senses, but it’s cold and I’m tired, so I’ll just give you the raw facts. You successfully stole a single shipment, but only because you had the element of surprise on your side. The next one will be guarded by fifty policemen, all armed to the teeth and told to kill on sight. Trusting me is your only option.”

“Fuck you.”

She smiled. “I’ll be in touch.”

We walked our separate ways, neither of us looking back. I eventually caught up with Tex and helped get the food back home. She untied the cops who were bound and pulled the drugged ones indoors, out of the cold. I knew there was no way we could keep living like thieves, not with over three hundred mouths to feed.

But as we unloaded the food, something occurred to me. If I made a deal with the President, on behalf of the Gray District, I wouldn’t be a vigilante anymore, beating up drug dealers and stealing food. I wouldn’t be an 80 working for the Gray District. What would I be? Would I be the Elected Official of the Gray District? The leader of this dark and depressing place? Would I become a new Frollo? The President of these people? Or perhaps, the King in Gray?

Chapter 36 – Nina Shear

 

They will most likely assume you are one of the Truands, so do not fear for your safety. Approach the Temple and inject yourself with the dog serum. Canis will take over from there. Sister, we entrust you to put terror into the hearts of these decadent and obese fairies, and to show them what weaklings they are. The Tribe thanks you for your loyalty.”

It was all a lie. Or, perhaps they did not know?

All I had wanted my whole life was to feel strong; to take back power from those that had stolen it from me, but what could I take from these fairies? They weren’t decadent, they were starving; neon traced skeletons, just like the buildings above them.

I saw that everything here was decayed, now that I was up close. I could see where hundreds of glass panels, along with pieces of stone and metal, had been torn away from the buildings and thrown into the street, leaving only bare frameworks and the lights that still clung to them.

The people walked through the streets without care, despite being malnourished and injured. Three men bashed their heads against a brick wall, until green, pink and orange stains appeared. Several young girls gossiped as if there weren’t chunks of skin missing from their arms and hands, exposing the glowing pink and blue tissue beneath. A mother sang a lullaby to her infant who would never wake up and a group of children piled rocks and dirt onto a stack of bodies.

“Hey, stop that!” I yelled at them.

“Fuck off, bitch.”

I grabbed the insolent brat, ready to throttle him as I told him not to desecrate the remains of the dead, but he turned pale when he saw my face.

“Feral!” he screamed, before running off as fast as he could. The other children followed. Did they know I was from the Cages? They couldn’t possibly know why I had come here, could they?”

Then, I looked closer at the bodies they had been desecrating; all of them were Sapiens, with no signs of Canis’s change, and all had been beaten, burned or cut before their demise.

I sprinted down the road and kept running untiI I was far from there. What had possessed the fairies to kill Truands? Had they done something wrong, or was everyone here completely insane? I needed to get back to the Cages and bring this news to the Shamans, but I quickly realized that I was lost. Having never stepped foot outside the Cages before today, I had no idea how to find my way home.

I searched around the alley for something to cover my face with, and, after several minutes, I saw some clothing stuffed underneath a dumpster. Unfortunately, I couldn’t reach them, and so I tried rolling it out of the way. It didn’t work.

“What’s making this so heavy?” I asked myself, prying off the lid to reveal the Truands crammed inside it. I fought the urge to vomit, but lost. The smell of rotting flesh was too overpowering.

I used a pipe to pull the shirt, cap and scarf out from under the dumpster and quickly walked away. I didn’t want to be anywhere near it.

I kept the hat’s bill pulled down as I walked in the direction I thought was south. I was wrong and soon found myself near a blockade, where a group of fairies were shouting to the police on the other side.

“Let us in!”

“Nobody is getting into this district; those are the President’s orders.”

The police continued to recite that line to the fairies who didn’t have the neon glow, and threatened to shoot the ones who did have it. A mother held her child up to the officers, begging them to allow him over, but, when one of the officers tried to take him, his leader hit him with his baton and reminded him of their orders.

I started to leave, but, just as I was about to, a group of glowing skeletons approached the line. They shouted how those trying to get out were cowards, how the police were pussies and how they all needed to learn how to fly.

“Get the fuck away from here!” the police shouted, but the crazed fairies charged at them. They attacked the barricade, they attacked the group trying to get out and they even attacked each other. They were like animals, bashing each other with stones and pipes, ripping and tearing with their teeth, until finally the police mowed the whole group down.

The only survivor was the child, whom the officers brought over despite their leader’s protests.

Farther along, I found more of the glowing skeletons lined up outside an especially decrepit building. These men and women didn’t have the gleeful looks that the rest of the zombies did. They just looked tired and slow.

Every single one of them carried something in their hands. Jewels, money, microwave ovens… At the front of the line, they were trading them in for vials of liquid. I found this trading to be odd, but what was more odd were the people appraising the items. They were dressed in black armor, traced with neon colors.

Above them, sitting on a throne constructed inside a hollowed out shell that used to be a building, sat a man whose armor glowed bright yellow; so bright that it almost hurt to look at him.

“You’ll get one ounce for that,” one of the men in armor told a zombie, who accepted their payment without question and quickly moved out of line so that everyone else could have the chance to hand over everything they owned for an ounce of the neon liquid, which, I could only assume, held some magic properties.

The man in shining yellow lights stood up and everyone went silent. I knew that something bad was about to happen, but was paralyzed with fear. Suddenly, his masked face appeared on every billboard, looking down at me.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I think I’ve just spotted a future dog-creature.”

Those in line stayed catatonic, but the ones in armor pulled out rifles, and other zombies suddenly came running out of the buildings.

I sprinted down the street, the man in yellow lights still appearing all around me. Zombies came out of the woodwork, most running out of buildings and alleyways, but many fell from rooftops, too consumed with the chase to realize that leaping at me from ten stories would kill them.

They kept running after me, but were too slow. In between the sounds of men and women smashing into the ground, came the popping of femurs and ribs as the malnourished fairies tried to give chase. I soon outpaced them, but knew that I would only be safe when I made it back home… if I made it back home.

I stopped to catch my breath in the middle of the street, far ahead of the pack, but unable to run any further. I nearly had a heart attack when three more fairies crashed to earth from atop the buildings.

They were approaching from behind, closer and closer. I pulled out the syringe. Time slowed as I thought about what I was doing, and how different things were compared to what the Shamans had said. My biggest regret is never making it back to tell them, but I suppose all the other dogs wished they had had that chance as well.

I jabbed it into my chest, right where the Shamans had told me, and it didn’t take long for me to feel it’s effects. I was angry and animalistic, ready to attack anything I saw, and just as I felt myself start to come back to reality, I died for the first time.

I came back as myself, perhaps having bled the serum out of all the bullet holes. The man in shining yellow lights stood above me.

“You poor innocent girl. What’s your name?”

I struggled, but spoke, “Nina.”

“Why did you come here?”

“To feel power… many walked on me… my husband sold me… the Tribe said I would be strong… and die in glory”

“Well, Nina, I think you’ve just ruined any chance of the Truands living through this ordeal. You shouldn’t have come to my home. Enjoy your afterlife.”

I died for the second time.

Chapter 37 – Sirius V

 

“Young one, you have yet to voice an opinion.”

“I am still deciding.”

“You must make your decision now.” The Shaman of Honor slid the black box down to me. “Our efforts to bring down the Omniscients have been in motion for a year, and you still refuse to be a part of it.”

I held the box in my hands. The sound of the syringe rolling around inside seemed even louder in the underground meeting room. It bounced off the dirt walls and returned to my ears over and over and over again.

“I don’t see why you need my people. We’ve been doing just fine so far.”

“You have done nothing to sacrifice for this cause,” screamed Sirius II. “My Cage is the only one fighting to make our destiny come true, and now dozens of my followers are gone. It is time for the rest of you to show your support.”

“Sirius III and IV have agreed to search for volunteers within their cages.”

“Cage I will lend support as well.”

“That leaves only you,” the Shaman of Wisdom said to me. “Sirius V, do you not care about the Tribe?”

“How dare you ask that? The Tribe is what I live for.”

“Then why will you not find volunteers?”

“I just don’t see a point to it.”

“We are putting fear into their hearts; showing them our strength. Don’t you want to be a part of that?”

“I am already a part of it. I’m the one who has been collecting the dog serum. We wouldn’t have it if not for me.”

“You have been bringing them to us one at a time. That is only enough to harass the Omniscients, not destroy them. We’ll need hundreds more.”

“Perhaps it is time for a stronger leader to take control of Cage V,” said Sirius II.

“What are you saying?”

“I am willing to find volunteers, and I am more than man enough to rule two cages.”

“You won’t come near my people.”

“What will you do to stop me, whelp?”

I rose from my chair, ready to slit through his throat with the most dull and rusty blade I could find. “You won’t step foot in my home.”

“You’re a weakling and a coward!”

“And you’re a mindless brute!”

“Everyone be still,” Sirius I said, trying to keep us calm. “Since our support is pledged, perhaps it is time we left. Sirius V can discuss with the Shamans on his own.”

“I still think this whelp doesn’t deserve his power.”

“That’s not your decision, now let’s go.” He led the other empowered ones out of the tunnel.

“Young one, you must understand how important this endeavor is,” the Shaman of Honor told me.

“How can the others send people to their deaths? How can they decide this so easily?”

“Because they understand that this is Canis’s will. We must strike fear into the fairies, before we can achieve our destiny.”

I opened the box and took out the syringe. As I looked at this device, I thought about someone I loved and cared about dying for god and glory. I thought about how the Men of the Temple looked down on us, and how satisfying it was to know that we could inspire terror in them… but it came at the cost of our own lives.

“No one from my Cage will do this. That is my final decision.”

The Shaman was disappointed, but didn’t press the issue, which was very surprising. “Very well. If you change your mind we will always be accepting of your help, young one.”

I crushed the syringe in my hand, making broken plastic and yellow fluid fall to the ground. “It will take a lot to make me change my mind.”

I left them sitting in the tunnel, and returned to the surface. The exit brought me into the back room of my home, where Haylow was waiting for me.

“How did it go?”

“As expected.”

“Are you still being stubborn?”

“I don’t want to discuss this.”

“We must. This issue is important.”

I let out a sigh and collapsed onto the couch. “Very well. You may discuss, and I will listen.”

“You are a truly close-minded man.”

“I am doing this because I care. I am still providing them with the dog serum. That should be enough.”

She sat down on my lap, and placed her arms around my shoulders. “My sweet dear, you should have learned by now that when you give something to the Tribe they will always want more. It is the nature of dogs.”

“I suppose you are right.”

“You know I am right. You need to follow their orders. And besides, if people volunteer then it is their choice. You should feel no guilt when it is their decision.” She kissed me, her lips softer than anything else in the world.

‘No. No!” I snapped back to my senses. “I won’t do it.”

She began to sob into my shoulder. I had never seen her do that before.

“Please, don’t cry.”

“But I must! As long as the Men of the Temple rule the Ring, I will weep for our people. How can you accept the way they talk down to us?”

“I don’t.”

“Then why is it so hard for you to allow this one little thing? People have come to your door asking if they can volunteer, and you think that this is a moral dilemma? All you have to do is hand them over to the Shamans. That’s all.”

“But they will die.”

“It’s their choice.”

“Well… Perhaps, I can consider it, but I make no promises.”

“Oh thank you. You are so amazing.” She kissed me once again and I was lost to her.

Chapter 38 – Jacob Wilson

 

Aunt Paige never liked it when I swore, but this place was just so cool. “Holy crap!”

“Watch your language.”

“Sorry, auntie.”

The police surrounded us as we walked up the ramp, and once we got up there, there was a big barricade made of concrete and sandbags, and men with black coats and guns guarding it. It took a really long time for Aunt Paige to get us through, and two other men in black were waiting for us on the other side.

“Hello, Madam President.”

“Mr. Vale, it’s nice to see you again. I hope you don’t mind that I brought my nephew. He’s never been to this district before.”

The man looked at me, but never smiled. He just said “I’m not surprised.”

“We need to talk. Do you have somewhere we can do that?”

“Over here.”

Aunt Paige looked over to me before leaving. “Stay here, and make sure the officers can always see you.”

“Yes, aunt Paige.”

She left with the man she called, ‘Mr. Vale’. The other one smiled at me, and he stayed behind.

“Hey little guy. How are you?”

“Good.”

“How old are you?”

“Eleven. My name is Jacob.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Jacob. My name is Tex. How do you like the Gray District?”

“It’s really cool!”

“What’s your favorite part?”

“The houses on the wall! I want to live in one!”

“Maybe we can go up and see one.” He looked at the policemen, and all of them shook their heads. “Well, we can’t do that, but maybe there’s something else we can do.”

The police stayed close behind us as we went down the road from the building where auntie and the other man were talking. There was a spot where there weren’t any houses, where there was a big opening and you could see the forest on the other side. I ran up to it before the other man could get there. I couldn’t see over the railing, but Tex put me on his shoulder while Aunt Paige’s guards stood so close I could see the chips and dents in their helmets.

Down below us, there was nothing but trees for miles and miles, and off in the distance they stopped and the ground was just black.

“What’s that? That place on the other side of the trees.”

“That’s the Badlands, where there isn’t any forest and the ground is darker than coal.”

“Whoa. Does anything live there?”

“Maybe. We sometimes see things running around out there. There might even be people.”

“I want to live there.”

He laughed.

“Are there really dog-monsters in the forest?”

He stopped talking for a second, then grabbed a piece of concrete that was sitting on the ledge.

“Let’s see.” He tossed it down and it broke into a million pieces on the ground. I kept watching where it hit for a like a minute, and then a big brown thing poked its head out of the bushes.

I yelled and the thing ran away. I really wanted to see it though. “Tex, make it come back!”

“I can’t. You have to keep quiet.”

I pressed my lips together as hard as I could and started watching again. It took longer, but the dog’s head came back out, then it’s body, and then it came out sniffed where the rock had hit. It was really big and fuzzy. I liked it’s puppy ears.

The big dog looked around and then stared right at us. He just looked at us for a while, then he ran off faster than I could see.

“That was so cool! I want to have a pet just like that! Let’s go down and find it!”

“Sorry little buddy. I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“Aw, man. How come your walls have holes where you can see the animals?”

He frowned. “For a lot of reasons.”

Then I heard somebody behind us start shouting. “Tex Mex! Bring the kid back. We’re done here.”

I was still on Tex carried me on his shoulders all the way back to Aunt Paige, with the policemen still standing right next to us.

“Did you have a good time?” she asked me.

“Yeah! I saw a big dog! And we got to see outside the wall!”

Aunt Paige and the other man’s eyes got really big.

“What? We didn’t leave the district,” Tex told them. “We just looked through a hole. It was completely safe.”

They both looked relieved, but auntie grabbed me away and kept me close to her.

“What do you say to Mr. Tex Mex?” Aunt Paige reminded me.

“Thank you.”

“It was no problem buddy. Come back and visit anytime.”

“Awesome! Can we?”

She didn’t answer.

Chapter 39 – Scott Vale

 

“Why are you here?”

“Your men have barricaded the Gray District off from the rest of the city. I felt the need to investigate.”

“Investigation implies some form of subtlety. You’ve got the entire police force at my doorstep. This looks more like an invasion.”

“I cannot invade what I own, Mr. Vale. Every part of this city is mine.”

“I think you’ve missed a couple of memos. The districts are ruling themselves now. You should have stepped in a long time ago, Madam President.” I put all the spite that I could behind those words. “Now, I’m going to ask again; why are you here?”

“I’m calling in the favor you owe me.”

“You said the favor was that we come and ask for food when we needed it.”

“I gave you a more food than you needed. It’s only fair that you take a few extra steps to help me.”

“Fucking politicians. You should have been feeding the people here from the start.”

“Maybe we would have sent food here, if this place wasn’t full of thugs and thieves.”

Every ounce of hatred in my body culminated into this next question, and, while the question was meant to wound her, I also wanted to know if it was true.

“Do you honestly think we’re all born bad, or does it help you sleep better at night, believing that we crawl out of the womb with a thirst for rape, bloodshed and a cheap high?”

“What the hell are you asking?”

“I’m asking if you really think we’re all thugs, thieves and junkies, or if you make yourself believe that so you don’t feel bad while we starve.”

“I believe you’re all thugs, but only because it’s true.”

“Then why are you here? If we’re all irredeemable bastards, then why do you need a favor from me?”

She didn’t answer.

“You don’t need to say anything. I already know why. You’ve been making yourself believe it, haven’t you?”

She kept up her stoic appearance, but I saw her eyes look at the floor and her body squirm in her chair, just for a moment.

“The facility under Jamestown can only produce so much food. When we stopped being able to keep up with the population growth, it was decided that the distribution network should favor… citizens of high priority.”

“You feed the Cages because you feel bad for them, and the shiners in the Sunset District because they’re rich, but the Gray District and the Truands don’t get shit!”

“That’s not true.”

“That’s why you bought into all those lies. Believing we’re all criminals means that you can feel good about yourself while letting us starve.”

“ Scott, I’m trying to be- ”

“You don’t let us eat, and then you punish us for stealing? That’s fucking stupid!”

“Shut up.”

“But you love everyone in the Sunset District. They must be good people since they have nice apartments with all those neon lights and picket fences. Your conscience is clear as long as they’re happy. You protect the people you like and fuck over everyone else, just like the Men of the Temple! You’re just another Frollo!”

She took her hand off the table and smacked me across the face. I was dazed for a second, but drew my gun. As I aimed it square at her face, I saw that her second hand had come off the table as well.

She was holding a tiny pistol that looked like something a doll would use. The two of us stood there for several seconds, looking one another right in the eye. But then I realized something, and the calm that spread across her face said that she realized it too.

We’d been waiting to pull our guns since we walked through the door. Neither of us had come into this room with the intention of making a truce. If I had written down everything I wanted to get out of this meeting, everything that was true, it would have been one thing; to scream in her face about everything the government had done wrong in my eyes. But there was too much at stake to let old wounds stand between us, so I lowered my gun and she lowered hers.

“I know you must hate the government, and many of the people I work with do buy into the lies you talked about… as did I, for a very long time. I’m sorry for what happened, but now is the opportunity to fix things. There’s no point in staying bitter anymore.”

“We need food,” I said, countering her well thought out speech with a point-blank, but truthful, statement.

“I know. Recently the people in the Sunset District have been… uninterested in food, so, as long as we can keep producing, we’ll have plenty to spare. Unfortunately, the people of the Sunset District are also uninterested in working, so our manpower is running dangerously low.”

As much as I wanted to call her out for offering us food only after the Sunset District got drugged, I swallowed the urge to do that. “How much can you give us?”

“More than enough. How many men can you spare?”

“I have about three hundred and fifty people living here, at last count. A lot of them are getting restless with nothing to do, so I can probably get you a hundred workers by the end of the week.”

“That’s perfect. What about men in fighting shape? My police force is stretched pretty thin trying to cover the entire border with the Sunset District, along with the Cages.”

“Why can’t you recruit anyone from the Presidential District?” I asked honestly.

“The people of my home district have a slight… aversion to physical labor. They’re doing their best, but most of them do more harm than good.”

My first instinct was to say, “So they’re a bunch of pussies?”, but I simply said, “That’s unfortunate.”

“It is, and that’s why I need you and the Black Jackets to help me. My people are pretty much useless.”

“Ok, but before we continue this negotiation, I have some conditions.”

“What are they?” she said with a misleadingly pleasant demeanor. I knew she wasn’t looking forward to hearing my demands.

“First, I don’t want you sending my men on any suicide missions, or putting any workers I loan you in harm’s way. They stay in the Presidential District, where it’s at least somewhat safe.”

“Done. anything else?”

“Two more things. We need fifteen units of food a month.”

“Fifteen units? That’s an insane amount.”

“You used to send almost twice that amount to stock the stores in the Sunset District. Don’t try to cheat me.”

“Fine,” she said, gritting her teeth so hard that I expected shards of enamel to fly out of her mouth. “What’s your last demand?”

“If you’re going to use my men as guards, they should be armed just as well as the police.”

“I’m not giving you automatic weapons.”

“We need to defend ourselves.”

“Bullshit. There haven’t been any vicious dogs or junkies knocking at your doorstep.”

“But that could change in a heartbeat. Jamestown is getting more dangerous by the day.”

Her head sunk. I don’t think she liked being in this position; having to ask someone else for help. She had too much pride for that.

“We’ve got no reason to try and hurt anyone,” I told her “The only people who’ll even have access to firearms will be whoever is on guard duty, and after that they’ll be locked up. I give you my word.”

“Ok, I trust you,” she said. To this day I have no idea if she meant that, but, if she was lying, she sure had me fooled. “Why do you need that much food? One unit is enough for fifty people a month, if it’s well rationed.”

I figured telling them wasn’t all that big a deal. It wasn’t really a secret at this point. “To tell you the truth, we’ve been thinking about leaving Jamestown.”

She was very surprised to hear that. “You are?”

“Yes, and if we do then we’ll need enough supplies to last us several months.”

The President started looking around the entire room, examining everything.

“Is something wrong?”

“Did someone tell you to leave the city?”

“No?”

“Anyone threatening you? Forcing you to go?”

“No?” I said, incredibly confused by her sudden paranoia.

She stopped looking around and seemed to calm down a little. “Alright. I’m sorry, I just… it’s nothing.”

“Ok?”

She got up and went to the door. “Get fifty workers and twenty soldiers to report to the Presidential building tomorrow, and another hundred workers by the end of the week. In return, I’ll get you your fifteen units. Deal?”

“I’ll do my best.”

“Then we’re done here, but if anyone talks to you about your plans to leave, tell them I was helpful. Alright?”

“Uh, alright?”

When we got outside I shouted “Tex Mex! Bring the kid back. We’re done here.” After he did, the President and her guards left quickly. I wasn’t upset to see them leave, especially her annoying nephew.

“How did it go?” Tex asked me.

“Better than expected. I need to make an announcement. Spread the word, and get everyone outside.”

Chapter 40 – Revy Micer

 

“That should be the last of them,” I said, pulling a tarp over the reaper’s cart, which was filled to the brim with vapor addicts; the last ones from the Gray District. “Take them out after nightfall, and stay out of sight, as best you can.”

I walked away from him, confident that no one would ever learn the little detail I had failed to mention to Scott.

“You know you’re a bad person, right?” I turned back, but the reaper was already gone.

I wondered what he had meant. Logically, I was doing the right thing. We needed to get rid of the vapor so no one else got addicted. If that meant that the current addicts would die of withdrawal, so be it. It was for the greater good. Pure logic. No compromise.

“Revy, I finally found you,” said Tex, as he ran up to me.

“Yes, you did.” I led him away from the alley. “What do you need?”

“Scott is going to be making an announcement any minute about his meeting with the President. I need to get back, but you should come and hear it.”

He ran off as fast as he could, even though he was severely out of breath and his eyes were bloodshot.

I climbed the stairs to the highest catwalks before making my way down the road. I could already see a large crowd gathering, and could see a figure, dressed in black, speaking to them.

I tucked myself into a secluded spot, where I could hear Scott without being too close to the crowd.

“I know that you’re upset, but the President needs our help. If we help her produce food, she’ll give food to us in return.”

The crowd was unhappy. In addition to booing in Scott’s direction, several who were close to me had also contracted the muscles of their mouth and nose into an incredibly ugly expression commonly known as a sneer. Angry people did the strangest things.

“If we can’t help her produce food, everyone in the city will starve; the Presidential District, the Cages and even us.”

“You sold us out,” said a Black Jacket, approaching Scott. “You want to send us to go and break our backs for the Presidential District? They never cared about us. Don’t you remember what they did to you when you asked them for food?”

“Things are different now,” he said to the underling that I now recognized as Jed. I never liked that kid. He always assumed he knew best.

“How are things different?”

“The President needs our help. She can’t produce food without us, which gives us more bargaining power.”

“Well, why should we bargain with her when we can keep stealing? Those cops are a bunch of pushovers. I should know, I’ve taken them on before.”

“You went on one raid and took down one cop, and you only knew how to do so because I taught you.”

“Scott, you’ve done a lot of good stuff around here, but I didn’t sign up to be the President’s bitch. I wanted to be a Black Jacket so I could finally start fighting dealers, shiners, cops and everyone else who was poisoning this district. I think it’s time for a change in leadership!”

The crowd yelled, and, from what I could tell, about seventy percent believed what Jed was saying, despite the fact that, logically, Scott had the better plan.

“Idiots.”

While Jed continued stirring up the crowd, Scott’s head slumped and he rubbed his forehead with his right hand. Frustration.

“It won’t work, Jed. We need to think long term.”

“You know what I think? I think you lost your nerve. I don’t think you have the guts to do what’s necessary. Do you even have the balls to pull a trigger, Scott?”

I couldn’t see his face, but Scott’s hands quickly balled up into fists, so I could only assume that he had become angry.

“I think you’re turning into a big pussy, and it’s time for me to be in charge.”

Ding! Crack! Crack! Pop! Crack!

The first sound was Jed’s forehead slamming into the metal railing. The second and third were his ribs after Scott threw him over, making him bounce off of another catwalk below them. The last two were his elbow snapping out of place and his kneecap shattering, as he hit the hard concrete in the street below.

