A woman’s scream rises over a cluster of tin-sheet shacks and into the thick night air. She’s just watched her son punch her drunken boyfriend in the mouth, blood and spit flecking on white knuckles.
“Bowie!” the woman screams at her son, but she goes ignored.
“Stay down, you lowlife!” Bowie lurches at the older man now curled up on the floor, but he’s choked back when his mother yanks him by the collar. He swings his body violently around to break free of her hold, and — out of anger towards everyone and no one in particular — he shoves her down onto the sunken couch behind. He instantly feels sick when he looks down and realizes what he’s done, dark locks sprawled across his mother’s frightened expression. She’s so frail in her blue summer dress, all thin neck and jutting collarbones that Bowie has inherited. For a split-second, he thinks about pulling up the strap that’s fallen off her shoulder, but instead he snatches his hoodie off the couch and steps over the drunkard now passed out cold. He shoves the door open, ignoring the sobbing behind him as he steps into the moonlight.
Acid Town’s usual crowd is crawling. A barter is going down in front of Bowie’s home just as he emerges. Across the street, two women, dressed modestly and still posted at a sure-fire corner, coo something at a man as he passes by. Somewhere in the distance, there’s a pained howl that Bowie knows better than to mistake for a dog. He feels for the folding knife in his back pocket.
In Acid Town, leaving home without a weapon might as well be suicide. On an island where the poor and criminal are hoarded together for the government to contain and forget, it’s dog-eat-dog. Bowie learned this at five-years old, when he witnessed his father fight and stabbed over a coveted stash of antibiotics from the mainland. As he watched a pair of strangers chase off the knife-wielder and attempt to seal his father’s wound with their bare hands, Bowie learned also this: that when it comes to order, compassion is Acid Town’s only military.
Coincidentally and almost comically, Bowie makes a living off homemade blood-stop powder, or magic powder, the townspeople call it (the result of a kid who played in dirt and who figured out that hey — the funny-looking clay in the backyard stops bleeding). With a government that provides hardly more than running water and electricity, and where violence measures the days, medical supplies are among the most valuable barters in Acid Town. Bowie feels lucky to have gotten this far without having his fingers chopped off one-by-one until he was willing to give up his recipe. He knows at least two or three lives have been saved by his magic powder, and people are willing to give him a lot for it.
Bowie’s a good couple miles away from his home by now, still livid. He swears he’ll implode or at the very least slap the town loon that’s been noisily following him for five minutes now, but just the sight of the cemetery in the distance soothes him. He’s able to shrug off his unsolicited companion by offering him a pinch of magic powder in the crumbled paper he finds in the pocket of his hoodie. Then he veers left into the cemetery; it’s a sprawling patch of land behind the hub of the town, scattered with rocks, wooden crosses, mangled dolls — remembrances. His father’s body is buried somewhere in the grounds, but the marking was scrambled and lost years ago. Besides, it’s the area past the cemetery that really matters to Bowie.
Most consider the cemetery and its surrounding area condemned and haunted — not even crime dare trickle into such an eerie block of the town. But past the graves and over a small knoll, Bowie has found the perfect mix of concrete and vegetation: an Olympic-sized pool, once part of the government’s long-forgotten plan to build a grand sports arena. At the threshold stands a towering brick wall, “I” missing and “M” hanging by a wire where “COLISEUM” intended to arch over the entrance.
Once Bowie’s through the entrance, something in his chest loosens just a little, and a deep sigh escapes him. He makes his way to the empty pool, down the creaky ladder and onto curved, smooth surface. He walks over his own litter of graffiti, bubbled letters and strange abstract creatures, until he reaches a star the size of his body in the center of the pool. He lowers himself onto this spot, back against the cement, eyes to a sky where there isn’t much to see. But it’s enough for Bowie. It lets him dream of a world beyond Acid Town.
He closes his eyes.
He can do more for his mother. He can make more than magic powder. He can cure people.
A passenger plane from a luckier land roars across the sky; it stifles the steps of the town loon as he hobbles his way towards the dreaming boy, brandishing the folding knife that had fallen out of the latter’s pocket.
Bowie dreams deeper. A slice of metal swings through the air.
The Day No One Cared What Year It Was Any Longer
In 2046, all the nations of the world gathered together to debate the end of all nuclear weapons and disband all military and only keep a national militia for emergency purposes for such things as natural disasters to aid fellow human beings. After many days that turned into weeks, an agreement was finally met and by the end of 2046, all armies, in all countries were officially disbanded. What did this mean?
No more war. Continual peace.
Police agencies were still kept in force as people will steal and kill and some people will do horrific acts. But every continent was without a military.
Things went well until a massive triple-storm struck somewhere around 2051. Triple as in a major typhoon that blanketed and destroyed 90% of Japan, China and Korea.
On another front, a dozen or more hurricanes crossed over Australia and wiped out the entire continent and what citizens who couldn't get away on boats, and either chartered airplanes or private jets.
More hurricanes thrashed its way across portions of South America and Africa killing hundreds of thousands of people.
Europe had been reported to be assaulted with massive cold fronts with temperatures falling below seventy degrees below zero. Power was down, and people were freezing to death and falling over as their body temps declined and they simply died. Between that and the massive snowfall in excess in some points as much as two-hundred feet, survival was at its very weakest.
The United States faced one of its longest comical fears come true. California had finally broken off into the ocean by way of major flooding and earthquakes. This also took Oregon and Washington State as well as portions of Arizona and Nevada. Millions of people, dead. The rest of the western states were under water and those who survived, migrated east.
Mexico was also engulfed by two-hundred foot high tidal waves, and those who managed to survive crossed a border that was no longer protected as everyone had been in a scramble to save their own life.
No place on earth was safe during this time.
Twelve years went by before things somehow returned to a form of normalcy. But it was then, chaos set in even deeper.
Massive hordes of gangs roamed the countryside. Pilfering what they could get, taking what they wanted, and killing anyone who stood in their way.
The police agencies weren't large enough to stop them. Those that tried were overrun and easily defeated. Madness, you could say ruled a nation, not a government.
So it became another natural disaster which took over ... human kind.
You either joined them or suffered by death. They were the only two options.
But there still are no wars among nations. Now, it is a war from city to city, house to house.
The year today is anyone's guess. The only thing that matters day to day is if you are still alive.
You pray and hope things will somehow change, but deep down, you know this is impossible.
Some time ago, over four-hundred men and women took up a stand to fight back and try to reclaim what everyone had at one time: Freedom. They all fell where they fought, and no one bothered to bury them.
Prepare yourself. We are surviving in the end of days.
June 1, 3580
The law was passed today and the military was
dissolved and guns were banned.. We have no
use for it now. If you ask me, I think we are
leaving ourselves undefended. Anyone could
attack or raid us now and we can’t stop them.
June 5, 3580
Sorry it’s been so long since I wrote last, I was
really busy. Anti-gun people are excited and
supportive of the new law but the pro-gun side
is not too happy. People have been rioting and
the police are trying to get that under control.
