EPISODE 3: Jacob Jackson
October 24th, 2027
DENVER HAD NOT YET seen its first case of infection. Under curfew, the streets at night were quiet. The whole city held its breath in dread, waiting for the sound of drunken feet scuffing against asphalt—but they hadn’t heard it, yet.
America held out the longest, in a world teetering on the edge of collapse. The pandemic, starting when patient zero was quarantined in China, had spread inexorably across Asia, enveloped the Middle East, and reached its fingers into Europe. Travel bans were instituted. Flights out of infected countries were prohibited, and the borders of the unaffected nations of the world were closed to the teeming multitudes of people trying to escape the horror that swallowed their homelands. But no border could ever be perfectly secure.
The virus continued to spread. A trickle, at first—to outrun the hordes that they had watched tear their own country apart, a handful of families would sneak through a checkpoint overnight, not knowing or not caring that they carried a secret seed of that same death with them as they fled in animal panic. From that trickle, a raging current would grow, every time. And the process would repeat itself, unfold again.
The plague could not be stopped once it began to spread through a new population. It came on too fast to contain. People escaping from Kazakhstan brought the virus to Russia. Russians escaping into Finland or Ukraine carried the wave on. After Ukraine fell Romania, Hungary, and Poland; and on and on.
In the final days of Europe, many countries abandoned all humanity, fighting ruthlessly to stop the advancing wall of death that swept over the world. In Croatia, for one, the army and a militia of volunteers patrolled the boarders, making the edges of the country bristle with rifles like the quills of a porcupine. They shot all asylum-seekers on sight as they came streaming out of infected lands. They held back the first waves, protecting themselves from the living. But the last wave to come on—the advancing horde of the dead—was not stopped by their guns. The rifles coughed out volleys of bullets that streaked through the air with the sound of a locomotive. But the dead kept coming, kept pushing through the bee stings of bullets and, in the end, Croatia was just another step towards the beetling cliffs and gray surf of the Atlantic.
America held out the longest. The Atlantic and the Pacific were buffers that, for a while, kept her safe. Though, inside the country, the potent effects of the global pandemic were poignant. Politically and economically, America became a huddled, isolationist stronghold. Imports and exports were frozen, all relations with the world beyond ceased as, one after the other, the frantic cries for help from other nations faded away into radio static. The Canadian and Mexican borders were staunchly guarded, and, inside the country, people brooded in fear of everything outside, trying to carry on their lives, trying to forget that the world was ending.
It was commonly understood that the virus came to American shores on August 21st, 2027. A man named Howard Franklin died in his hospital bed, two days after being admitted for a severe case of the flu. His corpse reanimated minutes later, slid off his bed, and attacked a nurse. It was already too late. He had carried the virus into that Delaware hospital. Everyone he had been in contact with in the ER the night of his admittance, or in the days since then, was at risk of developing infection. No one knew how the virus had leapt across the Atlantic to make this Delaware man into American patient-zero. No one knew, that is, until a CDC investigation revealed that he was a member of the Red Cross.
The Coast Guard had been thickly patrolling the East Coast for months, warning away every refugee ship that approached, sinking any that didn’t turn around. Red Cross ships, too, cruised the waters, trying to ascertain through radio communication which ships carried infection and which didn’t. Any ship that they determined was clear of the virus, they boarded, offering medical aid, drinking water, and supplies to the people aboard.
Howard Franklin and his team had boarded a derelict cruise ship somewhere off the coast of Maryland, two weeks before his hospitalization. They hadn’t been able to establish contact with the ship by radio, and there was no sign of anyone alive on deck. They had hailed and boarded the ship to check for survivors in need of assistance, but the absence of both souls and lifeboats indicated that the vessel had been abandoned.
The team split up and searched the cabins for clues as to what had happened.
Cracking a door and poking his head into the ship’s infirmary, Howard had reportedly been greeted by a surreal and ghastly sight: a desiccated corpse wrapped in a Johnny gown, lying stiffly on the white tile floor onto which it had fallen from the steel table.
Howard was speechless. He stepped through the doorway, blinking at the weird, sleepy scene. The gleaming steel instruments and white walls were awash in crisp light from the portholes. It made the room glow, like a caricature of heaven, populated only by the dead. The corpse on the floor was as dry as desert carrion, papery skin stretched across brittle bones, chapped lips folded back in a permanent grin, revealing rows of white teeth as straight as dentures. In life, the man who had died there on that cruise-ship operating table must have spent a small fortune on orthodontia.
Howard stepped towards the corpse, his mind buzzing with questions. Why did they leave the body when they abandoned ship? What happened here?