I couldn’t help but laugh a bit. Not because of his pain, of course, but because of the irony. Scott’s attempt to shut him up had made him louder than ever. He just kept screaming and screaming. It was pretty funny.

The mob was completely silent. The injured cretin reached out to them for help, but they backed away, as if they were afraid to touch him.

They looked at Jed with pity, but they looked at Scott with shock and fear.

“If one hundred people don’t volunteer to work by this afternoon, I’ll go door to door and grab the first hundred people I can find!”

Chapter 41 – Ross Keller

 

God, how many papers were left? It was just endless stacks of documents, each more worthless than the last. How could I ever have enjoyed this job?

Pain shot through my finger and up my entire arm, overtaking my body. I flailed my hand and kicked the filing cabinet, while I shouted every obscenity I could think of.

“Sweetheart, what’s wrong?”

“I slashed my hand open.”

I held my hand out so she could examine it.

“Ross, it’s just a paper cut.”

“No, it’s worse than that. There must have been a knife hidden in that stack.”

She rolled her eyes and turned my hand around so I could examine it myself. It was just a tiny sliver, one that barely even broke the skin.

“Well, that’s just my luck.”

She kissed me on the cheek. “You should be happy. This is a good time for us,” she said, as she placed my hand on her stomach. She was just starting to show.

“This whole city is going to the dogs. How can we raise a kid at a time like this?”

“If I were you, I’d be more worried about raising her on an archivist’s salary,” she said, jokingly. Amy was always so positive, no matter what. It was the thing I loved most about her. “Don’t worry so much. Things will work out.”

“I hope you’re right.”

“I’m always right. Now get back to work,” she said, as she wagged her finger in my face.

She planted a kiss on my lips to say goodbye, then a second kiss, a third, and soon we showed no signs of stopping.

“Do we have time?”

“I’ll make time.”

“Archivist Keller?”

We broke away from one another so fast that I almost fell backwards.

“I’ll just leave this here,” the delivery man said, placing a letter on my desk across the room.

“I have to get back to work,” I said. “I’ll see you at home?”

“Of course. We’ll continue there.”

I had to climb over several stacks of paperwork to get to my desk. Now that I wasn’t doing data collection in the field, I’d been sorting and resorting files for the past ten months. However, when I thought about my wife and future child, the tediousness of my job seemed a little more bearable.

The envelope was bent and torn, like someone had hastily shoved it into a mail slot or under a door. I opened it up and read the letter inside.

 

Mr. Keller

I need your help. The Truands, are starving and in need. I ask for you to please petition to your government to assist us. We are not monsters, nor are we going to become them. We only wish to live in peace, and if we don’t escape the Sunset District soon, we will either die or be forced to take drastic action.

Please help us. You are our only hope. Meet me by the barricade on third street, today at six. We can speak then.

Fells Barrow

 

I was their last hope? God, how could I have gotten sucked into this? I wasn’t a hero or a politician. I was just some guy.

Six o’clock was in three hours, but would I go? Would I put my wife and future daughter at risk to save these people? Charge headfirst into this shit storm just to save a few beggars?

I tore the note, crumbled it and threw it in the trash. I had my own problems to worry about.

Chapter 42 – Ins Vera

 

“I’m so glad you’re here.”

“I know. You’ve been saying that for the past half hour.”

“I’m sorry, but it’s just…” Instead of finishing his sentence, Nearly wrapped his arms around me, making me cringe just a bit. “Vera, you are all that I think about.”

“Thank you. That means a lot.” As gross as it was looking at the metal plates welded to his skin and watching the bodily fluids flow through the tubes in his back, Nearly was incredibly sweet and I felt sorry for him.

That said, I was still overjoyed when a Black Jacket opened the door and asked me, “Vera, can you come out here for a second?”

“Sure.” I raced to the door, before realizing how rude I was being. Nearly didn’t seem to notice, though.

“Will you come see me again, soon?”

“Yes, sweetie. I’ll be back tomorrow.”

I felt both relief and guilt as I shut the door behind me.

“What do you need?”

“I was wondering if you could check on Tex. He’s been acting weird all day.”

“Where is he?”

“One level up. He said he was tired or something, so the boss let him work in the wacky shack today. I’d go myself, but I have to guard the cyborg.”

“You sure are dedicated.”

“I just don’t want to get caught shirking duty, especially after what the boss did to Jed. I respect him a lot, but he scares the shit out of me.”

I started up the stairs, wondering what he meant when he said Tex was, “acting weird.” I didn’t see him around much, unless we had guard duty together. We’d never really been that close.

I walked into the wacky shack, the small house where stacks of Nearly’s strange and sometimes incomprehensible drawings were stored. Tex Mex was inside, pacing back and forth.

“Hey, are you ok?”

“Vera? Don’t you have the day off?”

“I was visiting Nearly and Tom asked me to come and check on you.”

“Tell him I’m fine.”

He kept pacing and even started twiddling his fingers, as if he was on an intense sugar rush.

“You’re still here?” Tex asked me.

“It’s only been a few seconds.”

“Oh…”

“Something is definitely wrong with you.”

“No, it’s just… I’m trying to figure out what these drawings mean, but I’m tired and having trouble concentrating. Can you help?”

“Sure,” I told him, mainly as an excuse to stay in the room and figure out why he was acting this way.

He moved over to one of the tables, covered in both Nearly’s drawings and documents we had permanently borrowed from the Jamestown archives.

“This wall is definitely a map. Jamestown is this little shape here, but I don’t know what the rest of the figures are. Can you take a guess? You know Nearly better than anyone.”

“I only met him once before, and it’s not like I walked into his room and immediately started looking for holy symbols tacked to his walls.”

“I know that, but it’s just… I don’t know.” He kept twitching.

I pointed to a spot down at the bottom. “This could be water.”

“We already figured that out. What about the rest?”

“Well,” my finger moved to a large area that was covered in small dots. “This could be sand. Maybe a desert?”

“I hadn’t thought of that.”

“Weren’t there maps in the archives we could compare this to?”

“None of the archivists ever ventured out past the forest. In fact, only two people have ever actually left the city, according to the records I found.”

“Who were they?”

“One was a politician named Camden Rusk. The other was some guy named James Fischer Jr. They were both Sapiens from the Presidential District.”

“Did they know each other?”

“Maybe. I didn’t bother looking up any more details about them. Scott just wanted me to decipher this stupid map.”

I took a second look at him. I noticed the growing bags under his eyes and his dirty nails. He looked tired, but there was something more than that.

“What have you been using?”

“What? I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Is it vapor?”

“No! I mean… it wasn’t all vapor.”

“What’s wrong with you? How can you be using that stuff?”

He looked me in the eye. “Don’t talk to me like I’m some lowlife junkie. I’m not going to die by the needle. Besides, my parents used to sell this stuff, so how bad could it be?”

“What are you taking?”

“A little vapor, but I’ve been cutting it with a lot of Hex, so it doesn’t show.”

“Where the fuck did you even get drugs?”

“I kind of… I kind of…”

“You kind of what?” I yelled, angrily.

“I knew where my parent’s stash was. It was still there after they got arrested, but I never told anyone about it or touched it until after… you know.”

Silence filled the room for a moment. I hadn’t realized anyone else had been affected by what we saw in the Sunset District. I guess I had been too focused on my own pain to pay attention.

“Every time I walk past a lamppost, I see someone hanging from it. I still remember how their noses and lips had rotted away, and the smell… God, the smell was horrible.”

We sat in silence, once again, before I responded to him.

“We’re all shaken up, but you need to get help. This isn’t a healthy way to deal with your problems.”

“Fuck that.” I was surprised by his sudden anger. “I don’t need help.”

“Yes, you do.”

“I still do my job just fine, and that’s what’s important.”

“Do you really think working on this map is more important than your drug problem?”

“I don’t have a drug problem. I don’t have any problems. When something bad happens, you just bury it and move on. It’s what men do!”

“Is this some macho thing? Not dealing with your emotions is manly?”

“I guess so. I have to be tough and strong, no matter what we face. It’s what…” He trailed off, but I already knew what he was going to say.

“It’s what Scott would do?”

He looked down, unable to hold my gaze.

Before he could make any more excuses, I strode out of the tin house, intent on telling Scott that Tex needed help.

“Vera, stop!” he called. “Please don’t do this!”

He barged out the door, ready to chase me, but I had already stopped on the balcony. I was unable to move. What I saw below me, at the entrance to the Gray District, almost made my heart stop.

Chapter 43 – Ins Vera

 

Over a hundred people were at the entrance to the Gray District, arguing with the Black Jackets, who had their guns trained on them. Scott caught me before I could get too close.

“Vera, you need to go inside.”

“Who are those people? What are they doing here?”

“I’ll explain later, just get inside.”

“Let go of me.” I pried myself free of his grasp. “Tell me what’s happening!”

He grabbed me again, harder this time. “Tex, go find Jack and help guard the barricade.”

“But Scott…”

“Do it now!”

Tex Mex ran off, and Scott started dragging me by the arm. I fought him as much as I could, but he was a lot stronger than I was. Eventually, I gave up and followed him up into the catwalks and into a house on the top level, one that obviously hadn’t had an occupant in many years.

“We can’t let anyone know you’re here.” He let go of me only so he could lock the door. “Things just got a lot more complicated.”

“What’s going on, Scott?”

He hesitated before saying anything, but after taking a deep breath he said, “The Truands are trying to get inside.”

“The Truands? You have to let them in!”

“It’s not that simple.”

“Yes it is. They won’t hurt anyone.”

“We don’t know that. The lykan attacks are still happening in the Sunset District.”

“Well, then we need more guards. Send more men to help the police. We’ll keep them from coming in over the walls.”

“Vera, they didn’t come from over the wall.”

“Then how the hell did they…”

I choked on my words as a realization hit me. Suddenly, I knew exactly what Scott was implying.

“How dare you.”

“You saw the bodies in the Sunset District.”

“They’re not infected!”

“We can’t be sure of that. You need to think rationally.”

“They’re good people, and they’ll die if we send them away!”

“We can’t take the chance. If one or all of them start turning into monsters, then everyone here is dead.”

“That won’t happen.”

He got very close to my face to make his next point clear. “Do you realize what I just said? If they turn into dog-creatures, they will start killing everyone around them. That doesn’t just include just you and me, but also Tex, Rae, other Black Jackets, civilians, fathers, mothers, little old ladies, babies sleeping in their cribs, they will kill everyone, if they turn!”

I sat down on the bed. We had always known Omniscients didn’t trust us because they thought we were all walking time bombs, but I hated thinking that they could be right.

“You should let me go down there. I’m one of them.”

“That’s exactly why you’re staying here. Being in this district just got a lot more dangerous for you.”

“Scott, I have to see them. You can’t just lock me up. Please, let me go down there.”

He looked down at the ground. “Vera…”

“These are my family and friends, and they’re in danger! You need to let me see them.”

It took a while, but he finally gave in. “Fine. I’ll take you with me, but, once this is resolved, you’re coming straight back here.”

He zipped up my jacket and pulled my hood around my head even tighter than before, leaving no chance that I would be recognized.

When we got down to the barricade, all the guards were on high alert. Jack relieved his command over to Scott, who started barking out orders not to shoot, but keep them at bay.

The main entrance to the Gray District was far too narrow for all the Truands to fit through at once. They were bottle-necked at the bottom, not daring to step onto the ramp with the Black Jackets pointing the President’s automatic weapons at them. And speaking of the President, her officers had lined the streets of the Presidential District with barricades, making a path for the Truands to get to us. I don’t know if they were doing it out of kindness, hoping that we would take them in when they couldn’t, or if it was out of spite, passing off a problem they didn’t want to deal with. Either way, it was a mistake.

“Everyone, calm down,” Scott yelled, but his voice had no effect on the Truands, who continued to shout. However, a moment later, they stopped, and a man in a wide brimmed hat stepped forward. I recognized him the moment I saw him.

“Scott.”

“What?”

“That’s Fells Barrow. He’s the leader of the Truands.”

“Mr. Barrow,” Scott shouted down to him. “Why are you here?”

“We’ve come here to escape the Sunset District. The 80’s have been leading a campaign to wipe us out. They say that we’re all going to turn into monsters, but, I assure you, we are not dangerous.”

“A mob of people showing up on my doorstep seems pretty dangerous to me.”

“You can’t possibly agree with them?”

“I can’t take the chance. You could turn at any moment.”

“None of us are infected!” he yelled, obviously frustrated.

“How can we know you’re not infected?”

“You can check us.”

“You expect us to check all of you? Even if we had the time, there’s no way to know for sure.”

He paused. “We have nowhere else to go. We’ll be killed if we return. You have no idea how much of a risk we took just by gathering to come here.”

“Did you ask to stay the Presidential District?”

“Of course we did, but they told us to come here.”

I looked at Scott. I could tell that he felt sorry for them, but I also knew that everything he had said was true. We had no idea if any of them were carrying the virus; if they would turn and start killing anything that moved. “I’m sorry. We can’t help you. I have my own people to look after. I hope you can understand that.”

“I do, but we’re desperate. A small kindness from you would put us deeply in your debt.”

“You can stay under the overpass, if you wish.”

After living here for so long I had forgotten this district had an underside. The overpass had plenty of space below it, though it wasn’t at all hospitable.

“It’s just concrete ditch. If it rains, we’ll all drown.”

“There’s nothing else I can offer you.”

I saw them too late, but Scott’s trained eyes didn’t. While I looked at the leader, the young ones right behind him were looking at one another and speaking amongst themselves. I saw one counting. On his fingers he counted three, then two, then one…

“Charge!”

They rushed at us. Scott never gave an order, the Black Jackets just reacted. It was a moment when the entire world went in slow motion. I remember every blood splatter and every bullet. I watched one man take two slugs before just crumpling to the ground. Scott didn’t have a rifle like the rest of the Black Jackets, but his pistol never missed it’s mark. He fired all thirteen rounds from his clip, and one of them hit the boy who had been counting right in his chest. Even the children charged forward, before they realized that it wasn’t a game. After their expressions turned to horror, they tried to run and were shot by either the Black Jackets or policemen, who were trying to keep the Truands from crossing their barricades into the Presidential District. They were screaming and running in every direction, but in every direction there was someone shooting at them. I only saw a few dozen make it through the gauntlet of screaming and bullets, and back to their inhospitable home.

I was shaken out of my daze by Scott. “Are you alright?”

“I…”

His face didn’t show horror like the rest of us. Perhaps it was because of his time with the 80’s, or perhaps the knowledge of what the Black Jackets had done hadn’t quite settled in yet. He showed strength in the face of this event, though his voice was broken.

“Head count! Is everyone ok? Jack, Shoan, Rae… Rae? Rae?” he called to her. She had gone completely catatonic, just holding her automatic with a blank and horrific stare on her face.

“I’ve got her.” I saw Revy walking away with Rae, but she turned back to Scott and shouted to him, “Vera. Where was she?”

“I’m sure she wasn’t in the crowd,” said Revy, and he continued walking away with her.

Scott picked me up, and carried me back up to my new house on the top level; my hiding spot. I heard more gunshots on the way up. Just single ones. Making sure none of them were suffering. My anger brewed down below; anger at Scott and at the Black Jackets, anger at the 80’s, anger at the infected creatures, and anger at the world.

He sat me down on the bed and locked the door before collapsing in the corner.

“Don’t you need to be out there?” I said, wanting him to leave.

He didn’t answer. I noticed that he was still holding his pistol and it was shaking in his hand.

I cried. I didn’t really know what else to do. What else was there to do?

“I’m sorry.” I looked over at him. He came up to me and said it again. “I’m sorry.”

“Get the fuck out!” I screamed in his face, punching him as hard as I could. He looked at me for a moment, and then left, locking me inside my prison.

Chapter 44 – Scott Vale

 

“God is going to smite us! He’s going to reach down kill us, and let us burn in hell!”

“Jack, calm yourself.”

“It’s fucking happening again!”

“Jack!” I yelled, grabbing him by the shoulders. “Shut the fuck up! You need to be strong again, understand?”

He was still shaking, but he nodded.

Black Jackets and police had been working for over an hour, trying to move all the bodies to the crematorium. Unfortunately, the small facility wasn’t built to handle a massacre.

I saw Tex standing in a nearby alleyway, leaning against a wall.

“Hey, pal. How are you holding up?”

His eyes were more bloodshot than I’d ever seen, but he still looked at me and said, “I’m fine.”

He obviously wasn’t, but I didn’t push the issue. I didn’t have any problem giving orders to the rest of the Black Jackets. I frequently told Jack to stop drinking or came down on the others whenever they did something wrong, but Tex was different. I didn’t want to be his boss, I just wanted to protect him.

“If you need anything, let me know.”

“I’m fine, Scott. I know the job comes first,” he said, with an eagerness that was both admirable and concerning.

“We may as well,” someone said, behind me. “Everything they have is stolen anyway.”

I turned to see several officers rooting through the Truand’s pockets.

“Get away from them,” said Jack, running up and shoving one of the cops.

“Back off, thug.”

“Leave them alone!”

“Everything in their pockets is just going to get incinerated anyway.”

I put my hand on Jack’s shoulder. “Come on. Let’s not start anything.”

“Listen to your friend, little man.”

Jack lunged at him, but I held him back. “I’ll handle this. Go stay with Tex.”

Once he was gone, I turned back to the officer. “We’re on the same side, just so you know.”

“Then tell your boys not to mess with us. He came up and started harassing me first, just for taking back what the Truands owe us. They’re all thieves and liars. Everything in their pockets is what they stole from hard working people like us… well, not like you.”

When my hands instinctively balled into fists, I knew I was about to do something I would regret, so I simply turned and walked away.

“It was just a joke, kid. I’m sure you don’t freeload as much as the Truands do. I mean, did you ever see their dancing girls?”

I stopped.

“Even dancers don’t dress that skimpy,” said a second cop.

“Yeah, they probably whore themselves out on the side. Truands would do anything to make a quick buck.”

I marched back to them.

“What’s the matter kid?” Instead of replying with words, I grabbed his rifle and swung it around. In one motion I tore it out of his hands and bashed his jaw with the stock, breaking several of his teeth and causing him to bite off a piece of his tongue.

Before his friends could react, I swung the weapon twice more, taking great satisfaction in breaking their noses.

“If you ever say that again, I will fucking murder you!” I screamed at them, pointing the rifle at them as they lay on the ground.

Other officers rushed to their side, but the Black Jackets came to mine. Soon they were all pointing their guns at each other, stomping their feet and pounding their chests in between a chorus of threats.

“Let them go!”

“Put the fucking gun down!”

“Get the hell out of here!”

“Fuck off, pigs!”

I fell to my knees, my ears suddenly being ripped apart by a high pitched noise. It only lasted a few seconds, but, as I got back to my feet, I saw that everyone else, Black Jackets and officers alike, had been affected.

“Scott Vale.” I turned to the voice and saw the President standing nearby, removing her earplugs and holding a device in her hand the size of a keychain. “Come with me.”

“Stay here,” I told the Black Jackets, as I followed her.

However, one of the officers, the one that had been a particularly large asshole, ran up to us.

“Ma’am, with all due respect, there’s no way we’re working with these thugs any longer.”

President Wilson didn’t appreciate that comment, but she choose not to scold him or tell him to do his duty like all the others. Instead, she put a bullet in his head. The bullet from her tiny toy pistol didn’t create an exit wound or knock him back, but simply caused him to crumple like paper as the bullet ricocheted inside his skull.

All of us stood in shock, until she did something totally unlike her; something that may have actually been scarier than watching her execute a man in front of us. She raised her voice.

At the top of her lungs, she shouted, “Get back to work!” making everyone in the crowd, Black Jackets, cops and even civilians who happened to be watching, to swarm like bees, looking for something to do.

“Come with me.”

She led me a block down the street, to the President’s building, and took me up to the top floor. Next to her desk I could still, just barely, see the blood stain I had left the last time I was here.

“I want to apologize to you, Scott. Those officers were not acting under my orders when they allowed the Truands to approach your doorstep, and they will be punished accordingly.”

“I think that’s already been accomplished,” I said, just a little snidely.

“Yes well, insubordination isn’t something we can afford to tolerate right now. The stakes are far too high.”

“I should apologize too. I overreacted to their comments.”

“Because they insulted your girlfriend?”

My eyes went wide.

“Despite all these rules and regulations about Homo Omniscients and Homo Sapiens, it’s amazing how many people can’t tell the difference until they look closely. Your secret is safe, but she might not be. Distrust is brewing everywhere.”

“Actually, she’s not my…”

“Are the logistics of your relationship really what’s important right now?”

“I guess not.”

“Exactly. Now, as I was saying. We need to make sure our forces can work together without killing one another. Can you convince your Black Jackets to play nice?”

“Yeah, they’ll be fine.”

“Excellent. It’s going to take a lot of work to fix this city, but, eventually, we’ll get things back to the way they were.”

I raised an eyebrow, “You actually think things can go back to normal?”

“Why couldn’t they?”

“Haven’t you seen the Sunset District? It looks like a warzone.”

“We’ll clean it up.”

“Clean it up? Are you kidding me? This city is never going to be the same. The damage is irreparable.”

“Then what do you suggest we do?”

“Well… I told you how we wanted to leave, right?”

“This again? No one has ever left this city and survived.”

“But we found a map. It shows the area outside of Jamestown, and there might be other cities out there.”

“There are cities on the map?”

“Sort of. I mean, Jamestown is on it. It’s not highlighted or anything, but it’s definitely the shape of this city.”

“So you haven’t found any other cities, just shapes?”

“Yes.”

“So, if you left to go and find a city, it could end up just being a large rock formation, or a pit, or a mountain, or anything else that would show up on a topographical map? And where did you even find this? I’ve never heard of any maps that extend beyond the forest.”

“It belonged to Frollo. I’m not sure if it’s right or not, but taking the chance is probably better than staying here. If we don’t kill each other, the ravers, junkies and monsters will.”

She turned around and looked out the window. I don’t think she could stand to look me in the eye. I didn’t mean to sound like I was betraying her, I just wanted to do what was best for my people, as did she.

“Fine, do whatever you want, but, as long as your here, I still need guards and workers.”

“That’s fine. We need the food anyway.”

I started out the door, but she stopped me as I reached for the handle.

“Scott, do you think… If there are more cities, do you really think it’s possible for someone to leave the city and survive?”

Despite the anger she had shown earlier, she now sounded as if she wanted it to be true.

“I don’t know. Leaving is the only way to find out.”

Chapter 45 – Sirius V

 

Each and every stroke of stone on metal made the guards more and more uneasy. I continued sharpening my machete next to the cage door, sitting on a milk crate and watching beads of sweat roll down their fearful faces. Even though there had been a growing tension between the Shamans and I, it didn’t give me any more love for these officers, who were paid to keep us locked up.

“Do you know why I keep this blade so sharp?”

Neither of them answered. They continued to look past me, and pretend like they were keeping people safe.

“I keep this blade sharp, so that if anyone threatens my people,” I held it up to shine in the moonlight. “I can slice through their bodies like paper.”

“Why don’t you just shut up?”

I ran to the door, making both fairies jump back.

“You talk big. Why don’t you come in here and prove yourself?”

“I’m not afraid of you. You’re an animals; one of those crazy wolf bastards.”

The Shaman’s words echoed through my head, “They think us beasts, and so beasts we shall become.”

“Be careful what you say. I won’t be in this cage forever.”

“And what are you going to do if you get out of there, you animal? You’ve had food and water handed to you for years. Do you even know what you would do if you got out of that cage?”

I gave serious consideration to using the tunnels to sneak out and cut his throat, but thought better of it.

“I’ll do three things. The first is to kill you, and every other Omniscient like you. Second is to kill the Great Beast, the Dragon who will stand against us. And the third is to conquer the world. I will sit on an enormous throne, with the skulls of dead fairies under my feet.”

Before he could say more, a man walked into the light behind him. All three of us looked at this odd and broken looking man. His eyes were surrounded by black skin and he seemed to be drooling bright orange goo. It ran out of his mouth, down his shirt and was left behind in his footprints.

“FERAL!” he screamed at the top of his lungs in a horrible screeching voice, before sprinting right at us with ooze dripping from his mouth. The guards raised their weapons and put him down almost without thinking.

They went to the body and examined it. I could see from the cage door that the man’s blood was the same orange color as his saliva.

“What’s wrong with him?” one guard asked the other.

“It’s that drug from the Sunset District. It’s supposed to get you really high, but make you go completely fucking crazy.”

“That’s what turned him into a living glow stick?”

“Yeah. It’s crazy.”

“What is this drug?” I asked them.

“What? You want our help now? Is that it?”

“I asked you a simple question. That man charged at me, and I would like to know why.”

“All the people in the Sunset District got addicted to a new drug. It’s supposed to be an enhanced version of vapor, but it has weird effects.”

“What is vapor?”

“You really don’t know anything, do you?”

“Then tell me! Did this drug make him want to kill me?”