The police don’t have any guns though so it’s
sorta hard for them. Why are they rioting?
June 6, 3580
At school today, a boy walked into the school
and started shooting. He killed five people and
sent eight to the hospital. The security guards
didn’t have guns so they couldn’t stop him.
They also couldn’t get close enough to taze him.
People are saying this is just another reason we
should remove the new law and I agree with them.
We need to be able to protect themselves. One
of my friends was killed today.
June 10, 3580
We had the funerals for the five people in the
last four days. I had to be at my friends. It hurt so
bad. More school and public shootings have
happened in the last couple of days also.
Twenty more people killed and fifteen injured.
What is this world coming too?
July 4, 3580
Sorry I didn’t write for like a month, I lost my diary
and couldn't find it. Today was Independence Day.
We went to the parade and got lots of candy. In the
last month or so, more people have died because
of shootings and the government is trying to come
up with a peaceful solution. That’s what Dad said.
People have started fleeing to different countries
where they can protect themselves. Mom says she
wants to move also.
July 5, 3580
Today was terrible. Mom was at the supermarket
buying some watermelon for dinner tonight and a
person came in with a bomb strapped to their back.
They blew up the whole supermarket and everyone
in it. Including Mom. I hate this new law, I hate every
-one who voted for it. I hate this country, I hate this
July 7, 3580
I’m done. Today was the funeral for all the people
who died in the supermarket. They didn’t find Mom’s
body. It was probably blown to shreds. I hate my life.
Dad’s just moping around now, not even going to work.
I’m not going to judge him though ’cause I’m doing
the same thing. I hate my life.
July 19, 3580
A lot has happened in the time I haven’t written.
More bombings and shootings and now, countries
are starting to invade us. The world is coming to an
end, my friend. I just hope you are safe and sound,
curled up on the couch with your family. I’ll never
have a family again. I miss Mom a ton.
July 21, 3580
They’re outside in the streets. The invading countries
are here. I’m hiding in my closet, writing this to you.
I hope you survive and I hope one day you will tell
the world our story. They’re here, in the house now.
I have only seconds before they find me. Don’t let
this happen to your country and goodbye.
I was nine when death cast its cold, dark shadow over my people and stole the lives of my parents. We were sitting across from one another, my family, joining hands to say grace so we could eat the dinner my father had so enthusiastically prepared for us that evening, whatever it may have been. He loved to cook. My mother had only just gotten home from work. She was tired but still smiled and hugged us all when we ran to meet her at the door. Including myself there were four children—my twin, Jasper, and I were the oldest, with seven-year-old Elise, and five-year-old Adrien behind us. Father always used to say that together, the five of us resembled a living fire; Adrien, who inherited our father’s almost golden hair, made the image of a flame more real.
Together, the four of us took our mother’s things and walked with her to the kitchen, where Dad was setting the table. They embraced, as they always did, and Dad led her to her seat at the table, her plate already in its proper place. Jasper and I helped Elise and Adrien, and soon the six of use were seated and ready to eat.
We were happy then.
But then it happened. Some call it the Curse, others the New Plague. Others still, who wanted to stop the spread of rumors of the divine and mysticism in its tracks, claimed it was an attack on our great nation, but by who they could not say. Not that its name matters. No matter what we choose to call it; no matter if we choose to believe it was of God or Hell or man, I still watched as my parents died in front of me and my siblings. No matter what it was, on that day, before the sun set, every active and retired member of the military died, struck down by some invisible hand of death.
I was holding my father’s hand when it happened. It was large and warm, soothing to my cold skin. Until it wasn’t. In an instant the smile that typically adorned my father’s face was replaced by an expression of pure agony, and all the warmth I took comfort suddenly froze over. He was dead. Across the table, I saw my mother fall to the same fate.
My siblings and I scrambled over our parents. We begged and pleaded for them to wake up, not understanding what had just occurred before our eyes. When our mother wouldn’t wake, Adrien began to cry, and Elise quickly followed suit. Not knowing what else to do, Jasper and I gather our younger siblings and ran to our neighbor’s home. Dogged from our shock and faces wet from tears, we tried to explain what had happened.
For what it took, the curse also gave. In the days following the deaths, people of all ages across the nation began exhibiting abilities. There was no pattern to who obtained abilities, or what they could do, at least across different families. Within families, similarities were easily spotted. Jasper, Elise, and I quickly realized we had gained power over fire. produce and manipulate it at will. Adrien, on the other hand, could manipulate the air and weather around him.
The years went by, and the pain and hatred that our parents’ deaths sowed in us only continued to grow, and when no cause for the curse revealed itself, our hatred was turned toward the monarchy that did nothing as our people fell apart and crumbled into chaos. Criminals became empowered by the monarchy’s inability to enforce the law, instilling fear in anyone without the power to protect themselves. Eventually families banded together to ensure their survival, forming communities in which those gifted with abilities learned side by side, in hopes of growing strong enough to defend against any who would threaten their homes.
Our flames consumed any who threatened our home—we would never lose anyone we loved ever again. When we were old enough and had mastered all that our flames and wind could achieve, we consumed the crown.
It was beautiful, the fire that sprang from our fingertips, and the lightning called forth from the heavens. I remember how my flames licked my skin, tingling as they traveled from my hands to the streets of the capital, blazing a road of fire to the castle. I remember how the nobility cowered before us, incapable of extinguishing our flames or calming the storm we brought with us. I remember the sound of their extinction—their screams for mercy and forgiveness, and the cries of victory from those who fought alongside us.
I remember it all.
I remember it all as I wait next to my brothers and sister, our knees resting on the cold, stone floor of a reconstructed castle, while our crowns are placed upon our heads—crowns blackened by the ashes from which we rose.
My name is Scout. Grandma picked it. She said Scout was a character from a book she read in school a long time ago. Something about how to kill a bird. But I like my name because it’s not only what I’m called, it’s what I am.
Grandma is sitting on the floor in the main room. There’s not much room anywhere else. In fact, our tiny house, which was already crowded with a family of five, is now literally full of people. Oh, and also blankets, and pillows, and food. The main room is home to a grimy oven, which doesn’t function since there is no electricity, but we can build a fire in it to cook things; a few wooden chairs; and beds for all the adults. The other room has beds for the kids. The whole house is dusty and rusty, but there is an overwhelming sense of home.
I go and sit on the blanket with Grandma. My little brother Teven is already there talking to her.
“Grandma, why can’t I go outside like Scout?” he asks.
I know he already knows the answer to this question. He asks either me, or Grandma, or my mom, or my dad, or any one of the adults or teenagers living in our house every day. But, every time, he doesn’t seem satisfied with the answer. So he keeps on asking.
“Teven,” I begin, but Grandma puts a hand on my leg to silence me. She wants to answer this time.