The corpse then grabbed at Howard’s leg.
Like a spring-loaded trap, the arm moved blindly and stiffly. The brown, dead hand seized his ankle, and the whole skeletal corpse pulled itself forward along the tiles, biting down on his shin with sinewy force, breaking some of those perfect, white teeth.
Blood seeped through the fabric of Howard’s jeans. He screamed, kicking the thing back; the corpse slid across the floor and was still. There was no other movement in the dead muscles, no breathing. The papery eyelids never opened. It was so utterly still that Howard almost wondered if it had even moved, or if he was dreaming; but the searing pain in his shin seized his attention and made him believe the corpse really had attacked him.
He must have known, of course, what had just happened. By then, he must have seen enough terrifying news reels, frantic cable TV punditry, shaky phone-camera videos, prepper social media posts gone viral, and televised prayer circles to understand his fate: he had been infected.
The virus had come to this cruise ship. That was why it drifted, abandoned. That was why the crew and passengers had left the body in the hospital.
And now he was going to die.
He was going to die and turn into a monster, like the monsters that even then swept across Europe. If anyone else knew what he had found, and that he had been bitten, they would throw him overboard. If they didn’t throw him overboard, the Coast Guard would sink their ship.
He was wild with fear and pain, looking around the sunny hospital with bulging eyes. No one can know, he must have thought. No one can know what happened here.
In the end, he couldn’t think of anything but saving himself.
And no one did know.
Howard used the medical supplies all around him to clean and dress his wound, doing his best to hide all signs that he had been attacked. He rejoined his team and told them that every room he searched had been empty; there was no hint as to why the ship had been abandoned. That terrified, selfish man had gotten back onto his ship and headed home to Delaware, incubating in his bloodstream the plague that he would unleash on U.S. soil.
Less than three months later, the East Coast was in chaos. New York and Boston were on fire, people were fleeing en masse to the Midwest—overland on foot like war refugees, or in cars loaded with all the remains of their belongings, inching through miles of traffic on blocked highways past checkpoint after checkpoint. They were all desperate to stay ahead of the advancing front-lines of the virus.
They were like cattle, herded by soldiers in gas-masks in a state of martial law. Sometimes the only thing separating streams of fleeing Americans from the thick, straggling hordes of the undead were lines of riot police with fire hoses, driving the throngs back, buying precious seconds for as many as possible to escape before the undead drove forward and broke against the fleeing human beings, like a greater river gushing over a smaller one and drowning it.
Millions were displaced in the evacuation of the Eastern United States. When Washington, D.C. was overrun by the undead, The Federal Government was uprooted and driven to take refuge in emergency bunkers in the Rockies. New York was emptied of survivors by the military. Most relocated to enormous FEMA camps, like tent-cities, hastily erected in the Shenandoah Valley region of West Virginia. Boston was overrun too fast to save, cut off from military aid. Some people managed to escape as the city descended into pandemonium, but the mass casualties were mind-boggling. In an act of desperation, to slow the plague, the President ordered Boston bombed.
But in Denver in October of 2027, Jacob Jackson was safe in a state that played host to the President and the other remnants of the Federal Government, a state with closed borders, under heavy guard, which by then violently rejected every outsider seeking asylum from the burning East. The infection hadn’t penetrated that far yet.
Chicago was falling and everyone knew the tent-cities in West Virginia were already a hot bed of infection, ready to burst into an inferno. Like an advancing army, the virus still had front lines. But those clear front lines had already blurred; large pockets of infection consistently cropped up in unexpected places, baffling the government agencies that worked around the clock to thwart the advance of the plague.
But Chicago was far enough from Denver. As far West as Colorado, people still felt safe.
Jacob sat in his chair by his bedroom window, the Bible in his lap illuminated by moonlight to one side, his desk-lamp to the other. It was past midnight; the city beyond his little room was asleep. He was deep in the sound of wind, sighing through the streets, creeping in his open window. A clock ticked at the end of the dark hallway outside his room, counting the seconds as they died. The night-sounds distilled into a single drone more sleepy than sleep itself. His eyes were heavy as he poured over the Bible verses, scanning over crisp, black words on a stark white page.
He read with an exhausted desperation—fear and desperation so mixed with fatigue that the fear was something heavy, slow, and languid. He had spent enough weeks in panic that he was too tired to panic anymore.
Jacob was young; his parents had tried to shelter him against the worst news coming from the East Coast. They never talked about it in front of him. They shut off the TV newscasts when he entered the room. But he knew what was happening. He heard the whispers at school, or he found the truth when he searched for the stories online; he sat through the calls to prayer for the people in the East when the Jackson family went to church. His parents’ weak effort to shield him was always doomed to fail. He knew the country was falling apart. He knew that the plague, brought to his country by Howard Franklin, was advancing west every single day, and he knew that the hordes were getting closer to the quiet streets outside his window with every tick of the clock at the end of the dark hallway.
