djkaktus's Proposal III
rating: +970+x




— - —

A young boy stands in a long line of men and women in orange jumpsuits. He has a metal collar around his neck. He is marched out into the cold with a shovel in his hands, and as an adult with a flamethrower pushed back the encroaching flesh, he pushes the ashes into small piles to be collected. He is thin, and sick. Their camp hasn't received rations in three days - but the guards stay fed.

There is a commotion, and bullets whip across the frozen earth. The boy dives for cover behind a pile of fleshy corpses, and covers his ears against the screaming and shouting around him. It lingers for a moment, and then silence. When he opens his eyes, Anthony is leaning down to pick him up. The older man throws a warm blanket across Adam's shoulders, and carries him to a waiting personnel vehicle.

— - —

Aaron Siegal stands at a podium, delivering news of a breakthrough to the first assembly of their new Foundation. He beams as the audience applauds.

— - —

The Incredibly Ivory flees down a dark alleyway in the Three Portlands, Foundation agents fast on her heels. She has run for what has felt like hours now, and knows she does not have much left to give. She hears dogs barking and her legs burn like cinders. She catches sight of another agent rounding the corner in front of her, so she stumbles down a side street.

It opens into a quiet intersection, but she can hear them approaching from all around her. Exhausted and resigned, she collapses in the street. Paint and blood are smeared on her clothes, and she laughs now seeing the mess. Well, she thinks, at least they'll give me something to change into.

A moment later a car screeches to a halt in front of her, and Calvin pulls her into the car. When the Foundation agents exit the alleyway, she is nowhere to be found.

— - —

A phone is ringing.

— - —

In the distance is a mountain of fire and the sound of roaring machines and the continent being sundered. The earth shakes. Arians keeps the car straight on the road even as it bucked and buckled beneath him. In the back seat, Aaron is staring at the floor.

— - —

Through a small crack between two rocks, a man squeezes through followed shortly by his rucksack. He strikes a match, filling the chamber with light. Small white insects, those that haven't seen the light of day in a hundred generations, scurry for cover. The man lights his lantern and starts forward.

There's a draft from somewhere beyond this room, so he follows it. He ducks carefully under rock formations, tenderly brushing up against them so as to not disturb them. A bat flies low overhead and he is encouraged - this must be the right way. He presses on, and from somewhere not far off he can hear the sound of rushing water.

He opens into another cavern, but before he can get his bearings his foot snags the edge of the walkway and he tumbles to the ground, his lantern dashing and shattering against the ground, spilling oil and fire out in every direction. He hurries to stand, rubbing his side where he'd struck hard stone. Before he can move to put the fire out, a miracle catches his eye. In front of him is a waterfall, small but dozens of feet high. He approaches it cautiously, extending a hand out into the waters which he now sees flow up and around his hand. He splashes the water, which continues to flow up and out of the pool at his feet, towards some point in the dark far above him.

In the dimming light of that cavern, standing before an impossibility, Frederick Williams grins.


— - —


Adam burst into a clearing, hands slapping at his face as he swerved an ducked away from a great many tiny assailants. Olivia wasn't far behind, followed closely by Calvin and Anthony. Of the four of them, Olivia had fared the best in the jungle. Calvin had slipped and fallen into quicksand, which now covered his lower half as if he was an ice-cream-man-cone. Anthony was drenched head to toe in sweat from the humidity, and he grumbled and fumed each step of the way at the fucking dogshit heat. Lastly, Adam had earned the attention of a swarm of bugs, which (to his telling) had now followed him for the better part of the last mile, since their car had broken down.

Calvin called a general halt to their progress to survey a map and some notes he had received from Delta. Of the seventh Overseer, the journal had been scant - she moves often - but Delta had been watching the movements of the one they called Green for weeks. True to the journal's description, she had moved more frequently than any of the others, often staying at a location for no more than a few days, at best. But here, deep in the heart of these forests, she was said to have been staying for over a month.

"I don't like it," Anthony had said, chewing on the end of a cigar. "This feels like a trap."