She purses her wrinkly lips, then says, “You are still very young, so I know it’s hard for you to understand. But before you were even born, and Scout was about your age, the world went crazy. Some thought it was a good idea to put an end to militaries, and severe restrictions on guns, in an effort to make peace. Which would have worked, if the world was perfect.”
She takes time to pause, and make sure Teven is soaking this all in. Since he’s probably heard this story a thousand times, he could recite it with perfect details. He is looking very bored, with his fist on his chin, but he nods anyway.
“But, the world isn’t perfect. And without any armed good people to stop the armed bad people, there was chaos. People live like animals now. The strongest can take what they want. And so it’s not safe for you to go outside.”
Teven shoots back sarcasticly, “So how come it’s safe for Scout and not me?”
Grandma scowls a little. “You know why. She has experience. She is quiet--”
Teven starts to interrupt that he could be all those things too, but Grandma continues, “And she is older. Nearly an adult. She can decide for herself what she wants to do. If she wants to take the risk, that’s up to her.”
Adult. the word is strange in my mind. I’m fifteen. If things had stayed the way they were, I would be in school, right on track to a good education and career. But no. In this sick world, I am almost grown up. And responsible for getting food and supplies for my family.
I say family, because they are. Some of them literally, --my immediate family like my parents, grandmother, and little brother, and also my aunt and cousins-- but some of them I’ve just grown so close to, that they feel like family now. In such close quarters, how could they not?
I see the teenagers start stirring from their positions on the floor, or from helping in the “kitchen.” It’s that time again. I stand up too, and join them. Usually at this time, Teven would make one last plea to go with us, but for some reason he stays quietly on the floor with Grandma.
“Be safe,” my mom says, hugging me.
Teven just looks up at me. His eyes are gray and blue, and full of this emotion that looks like fear, and sadness, maybe confusion. And a little bit of love. Huh. He’s never really looked at me like that before.
Cousins and friends who are of age grab bags, and group up by the door. There’s my friend Ami, we used to go to school together; her older brother Ray; my cousin Zack, and my cousin Charlotte. We call her Charlie. This little ragtag group of teenagers is all that stands between our families and starvation. We have to find abandoned buildings, houses, anywhere that might have food, or anything else salvageable and easy to carry. We will be out for the rest of the day, scouting, as I like to call it.
Grandma kneels and says a prayer out loud. She does this every day, and maybe it works, because we always make it back safe. It’s also probably because we have each other’s backs. We are family, we will run for each other, hide for each other, stand for each other, fight for each other, die for each other. I have absolute confidence that they would do it for me, and I would do it for them.
Teven waves goodbye from the floor, as we head out into the world. A gunshot sounds in the distance. A gunshot that’s supposed to be illegal. Gray smoke clouds the skies, and remnants of houses stand, like bones in graves, to tell the sad story of a world without a fighting chance. How strange that such a thing as family can exist in a world like this.
A Secret Cruelness
Things have been this way for a very long time. So long, that it isn't even worth talking about the way things were before. So long, that change seems impossible, or at the very least, incredibly pointless. But as the story goes, in that long ago time, war raged uncontrollably in every land. Armies of every nation fought and bled on battlefields, in the cities, and in the people's homes. When the bloodshed had claimed so much life that there was barely anyone left who was willing to continue the fighting, all became still and quiet.
And I guess the people thought this was a pretty good way to live. So everyone that was left formed a community, with a council created with equality and peace in mind. They came up with three simple laws that every resident was expected to follow. One - Do not harm a fellow resident, in body or mind. Two - The council settles all disputes, no matter how large or small. Three - No one leaves.
The first law was easy. After all they had suffered, the original community members were quick to agree that kindness must prevail. The second law was just practical, since human beings will always have disagreements. And whatever the council decides, stands. No appeals, no arguing. The third law was born from a place of fear and pain. They feared that if anyone left and tried to return, they would be tainted by the outside world - which had become a lawless, terrifying place - and bring back unwanted attitudes or people. But the real reason for the third law was to preserve our secret, for the community was carefully hidden, and hasn't been discovered in all the years it has existed. We have no militia, no peace force, no law enforcement whatsoever. The only way the community works, is if the people patrol themselves. We all must be of one mind, and agree to follow the laws, or the system falls apart. If someone is in breach of the three laws, they should be reported to the council. Most of the time when this happens, a small reprimand does the trick. The person repents of their harsh words or for laying their hands on another resident, all is forgiven, and the world keeps turning.
No one has broken the third law. No one has even tried. At least, not since I've been alive. I don't even know what would happen if someone was caught trying to leave. The only way in or out of the community is through the tunnel. And to get to the tunnel entrance, you would have to go through the Harmony House.
The Harmony House is where the members of the council live and operate. So you can see how precarious it would be if someone wanted to leave. But no one in their right mind would want to leave a place like this. No war, no fear, no violence of any kind. It's a paradise and everyone lives in peace. Everyone is happy.
I want out.
And maybe I'm crazy. Maybe I'm deviant and evil inside. But I don't belong. I never have. Every day of my life is a struggle. I hide my anger and my sadness. I push down my dreams and hopes for the future. I'm suffocating. The three laws did away with armies and militias, war and famine; but they also drove out the human soul. I intend to find mine. Right now.
I'm at the door. Harmony House lays quiet. The moon is but a sliver tonight, though the stars shine brightly. I have been practicing being silent. I have been sneaking up on people for weeks. Mostly, they just give a yelp when they notice I'm there, and then walk away giggling to themselves for being silly. Yesterday, I followed Mr. Hanover around for a solid thirty minutes before he realized I was there. Of course, he assumed I had only been standing there a few moments. That's when I knew. The time had come to leave. It was now or never.
The door opens silently. I slip inside and close the heavy slab of wood behind me and continue down the short hall. At the back of the house, another heavy wooden door marks the tunnel entrance. Everyone knows it's here, for everyone has had cause to meet with the council, and when you meet with the council, you have to walk by this very door. Etched into the wood is the story of the original residents. Why they formed the community, the three laws. It's a warning, as much as it is a history. But all it's ever been to me is a calling. I need to know what's out there. And yes, maybe I'll regret it. Maybe I'll die tomorrow, alone and scared. But I think I'll regret it more if I stay, and die an old woman, having always wondered what might have happened if I had left. So I place my hand on the latch and slowly pull the door open. It's not locked, but I'm not surprised. I take a deep breath and step through. One step, two steps, three steps. I don’t even pause to close the door behind me. I’ve done it, I’m out.
And then I lose my footing as the stone suddenly becomes slick. I hit the ground and slide down the slope, trying to gain purchase on anything I can, but the tunnel floor slopes down at a steep angle, and I plummet downward. Suddenly I hit a pool of thick liquid, perhaps muddy water, deep enough to suck me all the way under and not reveal its true depth. I break the surface, gasping for air, and try to orient myself. I look up and see a light emanating from the tunnel door, which seems much closer than it should be. It felt like I slid so far away, but I mostly just slid downward, so now the door hovers in the air above me. The light is not a good sign, and neither is the figure that now stands at its center. I can’t make out who it is due to the back lighting. But I know the voice.