“No. That would be the new management of the Sunset District. Ever since the Truands started turning into monsters, he’s been leading a campaign against all you danks.”

“Most of them got killed a few days ago,” said the second guard. “They rushed the barricades in the Gray District and got mowed down.”

“Barricades?”

“Yeah, there’s barricades all over the Ring, now. We have to keep the junkies inside the Sunset District, the Black Jackets are trying to keep us out of the Gray District, they’re just all over the place. It’s a fucking mess. Damn, I never realized how secluded you guys were.”

“Yeah, you don’t know shit.”

The Truands were dead because of us? That couldn’t be. The Truands were our brothers; well.. very distant brothers, but brothers nonetheless. How could Canis let this happen? How could our crusade have caused this?

“Ah, shit. We’ve got a second one.”

Another of the colored men came into view, but, this time, he was already sprinting.

“Should we shoot him to?”

“We don’t really have a choice.” But before they could open fire, an entire mob of them came into view, charging at us while screaming so loudly that I had to cover my ears. Both guards went white as sheets. One tried to run and the other shot at them, but both were completely torn apart by this ravenous crowd. I jumped back just in time to keep them from grabbing me through the bars. They all shouted, “The feral! Kill the feral!” in screeching voices.

The wall of the Cage seemed to be covered by this massive mob of people, if they could be called that. I screamed at them and beat my chest. I roared louder than I have ever roared before, but I couldn’t even hear myself over their screaming. I gripped my machete and stabbed through the bars. I ran it through the bodies of three men. I took satisfaction in feeling their flesh tear, but they didn’t stop. They continued to reach for me, and my blade was now drenched in three different colors of neon blood.

Then I did something I had never done before in my life; I ran away. I went home. I imagined thousands of those demons breaking through the cage and killing me, tearing me limb from limb, and the images made me run faster. For the first time ever, I felt fear.

I held the door closed behind me, but could still faintly hear the screaming from inside my home.

“What is wrong?”

“Nothing, just go to bed.”

“What kind of a weak man are you? You’re acting as fearful as a small child.”

I turned and looked Haylow in the eyes. “You will not talk to me that way.”

She didn’t back down. “If you can be so forceful with me, why can you not face whatever is out there?”

Suddenly, we heard gunfire, and the screaming stopped.

I marched past her and sat down, feeling relieved. Two other women walked in, but Haylow shooed them away. “Tonight you have become less than a man.”

“You didn’t see them. The Sunset District is inhabited by colored demons. They overran the guards, and they would have torn me to pieces. I have to tell the Shamans.”

“You are a warrior of Canis. You do not run! It doesn’t matter if there are millions of demons on your doorstep, you do not retreat. You fight, and take as many of them with you as you can.”

“I know, but… The demons would not die by my blade, and I was so scared…”

“You know what you must do if you want to destroy them.” She brushed her fingers along my face, and brought it close to hers. “Help the Shamans put fear in their hearts.”

“What does that have to do with this?” I screamed into her face.

“Canis is sending you a message. They fairies do not fear you, but they do fear Great Power. My sweet dog, you must unleashed it upon them.”

I fell back onto the couch, and she came down on top of me. “I need to-”

“Be still,” she said, cutting me off. “The Men of the Temple sent the demons. You must allow volunteers. They must be stopped. Do you understand now?”

“Yes, I understand.”

She kissed me softly. “Good boy.”

Chapter 46 – Ins Vera

 

I sprinted through the dark tunnel, not caring that I could trip in the darkness. As soon as I saw Myracell’s light at the other end, I lost all control. I stopped caring about myself, I just wanted to be home again.

I walked out into the light, and saw that there were a dozen or so Truands left alive. Some were lying on the ground, moaning from their injuries. Others were standing in the sacred waters, either crying, praying or trying desperately to get the metal cover off the drain. Many more were dead, having made it all this way just to bleed out on the floor.

“Fells Barrow!” I called when I saw him. It took him a moment to respond, and he did a double take upon seeing me. “Mr. Barrow, I came from the Gray District. I’ve been hiding out there. I came back to…”

“Where did you come from?” he screamed at me, running out of the waters and grabbing onto me, still soaking wet.

“I’ve been hiding in the Gray District. I came back to help.”

“By getting yourself killed?”

“If we go back there, I can hide you.”

“They already turned us away.”

“But I can get you in. Once night falls, I can sneak you back home…” Every other thought drained out of my head as I spoke that last word. “Home.” Is that where my home was now? Did I belong with the Black Jackets? The ones who had killed my people?

“You’re Ins LaVera’s daughter, aren’t you?”

His question pulled me back to reality. “Yes. I’m Ins Vera.”

He put his hand on my cheek and smiled warmly. “You look just like her.”

Rather than feeling complimented, my eyes fell to the ground, where the bodies lay.

“Is she…” asking the question was too difficult.

“I’m so sorry. She died a few months ago.”

“How?”

He pulled me close to him. “Some things are best not to think about.”

Before I could shed a tear, we heard an explosion from one of the tunnels, followed by voices.

“Climb to the rafters and hide.” I didn’t protest.

I climbed as high as I could, using the intricate and beautiful etchings in the walls as foot and hand holds. Barrow ordered the other young ones to follow, but when they failed to do what I could, he pulled them back to his side.

I reached the highest rafters just in time to see several people walk out of the tunnel, and, as they did, the purple, blue and green crystals that made up Myracell’s figure grew dimmer. The men and women walking in all wore sunglasses, colored goggles or black helmets, and brought their own lights of neon red, orange, yellow, green and so on. The leader was wearing black armor, with orange markings spray painted on.

“Motherfucker, I’ve been looking for you!” he said, in an oddly joyful voice.

“Get out of here, trespasser.”

“You’re Fells Barrow,” he said, pointing a shotgun at my leader’s head. “The quickest thing to do would be to just pull the trigger and turn your head into pasta sauce right now, but I have a surprise for you.”

Another of the 80’s, this one with green markings, entered from the tunnel, leading an Omniscient behind him. I didn’t know who he was, but Barrow seemed to recognize him immediately.

“How dare you lead them back to us!”

The backstabbing shiner didn’t respond.

“Don’t get mad at your friend. He was just trying to protect his wife and that poor little baby boy back at home. Isn’t that right, you little coward?”

He still said nothing. He simply looked at the ground.

The 80 in green gave an envelope to his boss, the psychopath, which he opened and quickly skimmed.

“Ross Keller, archivist for the government of Jamestown. Son of a politician and a crack whore, Desmond and Marsha Keller… You know, you can chime in at any time…” The archivist still said nothing. “Wow, you won’t even speak to defend your parents? I just called your mother a crack whore. You really are a sad fucking piece’o’shit aren’t you?”

Without even waiting for an answer, the 80 pulled out his sidearm and slapped it into the shiner’s hands, before giving an order to his men. “Put two of those Truands in a line for me.”

They did as he commanded, forcing two Truands, a young man and a teenage girl of similar height, to stand right in front of him as he lifted the shiner’s hands.

“These guys really aren’t worth an entire bullet apiece, so why don’t we see if we can take them out two at a time.”

Both Truands in the line began sobbing uncontrollably. The man almost fell to his knees.

“Will someone please keep the props in their place?” As he spoke, I saw something move in the pack he was carrying. Without warning, a white rabbit popped out and began growling at his “props”. They straightened up and held in their place, either out of fear or, more likely, shock.

“Aw, little Mouse. Come here.” Right on command, the rabbit jumped into the psychopath’s arms. “Alright Ross, it’s now or never. Are you going to shoot them or do I have to motivate you? What will it take, Ross? Do I need to have Mouse bite your dick off? Do I need to fuck your wife? Do I need to kill your son?”

I saw the gun fly out of the shiner’s hands before I realized it had gone off. The bullet had gone right through the eyes of both Truands, and as the pistol landed it went off again, killing yet another. It was a boy, who fell back into the water. His mother screamed the most heartbreaking scream imaginable as her son’s blood began to fill the sacred pool.

“Triple kill! And the crowd goes wild!” The psychopath tossed the rabbit high into the air in celebration, catching him and setting him free to explore the pool of blood between the two young Truands.

“I think you’ve proven who’s side you’re on, so I’m going to let you go. Have a nice life, Ross, you miserable motherfucker. Spend the rest of your life knowing what a horrible person you are.”

After kicking the shiner towards the door, he turned his attention back to the Truands. “Alright, I’ve got a shiny nickel for whoever can catch the most bullets in their mouth.”

The archivist walked towards the exit, not even stopping to take a second look at the death he had caused. Barrow called after him, “Ross!”

Bang

“Please form an orderly line and wait for death. Hell isn’t going anywhere.”

Bang

“Ross!” he called again, wanting to make him acknowledge what he had done.

Bang

“Mouse, get out of his skull. That’s dirty.”

“Ross!”

Bang Bang Bang Bang Bang

When their work was done, the psychopath’s minions left the same way they had entered, leaving him alone with Barrow.

“What kind of man are you? How can you kill women and children?”

“Don’t blame me, this would have happened anyway. I’m just a nihilist with a gun, who finds way too much enjoyment in anarchy.”

“You disgust me.”

“This really is for the best, you know. You’d probably all turn into dog-creatures soon enough anyway.”

“Not one of my people has turned! You are making a mistake. It’s not us, I’m sure of it.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right.” He held his shotgun against Barrow’s forehead, as my leader knelt on the ground like a tired and starving beggar. “But now your people are dead. If the feral attacks stop, then I’ll believe you. It’s like trial and error.”

“No, it is error and error alone.”

Bang

This shot seemed louder than any other, but afterwards the psychopath was silent. He picked up his weapons and his pet, who’s white fur was now stained with red, and put them away.

“Morality is overrated.”

After I heard the doors seal behind him, I climbed down and I couldn’t help but begin to cry. Barrow, my mother, my people… I had no one left. It was only then that I realized how bad a Truand I had been. I had let the Black Jackets distract me. I hadn’t even come back to see my mother in… Fuck, I didn’t even know how long it had been. This place wasn’t my home anymore. I was an outsider, just like that archivist. I was no better than the man who killed my people. I was terrible and deserved to die.

With every tear I shed, another of the crystals grew dark. I sat down there for what felt like hours, and soon every crystal, save one, had lost its light. I looked around for my pack, which I had dropped when that psychopath came. My flashlight was inside it, buried under the small mountain of dried meat rations, bread, cooked rice and all the other things I was going to share.

I sat the flashlight aside and threw the entire bag into the pool. It landed next to a floating corpse. It was the mother of the boy who had been shot by mistake. One of those minions had decided not to shoot her, but instead hold her head underwater as she clung to her dead child.

I walked to the edge of the pool as my last tear ran down my cheek, and the last light went out. I pulled out the flashlight and tried desperately to get it to work, but, when I realized that the batteries were dead, I smashed it against the ground, leaving me alone in the dark.

Just as my spirit had sunk to rock bottom, I felt something. I hadn’t felt it when I first walked in, but the presence was there now. It had been so long…

The lights that traced Myracell’s form began to glow once again, in a gorgeous shade of violet. At first I didn’t know why it had happened, but, even though I was sad, I felt at home again.

“Vera?”

I turned at the voice, and saw Scott standing behind me. His shoulders were slumped and his eyes were turning dark, but I felt safe when I saw him; when I was reminded that I had been spared death, and given new friends and family.

“Vera, I’m so sorry…”

I ran up and hugged him with all my strength., while I sobbed into his shoulder.

“They’re gone.”

“I know. I’m sorry.”

We stood there for a while, but I soon thought of something.

“How did you find me?”

“Do you see that tunnel?” he asked, pointing across the room.

“Yes.”

“It runs right under the Temple. Jack and I used it to escape with Nearly. The Truands let us use one of their exits to get back to the Gray District.”

“So that’s why you sealed off the tunnel?”

“I was trying to protect your people.”

I put my hand on his cheek. “Thank you, Scott.”

We didn’t say anything for almost a minute. The two of us just stood there, holding on to one another for dear life. Neither of us wanted to say it, but we didn’t want to leave. I knew that when I left, I could never come back. It would be too painful. He knew that when he left, he would be a leader again. There were a lot of mouths to feed and a lot of problems to fix. As soon as we got back to the Gray District, we would be two adults responsible for providing food, water and protection to three hundred and fifty people, and giving arms and orders to a fighting force of eighty-three frightened and barely trained soldiers. We wouldn’t be able to grieve for fallen friends and family. We couldn’t take the time to stop and rest.

“We’re not allowed to have our own problems anymore, are we?”

Chapter 47 – Rae Johnson

 

He still hadn’t moved. Nearly just sat there, calling out her name over and over and over again. It was the first time he had gone an entire night without drawing. All he did was cry and scream.

“Are you ok?” Revy asked. He had been with me the whole night, sitting on the edge of the pullout couch. I hadn’t slept much, just kept seeing flashes, smelling sulfur and thinking about Vera lying broken, bloodied and full of holes.

“I’m fine.”

He paused to check my face, scanning for emotion like a robot.

“Yes, I’m lying,” I told him. “I’m still upset because I hurt Vera.” I’d almost forgotten that I had to spell out everything for him.

“They never found her body. She’s probably alive.”

“Until I see her, I’m not going to feel any better.”

As I stood out on the railing, my eyes were glued to the men and women scrubbing the blood from the street, where the Truands had died. Their noses were covered to avoid breathing the fumes from the cleaning agents, and their ears were covered to block out Nearly’s screams. Every Black Jacket returning from or heading off to guard duty paused to think over what had happened. The bodies had been moved, but the memories remained.

“How do we clean up after something like this?” I asked Revy, myself and God.

“I think they’re using bleach, but ammonia would probably work just as well.”

I sighed and went back inside, hoping we all would find a way to move past this. Most of us did, up until the next inevitable tragedy.

After falling back into bed and curling up in the fetal position, I stopped moving. At some points, I wondered why Vale was so willing to let me skip guard duty, but Revy said that nobody had seen much of him the past few days. He only came if there was an emergency or if he needed to give orders.

Nearly disappeared a few days later. At least, I think it was a few days. They all started to blend together, turning into one long stream of miserable hours. We never bothered going to look for him.

I think it was about two weeks later that Scott showed up with another guard. He looked awful, like he hadn’t been sleeping. There were dark veins around his eyes and his whole body sagged.

“Is anyone else here?”

“No,” Revy said. “It’s just us.”

Vale stepped aside and the guard with him pulled down her hood.

“Vera!” I ran up and hugged her, finally having a reason to move. “I’m so glad you’re alive. How did you get back into the Gray District?”

“I never left. Scott has been hiding me.”

“So, that’s where you’ve been disappearing to?”

“Yeah,” Vera said, taking his hand. “He’s been with me.” She smiled up at him and some amount of happiness came over his face.

“We should go back,” Scott told her. “You can’t stay out very long.”

“He’s right. The people here feel bad for the Truands, but they’re also scared to death of dog-creatures,” Revy said. “We’re glad to know you’re alright, but you should stay in hiding.”

She put her hood back up and hugged me again. “If you ever need me, Scott will tell you where I am.”

I was filled with joy, even after they said goodbye. Knowing that I hadn’t hurt my friend made my sadness bearable, though it was still a lot to carry.

“I thought you were feeling better?” Revy asked me as I fell back into bed.

“A little, but… I just need to think.”

He sat down next to me. “Is there anything I can do to make you better?”

I smiled as I saw how genuine his concern was. Revy didn’t show concern for very many people.

“I think I can start healing now, but I need a favor from you.”

Chapter 48 – Revy Micer

 

I was never good at this sort of thing. Rae was always very adept at staying in the shadows, but it wasn’t something I had felt the need to learn.

I snuck out of the bushes just as the guard passed out of earshot, and was surprised by the man I found waiting for me. Standing on the other side of Cage Five was a man covered in tattoos, with a 50 cm blade strapped to his belt.

“Are you Sirius?”

“Why do you want to know, fairy?”

I showed him the black box.

“Give that to me!”

I handed it to him, but it only took him a second to realize that it was empty.

“I hope you can understand my hesitance to hand this over to you. I’m giving a syringe full of strange liquid that I picked up from a rather intimidating guy in a suit, to a man covered in tribal tattoos, who lives in a cage.”

“Where is Rae? Tell me now!”

“She’s fine, but she didn’t feel well enough to make her delivery.”

“I don’t believe you,” he told me. Contractions around the mouth allowing for the teeth to become visible. Obvious tightening of the jaw and grinding of his teeth. A common snarl, but incredibly intense. This was rage.

“Calm down. I still have what you need.”

I showed him the syringe and saw relaxation in his hands, which previously held the bars in an iron grip. I took that to mean that he was somewhat calmer.

“Keep it,” he said, lowering his head.

“What?”

“I don’t want it!” he screamed, angrier than ever. “It’s all out of control!”

“Be quiet or the guards will come.”

“I need her help! My world is falling apart, my people are volunteering to die and my own wife plays me like a harp. Rae is the last person I trust.”

I tucked the syringe into my pocket. “Leave Rae out of your problems,” I said as I walked away. “She has enough to deal with.”

“Please, I need her help!”

I didn’t answer him.

The walk home was surprisingly peaceful. I stayed hidden in the shadow of the overpass, wishing Scott would let us use the secondary entrance for situations other than emergencies. The few police and civilians wandering in the Presidential District hurried about their business, anxious to get off the streets. As I walked the length of the Shining Ring, it made me wonder just how long the police could hold their defensive line against the monsters and the sunset junkies, when it stretched across the entire city long.

People seemed more at ease in the Gray District, which was a real change, compared to how things used to be. It was just before eleven pm, and there were still children playing in the street. Their parents watched from up on the catwalks, and friends and lovers enjoyed the night sky. I even saw a change in myself. I felt as if I was enjoying life more than usual.

I stood outside for a while, enjoying the cool night air. I watched a few kids playing tag under the full moon, the adults talking to one another and the junkies staring up at me, neon ooze leaking from the limp mouths and cold, dead eyes.

And then they were gone. They disappeared, like ghosts, leaving no trace behind.

“What the hell?” I mumbled to myself.

A little white lie.”

A lie of omission.”

I turned to the voice, but found no one there.

“What the hell?”

Why, Revy?”

Despite the vague words, I knew exactly what they were referring to.

“I have nothing to answer for. We needed to get rid of the vapor problem. It was the only logical option.”

Then why did you hide us?”

Why didn’t you tell Scott?”

Why are we gone?”

Removed.”

Hidden.”

Incinerated.”

They looked up at me, hundreds of bodies. The corpses surrounded me on all sides.

I came to you for help.”

You’re a bastard.”

What kind of doctor are you?”

“I couldn’t help you.” I said to myself, collapsing on the ground. “I couldn’t help you. I couldn’t help you. I couldn’t help you.”

I want to be a doctor!”

Why would you want to do that?”

So I can be just like you.”

Son, you don’t want to be like me. This job isn’t glamorous.”

But it’s fun.”

He looked down at me, his eyes full of wisdom and sadness. “Sometimes it is, but, when you work in a place like the Gray District, most of the time, you can’t save the people who come to you for help.”

My eyes snapped open, just as his head hit the concrete. Even as I pulled myself to my feet, I could still see the pieces flying away; my father’s skull shattering like a china teapot.

“Are you ok, sir?” a Black Jacket asked me.

“I’m fine.”

He helped me get steady before returning to guard duty, but only after I assured him that I could get home on my own.

I made it back to the clinic just fine, but, as I did, a single phrase echoed in my mind, over and over and over again.

You know you’re a bad person, right?”

 

2309: The Year of Revelations

Chapter 49 – Rae Johnson

 

“Shift change!”

Upon hearing those words, the ten of us immediately hopped off the barricade and allowed our replacements to take over. I wondered if the other stations had been just as dull for the past six hours. It almost made me wish I was back on Revy’s pullout couch. It was equally boring, but at least I could sleep there.

“Contact right!”

Without even thinking, I hopped back into my spot and readied my weapon. I could, just barely, see something moving in one of the alleys. My heart was beating so fast, I thought it would explode.

“Fuck, never mind,” the commanding officer told us, as a plastic bag flew out and into view.

I felt as if rocks were tied to my appendages. My arms dropped to my sides, and my rifle nearly fell from my hand. I was relieved that there was no danger, but, at the same time… at the same time I felt strange.

My thoughts and emotions had been a jumbled mess for the past five months. Finding out Vera was alive had made my depression melt away, but it also allowed other feelings to bubble up to the surface. I remembered every single bullet I fired into the crowd of Truands, and knew exactly how many people I had killed. My guilt still hadn’t gone away, but there was something else alongside it; embedded in my mind. I tried to cover it, but the feeling inside me was as strong as ever. The darkness wouldn’t go away.

I remembered the power I had felt, holding them in my crosshairs. As the Truands stood at the bottom of the ramp, we held their lives in our hands; and, when they attacked, the world became black and white. It was just them versus us; and they lost.

“Rae, go home. We can handle this.”

I looked around and realized that I was the last member of my shift still hanging around. I slung my weapon over my back, but, just as I was about to leave, something caught my eye; a little white rabbit, sitting on the anarchic side of the barricade. It wasn’t really doing much, but, for some reason, I was hypnotized by it.

“What the fuck are you doing?”

I hadn’t even realized I was climbing over, until my feet hit the ground.

“I’m, uh…”

“Get back over here! It’s not safe out there.”

I knew I should have listened, but I couldn’t help myself. My feet seemed to move on their own, and I was already across the threshold. I inched up to it, closer and closer, but, just as I was about to grab the white rabbit, it moved. The animal jumped about a foot to the right and calmly sat there. I tried to grab it again, and it hopped away. It happened over and over, until the animal took off like a rocket, and I sprinted after.

“Don’t expect us to come in there after you!”

I kept chasing it, jumping over piles of garbage and rubble as I tried to keep up. I ran through the streets, in and out of buildings and down an alleyway, until I turned a corner and bumped into a sunset junkie with pink glowing eyes.

I grabbed my weapon, ready to defend myself, but he and his friend simply kept walking.

“Damn, I wish these trees would stop moving.”

“I know, right! The tiny ones keep bumping me.”

When my heart finally stopped pounding, I looked up and saw the white rabbit, sitting in the middle of the street, patiently waiting for me.

I followed it once again, but didn’t run this time. I was much more careful as I followed it down the street, and I stopped entirely when I saw it enter a building.

The front doors had been torn off of the ten story structure, along with most of the windows and walls. The top floor, however, looked like someone had tried to repair it. Most of it was intact, but a few parts had been covered with wood or metal panels.

I dived inside when I heard a gunshot. It was large caliber, very loud and a second one went off a moment later.

The rabbit was, yet again, waiting for me; this time at the bottom of the stairs.

“What kind of animal are you?”

It didn’t answer, of course, but simply began the long trek upwards. When I followed, it quickened its pace, hopping up the steps even faster. I followed the little bunny up all nine flights, until finally reaching the top floor.

There were only two places to go from here. One was a door marked, “ENTER AND DIE” and the other was the final set of stairs, which led to the roof.

The rabbit hopped up the last flight, not waiting for me to follow anymore. After a few moments, I could hear a male’s voice.

“Hey there, Mouse. Where have you been?”

I followed the animal, finding myself in something that looked like a cross between a military checkpoint and a bachelor pad. The rooftop was cluttered with empty snack food bags and hollow cans of meat and beans. Ammo boxes and empty magazines had been tossed aside as well, and, sitting on a reinforced table, under a canopy tent, was the largest sniper rifle I had ever seen.

“Uh, do you want to tell me why you’re here?”

I looked over at the man holding the rabbit in his arms, who was raising an eyebrow at me.

“Sorry, I just… I’m not really sure.”

He walked up to me, and looked into both my eyes.

“You’re not a junkie. You’re a Black Jacket.”

“How did you know?”

“Well gee, I wonder,” he said, in the most sarcastic tone I had ever heard. “What the fuck are you doing here?”

“I… I…” I kept stammering, but honestly had no idea why I had come all this way.

“You know, you really suck at conversations. Can you at least tell me your name?”

“Rae,” I told him, and only a second later did I realize that I should have lied.

“I’m Durango. Nice to meet you.” He walked back to the sniper rifle. “Care to help me do some painting?”

“What do you mean?”

“Grab those binoculars.”

I did as he said, and aimed them where the rifle was pointed.

“I’ve been working on this project all week, and I just need one more junkie of the right height… oh wait, I think one is about to pass by.”

As he looked down the scope, ready to fire, I saw what his project was; a smiley face, painted on a wall three blocks away using neon blood splatter and brain matter.

A sunset junkie passed by, oblivious to anything happening around him. Just as he walked in front of the final blank space, Durango took the shot. The junkie’s brains splattered against the wall, filling in the last blank space and completing the picture.

“Hell, yeah!” he cried. “Feels like I’ve been working on that forever.”

“It’s…” I couldn’t finish my thought, but I wanted to tell him it was disgusting… and also kind of cool. The painting was comprised of at least six different colors of vapor-ized blood, making a rainbow smile. It seemed ironic, since a lot of people died to make it, their bodies piled right under the mouth.

“Well, that clears up everything I had planned for the day. What do you think?”

“It’s such a waste. You killed a human being.”