"Yeah," Adam had answered, "we don't actually know that she's there, either. We just know that we haven't seen her leave. There are plenty of ways she could've gotten out."

Calvin had stroked his beard at the thought, catching Olivia's eye from across the room before she quickly looked away. "You're right. This is profoundly sketchy. But if our sources are correct and she's where we think she is, we might not get another chance at this. We have to act now."

So it was, then, that they arrived in—

"Cambodia!" Anthony shouted, tearing yet another piece of his shirt away from his body. "Cambodia! Of all places. If the bugs don't kill you, the wretched heat will." He pulled out a fan and began to feverishly wave it in front of his face. "I have had enough of this part of the world for one lifetime. If I never have to spend another day in these god-awful jungles it won't have come soon enough."

Calvin surveyed their map, noting a nearby river as a landmark. "We're close now. Once we're in the city, we need to meet up with Vanderveer. He'll be here, in this bar. He has contacts that can get us where we need to go." He pulled a bandana out and started wrapping it around his face. "Put something up over your face - we need to stay as discrete as possible here." He stuck a finger out towards Adam and Anthony. "You two pasty-faces stick out."

Anthony grunted, but Adam whipped his head around, face red from sustained smacks. "Hang on, what now? Why do we need to hide our faces?"

Calvin tucked his map and the journal away. "Same reason the Overseer is here right now. Political unrest. Vanderveer says there's an artifact of some kind being held by the local revolutionaries, and that Green has come in personally to treat with them and get it back."

Adam's face ran white. "Why is an Overseer coming to treat with revolutionaries?"

"Don't be fooled," Anthony said, slinging Adam's canister over his shoulder, "this isn't a diplomatic mission. Green gets off on this kind of shit. If she's here, that means something disastrous is about to happen."

After quickly cleaning themselves off and covering their faces, the four of them crept back into the brush in the direction of the nearby city.

— - —

Calvin slunk behind a wall as a group of rioters passed by him, torches illuminating the dark streets. Somewhere not far off, he could hear the sound of gunfire and car alarms, and the occasional loud boom of a tank as the government moved troops into the city. He waited until they were gone, and moved quickly towards the east. They had gotten separated early on after a mob had formed around a grocery they were passing by. Anthony had radioed in that he was fine and moving towards the target, and Olivia and Adam had met up a few blocks later.

Under the orange fabric of an awning he saw a single light illuminating a sign - Pedro's Place - and an open door. He slipped through it, and the sound of the streets faded behind him.

Pedro's Place had emptied out earlier in the day when a brick had come through one of the front windows, but a handful of patrons still sat at the bar. The broken glass had been swept into a small pile in the corner and left untouched. Calvin entered casually, not rising to meet any of the eyes that crossed the room in his direction. He found a seat near the back of the small room at a table in a far corner, and hunched down to hide his features. After a moment, the bartender came by his table.

"What you have?" the bartender said, in broken English.

Calvin knocked on the table twice, then twice again, then three times. "I'll have what he's having."

The bartender paused, then nodded and left. A few more moments passed, and then another man returned to the table with beers in each hand. This man was a stout individual with fiery red hair and a lit cigarette burning in the corner of his mouth. He took a seat across from Calvin sliding one of them across towards him.

"Cheers, Calvin," he said. "Drink up, we'll likely be dead in the morning."

Calvin grinned through his handkerchief, which he quickly removed. "Van," he said, "aren't you a sight for sore eyes."

Vanderveer shrugged. "Must be pretty sore, then." He took a drink. "Where's the rest of your band of merry men? I was promised a raiding party, not a single over-the-hill operative."

Calvin snorted. "We were separated. Anthony is moving ahead to the watch point, and Liv and the kid are on their way. We should meet them on our way out."

Vanderveer nodded. "Once they arrive, we'll need to move quickly. We won't have an abundance of time to act - if the riots dissipate, we've lost our opportunity. Our only cover right now is that the streets are full of looters, and we're just a handful of tourists."

They were interrupted by a barking dog outside which quickly faded into the hum of the background. Calvin took another drink. "What's going on out there?"