“You have broken the third law.” She is a member of the counsil. The woman with the golden hair and bright green eyes, but I am too panicked to recall her name. I swim around frantically, trying to find a way out. There must be a way out. “I’m afraid there is no way out Taretha.” I stop my thrashing. She knows who I am. Which means she saw me walking through the house. Did I ever even have a chance? “This door is not the way out of the community. It is a façade. A decoy. It’s purpose is to keep us safe and to entrap those who wish to endanger us.”
“I don’t want to endanger you. I just want to leave. I swear I won’t speak of the community to anyone. Please, help me out of here.” My legs are growing tired, treading in the thickened water, and I am starting to notice the pervasive smell that I had been to startled to notice before.
“You won’t be down there forever. Just long enough. The community will be saddened to hear that you were lost to the Night Plague. It’s rare, but it does happen from time to time. It has such a sudden onset, especially in young people like yourself.”
And now I know. People have tried to leave. I am not the first to walk through this door, to fall to this watery pit, to hear her voice as she tells me I am going to die here.
“Why.” It’s all I can muster.
“The third law is the most important law. But it is also the hardest to enforce. And however much I dislike that word, it must be done. Secrecy is our back bone, Taretha. Those who attempt to leave cannot be allowed back into the community. Once the seed of wanderlust is planted, it shall stay forever, growing more and more every day. A person with something like that sprouting in their heart cannot be allowed inside our walls. Neither can they be allowed to leave and expose us. So we let nature take its course. The violent world lured you here, and curiosity has sealed your fate. The world is cruel because people are cruel. The only way to truly have peace, is for some people to sacrifice their ignorance and embrace a secret cruelness.” I’m crying now, trying to keep my head above water. Trying to understand how everything I ever thought could be so wrong. “If I may make a suggestion.” Her voice is kind, filled with sorrow. “When you are too tired to keep your head up, it’s said that breathing in the water is the quickest way to end it.”
She turns and closes the door, sealing me in darkness, the sounds of my screams echoing around me.
The murmur of voices and the mechanical whir of MagTrains and hover vehicles blended together into a soothing lullaby. The sun was so bright it was almost blinding but there was just the right amount of breeze to keep things cool. A group of kids played tag, dancing across the swirled sidewalks and getting dangerously close to the MagTrack.
A well-dressed teenage girl didn’t really stand out in the masses of fashionable, prosperous people.
That’s what Wynn had been planning on. The strap of the backpack dug into her shoulder, but she ignored it. There were more pressing things to worry about, like the men watching her from the other side of the MagTrack.
Two of the children darted in front of her and Wynn smiled, but didn’t break stride.
Just a hundred more yards. The thought wasn’t any more comforting than the signs plastered to ever available inch of wall space that read Peace is the answer, or Be kind.
So far, it was only Wynn’s boots that clicked across the slick, marble sidewalk. She muttered a quick prayer that it would stay that way, her words matching the rhythm of her steps.
Fifty. . . fourty. . . thirty. . . twenty. . . ten. . .
The soft thuds of multiple boots cued Wynn into the fact that she wasn’t alone anymore. She doubled her speed, wishing she was wearing lev-boots even as her own slipped and slid. The happy shrieks of the children covered up her own cry.
Wynn struggled to keep her balance as best as she could, but the backpack swung to one side. She stumbled and her momentum carried her forward, right onto her face. The marble was unforgiving against her cheek; but it was nothing compared to the sharp pain that jolted up her back as a result of the boot planted on her spine.
Rough hands grabbed her arms and neck, while others worked to remove the backpack.
“Let me go!” Wynn screamed, even though she knew they wouldn’t. “Somebody help me!”
The men didn’t even bother to cover her mouth--there was no need. The pedestrians moved to the other side of the MagTrack, eyes averted, voices falling quiet. The children suddenly vanished and the MagTrain sped up, a silvery-blue blur. It came to an earsplitting, screeching halt, and everyone hurried onto it. Faces appeared at the window before just as quickly disappearing. It was an unspoken rule that you minded your own business.
And everyone did. Who didn’t want to maintain the illusion of peace?
Wynn thrashed around, adrenaline coursing through her veins like a drug. Biting one of the fingers that covered her mouth, she simultaneously managed to free one of her legs. She kicked out, catching one of the men in the shins. Wynn then half-lunged, half-crawled forward, fingers scrabbling for purchase on the swirled, smooth surface that might as well have been a riptide, sucking her back to drown. It wrapped around her ankles and twisted around her waist, squeezing and pulling until she couldn’t breathe.
Gasping for breath, she tried to curl up into the fetal position to protect her torso from the lethal kicks.
They’re going to kill me, they’re going to kill me. Everything was already going hazy while her instincts still screamed at her to get away. Each blow sent a jolt of pain through her body. She was relieved when her body could no longer feel them.
In that one moment, hanging between consciousness and darkness, the most obscure things seemed to stick out to Wynn. The mens’ boots were the expensive leather ones, now stained with blood. A small insect--an ant? a beatle?--skittered away from the awful scene.
I wish I could run away, too. For some reason, this thought struck her as funny.
“I got her!” A rough, male voice shouted.
A pair of arms wrapped around her waist, and Wynn couldn’t help the scream that escaped her lips.
“I’m sorry,” whoever it was said, shifting her body over his shoulder.
Confusion flooded Wynn’s body as she looked downward. All the blood rushed to her head and the running feet seemed to hypnotize her into a dizzy stupor.
She mustered the last of her strength, curled her fingers into hard, bloody fists, and hit the man’s back. Her blows were weak and had no effect on him. Wynn exhaled, choked, and started coughing. Ragged pain seized her lungs and stole her breath. Her eyelids started to feel heavy, and she was mesmerized by the beautiful red pattern that seemed to trail after them from the sidewalk, snaking down the alleyway, and spattering up the metal-wooven stairs.
Wynn’s eyes slowing closed despite her struggle to keep them open, and slowly, her fingers unfurled from their loose fists. Her head flopped painfully against her captor’s shoulder but she was past the point of caring.
Her captor knew the network of alleyways and rooftops intimately, and he never faltered. The route he took was longer than what he would have taken, but he didn’t want to risk anything, epsecially with the girl on his back.
Heat rippled off the rooftops, and the sun beat down on his back. His sweat mixed with the girl’s blood, his shirt sticking to his back.
He turned in the direction of the sound, eyes still locked on sloping tiles beneath his feet.
“They chased Vyxen and Jareth for a little ways but they gave up; we’re good,” Angel called.
Artemis followed her down the vine-covered stairs to the dank space between two buildings. Angel swept her blonde hair to the side and took Wynn from him. As small as she was, Angel was exceptionally strong.
Sliding down the rough wall, Angel craddled Wynn in her lap. Artemis removed the backpack and set it to the side, not even bothering to look inside.
“Is she still breathing?” he asked.