“They’re pretty much dead anyway. Haven’t you seen them up close? They barely recognize anything. Unless they hear the words lykan, feral, dog-creature or Truand, of course. Then they’ll fucking swarm you.”

I looked at the rifle, and then out at the Sunset District. Everything was broken and dirty. Dead people were everywhere, and yet, here was a man who wasn’t taking it seriously. Was there enjoyment that could be taken from anarchy? Could this be a place where Jamestown’s constant tragedies could be shrugged off as a part of life, rather than being a constant burden?

“You want to take a shot, don’t you?” he said, interrupting my thoughts.

“I don’t know.”

He moved away from the weapon. “Well, until you decide, I’ll just leave this fully loaded sniper rifle out here in the open. It’s one hundred percent unguarded. If anyone wanted to use it to pick off a few junkies, it would be completely out of my hands.”

I knew he was baiting me, he made no attempt to hide that, but the temptation was enormous. Having this opportunity dumped into my lap made me crave that feeling; the intense power of choosing whether another human being got to live or die.

“It’s a little larger than one of the President’s automatics,” Durango told me, as I placed my hands on the cold steel. “It’s buffered though, so the recoil will actually be smaller.”

I looked through the scope, and scanned the area.

“Choose something close, that way you’ll have a larger target, and won’t have to deal with the wind.”

I lined up a junkie who was standing on the corner. His empty stare and blank expression made him barely seem human.

I lined up his head, and took a deep breath…

Bang

“Nice shot, princess.”

That was how I wanted to feel. The rush hit me as I watched him fall to the ground, never to move again. And then, before regret could even cross my mind, Durango pointed me to another target.

“At your two o’clock. There’s two girls talking. See if you can take them both out in one shot.”

I lined them up. One head, one heart, one bullet…

Bang

“You’re getting good at this.”

It was intoxicating, and yet it made me hate myself.

“I shouldn’t be doing this.”

“Why not?”

“Because I’m not supposed to. I’m supposed to be helping people; guarding them.”

“And?”

“And I… I don’t know.”

“Morality is overrated. I want to know how you feel, right now.”

“Guilty.”

“Put that aside. No one else is alive in this entire district. No one is ever going to punish you here. No one will judge you. No one is watching. No one cares.”

I felt my guilt start to melt away.

“Forget how you’re supposed to feel. Fuck the rules and the people who made them. You’re now in a world with no police, parents or laws. How does holding this gun make you feel?”

I searched myself, and, for the first time in a long time, I forgot that I was sad.

“I feel powerful.”

Chapter 50 – Paige Wilson

 

“Madam President, you have a visitor.”

“Send them in.”

A young man dressed in slacks, a blazer and a sky blue button down shirt walked in. “Hello, Madam President.”

“Hello. What’s your name, son?”

“It’s Thomas, ma’am, and I’d just like to say what an honor it is to meet you.”

“That’s very sweet of you to say,” I told him, blushing a little. It had been a long time since I’d received that kind of flattery, but I quickly put it aside in order to maintain my professionalism. “So, what is it that you need, Thomas?”

“Well ma’am, I brought you something that I thought you might like to see.”

He placed a manila folder on my desk. Inside were schematics, chemical formulas, shipping manifests, written orders…

“What is all this?”

“Well, you see ma’am, I was rather close with the Men of the Temple. I was there on the night they were… taken out of power. I actually came across these documents that detail methods of keeping entire districts in a close to zombified state. They thought it was too extreme to use in anything but an emergency, but I understand the new ruling body of the Sunset District is using their technology quite effectively.”

I looked up and into his smiling face, ready to draw my pistol.

“Who the hell are you?”

“Me? I’m just a patriot, trying to help the city I love so dearly.”

“Get out of my office.”

He started to leave, but stopped at the door. “You may question these methods, but you cannot argue with the results. The Cages are plotting, the Sunset District has gone off the deep end and we both know that Scott Vale has something up his sleeve. If you don’t seize control, a lot of good people will die.”

He left. I got up and made sure to lock the door behind him before taking a second look at the contents of his folder. The machines it showed were obviously designed to disperse some sort of gas or liquid into the air. As for the chemicals diagrammed… I had no idea. I hadn’t done well back in chemistry class.

I didn’t need to know what these machines did, to know that this was a trap. I threw the file in the garbage, before I’d even finished perusing the pages. If the chemicals in this file were the same ones the supposed “King” was using, then I wanted nothing to do with them. I’d seen the results. His drugs were disgusting, horrifying, destructive… and effective. The King in Lights had turned the people into his slaves, but, at heart, he was an anarchist. If vapor were to be dispersed by a leader who cared about the people…

What are you doing?”

“Nothing.”

You want to use what’s in the file, don’t you?”

“No, I don’t.”

Yes, you do.”

“I don’t. The file doesn’t matter to me at all.”

You’re flipping through it right now! I’m literally watching you do it!”

“No, you’re not.”

God, you’re twisted. This is your idea for fixing the city? Turning everyone into zombies?”

“Isn’t it better than the alternative? Wouldn’t this be better than watching the city get destroyed? Not to mention, I’ve been the President for years. I’m experienced, and I have the people’s best interests at heart. If anyone can responsibly subdue the population, while still doing what’s best for them, it’s me.”

Whatever. It’s not like I can stop you, but you know this won’t end well.”

As I kept flipping through the pages, brushing bits of garbage off of them as I did, Fischer’s voice faded into the background. It looked like some of the documents hadn’t been touched in years. The chemical formulas were worn out, but some of the papers, many of which didn’t even look like they belonged in the file, were dusty and faded. X-rays showing both metal and bone, blueprints for some kind of specialized breathing apparatus, sketches of sound equipment… It looked like Frollo had once had a larger plan, but butchered it for some unknown reason, only using bits and pieces. Perhaps Thomas had told the truth, and they thought it was too extreme.

Regardless of its original intent, I knew it would be a waste to throw away a resource like this, so, instead, I picked up the phone and made a call.

“Can I get something for you Madam President?”

“I need our best team of engineers.”

Chapter 51 – Scott Vale

 

“Am I a good leader? Am I a good person? Am I doing the right thing?”

I found myself repeating those questions as I walked through the Gray District. The people in the street seemed happy and content, until they saw my face. A few smiled and waved, but most looked nervous. One woman even pulled her child behind her, shielding him from me.

I thought I had done well; that I had done everything I could to make everyone’s lives better. Instead of walking out to buy drugs or stealing for a living, men and women returned home from working in the farming facility, wearing dirt stained overalls and muddy boots. People stood in line for food and clothing being passed out by the Black Jackets, rather than trading pennies for bowls of measly gruel at the slop shops.

But, every civilian who looked at a Black Jacket, many of whom carried automatic rifles while they patrolled the street and catwalks, became agitated and scared, and seeing them act like that was even more disconcerting, because of the news I was about to break.

“Scott?” someone called out. It was Rae’s mother, who had just finished up with one of her classes.

“Hi, Ms. Johnson.”

“It’s so good to see you!” she said, running up and hugging me, which caused a lot of people to look at us in confusion. “How have you been? Why are you so skinny? Have you made the announcement yet? It’s so scary, but exciting. When is it happening?”

I had to think for a moment before I could answer her rapidly-fired questions. “Fine, I’ve always been like this, I haven’t and how do you already know the news? Did Rae tell you?”

“Oh, was she not supposed to? I guess she spilled the beans.”

“I suppose it’s not really a secret. I mean, we’re already making preparations.”

“Exactly. Rainy also told me you were involved with that Truand girl. You’re a very lucky young man.”

I looked around to see if anyone had turned at hearing the word Truand, but no one seemed to have noticed.

“Yeah, I mean… I guess so.”

“Oh, I see. You kids don’t like to put labels on your relationships. I understand. My husband and I were off and on for years before we got married.”

“Really?”

“Oh, yes. Albert tried to get me to settle down for years, but I never would. Hold on to that young lady. These days, it’s hard to find a girl with brains and good looks to boot, and I’m amazed at how much she’s done for this district, after all that’s happened. I can’t imagine how it must have felt to lose all her people in one fell swoop. Don’t you ever let her go, Scott. I’m very serious.”

“Ok, I understand,” I told her, as she wagged her finger in my face.

“Good. Now, I have to go. I need to go find my old codger of a husband. His class on gun safety should be ending right about now. I’m so glad you asked us to hold these classes. Retirement gets so boring after a while.”

“I would imagine. How has your teaching been going? Do you need anything?”

“No, I’m fine. My biggest problem is just getting them to focus. Adults and older kids who don’t know basic subjects are always tough to teach, because it’s embarrassing for them to admit when they don’t know something. However, they’ve been doing very well recently. In fact, one of your Black Jackets, Timmy Hull, just finished his first novel. It wasn’t incredibly long or complex, but you should have seen the look on his face. He was so proud.”

Her face lit up, and the smile that seemed to be permanently etched on her face grew even larger.

“I’m glad things are going well.”

“Oh, we wouldn’t even be doing this without you, Scott. Thank you for everything you’ve done.”

She left to find her husband, but turned back to shout at me, “Rainy is coming for dinner Friday. I’ll expect you and Vera to be there.”

“Ok, Ms. Johnson.”

I walked up the catwalks, smiling at first, but my happiness soon faded. Several Black Jackets greeted me warmly, but the civilians looked even more uncomfortable, being trapped with me in a cramped walkway.

“Those supplies aren’t going to pack themselves. Get to it.”

After whipping a few unruly Black Jackets back into shape, Vera looked over at me. Her hood was pulled tightly around her head, hiding her race from civilians and anyone else who might react negatively to finding a Sapien. Most of the Black Jackets knew she was here by now, but all of them either liked her too much or were too afraid of me to say anything.

“I’m so glad to see you,” I said, wrapping my arms around her waist. She, in turn, put her arms around my shoulders.

She was gorgeous is every way, inside and out, but the most beautiful part of her was her eyes; there was a deep sadness inside them, veiled by strength and grit.

“Are you ready?” she asked me. As I looked down from the catwalk, I saw people gathering. They were still afraid, but they still looked up to me.

I didn’t answer her, but she knew how I was feeling. Vera saw inside me; the pain, the insecurity, how I was questioning everything I had done.

She put her hand on my cheek, and whispered into my ear, “We need you to be strong right now, ok?”

That was all I needed to hear. It was a reminder that my pain didn’t matter. Hundreds of people looked to me for guidance, and I couldn’t afford to get hung up on my own issues. I had to keep moving forward, no matter what.

I turned to face the crowd, and I forgot that they were afraid of me. It didn’t really matter. What mattered was doing what was best for them; and so I looked out, took a deep breath, and told them…

“We’re leaving Jamestown.”

Chapter 52 – Rae Johnson

 

“I think I’m going to throw up.”

“Hold it in, Princess. We’re almost there.”

“I don’t like this plan.”

“You said you wanted to come, and it’s way too late to back out now,” Durango told me, as we struggled to hang onto the roof of the speeding tram. “The plan is simple. We’re going to hit the ramp in about thirty seconds and the tram will fly into the air. That’s when we pull the cords to activate our hover packs, fly forward, crash through the windows and shoot everyone inside. Got it?”

“No!”

“Too bad!”

We flew into the air at breakneck speed. I felt completely weightless, despite the three layers of heavy armor, but that feeling was soon replaced by fear as I started falling.

“Why hell did I agree to do this?” I asked myself, as my heart beat faster and faster. “Why could I have thought that this would be fun?”

I felt Durango suddenly clutch my hand. He grabbed his cord, and waited for me to grab mine before tugging on it. We shot through the air like rockets, the wind roaring as we flew towards the three story building, straight ahead of us.

The windows shattered when we hit them, but, thankfully, our armor held up. All the padding and metal wrapped around us kept us from being turned into pancakes as we crashed and tumbled through furniture and walls.

“You ok?”

“Yeah. You?”

“I’m alive.”

We were both dazed, but only had a few seconds to recover before the occupants realized what was happening.

“It’s the 80’s!”

“They’ve come for us!”

“The vapor is ours! Tell the King we stole it fair and square!”

Durango and I dived behind a desk, and pulled out our rifles.

“Are you sure this armor is bulletproof?”

“If it can hold up to that crash, it can hold up against anything,” he said, before sticking his head up to take a few shots.

Suddenly, the gunfire stopped. We could hear something, and it was growing louder by the second; the scraping of metal on concrete. The whole building shook, and we realized that the tram had just collided with the tiny structure.

“This place is coming down! Rae, we need to shoot these bastards and run.”

As pieces of the roof started to fall and the entire building began to cave in around us, I dived under a table to avoid the debris.

“Rae, fucking move already!”

I couldn’t do it. I was paralyzed. I had handled the crash and being shot at didn’t bother me, but the building collapsing around our ears was too much for me, and I went into shock.

“If you don’t get the fuck up, you are going to die! Do you realize that?”

Durango’s shouting didn’t help at first, if anything it made me feel worse, until he said something very specific that got me to my feet; something short, simple and unintentionally inspiring.

“You’re not helpless, Rae. Save yourself!”

At that exact moment, I took control. I grabbed my weapon and opened fire on the junkies, who, for some reason, seemed more concerned with killing us than escaping the building.

At first, I closed my eyes and started firing blind as I moved towards the stairs, but as bullet after bullet bounced off of my chest plate and helmet, a rush of ferocity and adrenaline ran through my veins.

I felt completely unstoppable, watching blood splatter across walls and my enemies die horribly every time I pulled the trigger. I felt invincible, seeing bullets land at my feet, after bouncing off me like cotton balls. I felt free, not caring about who was the bad guy, or whether or not these men and women deserved to die.

And most of all, I felt alive.

“Fuck you!” I shouted, as I ripped a junkie to pieces with bullets, then turned and gunned down two more of his friends.

“Get to the stairs.” Durango told me, and I immediately followed. The building continued to collapse, faster than we could make it down the stairs.

We both started ripping off our armor, throwing down our weapons and doing anything we could to lighten up. The helmets were first to go, then the multiple chest pieces, the gauntlets, greaves, shoulders pads and then, lastly, we kicked off the metal plated boots, leaving us sprinting down the last flight of stairs in our underpants.

We leapt down as fast as we could, and dashed out the exit just as the building came tumbling down, entombing both the busted tram and the thieving junkies inside.

Fortunately, it was a warm day, because we were now standing outside wearing next to nothing.

It took a minute for us to process exactly what had just happened. We were safe. We had finished the mission. We had won, and it had only taken ten minutes.

“Well, that was interesting,” Durango said.

At least, I think that’s what he said. I had so much adrenaline in my veins that I didn’t care about words. I jumped on him, kissing him harder than I’ve kissed any other man, while I tore off his shirt.

I felt sweaty, dirty, electrified and outrageous, and I loved every minute of being with him.

Chapter 53 – Scott Vale

 

I wasn’t sure how to feel. The street was empty, the catwalks were void and I could only assume that everyone was at home, wondering what the hell was waiting for us on the other side of the wall.

“They don’t seem all that dangerous.”

“We’ve never seen them up close.”

“They’re not as big as the stories make them seem.”

“Yeah, but those creatures could still be vicious, especially when three hundred and fifty refugees start stomping through their home.”

I slid a shot across the counter and Tex downed it right away. “Oh, shit. That tastes terrible.”

“I know right?” I pulled a bottle off the rack. “I haven’t had anything this strong in six months, but, since we’re leaving in a week, I figured I may as well break out the good stuff.”

Tex Mex and I were hanging out at one of the closed slop shops, one that I’d been using it for storage since it had closed. The racks of alcohol I had stacked up, along with the newly polished counter, made it almost look like a real bar.

I looked down at my friend, his face still contorted from the whiskey on his tongue, and, for just a moment, I forgot what Vera had told me.

“Tex is trying to be strong and stone-faced, but it’s killing him. He’s started doing vapor.”

I had almost died when she told me that. From the look on her face, I don’t think my reaction was what she expected. She thought I was going to scream and yell and order him to stop, but I couldn’t. I just laid down, put my head on her lap and told her, “I’m tired.”

“I know Scott. We all are.”

“Hey Tex?” He looked over at me. “What do you think is out there?”

“Dog-creatures, right? Why? What do you expect to find?”

“An army of vampires and a giant cyclops guarding the gates of hell.”

“That’s very funny, but what do you really think is out there?”

I took another shot before answering, bumping my total up to four, so far. “Funny? You think I’m being funny? We’re braving a forest full of giant-dog-things, that may have once been human, to get away from roving bands of hippie-rainbow-zombies, but you think vampires are far-fetched?”

Tex laughed and I laughed with him. Sitting with my friend, without the pressure of the Black Jackets or the district’s needs, made this almost feel like old times; before the 80’s, when we were just two orphan thieves.

“I guess things have gotten pretty crazy.”

“They’re beyond crazy,” said Vera, walking up to us. She hopped over the counter and kissed me. “I’m glad to see you’re doing better.”

“Why wouldn’t I be doing better? I’ve got an awesome best friend, all the booze I can drink and I’m dating the sexiest woman alive,” I said, just before grabbing her around the waist and pulling her close to me. However, just as I was about to try and kiss her, I stepped back and realized something. “I might be a little drunk.”

“You think?”

They both laughed at me, and Vera grabbed some whiskey from the shelf. “Call the others while I catch up. We’ll have a going away party.”

“I’m on it.” I pulled out my radio. “Revy, Rae, Jack, get down to the slop shop on the north end; eighteenth door from the entrance. You’ll see us outside.”

On my way.”

Be right there.”

I’m busy.”

I don’t care, Revy. It’s an emergency.”

Fine.”

“An emergency?” Tex asked.

“It sure is. We never hang out as a group anymore. If we don’t correct that, someone could die.”

“I don’t think that’s true.”

“Neither do I, but better safe than sorry.”

I didn’t want that night to end. I loved being able to just sit around and drink with Vera and Tex, and I was even happier when the rest of the original Black Jackets showed up.

“Hey Scott, are we cooler than the 80’s?”

“By far,” I told Jack. “You guys are way less snobby than they were.”

“Were they all rich assholes?”

“Some of them were. Others were just crazy. There was this one guy, Durango, who was totally nuts. I once saw him trying to set the roof on fire, just because he was bored.”

“Maybe he’s just free spirited and misunderstood?” Rae awkwardly conjectured.

“No, I’m pretty sure he was crazy.”

“I need to go,” Tex told us very suddenly. I noticed that his hands were shaking as he got up, and instantly the night took a turn for the worse.

Vera called after him, “Tex, don’t go. We’re worried about you.”

He turned around. “I’m fine. I just have to do something real fast.” He said it casually, as if he wasn’t off to stick a needle in his arm.

“If you go, then don’t come back,” she told him. The others looked shocked at how harsh Vera was being, especially Tex.

“You would kick me out?” he asked, initially weak and soft spoken.

“We can’t let you stay if you don’t get help.”

“Do you really think you can order me around?” He screamed, now angry and hysterical. “You’re not Scott! You don’t make the rules!”

“Scott agrees with me.”

“No he… you told him? You bitch!”

“You’re not even trying to get better!”

“You don’t get to tell me what I-”

“You should go.” I cut him off mid-sentence. He stared at me for several seconds in disbelief, so I repeated myself. “You should go, Tex.”

Tears started to well up in his eyes, and my heart shattered as he slowly backed away. He took a few gentle steps, and then turned and ran as fast as his legs would carry him.

“What the hell was that about?”

Vera and I looked at each other, wondering if we should tell the other three, but Revy told Jack and Rae before we could even decide.

“His eyes aren’t quite right, but those withdrawal symptoms… he’s been doing vapor, hasn’t he?”

I nodded.

Revy grabbed the bottle nearest to him. “I need more alcohol. This is fucking crazy.”

We tried striking up another conversation, but the group mostly just sat in awkward, drunken silence for a long while. It takes a long time to recover after you find out that one of your best friends is killing himself.

However, one interesting question did get asked.

“Jack, do you still carry that ax?”

“I stopped.”

“Good,” Vera told him. “You looked ridiculous.”

“I know.”

“So where’s the Jackaxe, now?” We all looked at Rae. “What? That’s what Vera and I were calling it.”

We all laughed, finally starting to move forward, but Tex ruined the moment.

“What the fuck is wrong with you guys?” he shouted, running up to us with eyes even redder than before.

Vera quickly hopped over the counter and stopped him. “Get out of here.”

“No! I need to talk to Scott!”

I turned away and sorted the bottles on the shelf. I couldn’t watch this happen.

“I’ll take care of this,” Vera said to me. “I’ll see you at home.”

I heard more shouting, but tried my best to block it out. There was a small scuffle, Tex shouted my name, and when I turned back around Vera and Tex were gone, along with Revy.

“Maybe we should have tried to help him get clean?” Rae suggested, but I shook my head.

“There’s not enough time, and obviously he doesn’t want our help.”

“This got left behind.” Jack put Tex’s jacket on the counter. “Revy peeled it off of him when he was helping Vera drag him away.” I wanted to cry as I looked at it, but suppressed that urge.

“It’ll be ok.” Rae walked around and hugged me.

“Do you think he’ll be alright on his own?”

“He can take care of himself,” Jack said. “Plus, taking a junkie with us during the evacuation would be too much to deal with. I think you did the right thing.”

I wanted to believe him, but couldn’t. I had just let my best friend be thrown out, like any of the other junkies. Even with Jack and Rae trying desperately to make me feel better, I didn’t feel a glimmer of happiness until I heard Vera’s voice coming from the catwalks.

“Scott, I’m waiting on you,” she said from above.

I smiled and stepped out from behind the counter. On the way out, I hugged my friends again, who remained sitting at the makeshift bar, and I would even have hugged Revy, if he had been there.

“Don’t beat yourself up. You did the right thing, Scott.”

Chapter 54 – Rae Johnson

 

“You really think that was right?” I asked Jack, as soon as Scott was gone.

“Fuck, I have no idea. What was I supposed to say?”

“I don’t know… I’m just not sure we should be kicking Tex out. Maybe we should be trying to help him.”

“Let’s talk about something else. This stuff is way over my head and it’s depressing.”

“What do you want to talk about?”

“Your secret boyfriend.” I looked at him in surprise. “That’s why you’ve been sneaking out all the time, right? Did you really think none of us had noticed?”

“How did you know?”

“Because I have one too.”

I looked at him with even more surprise, but Jack just smiled and laughed a bit, making it very difficult to tell whether or not he was joking.

“Goodnight, Rae.” He got up and left without saying anything else, leaving me alone at the slop shop and very confused.

Since no one else had bothered to do so, I started packing up the bottles and storing them back on the shelves. I found it relaxing, even though I was a little tipsy.

“Can I get a shot of vodka?”

“You scared me,” I told Durango. I had nearly jumping out of my skin after his first syllable.

“Sorry. I came to bring this back to you.” He put my jacket on the counter, right next to Tex’s. “You left it at my place.”

“I spent twenty minutes looking for this before I left. Where did you find it?”

“Tucked in an air vent.”

“How did it end up in there?”

“I put it there. You’ve been to my house plenty of times. I wanted an excuse to see yours.”

I put a bottle on the counter and poured two shots. “You’re such a jerk.”

“I know.” He downed what I gave him in one gulp.

“This is my last drink of the night,” I told him.

“But I just got here.”

“I was drinking with my friends earlier.” I drank the vodka and it burned the whole way down. “One of my friends just got kicked out of the district because he started doing drugs.”

“What drugs?”

“Vapor.”

“Damn.”

“Yeah, it’s horrible. I feel bad for him, though. We were the only family he had left.”

“Whatever. Everybody has a sob story.”

“Not me. I was the proper virgin princess who did everything her daddy told her.”

“Really?”

“Yup.” I poured another shot and downed it. “What’s yours?”

“What are you asking?”

“What’s your tragic backstory? You just said everybody has one.”

“I meant everyone but me. My parents were rich. I was a pretty spoiled kid.” He sounded convincing, but something told me he wasn’t telling the whole truth.

“You don’t like talking about yourself.”

“That’s right I don’t,” he stated. “And you constantly beat yourself up for not being as fucked up as your friends, even though you should consider it a blessing. Having fucked up parents isn’t fun.”

Well, there it was; the confirmation. Now, I knew he was keeping something from me.

“What happened to you?” I asked, leaning over the counter.

“Nothing. I already told you, my parents were rich and I was spoiled.”

“Durango, quit playing hard to get and tell me.”

He sighed and finally gave in. “My parents had a shit ton of money. That’s the absolute truth. They weren’t mean and they never beat me or anything, they just… they didn’t really want me. One time, when I was a kid, I went to spend the night at a friend’s house. A week later, his parents called mine to ask why they hadn’t picked me up yet. They tried bribing them to just keep me a while longer, but it didn’t work. Then, they tried taking me to the city orphanage, but they were told they made too much money to give me up.” He laughed. “Can you believe that? Having too much money actually bit them in the ass. Anyway, when the city wouldn’t let them just buy the orphanage, which they tried to do, I went through about ten nannies and a thousand babysitters before I finally ran away and started going by Durango.”

“Durango isn’t your real name?”

He raised an eyebrow at me, and I realized how dumb that question was.

“What’s your name?”