He continued to pour over the Bible, sharp text bathed in moonlight like swords lying in frost.
Jacob prided himself on having a poet’s sensibility. He loved Milton, and the towering imagery in Paradise Lost made him shiver and his mouth go dry. When he read it, he imagined himself saying those things, inspiring followers, raising himself up above everyone and being revered as the leader of a new age. He always had broader shoulders, in his imagination. When he saw himself preaching from the mount in front of his followers, Jacob was never as pale or rail-thin as he was in reality.
Jacob hoarded his books with boyish pride and gloated over his own impressive vocabulary. And he had always loved to make his friends feel that he was smarter than them. He lost friends that way, but he didn’t care; he’d rather have admiration than friends.
He spoke well—or, if not well, at least long and often. Sitting there with his Bible, his thoughts ran through his mind in high-flown language, though they rang emptily, like broken silver bells, like wind whistling through the skull of an orator.
As he hunched there, fatigued and afraid, the burning East drifted through his imagination; the earth crumbling before the limbs of the teeming dead, a confusion of limbs rising up like a tangled nest of snakes, below the slow, vast trump of Judgment Day.
Mankind is dying. Mankind is dying under a curse from God. He still stared at his Bible, but he no longer read the words. We are being judged. We are wicked—Judgment is only terrible for the wicked. Justice for the good and pure is eternal life. Society has lost its way and flaunted God’s laws, and this is the price.
His eyes went wide. He was beginning to understand something, or imagine he did. Something so dim it must be holy. Something beyond himself that he must trust, something so shrouded that it must be great.
We are running from Judgment, he thought. But we can’t run. We can’t hide here. Judgment is coming for us, and we can’t stop it or hide from it. We can only act here and now, so that when Judgment arrives, God will snatch us from the midst of the Apocalypse and give us a crown to wear, with a bayonet-point like the North Star.
Jacob wasn’t young anymore. Something descended on him, and he was old. He was a bearded patriarch with Old Testament eyes. He imagined himself striding out his door, calling his followers to his side with a clear voice like a gospel horn, and charging into a holy battle. Jacob imagined a space on the wall near God’s throne, where his sword would hang beside Joshua’s.
He closed his Bible.
October 30th, 2027
In the wee hours after his revelation, he had taken to his IRC discussion forums. For years, he had spent hours and hours on those threads. The people he talked with there were just impersonal usernames and blocks of inflectionless text; he was happiest communicating that way. He unburdened himself and gave those usernames a truer glimpse of himself than he gave anyone else. He supplied inflection to the replies he read, his mind filling in details of personality, nuances of meaning behind everything they said. The people he knew online were more than halfway creations of his own mind, and he preferred it that way.
He had spent whole summers talking with those people about faith, uncertainty, life, and death. When his revelation came to him, they were the group he became desperate to tell.
The forums had been dark and quiet in recent weeks. Jacob lit them up. He typed streams of text, calling for other people of faith to join him in a holy war, to prove themselves pure and escape Judgment. If he had any gift with words, he unfurled it there. He beseeched other true Christians to join him with all the eloquence he could muster, like a new prophet imparting the words he had received from God. He typed feverishly, until he could type no more, when he finally collapsed onto his bed and slept.
The next morning, there was a private message waiting for him, from username “Lightfire.” Jacob knew that username belonged to a Christian man from Nevada, whose real name was Daryl; he had been talking with him for two years. Jacob opened the message, and read with his mouth curling like a child being praised. Lightfire said that he shared Jacob’s faith, his belief that the true followers of Christ were being called upon to prove their purity to God, in a world buckling under the weight of Judgment. He asked were Jacob was, and said he would come to him; he would join Jacob, because it was nearly too late, and he knew others who would join the cause as well.
Jacob’s mind swam. He replied to Lightfire, and waited for more responses to come from others.
After less than a week of IRC correspondence with several people who were moved by Jacob’s revelations, it was agreed where and when they would all gather, and what the first act of their holy campaign would be.
At 12:00 a.m. on October 30th, Daryl from Nevada, a New Mexico woman named Dorothy, two other men from Colorado, and Jacob stood together in the shadows behind University of Colorado Hospital.
The assembled crusaders had all been shocked to see how young Jacob was, when they met him in person. Jacob was furious when Daryl called him a “child,” and he spouted a towering storm of purple words, blustering about his mission and his appointment as God’s new prophet, hating it any time his voice cracked.