His voice was out of place in Wynn’s dream of being held in her father’s arms while he carried her from her carseat to her crib.
Who is that? What is that metallic smell? She struggled to open her eyes, blurting out the first words that came to mind. “Daddy? Where am I?”
The sweaty boy crouched in front of her frowned. “That’s the first time I’ve ever been called that.”
“She’s alive,” a female voice--Mommy?--said.
Wait, no, that wasn’t Mommy. Mommy and Daddy were dead, and. . . it all came back in a horrifying rush, mingling with the pain attacking and hammering every part of her body.
“Who are you? Where am I?” she gasped, trying to get out of the arms that held her.
They tightened, pulling her back, while their owner tried to convince her that she was alright. The young man, who was actually kind of cute, frowned and moved closer.
“I’m Artemis, and Angel’s got you now. Everything’s gonna be fine. The men are gone and your backpack is right here.” Catching the frantic look in her eye at the mention of her backpack, he picked it up and handed it to her.
Despite the pain in her arms and the inability of the one to even move, she pulled it to her chest. The food and money was still inside.
“As to where you are. . . you’re still in Utopia.”
Wynn started laughing a raspy, hacking laugh that quickly turned to coughing. But she still couldn’t stop.
What a joke.
Karen walked the lonely streets of her once bustling town, it didn’t matter where, they were all the same now. She listened for familiar sounds that would never return, it was an instinct she had not yet outgrown. Kids playing, lawnmowers cutting grass…was it Sunday? Birds singing in the distance, cars speeding by too fast on small streets, all these she could no longer hear. The one sound that she could never imagine being gone though was her own family. Never to sing, or laugh or cry or argue…or…or? She couldn’t think about it, not any more. She didn’t want to think about it, too much pain associated with memories of the past. When humans decided that easier was better than hard. When fabricated truths outweighed actual facts. When lies and deceit rained over truth and morality. Karen slowly wandered down the street looking for her next meal as she always did when it was light, that was fading though.
She needed to hurry.
In the distance she heard a sound, she flinched, frightened, she recognized the sound. She could hear the crackling of a fire, smell the smoke dancing on the breeze but could not feel its warmth. Where was it? She needed it, now! It was getting colder as the sun set, they would be back then, they always came back then… She needed to hurry!
Around a corner, faster she ran, she could see the glow, gravel crunching and crackling under her feet. Damn! She slipped, a rock slashing her hand as she braced the fall, ripped pants allowing blood to stain her knees. Not what she needed right now, they could smell the blood, they would be coming faster now. She needed to hurry.
As she righted herself and gained solid footing she heard it… in the distance ahead. Faint.
She should be hurrying.
A stick breaking in the woods past the road. She froze, breath caught in her throat, but her heart would not listen, it continued faster…faster…faster. She couldn’t control it. She knew she was going to die now. This is how her life would end. As everyone she had ever known would end, at 15. Not old enough to live a full life but that is what life is now. After the decision was made all those many years ago. World powers decided that no more military, no more guns would benefit all. Forced opinions on the rest of the world. They had hoped no more war on the planet. But, they forgot one important factor. What if we are not alone in the universe…
He was not even a month, but reached the beautiful land where the sages lived. He was so lucky to see the heaven so easily without the trouble of living in this world for a long time. Yes he is now in a world which has no enemies, no hatred, no jelousy, no traitors, etc. Let him live a happy life in the heaven.
The Face of Peace
“Flame. Fear. Fury. Death.” As 17 year old Caden Thomas walked briskly amid the glittering skyscrapers of Unity City, he stopped and turned toward the large video screen from which the sound was emanating. The narration continued. “105 years ago, a terrible war ravaged our planet. Millions perished, and the surface was nearly scoured.” Images of flame and destruction rolled across the screen. “In the wake of this tragedy, the leaders of the time decided to never to be beholden to one another’s aggression again.
The narrator continued: “then came the moment when we finally cast aside the dark instincts we inherited from our ancestors. Leaders gathered to create The Great Disarmament; the unprecedented peace treaty that extended the world over, hailed as a crowning achievement in the story of humanity.” Footage rolled of the iconic images he had seen a thousand times before; arms factories collapsing in a cloud of dust and concrete as they were demolished; vast arrays of ships stripped down; an endless line of guns rolling along a factory line and dumped in to a vat of molten metal. Leaders from hundreds of countries were shown shaking hands, each one beaming energetically at the camera, huge smiles stretched across their faces. “It was a glorious moment, worthy our magnificent civilization. To protect the freshly forged peace, the Guardian system was commissioned by all the world’s leaders and sent into orbit.” The footage continued, showing a massive fleet of rockets cruising out of the earth’s atmosphere. The rockets were launching the Guardian system: a vast computerized network of satellites and cameras blanketing the earth intended to deter any act of violence on the face of the planet.
Leaders at the time had reasoned that, rather than allowing armed groups of humans to decide when the use of force was necessary, an objective and unfailingly just observer was needed to enforce the peace. Their solution was a computerized system engineered by scientists representing the governments of every country.
The satellites alone were capable of detecting large-scale movements on the earth’s surface, but the key to Guardian’s success lay in its camera system. The cameras were a remarkable feat of technical ingenuity, capable of calculating the distance of a target object and relaying its coordinates to Guardian’s computer system. This meant that, in the event that a violent act was detected, an orbiting satellite would fire a high-powered laser of adjustable intensity with pinpoint accuracy. The cameras were also capable of immediately firing a stun charge at a hostile target. The system was engineered by scientists from every government around the world. The system was made unhackable through the implementation of quantum receivers which could detect any attempt to access and tamper with the flow of information in the system, tracing it to its source.
“The result of the Guardian project was an immediate end to arm conflict, and a complete absence of crime in our cities,” continued the narrator. “For 100 years we have enjoyed the fruits of our predecessors’ labor, and it’s our job to ensure that we contribute diligently to this hard-won peace.” Bold yellow letters faded onto the screen: “100 years of peace.” The broadcast ended. Caden turned to continue walking down the street. The broadcast would repeat itself in a few moments, and he had grown tired of hearing it over and over again.
“Lies!” a voice cried out. Caden stopped and turned to its source. A man of slightly unkempt appearance was standing at the edge of the gathering
“This government would have you believe that they are ‘preserving a lasting peace,’ the man continued, “but I tell you, for them this system is a means of control. Look!” he shouted, pointing at one of the many cameras surrounding the square? “You see? We are watched constantly, never given a moment’s repose. Even as we bathe we are under the Guardian’s gaze. And who benefits most from this but those who profess to be our selfless leaders? My family saw the truth in this. They fought against our leaders in the courts, and they paid for it with their lives!”
Caden looked on as the man was secured by two men in white coats. They were medical staff of Unity City’s hospital. “Come now Mr. Porter,” they said. “As we’ve told you before, your family was lost to disease. You saw the bodies yourself, remember? Their autopsies are a matter of public record. We grieve for the loss of your loved ones, but you must remember that their passing was simply a regrettable tragedy, nothing more and nothing less. Come now, come with us.” The man was ushered into a waiting ambulance.