“Peter Watts.”

I held my hand out to him. “Well, it’s nice to meet you, Peter.”

He shook my hand. “Nice to meet you too, Raincloud.”

My jaw dropped to the counter. “How did you know…”

“When I first got here, I asked a few people where to find you and they sent me to your mother’s house. I told her I was one of your friends. She’s really nice by the way, and she makes great cookies.”

“You got cookies from my mother?”

“She invited me inside. It would have been rude to say no.”

“Oh god. You’re such a jerk.”

“I know,” he said, reaching over the counter and planting his lips on mine. “But I’m your jerk.”

Chapter 55 – Paige Wilson

 

“I don’t care what it takes, just get it done.”

“Yes, Madam President.”

The engineer ran off to finish his work. It seemed like everyone needed to receive their orders in triplicate before anything could get done.

Finishing your special project?”

“Yes, the project that’s going to save my city.”

Whatever you say.”

I got into the elevator and pressed the button for my office. It was nice to be alone, where no one could hear me talking to myself.

“This is something that needs to be done.”

Do you really believe that? You could always leave with the Black Jackets.”

“They won’t survive. Leaving the city is far too hazardous.”

And spraying mind-altering chemicals into the air is a safe option?”

“Stop being a sarcastic. It gets on my nerves.”

Maybe you should get your thoughts under control. Then, I wouldn’t be such a dick to you.”

After reaching the top floor, I strode out of the elevator as quickly as I could, but his voice was inescapable.

Can you believe all these tragedies? The death of the Truands. The eradication of the Men of the Temple. The fall of the Sunset District. The infestation of monsters.”

“The archivists have made note of all of it.”

That’s all you have to say? Are you even sad?”

“No, and do you want to know why? Because one day, the children of this city will read about these dark years and call them what they are; a speed bump on the road to a brighter future for my city.”

Stop calling it that! It hasn’t been your city in years! Don’t live in denial!”

“I’m not in denial, you are!”

You’re fucking crazy!”

“Madam President!” I turned to the voice.

“What is it?”

“I’m so sorry ma’am. It’s just that…”

“Who the hell are you?”

“Officer Rennecin, ma’am.”

“Well, Officer Rennecin, what is this ridiculously important news?” I asked him, completely consumed with anger that I have should have been directing towards myself, rather than taking in out on an innocent.

It took him a while, but he finally spat out the message, and when he did, my heart sank lower than ever before. “Your nephew is missing.”

Chapter 56 – Scott Vale

 

She whispered one last warning in my ear. “If you can’t do this, things will get ugly. Bring my nephew back, so I can kill that fool who took him.” I didn’t need the reminder. I was more than aware of how closely I was being watched.

Everyone was holding their breath. My hand shook as I reached for the doorknob and the police stood ready to storm the tiny building, sitting just beyond the barricade. Even the President was more on edge than usual. On a regular day, she was the kind of person who would feed you to a pack of rabid dogs to further her own interests, but today, she looked capable of something even more extreme.

I walked inside. The stupid junkie sat with his back turned to the door, probably praying for a bullet to the head.

“You’re here for the kid right? Just take him and finish me off.”

“You wanted them to kill you that badly?”

He turned around at the sound of my voice, like an excited puppy. “Scott!”

“Hello, Tex.”

His happiness faded a moment later. His eyes were almost completely red, and glowing residue leaked from his mouth. He quickly wiped it away with his forearm, leaving a glowing smear across his skin. “I was hoping they would have the decency to burn my body. I didn’t want you to see me like this.”

“I’ve seen men in worse condition.” I pulled up a second stool, the only other piece of furniture in the house, and sat facing him.

We sat in silence for some time. I knew the President was anxious, but she’d promised me all the time I needed. I planned to take full advantage of that.

“We were such assholes,” he mumbled.

“When?”

“When we first came here. To the Sunset District, I mean. Do you remember how we acted when we became 80’s?”

“I was the one being an asshole. I thought having street smarts made me better than everyone else, but you were never that way.”

“I was always way too fucking nice.”

“Since when is being nice a bad thing?”

He chuckled. “Since always. I remember every bad thing I ever did, in graphic detail. Back in the firing range, I killed six rabbits and two pigs. You had to put down that second one. Do you remember that?”

“Yeah, I do.”

“I still remember being there. I still feel bad for killing rabbits, but they’re just animals. I’m not supposed to feel sorry for them. How pathetic is that?”

“It’s not.”

He obviously didn’t believe me, but didn’t bring it up again.

“Do you remember how we became the 80’s?” I asked him. “How we got the name?”

“Oh yeah.” His smile reappeared. “The Men of the Temple wanted to call us the Infinite Zeros.”

We both laughed. “God, that was stupid.”

“I know. Byrd just ripped the sign in half and put the infinity sign up sideways.”

“And thus, the 80’s were born.”

He laughed, but I looked down at the floor. My next question wasn’t an easy one.

“Was Byrd the one who told you to do this?”

He nodded, tears welling up in his eyes.

“Why would you help him?”

“He found me when I was running low. He said he could get me more if I brought…”

He trailed off. His whole body shook, and blood red tears ran down his face.

“Scott, if they hadn’t found me… I almost traded a kid for drugs. I don’t know what Byrd would have done to him.”

I hugged him. “It’s ok, Tex. It’s ok.”

He kept crying and his tears stained my jacket.

“I’m sorry this happened.”

“I wish I’d been strong, like you.”

“You don’t need to be like me.”

“You would never have done this. You would have told him to fuck off.”

“We all do bad things sometimes, buddy.”

I pulled away, sitting back on my stool. As I did, I reached down to my holster, but found it empty.

“What the hell?”

I looked up and I saw that Tex now realized what was happening.

“You came here to kill me?”

We both stood up. “Tex, I…”

He pulled a grey revolver from his waistband. “Stay away from me.”

“I was just…” I couldn’t finish my sentence.

“Just what? Finishing me off? Did you tell the President to back off, because you wanted to kill me yourself?”

“No. She asked me to talk you down.”

“Then why did you reach for your holster?”

“Because I don’t know what she’s going to do to you. She murdered one of her own officers for disrespecting her. God only knows what she has in store for the man who kidnapped a member of her family.”

“You don’t know anything. I’ll give him back. Either she’ll understand, or I’ll escape.”

“No, Tex,” I said, not trying to sound bleak or hopeless, just honest. “You’re not going to escape this, and you know that. Weren’t you just sitting there expecting a shot in the back?”

“Not from you,” he said, through trembling lips.

“Maybe you should explain this to the President. She’s standing right over there.”

A split second after his gaze turned, I knocked his gun away and grabbed him. I wrapped my hands around his throat, and squeezed until my knuckles were white. He struggled for a moment before falling to the ground, allowing me to pin his shoulders under my knees and keep him still.

It felt like I was there for hours. I tried shaking him, hitting his head against the concrete floor as many times as I could to knock him out, but, even when blood started pooling beneath him, he still hadn’t died. I just held on, trying to end it as quickly as I could.

I was so distracted by his suffering that I noticed the gun too late. He had finally gripped it and now held it against my forehead. The last thing I felt before he pulled the trigger was my grip starting to slip away.

But his gun was empty.

I pulled my hands off his throat, leaving him gasping through his crushed windpipe. He pointed the gun at me, frantically pulling the trigger, trying to kill me over and over and over.

He was in pain. He was in so much pain. He finally dropped the gun as a mix of blood and glowing fluid started filling his mouth. Instinctively, I flipped him on his side, pouring out the contents of his mouth, and sobbing like a baby the entire time.

I put him on his back. His eyes were half closed now. He didn’t look like he was in pain anymore; Tex just looked sleepy. I kept crying and crying for my friend.

“Goddammit.” All I had wanted was to make it quick, but I’d only made things worse.

I did the last thing I could. A sickening cold shiver ran up my spine as my hands inched closer to him.

My fingers fit perfectly into the grooves in his throat. I squeezed as hard as I could, until his hands stopped twitching, and then I kept squeezing. I squeezed out more air. I squeezed out more blood and bile. I squeezed out every bit of life, so that there was nothing more to take from him. No one could ever take satisfaction from killing him. The President wouldn’t have it. Byrd wouldn’t have it. No one would have it.

When my fingers started to turn purple, I let go. I had to stop and catch my breath, and I realized just how quickly my heart was beating.

I arranged him into a respectful position after taking a moment to get back into a normal a state of mind; at least, as normal a state of mind as I could possibly be in. After putting his pistol into my holster, I laid him out on his back; eyes closed and hands at his sides. It was how a man should lay when he was burned or buried, but Tex would be lucky if he got a funeral at all.

I cried even more. Every bad deed I had ever done had culminated into this moment. This was my punishment for the slaughtering the Truands, for hurting Jed, for all the fear and hatred… but it didn’t matter. My problems didn’t matter. I needed to move forward.

The kid wasn’t hard to find. I opened up the closet and pulled back the coats he was tucked under.

“Is he dead?”

I hesitated, but answered honestly. “Yeah.”

“Did you kill him?”

“Yeah.”

He let me lift him and I covered his eyes as we walked past the body and out the door. He ran to his aunt as soon as I let him down.

The police stormed into the tiny building, but there wasn’t anything to find. As far as I know, they just left the body there. I guess they didn’t want to waste the energy dragging him all the way back to civilization and giving him a proper funeral.

I walked back to the Gray District, constantly repeating to myself that I had done the right thing. As I walked past the civilians, they now had a new reason to fear me. Tex’s blood red tears had fanned out from my left shoulder, resembling the twisting, gnarled roots of a strange fruit tree. They dripped across my back and chest, and down my sleeve; the same sleeve that was still burned from the first time I had put down a friend.

They were afraid, but, honestly, I didn’t care. I felt empty and hopeless. All that mattered was moving forward, and Byrd’s sick joke wouldn’t change that.

Chapter 57 – Rae Johnson

 

“Durango? It’s me.”

After all thirteen locks had been undone, the door finally swung open.

“Morning, Princess. Ready to see my new art project?”

He started to lead me up the stairs, but I stopped him. “I can’t stay. I’m leaving.”

“Then why did you bother coming?”

“I’m leaving forever. All of us are. The Black Jackets, everyone in the Gray District and probably the Presidential District, eventually.”

He was taken aback. “Wait, that’s really happening?”

“Yes, right now, and I want you to come.” I handed him the thing I had come all this way to deliver; Tex’s old jacket. “You can be one of us.”

“Who says I want to leave? Maybe I like anarchy I can take care of myself.”

He sat down on the stairs and started cleaning his gun. Mouse came hopping out and snuggled against my foot.

“Hey, little guy.”

I scratched behind his eyes and he made little coos of approval.

“Where are you going?”

“I’m not sure,” I answered. “We have a map that says there is something east of here. It’s in the middle of the Badlands, far outside the forest.”

“A city?”

“Maybe. We’re not sure.”

“So, you’re not even sure where you’re going? You want me to pack up everything I own and go on a long journey with you and your friends, for the chance to live in a strange city?”

“I want you to do it for me.” I put the jacket in his lap and kissed him on the forehead. “Please save yourself.”

As I walked to the exit, Mouse looking at me as if he wanted to follow, I silently prayed that I would see the two of them again.

Chapter 58 – Paige Wilson

 

Admit it, you never thought this day would come.”

I downed another glass. “Of course not. I hope those ungrateful punks starve.”

And what if they don’t? What if they succeed? What if they start an even better city?”

“They won’t. Jamestown, my city, is the only city.”

What do you think they’ll name it? Vale-topia? Scott’s Town? Or maybe, Jamestownsucks-opolis.”

I poured out more Bourbon. I had been keeping it close all day. “They won’t last. And once I’ve got Jamestown in my pocket again, I’ll never let them back inside these walls. You’ll see. Everyone will see.”

Whatever you say, Madam President. Whatever you say.”

Chapter 59 – Hartler Smith

 

I shivered even though it wasn’t all that cold. We had built the fires for protection, not heat. Six people had already gone missing, and, even though we hadn’t seen it happen, we could only assume it was due to the feral monsters hiding in the forest.

Even our fervent “protectors” seemed scared, not that they would ever admit it. Just like us, the Black Jackets were more afraid of their leader, than of the ferals. He was gone now, hunting with some of the others. We just hoped he would bring something back this time. We’d been eating dry pasta and potatoes since we left, three days ago.

My wife and I huddled together, scared that something would jump out of the woods at any minute. I didn’t mind my own misery and fear, but my beloved didn’t deserve this. I was the one who told her leaving was a good idea; that Scott Vale knew what he was doing. This was all my fault. If I hadn’t been so stupid, we would be sitting in our house, safe and sound, while everyone else made this miserable trek.

I gently tapped her shoulder, trying to get her attention. She lifted her head and looked up at me, her eyes cold and blank.

“Come with me.” We stayed low so we wouldn’t be seen by the guards, but it didn’t work.

“What are you two doing?”

“Going to the bathroom.”

“Together? Get back to the camp!”

I grabbed her hand and we sprinted into the woods. The guard shouted once, but didn’t give chase or shoot at us with his automatic.

The full moon gave us light enough to see one another, but not much else.

“We’re going to die out here. The ferals will kill us.”

“They won’t get the pleasure.” I reached into my jacket and pulled out my revolver, passed down to me from my grandfather. “We can do this ourselves.”

We could hear them around us. The ferals were everywhere; rustling in the bushes and whispering in the dark.

“We shouldn’t waste time. Let’s get this over with,” my wife said, now thoroughly unnerved.

“It has two bullets,” I told her. “I just need to figure out which chambers they’re loaded in.” I turned the cylinder until I thought the bullets were in place, but the darkness made it hard to see.

I lifted the gun. The lowest moment of my life came while holding it against my wife’s forehead. Her eyes had no life left in them. It was all my fault for wanting this. I looked away and pulled the trigger.

It didn’t fire. The fucking chamber was empty.

All the tension suddenly released from my body. I went limp, unable to move for a second. I fell over on my hands and knees, until I felt a hand on my shoulder. “It’s ok. Just try again.”

I listened to her and started to raise the gun again, until I saw something… something beautiful.

Everything around us became covered in a neon blaze, and, as the warm glow embraced us, a figure approached, wrapped in light from head to toe.

“Do not be afraid. I am here to help you.” He pulled something out of his pocket. When he held it in the light we saw that it was a pair of candy bars.

My wife and I tore the wrappers off in moments, and quickly wolfed them down. After days of bland food, they tasted like heaven.

“I know things seem bleak right now, but you need to stay with the group.”

“We can’t,” she told the strange figure. “We’re hungry, tired and people keep disappearing. If we stay with the Black Jackets, we’ll be torn apart by ferals or die of starvation. At least here, we can die on our own terms.”

“Fear not; I promise that you will be safe, and no one else will die.”

“How can you promise that?”

“Because I know all. I shall guide you and keep you safe, and all I ask in return, is that you do as I say.”

“We’ll do whatever you want.”

“Anything.”

“Good. Now, you must go back and wait for my command. There are others who will side with you, when the time comes.”

“Side with us? What do you mean?”

“You’ll find out soon. Come with me.”

He took us both by the hand and guided us back to the camp. Once we could see it in the distance, he left, but we could see his neon glow walking far away in the distance.

My wife looked at me. “Should we trust him?”

As much as I didn’t want to return, the idea of having to hold a gun to either of our heads again was too much for me to bear. “Let’s go back.”

For the first time in days, she looked at me with hope in her eyes. The deadness was gone, and she now looked like she really wanted to live. We held hands as we entered the camp once again. The guard who had tried to stop us didn’t get angry. He simply said, “I’m glad you two are ok.”

The rest of the guards had come back from hunting, and they had brought a dead feral with them. I had to look twice when I saw it for myself. The monster was smaller than I had imagined, but still looked fearsome. It was about three feet tall at the shoulder, with powerful jaws and hair covering its whole body. It pretty much looked like a big wolf, only very lanky and with strange coloring.

“What are you going to do with it?” someone asked.

Their leader, Scott Vale, turned to face us. His cold eyes reminded me of how my wife’s were, before she was given hope. Dark lines stretched out into the skin surrounding them, and his irises had started to turn gray.

He looked back to the body of the feral, and his men continued gutting it while building a huge stack of firewood.

“I once lived in a house with a horrible rat problem. We could hear them squeaking and running all the time, and they crawled into our beds and bit us while we slept. We lived with them for months, until, one day, my mother turned on the stove to make breakfast, not knowing one of those things had crawled inside. The smell permeated every inch of the house, but we never saw another rat.”

The Black Jackets finished shoving a spit through the creature, and hoisted it up over the firewood. Vale poured the contents of a bottle over the wood and lit the fire, filling the air first with the smell of burning alcohol, then wood, and then flesh.

When it was done cooking, we all went and had our first taste. Even though some thought it was borderline cannibalism, since according to Jamestown’s history the ferals had been human a few dozen generations ago, we were all too hungry to complain. The meat was grisly and tough, and I noticed that the Black Jackets seemed to be the only ones tearing into it wholeheartedly. Everyone else turned it over in their mouths, like they wished they were eating something else.

It didn’t taste good, but the meat helped us gain our strength back, and over the next few days we found three of the people who had gone missing. Everyone was ecstatic to see them again, except for the Black Jackets, who were never happy. They only seemed suspicious.

We started to find arrows made of glowing neon rods pressed into the ground, which caused word to spread about the man in the forest; how he was guiding us to our home and dressed like a neon angel. Vale and his loyalists smashed the lights every chance they got, but we managed to save quite a few, stuffing them into our bags or wrapping them in blankets.

Then, only two days later, we reached the edge of the forest. Before us lay nothing but fields of endless black grass that came up to our ankles, and above us, the sky was dark orange and cloudy. Many of us turned to one another, asking if the Man of the Forest would want us to enter this foreign place, but, in the distance, we saw our answer. Flashing lights blinked on the horizon in every color imaginable. When we saw them, our hearts filled with joy. Our spirits were lifted knowing that someone was protecting us.

Chapter 60 – Julia Munford

 

“Mom, are we there yet?”

“No, Ben. It’ll just be a little bit longer.”

“I’m tired.”

“So am I, honey.”

“Alright, everybody,” one of the Black Jackets said, from the front of the group. “We’re going to stop here for the night.”

Everyone simultaneously collapsed. Lucky for us, the grass was soft.

The Black Jackets continued to patrol the campsite all night. It was much colder here than in the forest, but, since we couldn’t build fires for fear of igniting the grass, we all just huddled under as many layers as we could get our hands on. I wrapped both the kids up in every blanket we had, and did my best to stay warm with just my wind breaker.

I couldn’t see the moon or the stars, just the faint orange glow that seemed to hang above the clouds, and that made me wonder whether or not I had done the right thing by bringing my children on this journey. This place was so different; so strange. I suppose we didn’t have much of a choice but to come here, since without the Black Jackets there would have been no food, but as I shivered on the ground, lying in a foreign land while my old home stood empty, I looked back upon my old memories with nostalgia, even the time spent eating at the slop shops and treating my husband’s addiction. At least my Cindy, Ben and I had had a warm place to sleep.

I felt a tap on my shoulder, and looked up to see a dark figure standing above me.

“Here, take this,” he said, handing me a wool blanket.

I gladly accepted, and pulled it around my shoulders. “Thank you.”

“Is there anything else you need?” he asked.

“No. I think we’ll be ok. Who are you?”

“I’m Scott.”

A chill went up my spine. Was this man, who just given me a blanket, the same Scott who had thrown one of his own soldiers off a railing, and then executed him? Was this the same Scott who had slaughtered over a hundred helpless Truands with only fourteen bullets and a club? I could now see the red stain on his jacket, glowing faintly in the darkness. He was definitely the one I had heard so many stories about.

“Boss,” said a female Black Jacket that walked up behind him. “Things are still quiet.”

“Good to hear.”

While he stood there, speaking to the female, I slowly and carefully slid the blanket off my shoulders and used it to cover my children, hoping it would keep them hidden from him.

Another Black Jacket came by, shining his flashlight on their faces.

“Everything looks clear, sir.”

“Mark, put the flashlight away,” Scott told him. “People are trying to sleep.”

“Sorry, sir.”

However, for just the briefest second the beam of the flashlight lit up the face of the female Black Jacket. What I saw left me with my jaw hanging open.

“You’re… you’re….,” I stuttered, pointing a finger at her.

Before I could put together a cohesive sentence, he put a hand over my mouth and one finger over his, telling me to shush. Both of them sat down in front of me, and, when I had finally calmed down, he removed his hand so that I could ask, “How are you here? You’re a Sapien.”

“Vera was a Truand, but she’s also a founding member of the Black Jackets and she was already living with us in the Gray District when… when the Truands showed up. She’s family.”

“That’s creepy,” she said, jerking her arm away from him. It was only then that I realized they had been holding hands. It was hard to distinguish anything in the dark. “You like sleeping with your family?”

“You know what I meant.”

“But, didn’t you kill them all?” I asked, not realizing how blunt my question was until I had already said it.

“It was an accident,” he said, in a shaky voice. “They wanted to come inside, but we didn’t know if they were infected. When they rushed the barricades… we just reacted.”

It occurred to me that I had never actually heard his side of the story. I guess I’d been too caught up in rumors.

“And the Black Jacket you threw over the railing?”

“You mean Jed? What about him?”

“Did you kill him?”

“What?” they asked, simultaneously.

“That was what I heard.”

“Of course Scott didn’t kill him. He just wasn’t allowed to be a Black Jacket anymore.”

“He’s sleeping about twenty feet from here, if you’d like to check.”

“No, I believe you.”

“You really thought I executed one of my own men for talking smack, and killed the Truands because I felt like it?”

“No… I mean…”

“I’ll take that as a yes.”

“When you say them out loud, they seem so much more silly.”

“Rumors tend to work that way.”

“At least you’re better than that crazy doctor,” I said, removing my blanket from the kids. Cindy and Ben seemed to be doing fine, and I was freezing from being without it for only a minute.

“Crazy doctor? Are you talking about Revy?”

“I think that’s his name. I don’t know who it was that let him be a doctor, but they should be fired.”

We all laughed, but quietly.

“He’s just desensitized from how much bad stuff he’s seen. I think everyone here has lost someone in that clinic, whether to infections, injuries or addictions.”

“Have you?” I asked him. I was intrigued to find out more about Scott, whom I had, only an hour ago, thought of as an even bigger monster than the ferals.

“Yeah. I lost my mom.”

When he said that, I became filled with even more guilt for ever buying into the myths and rumors surrounding this young man.

“How did it happen?”

“It’s not important. It was a long time ago.”

The Sapien Black Jacket, Vera, nuzzled against his cheek.

“I lost my husband about a year ago,” I admitted to them.

“I’m so sorry.”

“Thank you. It was hard at first, but I really should have been expecting it. He worked so hard just to keep us comfortable. He walked across the Sunset District for his low paying job every day; never late even once. He was the love of my life, but…” I started to cry. “The first time I found one of his vials, I knew it was over. He died five years and one child later, and, for most of that time, I was mad. I yelled and kicked him, but I wasn’t angry at him; I was angry with myself.”

“I know it can be hard for a single mother. If you ever need anything, let me know.” Scott said.

“Thank you.”

“Think nothing of it.”

“Come on,” Vera said, pulling him away. “I need to get back to patrol, and you need to sleep.”

They waved as they walked off, and I laid back down on the grass, pulling the blanket tightly around me. After looking to make sure the kids were ok, I finally went to sleep.

It was only another week until we made it to our destination. Many of us cried and others hugged each other with relief and happiness. It was a city, and it was huge. The Black Jackets seemed just as in awe of it as we were. deserted streets of grey concrete were lined with buildings of black steel. It was different from Jamestown; more industrial, with smokestacks rising out of many of the buildings, but it was also beautiful, in a dark sort of way.

The Black Jackets, on Scott’s orders, began checking the buildings for signs of life, but they were all completely empty. Once they were certain of that, they allowed us to move in. Families were assigned rooms and given the last of their rations, with the instructions to try and make them last at least another week.

I looked out the window of our apartment, which, was much nicer than anything I had lived in before. It was also surprisingly clean, if a little dusty. Out the window, I could see other people waiting out in the street. Most of them were ragged, dirty and tired, but agreed that this had definitely been worth the trip. After looking down at my clothes, I realized just how bad I looked, and how tired I was. I wanted nothing more than to just fall asleep in a nice warm mattress.

But, something caught my eye. On the roof of a building near ours was a man. He was dressed in all black, which made me think he was a Black Jacket at first, but he was wearing heavy armor. He took off his helmet, and looked out over the city like a king looking out over his subjects… No, it was more intense than that.

He looked at us like a child, staring down on a colony of ants before crushing them with his boot.

Chapter 61 – Paige Wilson

 

“It’s all finished Madam President. What should I do now?”

“Head home for the night.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

When he left, I sat and stared at the machine for a while. It took up most of the space in the hastily constructed shack, which had been purposefully built between the Cages and the Sunset District; right where we needed it most.

I turned it on. There were no excessive lights or flare. Only a soft whir told me that it was working.

Well-”

“Shut up. I don’t have time for you.”