Finally Daryl had pushed past him and walked towards the hospital, muttering, “Fuck it. Let’s do what we’re here for.”
Jacob was filled with incendiary rage; he wished he could draw a sword and stab Daryl through the heart, but he didn’t have a sword.
The woman from New Mexico looked at Jacob with a strange face, and the other two men followed bearded Daryl without saying anything. The dynamic was shifting; Jacob had called them all together, but Daryl was becoming the leader. The others were following him, instead. Jacob wanted to scream something that would make them all regret what they were doing, but he didn’t know what to scream.
Jacob turned to the woman, Dorothy. She still looked at him strangely. He couldn’t stand it, and he slapped her in the face to make her stop.
The men ignored the woman and child. Daryl stood outside a door behind the hospital, under a light fixture and a surveillance camera. He didn’t care if he was being recorded; he made an obscene gesture at the lens. Squatting down, he held out the gasoline container he carried and began pouring the harsh-smelling liquid under the door, to slosh across the tiles inside. Some dribbled down the steps, and he shifted back to keep it from getting all over his boots.
“Bring the rest,” he snarled, and the two Colorado men walked across the parking lot. They started pouring gas on the hospital walls, walking down the length of the building in opposite directions until their containers were empty.
“Hey, kid,” Daryl snapped. “Write your message.”
Jacob glowered, but walked to a bare, dry section of wall and began to spray-paint his gospel in red across the concrete: “Judgment Day is upon us! Repent and burn the child-killing whores in our midst and God will spare you!”
Daryl threw his cigarette lighter onto the pool of gasoline.
October 31st, 2027
“This was the best place to make them all hear us,” Daryl said.
He and Jacob and the others had slunk away from the burning hospital as soon as the lighter had been thrown.
During the remaining daylight hours, they were all hiding in Daryl’ RV, with sheets duct-taped over the windows. They had driven to a secluded spot near some railroad tracks, and parked beneath an enormous concrete overpass. There were other junk cars around, and they felt sure they would blend in and avoid detection for a while.
“Denver was the best place to get the message out,” Daryl repeated, “because the government is holed up right there in the Rocky Mountains. We just lit a fire under their noses. The media will be all over it. Cameras will be all over it.” He leaned back against the side of the RV, sitting on the floor, his legs splayed.
He then said what everyone was thinking: “But we can’t stay here forever. The whole state is crawling with police and soldiers. We need to keep the movement going, keep spreading the word—not get shot by some cops who have more blood on their hands than we ever will, because they’re part of the wicked system that is bringing all this death down onto the world.”
“We need to travel,” Jacob jumped in, desperate to get everyone listening to him speak again. His skin crawled at the way they were all watching Daryl, waiting for him to give direction to the group. Jacob was once again ignored.
“But let’s make one last show here, before we go,” Daryl continued, showing his crooked teeth. “We have the cameras rolling, let’s give them more to see.”
He stood and walked down the length of the RV, to where several boxes were piled. He pulled aside a moving-pad that had half-covered the jumble, and opened one of the boxes. Inside: assault rifles and dozens of red cardboard containers of ammo.
At 3:50 p.m., they pulled up to the sidewalk in front of the Lindsey-Flanigan Courthouse.
The escape plan they had formulated was simple, but as wild and daring as an Old West robbery. One of the Colorado men, named Ryan Georgio, had once been a train engineer. They would use that to their advantage, to escape from the state after their work was done.
Most of the big Amtrak trains weren’t in use anymore; travel into and out of the state was an intensely regulated trickle of people, and a lot of the engines that up until recently had streaked across the continent, pulling hundreds of passengers from as far as Chicago, were retired to the train-yard. But Daryl insisted that stealing a train was their best shot. No one would be able to stop them, once they got going. There were checkpoints on the highways, and roadblocks. So they couldn’t flee by road. There were patrols through the open country outside the city, so they couldn’t flee on foot. But on a speeding train, how the hell could anybody stop them? The police, the Government—whoever—would just have to let the crusaders go. And the true believers would head into the Midwest, where no one would even bother to follow them. After all, it was supposedly death to go there. The search would be called off. But crusaders would be fine, because they were pure, and doing God’s work. They would plunge into the heart of the rapture, and be saved.
“This place is a new Sodom,” Daryl said, ramming a cartridge into his assault rifle and nodding towards the courthouse outside the partially-covered window of the RV. “Every courthouse in our damn country is a little seed of Sodom, blighting the land, making our families into a mockery of God. Courthouses and city-halls, they’re all hives of fag marriage. We make a stand here, and it’ll send a message.”