"Local politics," Vanderveer said. "Kervier came in and set up here a number of years ago and thoroughly fucked the water. They were doing what they usually do, you know - come in, set up, dig furiously and then wait until the Jailers come and force them out. Only this time, the Foundation didn't show up." He laughed. "You probably had a hand in that."

It was Calvin's turn to shrug as Vanderveer continued. "Anyway, there are three sides to this. On one hand you have the local officials, all of whom were receiving kickbacks from Kervier and are seen as having betrayed their countrymen. Then you've got these folks - let's call them revolutionaries - who have been pushing to overthrow the government for a while. When the details of the Kervier deal came out, they decided it was their time to shine and rose up en masse. They're holed up down at the governor's manor, supposedly meeting with the local governor to reach some agreement. Fact is, they're only there so that Green can stoke them and disrupt the agreements, and send the country into civil war. Once it's properly destabilized, the Jailers can swoop in and raid the armory where they're keeping this thing they want to get their hands on so badly."

"Who are the people in the street?" Calvin asked.

"Rioters. They're all just unhappy with the government and while most of them probably align with the revolutionaries, not all of them do. Mostly they just want to riot. They're dissatisfied and angry and want to loot and pillage. They're the most dangerous of the three sides right now, because if their attitudes turn especially violent we could be swept up in it before we have time to get out of dodge."

The sound of the street outside grew louder for a moment as the door opened, and through it stepped a man and woman. Calvin nodded, and Vanderveer stood.

"Time to roll," the husky Irishman said. "For the Insurgency."

Calvin took his extended hand. "For the Insurgency."

Olivia and Adam fell in behind them, and together the four snuck quickly out of a concealed side door. As they passed the bartender, the man gave them a nervous nod. Once they were out on a side street, Vanderveer pointed towards lights in the distance.

"That's where we're going," he said, voice rising slightly to be heard over the din of the crowd. "The revolutionaries have set up there. To get inside we'll need to meet up with one of my contacts, Jo." He glanced down at his phone. "I was hoping to have heard from him by now, but there's really not much time to wait. Let's go."

They took off in the direction of the governor's manor, sticking mostly to side streets to avoid the rioters and larger gatherings. As they paused to wait for a mob to pass, Calvin pulled out his radio and called Anthony.

"Anthony," he said, "do you read? Where are you?"

The radio crackled a response. "Made it to the watch point. There's a throng of ne'er-do-wells down here pillaging an electronics shop, so I've gone onto the roof. Where are you?"

"We're leaving Pedro's now. Any sign of our target?"

"Not yet. She should be pretty easy to spot, what with the jumpsuit and all." The radio was silent. "Be advised, Calvin - there are a lot of troops moving out of the manor now. They're keeping out of the main street here and I don't think anyone on the ground has noticed. If things turn sour here, I think they're going to break really badly."

Calvin took a deep breath. "Roger that. We'll meet you soon."

The four of them skirted past a burning shop and down a narrow street with a tight bend at the end. Approaching it, Vanderveer held up a hand and they stopped as he peered around the corner. He turned back and swore.

"Looters," he said. He pulled a sidearm from its holster. "Don't do anything stupid."

He sidled around the corner with the rest of them not far behind. As they approached the group of people emptying a store of its contents, one of the looters noticed them, and then they all did. Vanderveer sucked in his chest and smiled, extending his arms.

"Evenin' lads," he said with as much gusto as he could muster. "Just passing through, see. Don't want any trouble. Got money if you want it, no problems here."

One of the looters looks back towards the others, and then turned back towards the group, nodding. Vanderveer produced his wallet and stepped forward slowly, holding it out in front of him.

"There we go," he said, "nice and easy now."

Suddenly, bullets zipped through the group of looters and the men and women began falling over each other. One of them pulled a gun and began firing into the dark behind them, and then everyone had guns. Van turned to run back towards the other three, but a stray shot caught him in the leg and he collapsed, cursing. Calvin ran up to grab him as he fell, and the three of them started to pull him off the street. Vanderveer looked back towards the group of rioters, his eyes growing wide.

"Gas," he said, pointing. "Jailers."