Hey, I work hard on my witty remarks. The least you can do is let me finish them.”

“This isn’t any of your business, Fischer.”

My oldest friend in the world plans on poisoning a city. That’s none of my business?”

“It’s only a few problem areas. We need to bring this situation under control or else more people will die. I didn’t ask for your opinion.”

I grabbed both sides of my head. They felt like they were about to split apart.

“Of course I didn’t ask for your opinion, because you’re a figment of my imagination, but you won’t go away!”

I’ll go away when you make the right choice.”

“This is the right choice!”

You should have left with Scott.”

“Just because some street gang convinced a few people to go with them outside the walls doesn’t mean we need to follow suit.”

That’s an understatement. At the end of their time here, the Black Jackets had almost as many members as there are police officers, and it wasn’t just a few people that left. The Gray District is a ghost town.”

“And it’ll stay that way. They signed their death certificates the moment they walked outside those walls; my walls.”

I could see his crimson eyes staring into me. He always knew what I was thinking. “Are you really that concerned about what the guy in the suit said?”

I sighed, figuring it wasn’t even worth the energy to try and lie to myself. “Yes, but it’s far from the only reason.”

I grabbed a vial from one of the crates. It was almost the size of my leg, but I managed to get the first one loaded into the machine.

“Shouldn’t you be telling me to stop?”

He didn’t respond. I kept loading in more of the enormous vials, and still he didn’t say one goddamn thing. The sounds of the machine and the sloshing of the neon liquid was all I heard.

I stood there with one hand on the lever, contemplating my decision.

“You know there was something else he said. ‘All things are foreseen?’ If he’s foreseen all of this, then why isn’t the son of a bitch here trying to stop me? If I pull this lever, I win. The city is saved.”

Maybe.”

“Once everyone breathes this stuff in, we’ll have control. The Sunset District will be back in line, and the crisis will be averted.”

Possibly.”

“We won’t have to leave. We can stay here.”

You’ll be following the King in Light’s example. Everyone will be zombies.”

“It’ll be better than them being dead, or turned into dog-creatures, or poisoned by vapor… I mean they won’t die from vapor, at least.”

Maybe.”

“Then why isn’t he here? I would have at least thought he’d be here to do something.” I removed my hand and shouted upwards. “Where are you? Aren’t you even going to try and stop me?”

I felt Fischer finally give up on me.

“Everything will be alright. I’m fixing this city.”

I put my hand back on the lever. There was nothing else to do except what needed to be done. I could make things better.

“Madam President?” said a policeman, sticking his head inside.

“What?”

“Your nephew is here, and I think you should see him, now.”

“Let him in.”

When the door opened, I saw that he was holding his stomach, his breathing was heavy and glowing orange liquid oozed from around his mouth.

“Oh my God,” I said, running over and holding him. “What happened?”

“I tried this stuff that a man gave me, but then my stomach started hurting and I threw up a bunch of glowing stuff.”

“Oh, Jacob. You’re going to be alright. We’ll go find you a doctor, sweetie.”

“Auntie, you have to protect me.”

“Protect you from what?”

“It’s the dark man. He’s going to kill me.”

“No sweetheart, no one’s going to kill you. You’re just seeing things.”

“No, I’m not!” He began to sob, and his eyes had just the slightest tint of neon. “Tex Mex had this stuff coming out of him and the dark man came and killed him, and now he’s going to kill me too.”

“Shh, it’s ok. Everything will be alright.”

“Please, don’t let him kill me auntie. I’ll never do it again, just please don’t let him kill me.”

“It’s ok sweetheart. We’re going to get you to the hospital now, and I’ll be with you the whole time. You’re going to be safe, ok?”

He nodded, but kept crying into my shoulder. I picked him up and carried him out the door, where a stretcher and an ambulance had just arrived.

“We called them as soon as he got here, Madam President.”

“Thank you,” I told the guards. “I need you to do one more thing.”

“What’s that?”

“Tell everyone to get packing. I’m putting out an evacuation order.”

Chapter 62 – Ins Vera

 

Welcome to Soothouse.” That was what the sign behind me said.

I looked out over the fields of black grass, wishing my family could have seen this. My mother and father would have loved the brand new city, with clean streets and shiny new apartments; the tall buildings of black steel, the burned orange sky and the lack of neon lights. However, I knew they never would have left the Court of Myracell behind. Maybe I was a traitor for leaving, but, if I was, I was ok with that. I had come to terms with it.

I would never forget the Truands, that old life would always be a part of my soul, but I had a new family, one that cared about me as much as my blood relatives ever did.

“Vera? You ok?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.”

Rae looked out over the endless field, just as in awe of it as I was.

“It seems like it goes on forever.”

“I know. I can’t believe we walked that far.”

“What do you think they’re doing in Jamestown, right now?”

“Well, all those pretentious shiners from the Presidential District are probably working down in the farming facility.”

“Oh, that’s right. There’s nobody to do that, now that we’re gone.”

“I’d love to see the looks on their faces. They probably haven’t had to work a day in their lives.”

“Yeah. Imagine them crawling around in the dirt.”

We both laughed. The image of the President herself trying to farm was pretty funny.

“Did you hear that they’ll be coming soon?”

“Coming here?”

“Yeah,” Rae said. “At least, that’s what Scott told me. The President contacted him.”

“Huh. I’m surprised Scott is letting them follow us. He and the President never seemed to get along.”

She shrugged. “You can go ask him why. I need to go check on Revy anyway. He and the others are close to getting the farming facility up and running,” she said, before leaving. “I’ll see you later.”

“Later.” I pulled out my radio. “Scott, where are you?”

Uh, back at the barracks.”

“Oh good, that’s close by. I’ll be right there. I need to talk to you.”

No, wait. Shit, I wanted this to be a surprise, but I’m over at the tower on the north square.”

“Which one?”

The one with the gray markings.”

I started walking there, wondering what Scott had waiting for me. The building he was referring to was the most ornate in the city. The black steel was interwoven with grey markings, and the bottom floor was full of intricately carved stone pillars, both inside and out.

It stood on the north side of the main square, the highest building in the city. It looked out over the streets, and towered over all the other buildings as well as the tree in the center of the square. It was the only tree in the Badlands. Its leaves were black as coal and its bark was as hard as bedrock.

I walked through the glass doors and across the speckled granite floor. Several Black Jackets wandered about, along with men and women in coveralls.

“Hey, do you know where Scott is?” I asked one of them.

“Oh, Ms. Vera. He’s up on the top floor.”

“Thank you.”

I got into the elevator and hit the fifth button.

“There you are,” Scott said, once I found him. “What do you think?”

Just outside of the elevator doors, there stood a set of rather unremarkable double doors, but beyond that was a room I can only describe as a masterpiece, albeit an unfinished one.

Workers were up on ladders, painting over a set of ugly murals on the walls. Lights hung down from the ceiling and covered the room in blue, and a long beige carpet was laid out between the doors and an enormous throne at the far end. On both sides of the double doors, on the same wall, were sets of even larger doors that led to a room behind the elevator. It was an enormous bedroom, with ornate furniture and a king sized bed.

“It’s beautiful, but…”

“You haven’t even seen the best part yet.”

Scott pulled out a remote and pressed one of several buttons on it. The lights faded out, and the black wall behind the throne faded away, to reveal the city behind it. We could see all the way up main street, where people bustled about, Black Jackets patrolled and workers fresh out of the farming facility walked home for the day.

He led me to the other end of the hall, pressed a second button and the walls of the bedroom did the same. Not only that, but when the windows appeared I could see a balcony that stretched around the entire building, with doors leading out to it in the bedroom and behind the throne.

“What do you think, now?”

“Again, it’s beautiful, but why did you build a throne room?”

“I didn’t. I found it. Can you believe that?”

“Not really. Shouldn’t we just gut this building and use it for something else?”

“No way. After all that’s happened, I think we deserve it. Why don’t you test out the throne?”

“No thanks. I don’t want my ego to get as big as yours.”

“Come on. Just try it.”

I finally conceded, sat down and had to admit, “Ok, this is pretty cool.”

“I know, right? It’s like being a god.”

“Is it comfortable, Mr. Vale?” asked one of the workers.

“It’s absolutely perfect. You guys did a fantastic job repairing it.” The man beamed with pride.

“Mr. Vale?” I asked Scott.

“They just started calling me that. I don’t know why.”

“It happened to me too. Someone called me Ms. Vera. Do I look like an old woman?”

“It’s just a sign of respect, sir,” the worker said. “I know there are a lot of people who are upset with you, but I was there the day the Truands came. I know you didn’t want to hurt anyone. You were just trying to protect us.”

“Thank you, that means a lot,” Scott told him, as he started to crack a smile. “Do you want to try this out?”

“Oh, no. I couldn’t…”

“No, I insist.”

Scott pulled the man up to the throne and let him sit down on it. “I feel like a king.”

“Yeah, it’s pretty great. Do the rest of you guys want to try?”

He then let all the Black Jackets and workers in the room test out the throne, and they all were ecstatic to do so. It reminded me of why I was so in love with him; underneath all the intimidation and rumors, and even beneath the sadness and loss, he was a down to earth guy, who wanted to do what was best for the people he had taken under his wing.

“I’m going to go. I want to check on Jack.”

“Yeah, I should get back to work to, but come back tonight so I can show you the bedroom.”

“Oh, I like the sound of that,” I said, running a finger down his chest.

Only a moment after our lips touched, we heard screaming and gunfire from outside. We looked down and saw people running out of buildings, Black Jackets trying to usher people off the streets and civilians running around with guns.

This is Scott Vale,” all of us heard over our walkie-talkies. The message was full of static, but just clear enough to make out. “Head east. All Black Jackets take everyone to the east side of the city.”

“That’s not me!” Scott yelled. “What the fuck? That’s not me!” He screamed into his radio, but none of our radios were able to send out messages. They were jammed.

“Goddammit!” he screamed, smashing it against the floor.

“We need to calm everyone down. Let’s get outside,” I said, calling Scott and the other Black Jackets in the room.

We took the elevator down to the bottom floor, but it was complete chaos outside. People were yelling and shoving, and no one would listen to us.

“Vale! We need to get you to safety!”

“I’m not going anywhere!” he told the Black Jackets. “Take her! I’m staying here.”

“What? I’m not leaving either!”

“Listen to me,” he yelled, as he took my hands in his. “I’ll be fine, but I need to be sure you’ll be safe.”

“I can take care of myself. I’m not leaving without you.”

“I know.” He slapped a pair of cuffs on me, and told the guards, “Get here somewhere safe.”

“Scott, you bastard!”

“I’m sorry. I’ll find you soon. I promise.”

Chapter 63 – Scott Vale

 

“There is no rest for the wicked.” My head felt like someone had pried it open with a crowbar, and the lights didn’t help the pain.

As I woke up on the roof, with my hands bound to a chair, I saw that the black silhouette of Soothouse was disrupted by lights strung up on every building, and a huge neon statue below me, in the city’s square.

“It’s beautiful isn’t it? I could just sit here and watch them forever.”

“I figured it was you who left all those stupid lights.”

“Stupid?” he said, pantomiming insult. “How dare you. I get the feeling you think I’m here with some malevolent intent.”

“Fly home, Byrd.”

“Oh, that’s so clever. I love how you’re putting on such a brave face.”

“A brave face? I don’t think you understand how big a mistake you’ve made. The Black Jackets will come for you. They’ll cut me loose and cut you down. You never should have stepped foot in my city.”

He smiled the most wicked smile I had ever seen. “Your city? I think you should take a second look.” He dragged me over to the edge. The square was full of people; one hundred and fifty civilians from the Gray District, who cheered as Byrd came into view.

“This man is nothing but a murderer and a thug. Together, we drove out his evil cohorts, and we have brought light to this place. I saved you in the forest! I led you here! Now your king will end this dictator once and for all!”

They cheered even louder than before.

“What the hell did you do to them?”

“I didn’t do anything. Darling, these are their true colors. Now, why don’t you go and meet them.”

He dropped me. “Fuck!” was all I had time to say before hitting the ground. The chair shattered, and so did my arm and two ribs. I heard thunder roar and rain started pouring down from the burned orange sky.

The crowd was on me in only a moment, kicking and punching relentlessly. Pain shot through my leg, and, when I looked, I saw that a broken piece of the chair had been stabbed into my thigh.

“Enough! Everyone go. I’ll deal with him from here.”

They left on his command. My people were at his beck and call

“How?”

“Sometimes, the domination of a human mind requires an intricate knowledge of human behavioral patterns and highly addictive psychoactive drugs. Other times, you just need a few chocolate bars and some theatrical flair.”

I rolled over and got on my hands and knees, but wasn’t able to climb up further. A pool of red rain water formed beneath me, forcing me to look at my own bloody reflection.

When I turned to Byrd, he was sitting on a bench with his legs crossed, looking completely passive as the rain came down upon us.

“Why do you try so hard to improve a broken world? A world that cheated us, and left us crawling through the mud, before we finally had the strength to pull ourselves out. These people are morons. They don’t deserve your kindness. No one does. They deserve to have everything taken from them, because they’re not even smart enough to know who’s really on their side. But you and I, we’re the intelligent ones. We’re apex predators. When God dealt us a bad hand, we threw it back in his face. We pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps, and came out stronger than ever. Everyone we kill deserves death. Everyone we persecute, has earned what they receive. And why? Because the world owes us a debt, and I will not consider it repaid until every dollar and coin is in my pocket, every resource in my hand, every son under my boot and every daughter under me. So cling to your antiquated morality, while I sit in my high tower and your people build statues dedicated to my glory. When you’re old and sitting in a broken chair, and I’m sitting on a throne, you will regret the choices you’ve made. I will not.”

I rose up as high as I could, and sucked in as much breath as my lungs would allow. It wasn’t much, but enough to make my point clear.

“They deserve more… Someone… A leader who gives a shit… More for them, than for himself.”

He walked over to me, smiled that wicked smile, and said, “That’s what I love about you; you’re always so damn noble. I’m going to enjoy helping you come to terms with what a horrible person you are, because, darling, this is only the beginning.”

He shoved me to the ground, and the last thing I saw was his boot coming down over my head.

Chapter 64 – Scott Vale

 

My eyes shot open as if I’d been electrocuted, and I feared that Byrd would be standing over me when I got up. My heart was racing and my forehead was sweaty, but I started to feel calmer as I looked around.

I was in a tiny infirmary, with only a table, a small set of cabinets and a sink. I didn’t see Vera or Jack or anyone else, but I also didn’t see Byrd, and I was thankful for that.

I managed to stand and made my way over to the door, but saw something that made me stop. It was a small index card, sitting on the counter, right by the door, with a simple message written on it.

You’re not the only evildoer. I’ll see you again soon.

-Byrd

I wasn’t sure what he meant, but I would soon find out.

Outside was a long hallway, with a row of doors on one side and large windows on the other. Looking out, I could see black grass below me, but the tree line was less than a hundred yards away. Surrounding the building were tents of all shapes and sizes, with people walking between them, talking, eating and some even laughing.

I’d seen pictures of these down in the facility, below Soothouse. The Human Corps had established several outposts like these in the Badlands. Each had an armory, garage and a stockpile of food and water. Some even had miniature farming facilities. I was glad to know that the Black Jackets had reacted so well, finding a safe place to regroup.

I walked down the hall, but stopped to peek into each of the rooms. They seemed to be individual observation rooms, with a singular doctor’s office down at the end. Each room was occupied with an injured person, but they all seemed to be resting comfortably.

At the very end was a large meeting room, with a long table, several chairs and an enormous computer terminal against one of the walls. Most of the furniture had been knocked over, a few potted plants even looked like they had been thrown across the room. Exactly three chairs were still standing upright, occupied by Vera, Revy and Rae.

None of them were speaking, but each held a tear stained index card, identical to mine. The looks on their faces could only be described as void of hope, and the crippling silence did nothing to hide that they felt as horrible as they looked.

“What happened?” I asked, not sure of any better way of getting their attention.

Their faces lit up when they saw me. Vera hugged me, Rae ran up as well and even Revy cracked a smile.

“I’m so glad you woke up.”

“I’m fine. Give me an update. How many people are left?”

“About two hundred.” Rae said, her voice hoarse, as if she’d been screaming for hours on end. “That’s not including the Black Jackets, all of whom stayed loyal and made it here. Those traitors wouldn’t have taken the city if they hadn’t gotten the drop on us.”

“How long can we last? I mean, food wise?”

Revy answered. “Our best option would be to find other outposts and split our people between them. The one we’re in is well equipped, but not made to support this many people. We might last up to eight months here, but for the last two we’d be eating half-rations.”

It was hard to wrap my head around. We’d only been living in Soothouse a week, and already it was gone.

I sat down at the table, using my sleeve to wipe away the tears that had accumulated on its surface.

“How did I get here?”

“You just kindof showed up. We were going to plan a rescue mission, but we found you passed out nearby before we could start. It was almost like someone had dumped you on our doorstep.”

“How long have I been out?”

“Two weeks.”

“What’s happened since then?”

“Nothing in particular.” Revy turned his card over in his hands. “Until today.”

Rae sat down next to me and asked the others, “Should we just tell him?”

I pulled out my card as the others gathered around me.

“You got one too?”

“Yeah. The man who left them is trying to fuck with us. He was an 80, like me, but you all knew him better as the King in Lights. He’s evil, intelligent, manipulative and he wants us to be at each other’s throats.”

“But, Scott,” Rae said. “Revy was hiding…”

“I don’t want to know.”

Vera came next. “Rae was sleeping with the man who…”

“I don’t care.” I stood up from my chair and held out my hand. “Give me the cards.”

Once they reluctantly handed them over, I turned to the computer terminal, and quickly booted it up.

“What are you doing?”

I didn’t answer. From the outpost, I had access to all the computers in Soothouse; even those in the farming facility. Camera feeds, security systems and all other devices were under my control, and all it took was a few alarms going off to drive out the traitors trying to grow food inside.

There was an emergency program called Protocol 12747, which I had learned about from a file tucked in the throne, in Soothouse, hidden in a secret panel. I typed in the pass code and watched as every door in the facility simultaneously slammed shut, cutting Byrd and those traitors off from their only supply of food and water.

“We’re all bad people,” I said, tearing the cards into tiny pieces. “If you haven’t already come to terms with that, then do so now. The Gray District is done, and so is that chapter of our lives. I don’t want to hear any of you bitching or moaning because of something that happened back in Jamestown, because what we did then no longer matters. Once they’re good and hungry, those people in Soothouse will come crawling back to us, and the King in Lights will have nothing. We’ll go back and get the President to help us, we’ll split our people between the outposts so there’s enough food and shelter to go around and we’ll retake Soothouse as soon as we’re able.”

They looked up to me with newfound respect. I knew that Byrd wanted me to read the cards and cry about how horrible we all were, but, at this point, I just didn’t care.

“Wait…” I said, as something occurred to me. “We all got cards, but what about Jack?”

They all looked down at the table or at the floor. Rae began to cry once again, and even Revy couldn’t look me in the eye.

“He’s just outside.”

Vera took my hand and led me out to the infirmaries; specifically, the room on the far side of the one I had been staying in.

Jack was lying inside, with another Black Jacket next to him, holding his hand. His skin was pale and wrist was bandaged, covering the gash he had cut into it. However, despite that, he still smiled as I walked in.

“I’m glad you’re ok,” he said, weakly.

“Same to you.”

“We should let him rest,” Revy said from behind me. “Try to make it quick.”

“I’m sure you have more important things to do than visit me.”

“Couldn’t be farther from the truth.”

“I’ll be fine, just do me a favor and kill those bastards who took Soothouse from us.”

“I promise.”

“Scott,” he called, just before I could walk out the door. “I don’t want to be a Black Jacket anymore.”

“Of course. Anything you want buddy.”

As I walked out, I pulled some papers out of the trash. There were three photographs, one of a young girl on a wooden rocking horse, the same girl as a teenager in a flowing blue gown and another of her wearing black metal armor with her arm draped over my shoulder. Next to them was an index card with a message that was short but loaded.

Her name was Jane.

Chapter 65 – Paige Wilson

 

I looked through my binoculars and out of my office window. There were hundreds of corpses surrounding the Temple, positioned as if they had laid down and died waiting for their next fix.

“How close are we to being ready?”

“Just about done. We’ve finished packing the last of the supplies.”

“When did that happen?”

“Yesterday.”

I turned back to the officer. “Then why wasn’t I told until now?”

“You were visiting your nephew. We didn’t want to interrupt.”

“Madam President!” said Officer Rennecin, bursting through the door. “I have something for you.” He placed a brown envelope into my hands. “I was told to bring it to you as quickly as possible.”

“Thank you,” I told him, before dumping the contents on my desk. Only two items were inside. One was a small electronic device that resembled a PDA, but I couldn’t find any way of turning it on. The second was a note that said…

 

Move everyone out of the Presidential District. The Gray District will be the safest place. This time, you don’t have a year to decide. You have ten minutes.

 

The moment I finished reading, a countdown timer appeared on the device.

“Madam President, what’s going on?”

“Get everyone to the Gray District, now: civilians, police, workers, everyone in the Presidential District.”

“Why?”

“Is your job to question my orders?”

He pulled his radio off his belt without arguing further. “Outgoing message, level zero. This order is directly from the President. All personnel and civilians are to immediately report to the Gray District.”

I shoved the small device in my pocket and left the office, the guards following close behind. As we made our way down to the lobby and out the front doors, I never stopped barking orders. Everyone was told to leave behind everything, no matter how valuable. The only thing we stopped to grab was weapons. Every officer loaded themselves down with an automatic, sidearm, grenades and as much ammo as they could carry.

A small group of people was already waiting for us at the top of the ramp, including my nephew, and as the police placed themselves along the barricade, their weapons at the ready, I checked the device; thirty seconds.

“Madam President, I know you don’t want us to question you, but it would be really nice if you could give us an idea of what’s coming after us.”

“If I knew, I would tell you.”

The countdown ended and the screen went black once more. After that, there was a long period of silence. I expected the officers to throw away their guns and claim I was being paranoid, but, for some reason, they seemed just as on edge as I was. Something was in the air; something deadly, something terrifying and, worst of all, something unknown.

A much larger group of civilians came into view, all carrying suitcases, backpacks and oversized luggage.

I was just about to tell them to turn around and go back home, when, suddenly, the entire group began screaming and running towards us.

“Get over here!” we yelled at them, but the crowd of people rushing over the barricade kept us from seeing what was chasing them. The police kept their guns in the air until the last of the people had crossed, and sat in stunned silence at what lay behind them.

Standing at the bottom of the ramp was a feral, with a dead human held in its jaws. Two more ferals were behind that, three more were behind each of them, and a hundred were behind each of them.

A nearby officer got scared and pulled off the line. I grabbed his weapon, assuming I would need a lot more firepower than my assassin’s pistol.

“Hold your fire!” I called, and the officer’s obeyed. However, their fear was palpable, and the smell of sweat and urine hung in the air as the wall of bloody fangs and razor sharp claws began to slowly move towards us.

“Hold!”

They kept coming for us, slowly. There were just so many of them. I looked down the barrel at the closest one, waiting until I could see the whites of his eyes.

“Fire!”

The spray of bullets sent a dozen ferals to their deaths in under half a second, but they were endless. I picked off three more, but the sea of teeth and fur continued charging at us.

The officer’s training kicked in, and as I stepped off the line to reload, one of them stepped up to take my place, guaranteeing that there was always enough bullets for every one of those creatures.

However, the mob was unstoppable, and they continued to progress up the ramp, until fire and breaking glass brought them to a crashing halt.

We all looked up and were surprised at who our saviors were. Black Jackets sprinted through the catwalks, climbing and swinging through them like monkeys.

They stayed up high, firing from safety, but when I stopped to reload and looked over at them, many were waving their arms and shouting. I couldn’t understand most of what they said due to the sounds of gunfire and screaming, but I managed to catch one thing, “Explosion!”

I called out, “Everyone fall back!” and all the officers and civilians alike ran for the other end of the overpass.

The molotovs had bought us some time, but that time was up and the ferals were coming for us once again.

“No matter what, keep running!”

The entire overpass shook like an earthquake had hit it. I could hear the screams of ferals, but never looked back. We all just kept running, praying we didn’t trip.

We finally stopped when the shaking did, and turned to look at what had happened. The entrance to the Gray District had been collapsed. Why the hell the Black Jackets had set explosives here, I wasn’t sure, but I was glad that they had.

“Aunt Paige!” His voice pierced the air, along with the screams of the people who hadn’t been fast enough. There was a group of them down below us, perched up on a pile of rubble. Several people were buried beneath them, but the survivors were now reaching to us, praying to escape the crowd of dazed ferals that had begun moving towards them yet again.

I heard someone call out, “Somebody has to help them!” and, just as they did, a black blur swept past all of us, running out and jumping off the destroyed edge of the overpass. Vale hooked onto a railing from a destroyed catwalk and rode down it like a makeshift zip line. He used his pistol to take out eight ferals before his boots hit the ground, and the red streaks on his jacket shimmered as he moved through the air.

“All officers get over here!” I yelled. We lined up our rifles and took aim. “Open fire on those dogs!”