Caden pitied the poor man. While the Guardian system may have saved countless billions, it was not the ultimate solution to man’s mortality. Caden found it unfortunate that the man was unable to cope with this fact, though he understood that he could not possibly comprehend the sense of pain and loss that the man must be feeling. As the crowd continued to hum excitedly, Caden continued on his way home.
After a few minutes, Caden arrived at the door of his building.
“Mom, dad, I’m back” said Caden as he entered.
“Hey hon,” said his mom. “How has your day been?”
“I saw Mr. Porter acting up again in the square today,” replied Caden.
“That poor man,” said Caden’s father. “Disease is a terrible thing. You know, we’ve lost a thousand people to heart failure in this month alone. Your mother and I have our hands full at the hospital.”
“I’ll bet,” replied Caden. “It’s a good thing you guys are going to find a way to fix that.”
“Well, research is a tricky thing,” replied his mother. “But we’ll certainly keep trying. Now come, eat your dinner. Your father and I worked hard preparing this roast.”
Caden sat and bolted his food, anxious to get out the door again.
“My, we’re in a hurry aren’t we? I’m guessing you’re planning on seeing Veronica again this evening?”
Caden nodded. “I’m supposed to teach here more constellations.” He quickly finished what was on his plate, gathered up his things and bolted for the door. “I’ll see you guys later.”
“Ok, have fun. Stay safe,” his parents called after him.
As the sky’s color deepened from purple to black, Caden made his way to the edge of the city, carrying his set of binoculars with him. At last, he was within view of one of the city water towers. The area around the tower was quite, with most of the commuters in the area having gone home for the evening. It was an ideal place to stargaze.
As he passed a nearby alley, a flash of white caught his eye. Caden stopped and turned his gaze toward the source of the movement. Medium sized figures, clad completely in white, were unloading a medical truck at a nearby office building. Caden found it strane that they were unloading their cargo there, as opposed to the hospital. Curious as to why this was happening, Caden moved closer to them, training his binoculars onto the two figures.
Caden watched as the crates were removed from the truck. “Verify the contents,” called out one of the figures. One of the assistants hurriedly lifted the lid from one of the crates. The assistant rummaged through the crate, lifting bandages and gauze from its contents, before pulling up a small glass vial. He held it daintily, examining the crystal clear liquid.
What is that? Caden wondered. Water? A new medical formula? And why the strange suits? Are they afraid of contaminating the sample?
A large hand suddenly grabbed the back of Caden’s shirt. He felt his stomach drop in an instant as a prickling sensation crawled across his body.
“What are you doing here?” demanded the low, gruff, faceless voice. “What did you see?”
“I saw nothing,” replied Caden, trying vigorously to keep his voice from shaking.
“It had better stay that way,” said the man. “Now beat it.”
Caden nodded before turning towards home. He was not keen on testing the man’s patience. After all, he seemed to have disturbed some sensitive work.
After Caden returned home, he went up to his room and collapsed on his bed, taking in the day’s events. I’d better call Veronica and let her know what happene His mind again wandered to the scene he had observed near the water tower. I wonder what they were doing? As he pondered the contents of the mysterious vial, he slowly drifted to sleep.
Caden woke with a start as a loud knock rapped against the door. He turned groggily to the side, checking the bedside clock. 9am. Although it was a weekend, his parents had likely headed to the lab; their projects usually ran into Saturdays.
The knock repeated. “Hang on a moment, called Caden. He headed for the bathroom and quickly splashed some cool water on his face before heading to the end of the hallway and opening the door.
A tall man stood in the doorway. He was thin, neatly dressed in a jet black suit, with shoes that glistened like polished obsidian.
“Good afternoon. I’m a representative of the Unity’s Ministry of Commerce. Is Caden Thomas present?”
“You’re speaking to him,” replied Caden.
One of the men produced a small white envelope from his jacket. “Your exemplary academic achievement has come to our attention, and you’ve been selected to serve as a member of the youth delegation in an upcoming trade mission to the nation of Cadmia.” The man handed Caden the letter. “Inside you will find details concerning the trip, including an itinerary, a list of necessary supplies, and information concerning your compensation for participating in the conference. Be sure to show up a week from today near the northern city gate.” The man shook Caden’s hand once more. “Congratulations on your selection, I hope this experience will prove valuable to you.” Then the man turned and headed out the door.
The following week, Caden arrived at the appointed location. He stood in a line with about eight other men and women. Among them he recognized Mr. Porter. He looked more disheveled than he did that day in the square. His hair was a matted mop of blonde and brown, and he was drenched in sweat. His clothes fit poorly and appeared ruffled, as if he had rolled out of bed wearing it. Caden tried not to stare too long, and followed the lead of the other delegates, focusing on the coordinator. He was tall, well built, with short black hair slicked above a white, oval face. The man trained his icy grey eyes on each of the delegates.
“My name is Dean Ferdinand,” said the man, “and I will serve as the coordinator for this delegation’s trip to Cadmia.” He began to pace back and forth in front of them. “The young among you have been chosen based on your demonstrated intellectual potential,” he continued, “while the more aged among you have been selected due to your unique technical experience. The goal of this mission is simple; to secure a more prosperous economic future for our homeland. For this mission to succeed, we must be united in both will and purpose. The nation depends on it. To foster this sense of camaraderie, we will begin our trip with a hike in the nearby Unity forest. It is a rare opportunity to enjoy the scenery outside the metropolises that cover this continent. So let’s make the most of it.”
To leave the umbrella of Unity City was indeed a rare privilege. Normally, ground camera’s flagged guardian if unauthorized movement through borders was detected. Other members of the group began chatting excitedly as they started on their journey.
As they trudged through the dust, baking under the hot midday sun, Caden observed that Mr. Porter did not carry the group’s enthusiasm. His countenance was contorted, as wrinkles cracked across his face. Perspiration was now streaming down his face, no doubt intensified by the burning sun.
After a couple of hours, Mr. Ferdinand stopped. The group followed suit. “Let’s rest our legs a bit,” said the coordinator. The group sat down in the clearing, save Mr. Porter, who, upon dropping his bag, promptly made his way toward the surrounding brush. “Gotta take a leak,” he grumbled, as he entered the trees.
After about five minutes, the coordinator stood up. “I’d better go check on what happened to Mr. Porter,” he said, and he turned and entered the underbrush, disappearing into the trees.
After some time, Mr. Ferdinand returned from the forest, a somber look on his face. “I have some bad news,” he said. “Mr Porter has just fallen to his death. He decided to take his own life.”
Caden heard several gasps and observed the astonished gaze of the other group members, their eyes fixed on the coordinator.
“I suppose I ought to have seen this coming,” continued the coordinator. “As you may have noticed, Mr. Porter had been acting oddly for quite some time. The man was visibly disturbed.” Silent nods circled around the group. Caden remained still, trying to make sense of exactly what had just happened.