A cloud of gas had formed over the bodies of the dead and dying looters, which crept towards the group. Out of the cloud emerged dark shapes with masks and rifles in riot armor. Even from the distance they were at, Calvin could make out the insignia on their shoulders. Nine-Tailed Fox.

"Oh shit," Adam said under his breath, and suddenly the group was in a near sprint, with Calvin heaving the hefty Vanderveer over his shoulder to keep up the pace. They darted down side streets, but no matter where they turned more armored shapes emerged from the shadows. They turned again, and found themselves in a dead end.

"Fuck!" Olivia said, turning back towards where a group of Foundation agents now stood at the entrance to the alley they had walked into. Vanderveer swung around on Calvin's shoulder, firing furiously at the agents. One of them collapsed, then another. A bullet pinged off one of their masks, and the agent disappeared behind the rest. Then, one near the front produced a thick steel canister, pulled a tab, and rolled it towards them. A thick, orange gas blew out of the can from both ends, filling the alley.

Calvin moved to run forward, but each step into the cloud felt like a thousand, and suddenly he was as heavy as lead. He heard Vanderveer swear as he fell from Calvin's shoulder, and then he heard Adam hit the ground, and then himself, and then the world went black.

— - —

Calvin's awoke, cotton-mouthed and groggy, unable to see through a dark band wrapped around his eyes. He felt for his wrists - cuffed, and his ankles as well. He reached as far backwards with his hands as he could, and he felt something cold but very alive - Olivia. Somewhere nearby, he heard the unmistakable sound of Adam snoring.

Then, a voice.

"Captain, captain, captain," it said, slowly and steadily. It was a rich voice, vaguely southern, full-textured and hearty, and clearly female. The voice was that of someone very sure of where they stood. "I should start giving you menial scouting missions more often, when you come back with prizes like these."

Another voice, this time male. Harsh. "Are these the insurgents?"

"Yes, I believe they are," the woman said. Calvin heard footsteps, and then nothing. "This one is out of place. We're missing one."

"What would you like done with him?" the man said.

The woman paused, considering. "Well. No point in waking him, I think. All in all, a better way than what we have in store for the rest of them."

There was a heavier sound as the man - clearly in boots - crossed the room. Calvin heard the sound of a bullet sliding into its chamber, and then the ear-piercing pop of a gunshot. Calvin jumped, and heard Olivia scream from behind him.

"Look, look. They're awake. Get them up, hurry. We don't have a ton of time." More footsteps, and then Calvin was yanked upwards by two sets of hands. The hands pushed him against the wall and another pulled the blindfold off of his face.

He squinted against the glare of the lights, and as the room became clear he was met with the sight of a short, squat woman in a dark green pantsuit. She wasn't old - maybe early 50s, and she wore black shoes with green flowers on them. She was leaning down to look at him quizzically, like some bird of prey lurking over a meal. Calvin turned to his left and right, confirming that Olivia and Adam were there with him and generally no worse for wear. He glanced into the corner of the room and then back quickly - Vanderveer lay dead on the ground, a bullethole placed between his eyes.

The door to the room cracked open. "What was that?" asked the voice on the other side. "Who you shooting?"

The woman in the pantsuit waved them off. "Don't worry about that. I'm dealing with a personal issue. You understand? Personal. P-E-R-S-O-N-A-L. That means no you. Scooch."

The door slid closed, and she turned back towards the group, smiling.

"Well well well," she said, clapping her hands together. "And here I thought I was going to have to spend time looking for you three, and you walk right into one of my patrols. That's just something, I tell you what."

Noticing that Olivia was staring at Vanderveer, the woman gestured dismissively. "Oh, don't you worry about him, sug. He went quick and easy. You're about to have a harder time of it, I'm afraid."

She turned back towards an open window. From outside, they could hear the sound of the throng of revolutionaries in the street.