Vale and two other survivors fought atop the mountain of rubble, using stones, knives and everything they could get their hands on to protect those who were paralyzed with fear, including my nephew.

We shot as many of the ferals as we could, but I wasn’t sure we even needed to help. Vale seemed to be tearing through the beasts like tissue paper. He held an iron pipe in one hand and his gray revolver in the other. Every single shot landed between the eyes of a monster, and the ones that were alive only lived long enough to have their heads bashed in.

“Kill these motherfuckers!” one of the Black Jackets screamed from the catwalks. He tossed three molotov cocktails into the air and shot each of them above the ground, causing fire to rain down and ignite more than two dozen monsters simultaneously.

A moment of calm hit the battlefield, and the glass, bullets and bodies stopped piling up for a moment. The ferals stopped attacking, and seemed to reconsider their suicidal charge. However, it was only a few moments before I saw them once again bare their teeth and extend their claws. They moved into position to attack once again.

Vale was breathing heavily, but his ferocity had not decreased. Other survivors gathered around him, carrying weapons of their own; ready to fight alongside the man who had abandoned our safe haven to defend them.

However, there was no more fighting that day.

A roar louder than anything I had ever heard shot through the city. We looked for its source and could faintly see another feral, bigger than any of the others, perched on one of the Cages. It roared again, and every feral ran to follow it. We even saw trees moving, as the ferals in the forest answered it’s call.

They left the city forever, and I let out a breath that I didn’t know I was holding.

The dust cloud once again covered our view, and the survivors were hidden from us.

“Vale!” There was no answer. “Vale!”

I jumped when a gloved hand grabbed onto the ledge right below me.

“Aunt Paige,” came my nephew’s excited voice. I held him tight when Scott lifted him up to me. The Black Jackets ran up and helped him get over the edge, along with the other survivors.

“We owe you our lives, Mr. Vale.”

He smiled. “I’m glad I could help.”

My nephew didn’t look comfortable, but he looked at the dark man and said “Thank you.”

Everyone was happy at first, happy that they had survived the biggest feral attack in Jamestown’s history, but then the realizations started to set in. The broken families realized that their loved ones wouldn’t be coming back. Officers and Black Jackets alike consoled mothers who had left behind children and husbands who had left behind wives. A lot of good people were dead, and those that survived had had their spirits thoroughly broken.

“I didn’t expect this. This isn’t why we came back.”

“That may be so, but I’m still glad you did,” I told Scott. “Someone wanted you here, right now, so that you could save us.”

“You mean, like God?”

I felt the device in my pocket. “Maybe.” I pulled it out and saw that it now displayed a map, with directions to a place far to the north and a small message in the bottom corner.

 

I’ll be waiting

 

“Mr. Vale. Where are you and your men staying?”

“An outpost in the Badlands, or rather, several outposts. Our people are split between them.”

“Could take in a few more?”

“I think we can make room.”

“I need to pay a visit to a friend. These people are your responsibility now, and my officers are under your command.”

“We’ll sweep for survivors and head out. They’ll be safe, I promise.”

I kneeled down in front of my nephew. “Sweetheart, you’re going to go live with these people for a little while.”

He still seemed frightened of the idea of being anywhere near Vale. “I don’t want to.”

“I know it’s scary, but this is for the best. They’ll take care of you, and maybe someday you’ll be a big and strong fighter just like them.” I made sure Vale was listening when I said that. “These men saved us and I trust them. Mr. Vale is a good man, so don’t be afraid.”

I grabbed my nephew one last time. “This will be just for a little while. You know that I love you right?”

“Yes, Auntie Paige.” He started crying, and though it broke my heart, I sent him away with everyone else.

Something hit me just then; a terrifying realization. I was no longer the President. I wasn’t the leader of anything. I no longer had citizens, buildings, a city… Everything was gone. I watched the last of my life leave with the Black Jackets, and I hated myself because I knew they would be better off without me.

Chapter 66 – Sirius V

 

I was starting to get worried. “Did something happen to her?” I pondered. “Did she get hurt? She should be here by now.”

I felt relief when I saw the cart roll up to the Cage’s doors. I had expected something more inconspicuous, but the guards were gone for the moment, so it didn’t matter. I just wanted to see Rae again. I hoped she hadn’t changed since I had last seen her.

“I’m so glad you are here.”

However, it was not Rae who was pushing the cart. It was a man, dressed in a suit, with eyes a shade of blue I had never seen before.

“Where is Rae?”

“Gone.”

“Gone?” It was devastating to think that she had already died. I hadn’t seen her in a long time, but I had never let that thought cross my mind. Whenever I thought about escaping this place or finding a better life, I thought of her.

“Is she dead?”

“No. She left.”

“Left? Where is she? Where did she go?” He didn’t answer. “Did she leave me a message? A note? Anything?”

“No, I’m sorry,” he said, unlocking the cage door and pushing the cart inside.

I opened the lid. Inside were hundreds of syringes, all primed and ready.

“Why didn’t you bring this years earlier? It’s almost too late. The government is about to leave.”

“I know,” he stated. “The other Cages have received their shipments, and the Shamans are waiting for you. If you’ll excuse me, I have to go meet up with an old friend.” He turned to leave.

“You’re a fairy. What do you gain from this? Don’t you see what’s coming?”

“All things are foreseen, but some things are unpreventable.” He started to walk away, but then turned back. “Oh, and the special one is yours.”

I tried to open the box, but failed. It was sealed tight, and the lock, rather than having a key, instead had a timer, set for ten minutes, that had yet to start counting down.

“Empowered One! You must come! The Shamans have requested you.” A messenger said. I had been so distracted I hadn’t even heard him approach.

“I’ll be right there.”

I left him with the cart and ran to my home. The Shamans had gathered with the other Empowered Ones at the arena, in the deepest section of the tunnels. People were standing on all sides, chanting for their Cage’s ruler to win.

“Sirius V. I’m so glad to see you.”

“I’m honored to see you, Shaman of Prophecy. Will we be starting soon?”

“Yes. Get into position.”

I arranged myself on the edge of the ring, while the Shaman of Honor spoke to the crowd.

“On this day, we will take back the city. The fairies locked us up, and now they tell us that they want to leave? They have tried to cage the beast, but today the beast breaks free!” The crowd screamed in excitement. “The Omniscients will never leave this city! We will kill every fairy, and then we will raze it to the ground. Once that is done, we will find the Great Beast and kill it. We will kill the fairies and kill the dragon!”

“Kill the dragon!” shouted the crowd in reply.

“And now, we shall decide the one who will lead us. The Empowered Ones will do battle, and the winner shall lead us into a glorious new age!”

While the crowd screamed about blood and destiny, I stood on the edge of the ring, sizing up my opponents. Sirius I looked as if he wanted no part in this, but Sirius III was smiling. Sirius IV was having trouble catching his breath, and Sirius II looked as bloodthirsty as ever.

This was my life. Every day since I met Rae, my one friend who wasn’t indoctrinated, I had dreamed of leaving, but there was no escape. There was no better life waiting for me, and there was no happiness on the other side of this. For a wolf, there was nothing more to life than blood.

“BATTLE!”

We didn’t have our machetes, and the entire fight quickly turned into an clusterfuck of punching and wrestling. I managed to get my hands around the throat of Sirius III and held him there. I kept squeezing, crushing his windpipe, wanting to take his life from him. This victory would be mine. He was spared when someone else put their arm around my neck. I struggled, but wasn’t able to get free. I kept fighting, but soon I felt blackness start to overtake me.

The grip lessened. Sirius I had tackled him, allowing me to escape, but I fell back to the ground as soon as I tried to stand back up. I spent what felt like ages just trying to get on my feet, being constantly kicked or shoved, but, when I finally did, it was only because the fight had completely stopped.

“I am the winner!” Sirius II said, standing at the edge of the arena and holding three syringes. “I will lead the Tribe of Dogs to greatness!” He stabbed himself and pulled the triggers.

He fell to his knees in weakness, but a second later was growing to twice his normal size. He transformed before our eyes, and when he had changed into his new monstrous form he slashed Sirius IV across the stomach. The Empowered One screamed as his organs fell out of his body, but Sirius II began to tear through the crowd, killing dozens with his teeth and claws. People screamed and ran out of the tunnel, but I went to a nearby room where I knew our weapons were kept. I grabbed two machetes and ran back to the arena.

The Sirius II, in his beastly form, stood over two dead empowered ones, but, before he could begin devouring them, he screamed in pain. He grew even larger; so large that his skin ripped open, and from the left side of his neck grew an entire head, complete with snapping razor-sharp jaws. A fifth leg also sprouted from his left side, and spiked pieces of bone jutted out of his joints and vertebrae.

The behemoth looked over at me and licked its chops, like I was a piece of meat. Down on all fives, it crawled closer and closer. I held up my weapons, ready to defend myself.

Like a rhino, it charged at me, but I was ready. I raised both my weapons and slashed at its heads, but the behemoth’s momentum caused it to roll over me, and my machetes to flew out of my hands.

I was still dazed, but it was already on its feet. I had cut two deep gashes into one of its faces, but it didn’t even seem to notice. The behemoth came for me again, but stopped when a thrown knife struck it in the side.

“Get up before he kills us!” Sirius I said to me. I found both my machetes, and he lifted a massive ax crafted of scrap metal.

The behemoth was bleeding, but not down. It circled around us, like a predator waiting for the perfect moment to strike… until we went on the offensive.

I drew another knife from Sirius I’s belt, and took out one of its four eyes. It roared at us, but Sirius I swung his ax around his body and kept it moving at all times, not allowing the behemoth to come close for fear of being cut. We slowly moved towards it, backing it into a corner.

“Now!” Sirius I shouted, and, just as his ax stopped whirling around his body, I leapt over him, brought both my weapons down and slashed into the behemoth’s shoulder.

I smiled as it screamed in pain, but Sirius I took no pleasure in it. He immediately began swinging the ax again as soon as I was safely behind him.

We repeated the process, following the monster until we backed him into a wall, and striking with vicious precision.

Eventually, the behemoth decided to cut its losses and run, and so I slid between Sirius I’s legs and under the still moving ax blade, swung my machete’s and took off half of the behemoth’s back left leg.

It turned and snapped at me, but Sirius I’s ax kept it from getting too close. It whined in pain between each snarl of anger.

“Be careful. It’s still dangerous!” Sirius I yelled at me, but I didn’t listen. I charged at the monster, engrossed in the battle, and was knocked away.

It leaped at Sirius I, who, after swinging the ax for so long, was far more tired than I. The behemoth pinned him, but he held its jaws away with his hands.

I grabbed my weapons and jumped on its back, stabbing both machetes into its sides and twisting them like the throttle of a motorbike.

It howled in pain and tried to limp away. Sirius I rose up, bleeding from his hands, but still strong enough to pick up his ax and kick the monster to the ground.

“I never believed in Canis anyway,” he told the beast, and brought the ax down, splitting its main head in half like a watermelon, from the tip of its nose to down below the shoulder.

“What have you done?” the Shamans said, returning to the arena. “How dare you kill one of our kind!”

“One of our kind? He was mindless. Is this what you want for us?”

“This power is our only way to beat the Omniscients!”

“The fairies already think we are animals,” I said, as I approached them. “This isn’t right. We are not mindless beasts. We are not like that… that thing!” I screamed pointing at the monstrosity that had once been Sirius II.

The Shaman of Honor sighed. “Young one, you are so naive.” He pulled a syringe from his robe. “But perhaps you will still make a good leader.”

He raised it and tried to stab me, but I caught his hand in midair, and instead stabbed him with a knife I had pulled from the behemoth’s side.

“You no longer rule me.”

He fell dead, and the other Shamans stood horrified. Some tried to run, but they never made it to the surface. Their blood soaked the arena floor.

I grabbed another machete and ran back to my cage, while Sirius I ran back to his. There were psychotic beasts everywhere. They chased after those that hadn’t turned, tore houses apart and I saw one feasting on the body of a child.

“Stop!” I sprinted forward and tried to kill it, but it saw me coming and swatted me away like a gnat. I fell to the ground, watching the death around me. The beasts killed us. They killed each other. They killed men, women and children. They slaughtered everything they saw.

I got up and ran to the box, remembering what the man in the suit had said. It was now wide open, with most of the syringes gone, but, deep inside, there was one that was different. It was green, rather than yellow, and on its side it said:

Lykan’s Virus: Type 7

I was scared of what I might become, but I needed the strength to end this, and so I jabbed the needle into my skin.

“Canis forgive us all.”

 

2310: The Year After The End

Chapter 67 – Paige Wilson

 

The snow was difficult to trudge through, but, halfway up the mountain, I finally found it. Sitting outside the front doors was a sign that read:

Human Corps Headquarters: Sector 101”.

I took off my snowsuit once I was inside. The structure, which was built into the mountain, had central heating and fluorescent lights that still functioned, somehow.

I continued on, walking directly down the long hallway. The mysterious device told me to keep going down the hall, and so I did.

I reached a set of closed double doors, and I knew he was on the other side. They swung open easily, revealing a long black table with a row of high backed leather chairs on each side, and one at both ends. Every single seat was empty, save one. Sitting at the far end of the table, was the man with the diamond blue eyes.

“Good morning, Madam President. Care to sit?”

I sat down at the other head of the table. “I think it’s time you gave me some answers.”

“I’m afraid I have none to give you.”

“That’s bullshit. Jamestown was wiped off the map and you knew it was coming. I’m even betting you could have stopped it.”

“Jamestown served as the earth’s last connection to the old world, but the old world is not what is best for earth.”

“People dying isn’t what’s best for earth,” I told him.

He laughed. He actually laughed loudly and happily when I said that.

“How is that funny?”

“You are so short sighted. People died and you are angry, but there were survivors. Shouldn’t you be happy for them?”

“People didn’t need to die if you saw the disaster coming.”

“All things are foreseen, but some things are unpreventable.”

I looked down at the table. He wasn’t telling me anything useful.

“What exactly were you expecting to find when you got here?”

I couldn’t answer that. Not many people could make me lose my place in a conversation, but somehow this man…

“Not to interrupt you, but perhaps we should get on with what you’re here to do.” He got up and opened a door by his end of the table. He didn’t wait for me to come, simply expected me to follow, and I did, though cautiously. On the other side of the door was an enormous control room. Electronics I couldn’t even identify were built into the walls and ceiling. At the far end, where the man stood, there was a huge screen displaying an electronic map.

“What is this?”

“This is the world, or at least, what’s left of it. Inside this small area are nine emergency survival facilities, just like the one under Jamestown. All were built by the Human Corps many years ago.”

“So there are eight other cities out there?”

“Not exactly.” His fingers pointed a spot on the map. “Only the Jamestown facility remains active. Through the years, all the others were closed off due to contamination, human stupidity or acts of revenge.”

“Why haven’t they been reactivated?”

“Because I’ve been reserving that job for you.” My eyes were drawn to the lever on the far side of the control board. “If you activate the other eight facilities, the world will industrialize. Populations will skyrocket and society will be reborn. Don’t activate them, and people will start over. A few very small facilities will help foster growth and prevent starvation, but the surviving humans will live meager existences. However, human society will never again wage full scale war, and be too focused on survival to develop ideas of racism and xenophobia. They’ll live more simple lives.” He adjusted his tie, and began to walk out the door.

“You already know what I’m going to choose, don’t you?”

“Does that matter?” He said, without any emotion, right before leaving.

I thought about it for a second, and flipped the switch.

A message appeared on the screen in flashing red letters, and the same message was repeated over the intercom by a robotic voice. “Commencing Emergency Hard Drive Dump”.

A progress bar quickly filled to 100% and second message came out, “ Facility Shutdown Initiated. 5…4…”

The countdown continued far too fast for me to make it out, so I ran and crawled under the black table.

2… 1…”

The lights went out. I sat there for several moment in total darkness, waiting for an explosion, implosion or something equally bad. Nothing happened, except for emergency lighting turning the whole facility red.

I stepped out from under the table, and walked out to the hall. I grabbed my parka before exiting, and the device remained in my pocket.

I looked out over the forest. In the distance I could see glowing blue lights, high in the sky, calling to people in need. I thought about what exactly I had done. I knew nothing about the people who would find these facilities. I didn’t know how they would react to finding advanced tools, medicine and guns.

“Why did I have to pull the lever?”

As the lights kept blinking, a thought crossed my mind. In order to prevent people from misusing this technology, they needed someone to teach them how.

“Maybe that’s why,” I said to myself. “Maybe I can have the chance to redeem myself.”

Fischer didn’t say anything. He hadn’t in a long time, and there was no sign of him coming back now. I soon realized why, as I took another look at the glowing blue lights and followed the map the device had displayed for me; because my mind and my heart finally wanted the same thing.

Chapter 68 – Revy Micer

 

I was surprised when we didn’t see activity within Soothouse. Everything was strangely quiet. The only sounds, aside from our breathing, was the crunching of fresh snow under our feet.

Team Three is inbound to Soothouse north square. We haven’t seen any movement so far.”

Team Two reporting the same.”

“All of you, keep on your toes,” Scott told them.

I was surprised at how calm his voice was. There were almost no fluctuations in vocal tone or speed. Even I was beginning to develop a sense of worry, as we made our way through the dead city. I had also contracted a slight sense of paranoia, due more to the unknown variables involved in this mission, rather than any actual danger. Rae told me that this was a phenomenon commonly known as “being given the creeps.”

“You ok, Revy?”

“I’m fine. Let’s keep going.”

We walked for another few blocks, slowly making our way through Soothouse, until one of us heard a snap. One of the Black Jackets brushed away the snow beneath him, to see what it was he had broken. It was a human arm.

“Holy shit.”

We kept walking, and found more of the same. Only one block later, shrunken bodies covered the streets. Severe emaciation and signs of vitamin deficiency, including bloating, hair loss and bowing of the legs and arms due to bone softening. The cause of death was obvious for all of them, the men, women and the children; starvation.

A couple of guys fell to their knees crying, but most just vomited.

Team One, have you arrived?”

“We just made it to the square,” Scott told them. “Team Two and Three, do not come here. Return to the rest of the group.”

Why? What did you find in there?”

“Just trash. Return and tell everyone else to pack their things. We’ll be moving back in by the end of the week.”

Understood. Team Two returning to base.

Team three, doing the same.”

“Trash? Is that all they are?” The voice was from an officer; a survivor of the attack in Jamestown.

“Just keep moving.”

I was impressed by what the Black Jackets, both new and old, did next; they followed Scott and I deeper into the mass grave that was once a city.

There was an enormous throne under the tree. It was covered in neon lights from top to bottom, and every corpse faced it. They had starved to death on their knees, worshiping their God in Lights.

I went up to Scott, who was standing in front of the throne. There was no body on it, but there was a crown made of neon, with lights at the top forming a yellow mohawk. When Scott picked it up, he found something underneath, and, when I came closer, I saw that it was a pistol.

“That little bastard,” I heard him whisper.

“We can always use another weapon.”

“This is mine.”

“Did you lose it?”

“I thought I did.”

Slouching of the shoulders. Bags under the eyes, but no tears and only slight redness. Scott didn’t seem sad or miserable or guilty, he looked tired; and he looked as if he had been tired for far too long.

I tried to think of something he would consider comforting, but was cut off when a soft blue light blanketed the city. It flashed from up on one of the towers, the highest point in Soothouse. We felt the earth shake and heard metal clanking beneath our feet.

“What the hell was that?”

One of the Black Jackets ran into a nearby building, and came out with big news, “Sir, the farming facility has been unlocked!”

“Someone wanted us to be here now,” Scott mumbled.

I didn’t ask him what he meant. It verged too much on the border of religion, and that was subject I refused to touch with a ten foot pole.

Hello, darling.” We froze at the sound of that voice. The recording was warped and mechanical, and sounded like needles being shot through our minds. Everyone but Scott ran from the throne, trying to get away from it. “I’m so glad that you came back to find me. It’s too bad about these people, isn’t it? Maybe if you hadn’t cut off the food supply, they wouldn’t have slowly starved to death, begging for sweet release.”

“You did this?” asked the same officer. “You killed them?”

Tears were running down Scott’s face, but his voice was smooth an unbroken.

“We’ve all done bad things.”

“But how can you justify this?”

Scott came up to him. I expected him to shoot the officer for insubordination, but he still remained calm.

“My friend, if you’d like to keep your conscience clean, you can feel free to leave, but there are much bigger monsters out there, and the worst one of all used to sit on that throne.”

Torsos tilted forward, towards Scott. Eyes widened. Everyone was listening, and doing so very intently.

“I didn’t expect this to happen, but I can’t change it now. I just wanted the city back, and I didn’t want to risk the lives of my men to do it… so I made a judgment call. If you want to hate me for that, then feel free to leave.”

Most of the officers took a half step away before deciding to stay, but the older Black Jackets never wavered, even for a second.

“What should we do with the bodies, Mr. Vale?”

He walked up to the throne. “The King in Lights will be back, so we’re going to put up a warning. For now, pile them outside the city.”

The men got to work, but I walked up to Scott. He was whispering something, right in front of the neon throne, just barely loud enough for me to hear.

“You proved it. You won.”

Chapter 69 – Nearly

 

It only took me an hour to get the machine up and running. It would have taken days if the blueprints weren’t now embedded in my mind. A little information went a long way.

I lost count of how many bodies I had to step over, during my walk home. Neither scavengers nor maggots had touched any of those affected by Byrd’s vapor. Of course, his was an altered form of what was already a compound of brilliant design.

The bodies continued to litter the stairs, all the way back to my sanctuary, but I soon dragged the last of them outside. I entered the elevator and flew high up until I reached the top of the glass tower. Through these walls, I could see over the entire city. The Gray District was now almost inaccessible; the ramp leading up to it reduced to scrap. Large sections of the Presidential and Sunset Districts had been destroyed, and the Cages were an absolute mess; they were filled with the bodies of those who had either died of the injections, or been torn apart by their corrupted friends. Acting as salt on the wound, lost ferals and other wild animals roamed inside the walls. None of them were dangerous though; a small blessing.

I held the trigger in my hand, and watched the shed while I pressed it. Multiple glass rockets shot from a hole in the roof, far up into the air. Animals retreated into buildings and other hiding places as the vapor started to block out the sun. The sky above changed from pure and blue, to cloudy violet. The ground below became so dense with the vapor that I could no longer see Jamestown below me.

It seemed my human eye had reached its limit. My second eye activated a new protocol, and, suddenly, I was able to see through the fog and even the buildings. Every living thing was exposed to me. I watched as animals began convulsing violently before succumbing to death, and the corpses began to open their eyes. The humans who had once been addicts rose up once again. All bodies exposed to the vapor began to roam and wander, waiting to be given direction. Lykan’s creatures, Sapiens and Omniscients walked side by side, their skins a new shade of dark violet; nearly black. Their bodily fluids turned neon colors that were brighter than before; colors that consumed their eyes until they no longer had pupils.

The poor creatures needed to be given something to do. It just seemed cruel to allow them to wander aimlessly forever, so I put my hands on the two disks of the soundboard, and played a tune for them. Finally, I wouldn’t have to fill in the blanks. Every creature reacted, turning their attention to me. I played out a much longer series of tones. It was beautiful actually, and, once it was done, my people began to tear down the walls of Jamestown. I don’t know why, but I felt quite a bit of pleasure in bringing down the walls that had once made the people of Jamestown feel safe. They weren’t necessary anymore, because order had been established in my domain.

I watched the creatures as they carried out my musical orders, some destroying the wall and others rebuilding the city, but was surprised by what else I saw. Several of the 80’s were among the corpses, still in full armor. I had assumed they left with Byrd, but, apparently, they were as disposable to him as any of the countless corpses that the psychopath had left in his wake.

“Wow. He really is a bastard.”

The elevator took me back down, and when I got there I pulled out my toolbox. The first thing I grabbed was a razor blade. I held it against my shoulder, and sliced down to the inside of my elbow. Neon liquid oozed out, different from what was inside the corpses. This substance changed colors just as my eye did, and was much more powerful. I reached into the cut and felt around under the skin, until I found a small metal box. I tore it off the bone and held it up to the light. It was covered in a thin layer of the neon fluid, which began to harden around it in moments. I dropped the transmitter and crushed it under my feet. I wouldn’t need it anymore. The last of the Human Corp’s information had been emptied into my mind, from their secret headquarters. Within seconds, the cut sealed back up, like it had never happened.

There was an old mirror sitting on the table. When I looked into it, it reminded me of exactly why my place was here, away from the living. Everything about me was so poorly done; the pieces were grafted together without finesse or technique. Everything that was supposed to help me complete my directive, looked like it had been stapled on by a child.

I grabbed my other tools and began scraping off the rust. I tightened joints. I cut my hair. I removed unnecessary plates and allowed the enhanced fluid to heal the wounds beneath. I changed my face. I moved the plates and pulled, tugged, and adjusted my skin and eye. I sliced off and rebuilt robotic sections of my body. I moved the tubes jutting from my back, making them protrude less.