“His condition first came to our attention in an outburst he had at the town square, “ continued the coordinator, “but the man had considerable expertise, and he had assured us before we departed that he would be able to attend this conference. I’m not sure what exactly tipped him over the edge, but whatever it was, I’m sorry we weren’t able to catch it.
“We should let his family know,” said one of the group members.
“Unfortunately Mr. Porter has no surviving relatives,” said the coordinator. “We will, of course, honor his contributions to our society in a memorial ceremony upon our return. For now, those of you who wish to pay your respects immediately may follow me to the site of his demise.”
Caden and a few others stood and followed the coordinator into the woods. After a few minutes, they came upon a steep embankment that descended into the valley below.
“Here is where he perished,” said the coordinator, pointing at the floor of the valley. Caden stepped to the edge of the embankment. At the bottom he could make out the small dark blot of Mr. Porter’s figure. The sight disturbed him greatly. How was this allowed to happen, he thought to himself. Caden was troubled, and it wasn’t just the sight of the dead body that had unsettled him. Something didn’t seem right.
“Unfortunately, we cannot afford to put this trip on hold. I will be sure to explain what has happened to the ministry. We should make our way back to the others,” said Mr. Ferdinand. “Let’s head home and get cleaned up.”
The next day, the group arrived in front of the shuttle station. The shuttle was another feat of technological ingenuity; a chain of chrome colored interlinked pods on a magnetized rail. The group filed into the lead car.
As Caden sat in the shuttle, staring out at the green-brown blur of the passing scenery, he found that the image of Mr. Porter’s crumpled figure remained fixed in his mind. So that is what death looks like, thought Caden. He stared somberly into the distance, thinking of how horrible the rampant death and destruction that existed prior to the Great Disarmament must have been.
“Caden,” called out one of the delegates. He turned and faced the direction of the voice.
“Mr. Ferdinand has asked that you meet with him in the conference room.”
“Ok,” replied Caden, as he rose to his feet.
Caden knocked on the door of the parliamentary room before opening it. “You sent for me?”
“Yes I did,” replied Mr. Ferdinand. He gestured at the empty seat in front of him. Have a seat, please.” As Caden sat, he surveyed the room around him. “There are no cameras,” he observed.
“A necessary precaution, to ensure that our diplomatic agenda is not leaked before it is appropriate.” The man produced a file from his briefcase and slided it over to Caden, who picked it up and skimmed through its contents.
“The folder contains information on Velma Sidwell. Cadmia’s minister of economic development. She’s a vocal opponent of our efforts to invest in a share of the high tech mineral market in Cadmia. Real trouble, that one.”
Caden looked on in shock as the coordinator produced a vial of crystal clear liquid from his briefcase. A shudder crept up Caden’s spine. His breath grew shallow and rapid as his heart pounded against his chest, remembering his encounter with the burly man near the water tower. “Do you know what this is?”
Caden shook his head.
“It contains a tracker. The Unity is interested in following the movements of Ms Sidwell. Knowing who she is meeting and where will be invaluable in aiding the success of our negotiations. You are to bring her person into contact with the liquid. Take care not to get any on yourself or anyone else. If that should happen, the signals we receive from her will be corrupted, which means we’ll have wasted a significant investment as well as the chance to obtain some valuable information.”
“Is there no one else capable of carrying out this task?” asked Caden.
“The other youth delegates have already been briefed.”
“How am I supposed to administer the tracker?”
“Take out the handkerchief from your pocket and carefully apply several drops to it.” Caden did as he was told. Mr. Ferdinand then produced a pair of tweezers and folded the handkerchief over. “Place this folded handkerchief in your pocket.” Caden did so. Next, Mr. Ferdinand produced a small bottle of cologne from the briefcase. Shortly before the beginning of the ceremony, members of the Cadmia delegation, including Ms Sidwell, will approach the youth to greet them. Spray this bottle of cologne on yourself before she arrives. The cologne contains animal dander, which she’s known to be allergic to. As soon as she sneezes, offer her the handkerchief. If you should fail, another delegate will complete the task. Remember, be careful not to touch the interior of the handkerchief. Remember, be careful not to touch the area inside the fold.”
Hours later, Caden mentally repeated Mr. Ferdinand’s instructions as he waited for the Cadmia delegates to enter the room. This sort of action must be common practice in such gatherings, he reassured himself. After all, in any negotiation, information was power. And, after all, the other youth delegates had also prepared themselves to perform the same action.
Finally, the moment arrived when the Cadmia delegates entered the auditorium. As he stood with the audience to applaud, Caden sprayed himself with the allergen before joining the applause. Sidwell was shaking everyone’s hand as she made her way over to Caden. Reaching Caden, she reached out her hand, and Caden grasped it firmly. As he did so, Ms Sidwell began to sneeze. Caden reached into his pocket and offered Ms Sidwell the handkerchief. Without a second thought, Sidwell opened it and sneezed into it several more times.
“Thank you young man,” she said, handing the handkerchief over to caden. Caden pulled his wallet from his pocket and opened it for her to place it in. Ms Sidwell did so, before continuing down the line, shaking more hands as she went.
Caden spent the rest of the day learning about the development goals of Cadmia and Unity, observing lectures and attending workshops, before eventually returning to his hotel with the other members of the Unity delegation. Upon arriving in his room, he lay on the bed and promptly drifted off to sleep.
The next day, Caden stood in the shuttle station with the other delegates, awaiting their shuttle’s scheduled departure. His thoughts turned to his parents back in Unity City. They had been happy to learn of his selection to the delegation. He wondered how they would react when he told them of the trip’s events.
As he was engaged in thought, Caden began to notice a crowd forming near the station’s news screen. He turned to see what had caught their attention—and froze. On the screen were the letters “Velma Sidwell, Minister of Economic Development, Dies of Heart Attack.” Caden stood in stunned silence amid the bustling throng of travelers.
How? How did happen? His mind began to race. This woman was still in her prime. Her health was in good order. She had access to some of the best medical care available. How did this happen?
Caden’s stomach began to sink. He recalled the earlier words of the coordinator. “Real trouble, that one,” he had said. He remembered what he had seen that evening near the gate in Unity City. The way the white coated assistants had handled the vial. The rage of the person who had discovered him spying on them. Ms. Sidwell’s death was no accident.
The weight of this realization began to sink in. An assassination attempt had not been recorded for over a hundred years, let alone an attempt on the life of someone from a foreign nation. If the coroners discovered the true cause of the Executive’s heart attack, the consequences would be dire. Medical experts would run the lethal compounds formula through Guardian and compare it against all of Unity’s existing chemical compounds. If a match were to be detected, it would constitute a violation of the disarmament protocol—activating Guardian’s threat neutralization mechanism. Caden shuddered as he visualized the havoc wrought by the crimson column of destruction, igniting volatile chemicals and incinerating anyone unlucky enough to be caught in the crossfire. He imagined the blistering screams of horror, the wailing cries of those witnessing the destruction of their loved ones.