"Introductions! Where are my manners, goodness. My mama would've whooped me for that. My name is unimportant - you can just call me Green. Everybody does, hell, you probably do too. As for you three," she paused, finger held against the side of her face, "the skinny one here is a runaway D-Class, the skinny bitch is the anartist who got away, and you - why, you're Calvin Lucien, aren't you? Tired of lobbing grenades at unarmed convoys, you've decided to step up to the big leagues and have a crack at some Overseers."

She laughed, a warm, wholesome laugh. "I've got to hand it to you Calvin, you've got some balls. I don't know what's in the water wherever you're from, but it's some pretty potent stuff. Some of my own could use a tall glass of it!"

Green turned back towards the window. "Now I know what you're here to do - hell, we all do by now. Some of my fellows decided to turn tail and run for their holes after that little stunt you pulled with poor ole Felix - very clever, by the way. You know what's funny is that Felix himself had worried about that, a long time ago. In order to assure him, Aaron had the Fountain drained and the ground upturned until there was nothing left. Yet there you were, doing something that shouldn't have been able to be done. Very, very clever."

She continued. "But while they might be content to hole up for a while until this all blows over, I've got work to do. The Foundation doesn't run by itself, and it certainly doesn't run if there's nobody telling it to go. Besides," she turned her head to look back at them, her eyes steely and her smile crooked and devilish, "this is the most alive I've felt in years."

Calvin grunted. "You're a peach."

Green laughed again. "Georgia grown! Isn't that fitting?" She crossed the room again in a hurry. "So here's what I'm going to offer you, Calvin - something of a wager. Have you ever watched a fly at a flytrap? That's the most natural gamble out there. The fly is gambling that it can make it down to that sweet, sweet nectar and out before the flytrap snaps shut. The fly is willing to take that bet, though, because the nectar is so good and it's right there."

She pointed at Adam and Olivia. "I'm going to offer you lives, for a life. Easy. You let me kill one of the two of them - your choice, I'm not unfair - and I let you do whatever you want to me. Kill, maim, butcher, whatever. OR, and here's where it gets interesting, you refuse and I leave this room, go into that room," she pointed a pudgy finger at the door that had opened earlier, "and put a bullet into the neck of Ying Ko-something or other, the revolutionary leader. You and your two friends here might make it out alive, but as soon as that throng in the street find out their golden boy was gunned down by the troops now firing on them they'll set the whole countryside alight."

Green squatted down in from of him, both hands held out in front of her. "That's where it is, Calvin. There's the nectar. It's right there. All you have to do is reach out and take it."

Calvin struggled against his restraints. One of the guards behind him put the butt of his rifle into Calvin's back, knocking him over. "Fuck you," he said.

Green rolled her eyes. "You should've learned some more words and gone to church when you were younger, Calvin."

"Take me," Calvin heard Olivia say next to him. Her voice was hoarse. "Calvin, she's going to kill one of us anyway. How else are we going to get the chance?"

The woman laughed. "She's right, Calvin. Somebody is dying tonight, and you get to decide who. Come on now, we don't have all night. Ping Pong is not a patient man." She motioned at him, and the guards sat him back up.

"Fine," Calvin said, spitting out blood, "shoot me. Let those two go."

Green didn't laugh, but her smile grew unnaturally wide. "No no, Calvin. That's not how the game is played. You don't get to choose yourself. You think this is some kind of noble sacrifice you'd be making?" Now she laughed. "You would've thought after so many years of losing, the Insurgency would've figured this out by now. There are no noble sacrifices, Calvin. Here's what will happen - you will choose one of your friends or those people out there and I live or I die. If I live, I go back to work and we replace the Overseers you've killed - it certainly wouldn't be the first time. If I die, you get to feel like you've won something for a moment, and then you are either killed by the masses outside those doors or killed by our agents or die of the flu or whatever. Maybe you kill another Overseer - Jean is looking wobbly right now, he'd be a good target. Either way, eventually you reach a point where you have exhausted your efforts, and then you'll stop trying. You'll run into a mountain you can't climb - and believe me, that mountain is coming up soon. You'll realize that this tower was built to not be climbed, and you'll give up. As soon as you give up, none of the deaths mean anything. It doesn't matter if it's you, or her, or me."