I don’t know exactly how long I spent putting myself through this technological evolution, since both night and day seemed to blend together under the vapor. I think it may have been years, or maybe it was hours? When it was done, I looked at myself. No more exposed wires or awkward construction. I was both the thing I was supposed to be, and what I wanted to be; an object crafted of metal, flesh and pain. I was a perfect construct.

When I left the Gray District after Vera’s death, I only took one thing with me. I pulled out the picture I had taken of her. It was gray and distorted, stolen from the security cameras of the Temple, on the first night she came to visit me. I had carried it with me since the day I printed it out. She was so lovely, but now she was gone. She and her people, gunned down by the Black Jackets. Scott said he wanted to protect her, but he showed himself to be as self-centered as everyone else in Jamestown. He only cared about his people, but Jamestown was free of that now. There were be no more Sapiens or Omniscients; those distinctions were reserved for the living. I would honor my love by not allowing the dead to suffer under the weight of the racial divide.

Chapter 70 – Rae Johnson

 

After three months at the outpost, the apartment seemed so much larger; and after a lifetime in the Gray District, it seemed like a palace. I knew that it was fairly simple, with a small kitchenette, living room and single bedroom, but the beds here were much better than back home, and every apartment had indoor plumbing. We no longer had to go to the public toilets or carry water in jugs, and my mother had been ecstatic to learn she no longer had to buy new propane tanks for her stove.

Even so, I wasn’t entirely happy. I still wondered exactly what had happened to my friends back in Jamestown; the ones who weren’t Black Jackets.

The attack had started in the Cages, so we’d avoided that place when searching for survivors. I could only assume Sirius V had died there, either turned into a monster or mauled to death by one. It wasn’t a thought I liked to dwell on, but sometimes I would pray that he was in a better place.

I still didn’t know what had become of Peter. Several times I looked around a corner or up from a desk and thought I saw him there, but it was never him. I thought about going through the rosters of all the Black Jackets and citizens to see if I could find him, but it didn’t seem right. If he had come here and he didn’t want to see me, then that was his decision. I just wanted him to be safe.

Just then, I heard a knock at my front door. I approached and turned the handle, already knowing who was standing on the other side.

“Here you go, Rae,” the delivery woman said, handing me a cardboard box filled with a week’s rations. The cart she was wheeling behind her carried dozens more just like it.

“Thank you so much.”

I would have stood and made small talk with her for longer, but, suddenly, something small and white dashed into my apartment, under the table, then under the couch and then finally came to a stop between my legs, shaking like a leaf.

“Mouse?”

“Where did that come from?”

“I’m not sure. I’ll see you next week.”

“Do you want me to call someone to get that thing out of your house?”

“I’ll take care of it.”

I shut the door and heard her pulling her cart away.

I picked up Mouse, who seemed scared half to death, and placed him up on the kitchen table. I wondered if this meant Peter was somewhere in the city, possibly looking for me. The thought made my heart start to flutter.

“Where is Peter? Can you lead me to him?”

The rabbit didn’t move. It was still frightened.

God, I hope he’s alright.”

Chapter 71 – Ins Vera

 

The hallway was cold and dark, and the concrete walls were the farthest thing from welcoming. I may not have known anything about the people who lived in Soothouse before us, but I knew that this place had been built in secret, and that those who were taken down here, were never meant to see the light of day again.

Only a select few Black Jackets, some of the scientists who had joined us from the Presidential District and I knew about this place. There were no maps or records that could be traced to it. In fact, it had been discovered by accident, right under the palace.

“You ready to see him?” Shoan asked me, as we walked past rows of empty cells.

“I’ve been ready for a long time.”

“We tried questioning him, but he stayed quiet. Are you sure he’s the one?”

“Completely.”

I opened the door at the very end and the two of us stepped inside. In the center of the room was a cold metal slab, and, strapped to it by his blood soaked hands, was the man who had killed the last of my people.

I pulled a black jacket from the nearby table, and turned it over in my hands.

“This belonged to a friend of mine. Would you like to tell me how it ended up with you?”

He didn’t answer.

“The name you added to the roster was Paul Rogers. You signed up for guard duty here and even worked down in the farming facility, but you’re not a Black Jacket, are you?”

He still said nothing.

I came close to him, until I could count the blood vessels in his eyes. “Do you know what I am? I am a Truand,” I said, not expecting him to answer. “And you are responsible for slaughtering the last of my people.”

I held the jacket up for him to see. “Who gave this to you?”

Still nothing.

“Was it Rae?” His eyes locked onto mine at the sound of her name. “It was, wasn’t it? Maybe I should lock her in here with you.”

His body language told me everything. Every time I mentioned her his fists grew tighter, and he struggled more and more against the restraints. Of course, I had no intention of locking up Rae or even letting her know that her secret boyfriend was down here, but he didn’t need to know that.

“You’re a hypocrite,” he told me.

“So, now you want to talk?”

“Vale said it didn’t matter what we did in Jamestown. He told everyone that this was a new start.”

His words were true, but, honestly, I was too angry to care.

“I admire Scott for being strong enough to put aside the past so easily, but I’m not so forgiving.” I leaned in close, to make my words perfectly clear. “You killed my people. Now, you’re my bitch.”

Chapter 72 – Sirius V

 

How long was I out? An hour? A day? I was woken up by a big wet nose sniffing my face, and the beast started licking me as I sat up

“You’re not a very fearsome one.”

He responded with a deep voiced roar-bark. The people who had turned into beasts using the dog serum were enormous, with massive legs and arms that allowed them to walk on either two feet or four. These beasts, who had been born as such and lived in the forest all their lives, were smaller than I expected. They had scrawny legs, slim bodies and weren’t all that aggressive. Our coloring was different as well. The ones from the forest had fur in shades of red, brown and other earthy tones. The others were black, white and gray.

I looked around and saw many other humans with me, naked and lying in the sand. Some were rolling over, some were already walking about and others were still unconscious. I had collapsed at the highest point of an enormous pile of sand, and below us was nothing but dunes as far as my eyes could see.

I rose to my feet, and recognized all the humans around me; they had all come from the cages. In fact, most had lived in my cage. As I stretched out my muscles and weary bones, I realized that I felt different. I held out my hands, moved them about. They looked normal, but, with very little effort on my part, they suddenly sprouted hairs. Then came claws, and soon I felt the Great Power run through my whole body. I howled up towards the sun, and the smaller beasts joined me.

I looked all around me, scanning the area. I didn’t see much, but there was something off in the distance. It was a cave, and I recognized it immediately. It was the same one I had seen on Canis’s Wall. It was the home of the dragon.

“My friends, we need to move! Now is our time! It is time to face the Great Beast!”

They stood and cheered with me, despite their tiredness, and together we changed to our new forms. We howled to the sun, and they followed me, sprinting toward the dragon’s den with all our might; a massive force of nature thundering across the desert sands.

We were close. I was frightened for a moment, but pushed those feelings down. We kept running, paws tearing up ground as we went, until I reached the cave, and my head smashed into a stone wall.

I was dazed for a few moments, but soon sat up, rubbing my head and wondering what the hell had just happened.

I felt someone grab my hands and hoist me up onto my feet. Once I was steady, I examined the cave, and realized it wasn’t a cave at all; just a cliff face colored with charcoal, now with big smear on it in the shape of my face.

“Where is it? It should be here.”

“Empowered one, where is the dragon?”

I felt along the wall, thinking that this must be a joke. The dragon had to be here.

“Where is it?”

I found the dragon. It was blue, tiny and scribbled on the wall; a stick figure drawn with crayon over the black charcoal.

I dropped to my knees, questioning how my life could have turned so futile so quickly. My destiny was nothing more than a painting on a wall; a stick figure. Everything I lived for… it wasn’t here. It was nowhere.

The same beast showed up yet again, shoving it’s fat nose in my face.

“Get away from me! Do you think this is funny?”

He rolled over onto his back, holding his furry belly in the air and letting his tongue flop out of his mouth.

“Stupid animal.”

“If the dragon isn’t here, then what must we do?”

“What is our destiny?”

“Has Canis forsaken us?”

They pleaded to me for purpose, but I had nothing to give them. I slammed my fist into the wall as hard as I could, and, as I got angry, I turned back into my other form. I became the wolf yet again. I kept punching and kicking the wall to expel all my frustrations, and unexpectedly, the wall gave way. My fist went through the stone, which I found was only half an inch thick. The false wall had been put up by someone, but I didn’t know who.

I looked through the hole I had created, and on the other side was a metal door, lit up every other second by a flashing blue light. I continued to tear through and others soon began helping me do so. When the way was clear, we began sniffing the newly exposed area. The beasts from the forests were intrigued by this smell they had never sensed so strongly, but I recognized it as soon as it touched my nostrils. It smelled like fairies.

I approached the door, and found that it was unlocked. When I opened it, bright lights clicked on in the enormous building. Huge houses of glass were lined up in parallel, and we heard machinery turn on as we stepped further inside.

A hand came down on my shoulder. I turned to defend myself, but the face it belonged to was smiling at me.

“Empowered One, you have done it! You have found us a place to make food! We can live here!”

The others began to throw themselves upon me. Some embraced me, some kissed my feet and all of them praised me for leading them here.

“Thank you,” I said to my loyal flock, forgetting that this had all been a silly accident. “Follow me and you shall remain safe. I will always be here to make sure my people are provided for.”

Chapter 73 – Scott Vale

 

I stepped out onto the balcony overlooking my city. We were finally rid of those stupid lights, and Soothouse’s black silhouette once again stood proudly against the burned orange sky.

Some people thought that we should put our efforts into constructing a wall, in an attempt to keep the King in Lights from returning, but I thought of something better. The old traitorous residents, those that had turned to Byrd’s side, were displayed on all sides of the city. Their grotesque corpses secreting glowing liquid were perched up on spikes of metal, wood and plastic, and served as a warning to anyone who would dare attack us.

I could see them from the balcony of the throne room, as well as the rest of the city. Vera and I had finally moved into our palace, though it still needed a lot of work. The ugly murals hadn’t been entirely painted over, but everything else seemed to be done.

“Mr. Vale?” I snapped back around at the sound of the voice.

“How the hell did you get in here?” As I asked that question, I remembered the reason we had moved into the palace early; extra protection, and round the clock guards.

The man in the suit approached me. “I’ve come with a gift for you.” He set a briefcase on the table. “I have been working very hard to make sure things turn out a certain way, but I’ve altered a few variables in my plan. I need you to be ready to face the ramifications this may cause.” He opened the case and took out a large metal ring, with curved horns coming out and turning upwards. The horns were very small in the back, but the ones in the front were much bigger. They looked like they belonged on the head of Satan himself.

“What is that?”

“These are the Iron Thorns. They will be your crown.”

I stepped back, and pulled out my gun. “I don’t know what you want exactly, but I’m not putting that on.”

An annoyed look crossed his face. “Scott, I know this seems strange, but it’s in both of our best interests that you remain in control of Soothouse, and I’m done playing around.” He reached out and put a hand on my shoulder, and I sank down to my knees. An unknown force prevented me from firing my weapon or fighting back. “I’m giving you the power you need to face the threat.”

“What threat?”

He paused before he answered, his eyes staring right through me.

“The dragon is returning.”

He placed the crown on me, and the last thing I remember before Vera found me was the feeling of my head bursting into flames.

Chapter 74 – Scott Vale

 

They weren’t coming off anytime soon. I checked my image in the mirror, for the third time. The metal horns were now a part of my head, but that was alright. I was a bit of a demon anyway. It made me look more like how I felt on the inside.

“You’re a bad person,” I told myself, for the fourth time that day. “You have done many horrible things.”

It may sound strange, but believing I was an evil person was easy. All the evidence pointed towards it. As I walked out of my home and down the street, people looked away, frightened by me. My soldiers saluted, their faces expressing a mixture of fear and respect.

Finally, I found the building I was looking for. The structure was only one story, but it’s only purpose was to be a passage into the farming facility. I said hello to the Black Jackets guarding the entrance, opened the hatch and climbed down the ladder. The Human Corps’s logo was painted on every wall, hanging high above the greenhouses, plant lights and equipment that looked straight out of a science fiction story.

Since several doctors from the Presidential District were now working for us, Revy had opted to spend his time down in the facility. His office was far removed from the hustle and bustle of the main chamber, which was how he liked it.

I walked in and found him sorting stacks of papers like a machine. He only needed to glance at them before quickly jotting down a few numbers and tossing them in the correct pile.

“Hello, Scott. Come to check on me?”

“I’m just stopping in to say hi.”

He scanned my face, like he always did. It made me wonder whether or not he knew that we were all aware of his emotional ineptitude. If he was, he never showed it.

“Well, I’m glad to see you,” he told me.

“Really?”

“Yes. I have some papers I need you to look over.”

“Ugh, paperwork. That’s the last thing I wanted.”

“You’re running an entire city now. You’d better get used to it.”

“What is all this?” I asked, after he handed me a hundred lists of serial numbers and data.

“Inventory sheets. I just finished counting all our resources down here. I figured you would like a copy.”

“Oh, uh… thanks.”

I started to walk out the door, but heard Revy say something else.

“Stop moving forward.”

I turned and waited for him to explain.

“You remind me a lot of my father. He was always trying to fix everyone else, but never let anyone see how broken he was, until the very end. Tex tried to do the same thing, hiding his problems, and so did…” He paused. I could tell these words were difficult for him to say. “So did I. Do you remember when the King in Lights left those notes? Back at the outpost? Rae’s told her that I…” He hesitated again. “I lied to you, and everyone else. A lie of omission, but still a lie. All the junkies didn’t leave for the Sunset District… well, some probably did, but most of them died of withdrawal. Anyone who takes vapor will develop a dependence very quickly. In fact, after ten or so uses, you either have to keep taking it for the rest of your life, or die.”

I wasn’t sure how to respond. Revy had never been the regretful type.

“I knew it was for the best to lie to you, because I didn’t want you to get cold feet when the bodies started to pile up. The vapor problem needed to be dealt with, so I had the junkies disposed of in secret. I tried keeping it to myself for so long, but I couldn’t anymore. I don’t know if maybe I’m growing a conscience or if maybe I’m going insane, but I knew that if I didn’t tell you it would haunt me forever.”

He sat there, waiting for me to say something, but I couldn’t be mad at him for this; not after everything I had done.

“We’re all bad people.”

“That’s not true!” he screamed, charging out from behind the desk. “Stop saying that! You need to be angry! You need to be emotional. Hit the wall! Hit me! Do something!”

“Revy…”

“Shut up! If I had told you this a long time ago, Tex would have known not to take that stuff. He might still be alive, if not for me,” he shouted in my face. “Two hundred and twenty-four of people died from withdrawal. If not for me some of them might still be alive; addicted, but still alive. Mothers and husbands and children would be alive, if not for me!”

I grabbed him by the shoulders and threw him against the wall.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” I screamed at him, tears running down my face. “You tricked me.”

“I’m sorry, Scott.”

I slammed his head down onto the desk, causing papers to fly all over the room, some of them stained with blood.

“You used me to do your dirty work? You couldn’t get rid of vapor yourself, so you got me to do it instead, but never told me how many people would die.”

“At least no one else got addicted.”

“Does that excuse the hundreds of people that are now dead?”

“No, it doesn’t.”

I released him, and fell to the ground, crying. “I feel like such a fucking idiot.”

He slumped down beside me, rubbing his neck. There were tears coming out of his eyes as well, and blood still running down his forehead.

“You need to start feeling again. We all do bad things sometimes, but we’re not bad people. Don’t let anyone convince you of that.”

“I’ve slowly been starting to believe it, all this time; believing that I’m a monster.”

“Well, it’s not true.”

“How do you know?”

“Because you have regret. Being a good person, doesn’t mean never doing anything wrong. That’s impossible, and sometimes the decisions that have to be made aren’t pretty. Being good means trying to do what’s best, and if someone gets hurt because of it, you have to feel sorry and try to make it right. All this time you were trying to bury your sadness and regret, but they’re the thing that makes you human and the thing that makes you good, so for my sake, and yours, stay human. Don’t ever stop feeling, because that’s when you become a true monster.”

Chapter 75 – Scott Vale

 

They still wouldn’t come off. I checked my image in the mirror, for the ninth time. The metal horns were now a part of my head, but that was alright. I had worked hard to make sure my actions didn’t reflect my appearance.

“You’re a good person,” I told myself, for the eighteenth time that day. “You always tried to do the right thing.”

It may sound strange, but believing I was a good person was the hardest thing I ever had to do in my life. I wanted to look into the eyes of the man who had killed Tex, and Jane, and the Truands… I wanted to hate that man with every bone in my body, but I resisted.

Self-hatred was as good as death. I walked out of the bathroom and sat down at the table, repeating that line to myself over and over and over again.

“You look tired.”

“Really? I don’t feel as tired anymore.” I took another sip of tea.

“Sorry it’s not very good,” Julia said, as she leaned over to check on her son and daughter in the next room. “You probably have better stuff at the palace.”

“It’s exactly the same. I’m just glad to drink something that’s not full of paint flakes.”

“They still haven’t finished renovating?”

“It’s going to be a while. Most of our resources are going towards getting the rest of the city in order. Food distribution, communication, organizing the Black Jackets into a better fighting force and sorting all the people who’ve been wandering into the city… it takes a lot of work.”

We both turned at the sound of the radio being turned on.

“Dear, can you take that in the other room? We’re trying to talk.”

“Sure mom,” her son, Benjamin Jr., said to her. “Hey, uncle Scott?”

“What is it?”

“Where can I get horns like that?”

I chuckled. “Sorry, they’re one of a kind.”

“That sucks,” he said, sulking out of the room.

“So a man really broke into your house and grafted them to your head?” she asked, after he was gone.

“Yeah. It sounds crazy, but this guy was… kind of scary actually.”

“Do they do anything?”

“I feel a little stronger, but it might just be in my head. Let’s talk about something else.”

“Ok. How’s Lady Vera?”

“Lady Vera?”

“Everyone has been calling her that. You haven’t heard it?”

“No. What have they been calling me?”

She paused before answering, as if she felt foolish saying it in front of me. “Lord Vale.”

I couldn’t help but laugh. It was the first time I had done so in a long time, and it felt amazing. “Really?”

“Yes. You’ve become an icon. A celebrity.”

“I’m just a kid, trying to be a leader. I’m only twenty-four.”

“You’re far more than your age, and so is your lady. You two have done a lot of good things for us. We wouldn’t be here if not for you.”

“I don’t know about that.”

She stood and pulled up the blinds. “Scott, we literally wouldn’t be in Soothouse if not for you. You’re the one who brought us here. Give yourself more credit.”

“Ok, I guess I have done a few good things. How have you been doing? How are the kids?”

“They’re doing great. Ben has made friends with some other children in the building.”

“What about Cindy?”

She looked through the open doorway at her daughter, who was sitting on her bed.

“I’m a little worried about her. She’s about to turn five and she’s never spoken once.”

“Really?”

“Yes.” I could see tears start to build up in her eyes. “She never even cried as a baby, except the night her father died.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t be. We don’t need anyone’s pity. Besides,” she looked back at Cindy, who was now intently listening to the radio alongside her brother. “She reads books that should be too advanced for her and I’ve see how she looks at the world. It may not seem like it, but her mind is whole, so I know she’ll be alright.”

“You know, we’re setting up a school. Just young kids to start with, but hopefully we’ll get a full school system in place within a few years. We’re going to have textbooks, and teachers and all that good stuff, I’ll make sure your kids have the best of everything.”

“Thank you, Scott.”

“It’s no problem at all.”

After looking back at the kids one more time, I told her, “I should go.”

“Come back and visit anytime.”

“I will. And if you ever need anything…”

“We know. Kids, come say goodbye to Scott.”

“Seeya uncle Scott,” said Ben Jr., but Cindy just stared at me.

“Oh come on,” I said, picking her up. “Can’t you smile for me?” Her slight hint of a smile turned into laughter as I tickled her. “There we go. You look much better smiling.”

“So do you.”

Julia covered her face and cried tears of joy at her daughter’s first words. As for me, I took them to heart, and did my best to never forget them.

I tried to remember where I had to go next. I always had trouble remembering addresses, but I remembered who it was I wanted to see; the only original Black Jacket who wasn’t still working.

I knocked on the door to 107 Second St., apartment 2206.

“Hey, Jack.” He looked far better than he had in the hospital bed.

“How are you, Scott?”

“Good, I guess,” I said awkwardly. I wasn’t really sure what to say. “So, you officially handed in your colors.”

“Yeah. Sorry about that, I just thought-”

“No, it’s fine. You don’t have to explain yourself.”

“I really should. It just wasn’t for me anymore, but I wanted to wait until everyone was settled and didn’t need as many guards. I mean, I love all you guys, but I think my biggest reason for being there was that I was trying to prove something to myself, and now I’m finding out that I really don’t need to.”

“So that’s why you’re not carrying the ax anymore?” I asked with a smile.

“Yeah, probably,” he said, laughing. “I am still going to help out though, but just as a regular worker. I’m actually going to be helping decorate the palace.”

“No kidding?”

“Yeah.”

“Hey, Jack,” I heard someone say from inside the apartment, and a moment later, a man walked up behind him.

“Lord Vale,” he said, wrapping his arms around Jack’s waist and resting his head on his shoulder.

“For God’s sake, please don’t call me that.”

“Scott,” said Jack, “I’d like you to officially meet RJ.”

“Hi,” I said as I shook his hand. “I think I saw you at the outpost.”

“Yes, when Jack was in the infirmary. I never left his side.”

“It’s good to know someone is looking out for him. Please take care of my friend.”

Jack and I reached out and hugged each other. They invited me inside, but I politely said no; I still had a few more stops to make. We said our goodbyes, RJ remarked about how he and Jack were going to make sure the palace look absolutely amazing and I left, feeling glad that my friend had found happiness, even if it wasn’t with the Black Jackets.

I walked out of the apartment building, planning on going to Rae’s house next, but I found her sitting on bench right nearby.

“What are you doing out here?”

“Enjoying the warm weather. What about you? Shouldn’t you have a guard detail with you?”

“Yeah, but I ditch them sometimes.” I sat down beside her, and noticed something in her arms. “Where did you get the rabbit?”

“He belonged to a friend of mine.”

“Oh. Did something happen to him?”

“I’m not sure. I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Ok. That’s fine,” I told her. “I’ve been going around to all my friends today. I just want you guys to know how much I care about you.”

She smiled and hugged me. “Thank you. I care about you too, Scott.”

“And if you ever need anything, you can always come to me for help.”

“Same to you.”

I got up from the bench and started heading home, while Rae continued scratching behind the ears of her pet rabbit. Out of all of us, she was, by far, the most well-adjusted, and I was thankful that she had stayed that way. It made her the light of the group; a treasure we wanted to protect.

I headed up the elevator, and got out in the throne room. The painters had gone home for the day, but they had done an amazing job. It wasn’t an easy task to paint over the ugly murals that had been there before.

Just before I opened the door to the bedroom, I heard something. I walked through as quietly as I could, and found Vera on the other side, sitting on the bed and crying. In her hands, she held the painting Rae’s mother had given her, only now it was sealed inside an airtight case, that shielded it both from dust and her falling tears.

“Scott,” she said, setting down the painting and regaining her composure in only a few seconds. “How was your day?” Her voice didn’t contain the slightest hint of the pain I knew she was feeling.

I put a hand on her cheek and another around her waist before I told her, “We can stop moving forward.”

The words seemed to echo within her, and soon she was tearing up again.

“I never got to tell my mother goodbye.”

I wrapped both my arms around her as she nuzzled against my chest. The two of us stood there for a long time, holding each other, and, as we did, I realized that everyone had a struggle inside them. For me, it was trying to convince myself that I wasn’t evil. For Vera, it was letting down her walls, so that others could see how vulnerable she was. Jack needed to come to terms with an issue the rest of us couldn’t help him with, Revy had only just realized the value of emotion, Rae had had to learn that being privileged didn’t make her lazy or bad, and Tex… Tex tried so hard to be strong, that he refused to acknowledge his own weakness. We were all broken, but we were together and we were ready for whatever laid beyond the horizon.

We were still good.


Black Light: The Deplorable Savior

Jamestown is a city that was built after the apocalypse, and, five years from now, it will be rubble. In its last years, those who live there will have to fight for survival, as their city is torn apart by war, drugs, racism and fantastical threats they never could have seen coming. Some of them will rise to the occasion, some will break under the strain and many more will die, but, for a few, the end of Jamestown is only the beginning of their journey. The story focusses on Scott Vale, a young man from the poorest part of the city, who must conquer all the worst things that Jamestown can throw at him. Fortunately, though the city is a bizarre and dangerous place, with threats ranging from trigger happy police to suicidal werewolves, Scott will do anything to protect his friends and his people, even it it means going against their wishes. A complicated web of lies, deceit and peril are waiting for you, beyond this cover, but the journey it details is one of innocence lost, strange twists and brutal reality.

  • ISBN: 9781310758515
  • Author: Rich Richardson
  • Published: 2016-02-27 14:05:24
  • Words: 87354
Black Light: The Deplorable Savior Black Light: The Deplorable Savior