“Mr. Thomas,” called Mr. Ferdinand. Caden turned to face him as he approached. The coordinator stopped in front of him and held out his hand. “Excellent work at the conference.” Caden remained silent, staring grimly at the news screen. The coordinator turned his gaze toward the screen. “A shame isn’t it, what happened to her.”
“She shouldn’t have gone like that,” said Caden, as he stared coldly at the coordinator.
“Well, it is certainly regrettable,” replied Mr. Ferdinand. “Unfortunately, as advanced as our society is, death remains a common foe for us all.” He paused briefly, training his gaze on Caden. “Come walk with me. I can see that the journey has been taxing with you. Our exit approval is still valid, and the shuttle won’t be arriving for several hours. After a trip like this one, soaking in the comforts of nature is often just what one needs”
Caden shook his head. “I’d rather just head home.”
Mr. Ferdinand looked thoughtfully at Caden before continuing: “I understand that this must be stressful for you. I’m sure you must worry about the health of your parents. They lead quite stressful lives, don’t they? And they aren’t getting any younger.”
Caden bristled with a potent mix of fear and rage. A threat? The coordinator put a hand on his shoulder. “Come. We have much to discuss. We’ll meet up with the other delegates later” Caden followed him apprehensively, and the pair made their way through the city gates.
Absorbed in thought, he two walked silently through the countryside. He’s leading us away from the cameras, observed Caden. So he does intend to discuss what happened. Eventually, Caden broke the silence.
“You said we needed to talk, didn’t you? So talk. Since when did the Unity government decide to indulge in assassinations?”
“Allow me to answer your question with another question. What is the function of a city?”
“To provide a place of refuge for its citizens,” replied Caden.
“Correct. And who protects that refuge?”
“The Guardian system,” said Caden.
“You’re only half right. The Guardian system protects us from physical aggression. However, equally critical to a city’s survival is its ability to provide for its occupants. You see, although we are no longer at the mercy of armed groups of men and women, we are still beholden to the daily necessities of survival. The daily management of that survival necessitates hierarchy, structures of control which have simply evolved to adapt to the existence of the Guardian system. These structures of control and production did not vanish with our armies. And, as in the days of old, there exist numerous independent structures of control, each tasked with protecting a different set of interests. And with diverging sets of interests, conflict is bound to arise.”
“So that’s what this was? An act of protection?”
“Yes,” replied Mr. Ferdinand. “Ms. Stillwell was instrumental in blocking our access to vital minerals critical to the expansion of our city. Our population is burgeoning. If we descend into squalor, it leaves more room for our neighbors to expand, eating up our assets at the expense of the future of our people.”
“So you roped in the medical establishment and tapped their expertise to give us a leg up,” said Caden.
“Correct. The compound we produced leaves a biological signature identical to that left by natural heart failure. It has yet to show up visibly in existing coronary screening practices”
“But what if they somehow trace this back to us? What about the thousands who may die as a result of this action? What of the destruction it may cause? How can you possibly justify such a risk?”
Mr. Ferdinand shook his head. “How disappointing. I had hoped you would understand.”
By this time the pair had entered into a nearby forest. Caden heard a faint roar of a waterfall in the distance.
“Shouldn’t we be heading back?” asked Caden.
“No rush,” replied Mr. Ferdinand. “You should take in the view while you can. We don’t often get such opportunities these days.”
As they made their way through the forest, a sickening thought suddenly occurred to Caden. Here he was, isolated from the majority of civilization, one of a handful of people with knowledge of what had occurred. And he was away from any cameras. His mind suddenly flitted to the crumpled figure of Mr. Porter on the floor of the valley. Suicide, they had called it. And how easy it would be for them to pin him as the principle assassin, a man who drowned in a raging river crushed by the weight of carrying out a terrorist act on behalf of another government. After all, it was his contaminated pen that had been handed to Ms Sidwell. And more items like it may have been planted in his hotel room, by an agent disguised as a janitor. They may even have tampered with the chemical shipments his parents had received. He now understood why Mr. Ferdinand was so confident in his plan’s success. Caden’s death was the failsafe.
I became a target the moment I saw them unloading those vials, Caden thought to himself. How could I be so careless? He slowed his pace, his pulse quickening with every cautious step. The coordinator was following suit, matching his speed. Caden felt a tingling sensation rush through his body as adrenaline began coursing through his veins. The ominous roar of the waterfall grew louder with every step. Now or never, Caden thought to himself.
It happened in an instant. Caden desperately shoved the coordinator and bolted, releasing the tension in his body like a coiled spring. Mr. Ferdinand staggered before sprinting after Caden.
Caden tore through trees, numb to the pain as the surrounding branches ripped into his flesh. The coordinator was in hot pursuit, seemingly immune to the blows. Soon the edge of the forest was in sight. Almost there, thought Caden, willing his legs to carry him forward.
Suddenly, his foot struck a gnarled root. Caden fell quickly to the floor. He rolled onto his back as the Coordinator leaped on him, closing his fingers around Caden’s neck. Caden’s chest heaved helplessly as he choked, gasping desperately for air. The Coordinator’s grip tightened. Caden’s head began to pound, his vision losing clarity. He clawed frantically at his surroundings, desperate to grab hold of something, anything to defend himself. At last, his hand closed around a large stone. Gathering what remaining strength he could muster, he swung it as hard as he could.
The stone crashed against the coordinator’s skull with a sickening crack. Caden immediately felt the grip on his neck loosen. The coordinator clutched his wound, blood streaming down the side of his face. Caden quickly seized his chance, lifting his hips and rolling over, throwing the coordinator off balance. The coordinator’s back hit the floor. Caden brought the stone down on the coordinator’s head again and again, crying out in desperation with each strike. The coordinator moved more slowly with each blow, until at last his body went limp.
Caden leaned back on his blood-soaked arms, heaving heavily. A dull pain began to pulse through his body. He grew sick as he looked at the body in front of him and began to wretch. After a few painful dry heaves, he sat upright, breathing deeply. As he sat, he began contemplating the weight of what had just occurred.
“For 100 years, the world has known nothing but unprecedented peace.” The words rang hollow in his mind. He thought of the three lives lost in the course of this trip, of the thousands of people who had perished at the hands of that vile clear toxin, of the thousands more who’s lives continued to hang in a balance. We’re so fragile, he thought. Too fragile. There are so many ways to end a life. Though we may make every effort to prevent its loss, the wolves among us will find cunning ways to bring life to a sudden end. For all of Mr. Ferdinand’s flaws, Caden determined, he was right about one thing. The real war had never left them.
Caden gazed into the distance, contemplating the turbulence humanity was soon to enter. After this assassination attempt came to light, he was conved others made by other nations in the past would come to light. The world was about to explode once again. All he could do was hope that people would be ready when it did. Standing to his feet, Caden limped back toward the City.