She stood up, hands still outstretched. "You know what makes sacrifice worth it? Perpetuity. You either keep going and live forever, or you die and history forgets." She laughed. "The worst part is, honestly, you really have no idea what you're doing."

Calvin opened his mouth to talk, but Green held out a finger to silence him. "I know what you think you're doing, but honey, you were messed up from the word go. You think that killing people will stop the Foundation and, well," she paused, pensively. "You should ask Aaron Siegal about that. Hard to kill an idea."

She turned the hand back over. "Last chance. Make a choice, fly."

Calvin struggled against his restraints for a second more, and Green sighed. "Fine. You know, this is actually what I wanted in the first place anyway." She gestured at the captain, who strode towards the door. Olivia shouted out and lunged towards him, but was rebuked by the end of his rifle. He kicked the door open, and fired three times through the doorway. There was shouting on the other side, and then he fired again until the shouting stopped. He nodded to someone in the room, and walked through followed by the other agents. They heard another door open in the next room, and the the sound of something wet and heavy hitting concrete.

The crowd outside went silent. A moment later there was a single gunshot, and then a thousand. The mob erupted, and the earth began to shake. More gunshots filled the air, and they could smell the distinct scent of gunpowder and searing flesh. Green turned to gather her things.

"You know that thing I said earlier, about flytraps? Here's what's funny about that - even if they don't go for the nectar, it's too late. They won't ever get out. The fly is made to do all sorts of things, but the flytrap? The flytrap is just there to catch the fly. But they keep coming, because that nectar sure does look good." She turned to look at them. "I wonder who will be next?"

Suddenly Adam was on his feet, his cuffs and a nail clattering to the ground. He had taken three steps when Green had her gun out, inches from his face. He stopped suddenly, legs shaking, and Green cocked her head and smiled.

"Oh, no," she said, "sorry honey, but it's not going to be you."

Calvin saw a flash of light out the window, and then Green was stumbling backwards, clutching her hand and cursing. Blood rushed between her fingers. From on the table next to her, a confiscated radio crackled.

"Run." It was Anthony.

Adam snagged a key off the table as Green ran out of the room. Once unshackled, Calvin collected their weapons and the radio.

"Anthony," he said, running into the next room, "do you have eyes? Where's she at?"

"On the roof," Anthony said, "there's a helicopter landing right now. I'm heading your way."

As they rounded the corner, three of the revolutionaries stormed up the stairs, guns drawn. They opened fire on the three, forcing Calvin behind a table and Olivia back into the first room. Calvin returned fire, catching the first man in the shoulder and forcing him back. Olivia fired blind, but missed. Two more were coming up the stairs behind them, and more could be heard below. Calvin could barely hear the crowd below them over the din of the helicopter above.

Calvin reloaded, but out of the corner of his eye he saw Adam sprinting around the corner behind Olivia, something long and slender in his hand. Before Calvin could shout out to him, Adam had the Spear of the Non-Believer cocked back and aimed at the men in the stairwell. In the moment before he loosed it, Calvin felt the air get sucked out of the room. Silence filled the space where noise had been a second prior, and the lights dimmed. He grabbed his chest, unable to breathe, and managed to get turned just enough to look over the table towards the stairwell.

There was a roaring sound like a locomotive passing over them, and a blast of light and heat. The spear ripped through the air towards the men on the stairs, piercing each of them in succession and embedding itself in the wall behind them. As it passed through them, they burst into flames and were quickly reduced to ash - the last sound from their lips being the faint whisper of a scream before being silenced forever. Calvin stood up unsteadily, his expression covered with disbelief. Adam stumbled backwards, bracing first against the wall and then Olivia as she came in behind him to scoop him up. He ran a hand through his hair, eyes wide and mouth hanging open.

"Holy shit," he said quietly, "I don't know what I was expecting, but… oh god."

"No time, come on," Calvin said before realizing that Adam could barely stand. "Olivia, stay here with him. Anthony will be up soon, I'll get Green."

Olivia nodded. Calvin bounded up the stairs towards the roof, taking the door with a lowered shoulder and bowling out onto the platform above. The helicopter was just a few steps away, and Green was standing on the railing. When she saw him, she extended her free hand in greeting.

"This is it, Calvin!" her voice cut over the sound of the helicopter and the crowd below, which was now in a frenzy. Fires had broken out across the entire quad, with more cropping up in the distance as the city began to burn. "This is the world your actions lead you to. I hope it was worth it!"

Calvin pulled out his sidearm and fired at her. He missed once, then twice, and then an explosion rocked the building and his gun fell from his hand. He reached to grab it but was too slow, and it disappeared over the edge of the roof. With Green laughing over the noise, the helicopter began to ascend.

Calvin felt someone come up beside him. Anthony planted a knee into the ground and, taking aim with his scoped rifle, fired a round. It pinged off the metal just beside Green, whose eyes grew wide with something like glee upon seeing him.

"Ah, Vince, you were late! I had hoped I'd get the chance to catch up with you too!" She blew him a big kiss. "I'll tell Aaron you said hi when I see him next!"

Anthony lined up another shot but was wide when he pulled the trigger. The helicopter continued to climb. He fired again - nothing.

Then, something streaked out of the crowd below them - a rocket. It arced into the sky and disappeared into the open door of the helicopter. For a moment nothing happened - Green didn’t look like she’d even seen it. Then, scarlet filled the sky as the rocket and helicopter both burst into flames and fell to the earth. The blades were spun out into the crowd, and the flaming mass of metal struck a nearby building. The fuel exploded, and both the wreckage and the building collapsed into the crowd below them.

Another explosion rocked the ground beneath them, and then another. Overhead, low-flying shapes came into view, moving quickly past them and away into the distance. Moments later, fire lit up the horizon, drawing closer to them. Another wave of shapes passed by - jets - and then more fire. One of them struck the street outside the governor's manor, causing Calvin to stumble. Anthony caught him by the jacket and pulled him to his feet.

"Time to go, kid," he said.

They sprinted to the rooftop access and down the stairs where Adam and Olivia were waiting. Motioning for them to follow, Anthony led them down another stairwell into the kitchens. The danced around falling pots and pans as more explosions sent shockwaves through the walls of the manor, the mortar and brick beginning to give way in places as the ceiling above them cracked and splintered. They turned one corner, and then another, and then a third led them to a side door that Anthony lowered a shoulder into, flinging it open and emptying them out onto the street.

They stood between the now-crumbling manor and the building adjacent that had caught the flaming helicopter as it fell from the sky. At the end of the alley they could see the mob converging on soldiers who opened fire into the mass. Above them, more planes screamed overhead and more bombs fell onto the crazed populace. Anthony turned back to the other end of the side street.

"Down there," he pointed at the end of the street, "there was a car pool when I came in the back. There's liable to be something in there that we can-"

He was cut short by the scream of something unnatural. Turning back towards the flaming wreck of the building next to the manor, they saw a fiery figure step out of the wreckage. Its skin had sloughed off half of its face, and one arm had been severed just above the elbow. It stumbled out into the street, trying to balance on rapidly melting legs. Its eyes were gone entirely; all that remained were empty sockets full of smoke.

The figure turned towards them and opened its mouth, and a foul moan echoed out of its charred throat, drowning out all sounds around them. It took one step towards them, and then another. Instinctively Calvin fired at it, and the bullet tore through flesh and bone but still it inched forward. The figure moaned again and raised its hand, leveling a gun at Calvin's chest. He realized too late what it was, but by the time he heard the crack of the gunshot he was already on the ground.

Standing over him was Anthony, hand clutching the side of his neck. Another crack, and he stumbled backwards as Olivia screamed and fired back. Blood was pooling underneath his shirt. There was a third crack and the sound of a bullet ricocheting off the pavement as the holder of the gun collapsed into a smoking, smoldering, unmoving pile. Anthony turned as if to walk away and fell, only barely avoiding slamming into the pavement as Adam slid underneath him to break his fall. Calvin scrambled to his feet and rushed over.

Blood was now pulsing out from under Anthony's fingers on his neck, and more was seeping through his shirt. Olivia was trying to keep pressure on the chest wound, but Anthony waved her off. He took a breath, and then another. Each felt like it lasted an eternity, and each was more ragged and uncertain than the last. Calvin stood over him, blood now spattering onto his shoes every time Anthony coughed. The helplessness of it all began to close around him like a shroud.

Then he felt something - a weight that he had forgotten about and suddenly remember. He reached into his jacket and pulled out a crystal vial of clear, shimmering fluid. He held it in front of him, the light of the fires behind them dancing across its surface like fireworks in rain. Adam saw it too, and his eyes drew wide. Olivia had stopped what she was doing, and then they were all watching Calvin. Almost unconsciously, he brought his other hand up to remove the seal.

"No!" croaked Anthony through spittle and blood. "Calvin- no. No. Don't."

Olivia looked back down at him, tears streaming down her face. "Anthony, please. Please, we can save you, we can-"

The older man shook his head. "No- not like that. No." His eyes, which had until this moment been unfocused, were now locked onto Calvin's. "My mistake. Mine. Not yours."

Calvin hesitated, his hand still inches from the seal of the vial. Then, as quickly as he had produced it, he slid it away into his jacket.

Anthony sighed. "Vincent-" he whispered, his voice hoarse and barely audible over the din, "-Arians. It was my name." He raised a hand towards Calvin, who took it into his own. "Here, now, for you- Anthony." He smiled.

Then, after one more shallow breath, Anthony Wright died.

Calvin was the first to stand. He took several deep breaths, trying desperately not to think about it.

"We need to go," he said. "The car pool, he said there were cars. We need to get out of here."

Adam looked up, his eyes red behind tears. "We can't leave him here. We can't." He turned to Olivia as if to beg her, but she was already frantically digging around in her bag. After a second, she pulled out a thin brush and a small container of light blue paint. She motioned for Adam to stand back, and the young man took two hesitant steps away from Anthony's body.

With a swift, deft hand, she ran long lines of paint across the body. At the spots where the lines intersected, light shined through the color of the paint as if from underneath it. She ran several more lines, and then more crossing over those, and then stepped back. Anthony's body was covered in many thin lines of glowing blue paint, which blinked and pulsed slowly. She leaned forward over him, and leaned down to kiss him on the forehead.

Like lightning, the lines all lit up at once. Each of the individual cells created by the crossing lined began to change until they were cloudy and opaque, as if he was covered in many pieces of stained glass. As they all solidified into a glass cocoon around the body, Olivia brought the other end of her brush down into the center of the figure, shattering it. The glass collapsed, and suddenly the air was filled with a prismatic cloud of crystal butterflies, each sounding a single note of a song that played around them over the chaos of the fighting beyond. They swung around the group once, and then away from them into the air. The glass was no more, and Anthony's body was gone.

Calvin grabbed the two of them up, and together they raced down the alley towards the back of the manor. More explosions lit up the night sky, and dark figures raced into the woods outside the city all around them. When they reached the car lot, half of the vehicles there were on fire and a ten meter crater was carved out of the ground where they had been. The scrambled through an open gate and surveyed the scene.

"Shit," Olivia said, "what are we going to do?"

Without warning, a military jeep came around the corner from behind a patch of trees, stopping in front of them. The door opened and a man climbed out, his features hidden beneath a hood and bandanna.

"Take the car," the man said, "drive north until you are out of the country. A map in the glove box will take you to your next contact." He looked back towards the flaming city behind them. "Is the Overseer dead?"

Calvin nodded.

The man didn't move. "And Wright?"

None of them responded. The man paused, and then handed a pack to Calvin. "This is food, water, and munitions to last you until you reach the checkpoint. You must hurry - the Overseers have their kill squads roaming the countryside looking for you."

He took a few steps towards the treeline, and then turned back. "For the Insurgency."

"For the Insurgency," Calvin echoed.

The man disappeared into the trees, and the three of them climbed into the jeep. As another bomb dropped nearby, they tore out of the lot and onto a dirt road heading north into the dark forest.

- BACK -

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License