Ryan Georgio and David Cobb, the other Colorado man, nodded nervously.
Jacob held one of the assault rifles in his hands, feeling the cold metal, surprised at how little it weighed. He had fired guns before, but mostly only on the shooting range. He was shaking, and wondered why. Why am I scared? I can’t be scared. This may be Daryl’s idea, but it’s still God’s work. I agree that this is right. But I hate to agree with Daryl.
That is why I’m shaking.
Dorothy stayed behind the wheel of the RV with the engine running, ready to make a rapid getaway, and Daryl threw open the side door. The men piled out of the vehicle onto the sidewalk. They stood there blinking in the sun for the space of a breath.
Jacob felt numb. This wasn’t what he’d imagined. He had imagined vast, heroic charges against the forces of wickedness, like the clash between the angels and the renegades on the day Satan was cast into Hell; but this was all too rushed, too mechanical. There was no poetry.
They walked on stiff legs towards the courthouse with guns in their hands, and Jacob looked at the familiar front of the building with a numb feeling. This was no charge against a strange, dark enemy; they walked through an unlocked door, into a commonplace building, hearing commonplace voices—until the people inside noticed the gunmen.
Then the screaming began.
Jacob recognized a few of the faces of people inside the courthouse; but they were different somehow. They were a crowd, today. Not people. Not individuals. Just faces in a crowd.
“There’s no law but God’s law!” Daryl screamed, and he started to fire.
The loud banging made Jacob’s ears ring, and after the first shot all the screaming faded away into concussive static.
There were no more voices, just buzzing and static. He started to fire, too, and so did the other two men; people around the room fell like stuffed dolls, red splattering onto the walls and floor.
He had shot a duck once, hunting with his father, and had seen the red in its feathers. This was just the same. The red spraying over the walls was just like the red he had seen slopping across the duck’s white breast.
It was all too rushed and mechanical. Daryl reached out of the thick buzzing air and grabbed Jacob’s shoulder. Pulling him out of the courthouse, they rushed for the waiting RV. But then Jacob remembered who he was, as he fled the courthouse, the buzzing in his ears fading and the long moans rising up, filling the air like the voices of the damned. Jacob was the bearded patriarch with the Old Testament eyes. Why was he following Daryl? Why was he letting Daryl pull him around?
He shot the running man’s knee from behind. The leg fairly exploded; Daryl fell to the sidewalk, screaming. Jacob didn’t hesitate. He shot the man again and again in the back as he tried to crawl.
Daryl quickly stopped trying to crawl.
Standing over Daryl’s body, Jacob told the group, “You follow me.”
There was something new in his voice that made the other men listen. They knew that he wasn’t young anymore.
There was only one guard, strolling through the train-yard. The man was there because it was his job; he wasn’t paying attention. He obviously didn’t expect anyone to try to steal one of the locomotives. He turned and looked with round eyes when the RV burst through the fence and hurtled across the dirt towards him.
(Outside the courthouse, Jacob had taken the wheel from Dorothy, because he knew the way around the city. He grabbed her and kissed her forcefully as he took the driver’s seat. It was a domineering gesture. He was claiming her, putting her beneath himself and showing the group, again, that he was their leader. He had never kissed anyone, and the action was clumsy; his teeth clattered against hers and it hurt, but he ignored the pain.)
Barreling across the train-yard, he stomped on the gas pedal and steered towards the astonished guard. The man tried to dodge, but the RV clipped him and he spun sideways off the fender, crumpling in a heap against the train-tracks.
“He would have radioed for help,” Jacob yelled, but no one had questioned why he had run the man down. “Ryan, does this one look alright?” Jacob spat, pulling the RV up alongside one of the unused locomotives. The large, blue-and-white engine was pulled to the side of a platform, off of the main tracks.
“I can’t be sure until we get inside,” Ryan said. “But it looks like a diesel-electric hybrid. If it has enough fuel aboard to get it moving, we can use the regenerative breaking to charge up the battery, and keep us going indefinitely.”
They shot the train door with nearly a dozen rounds before the lock broke and they could get aboard. They found a gift from God waiting for them: there was enough diesel fuel in the tanks for the engine to start.
David reversed the train down the side track, pulling around the curve at the platform, back onto the main tracks. Jacob and Ryan jumped outside to switch the junction in the tracks by hand with the heavy, squeaking lever, so they could advance eastward on the main line.
As soon as they were underway, Ryan began intermittently applying the brakes; the electric hybrid engine collected energy from friction in the brake-pads, efficiently charging the battery. After several miles, they had gathered enough energy in the reservoir to keep them going for a long while, because they weren’t using up power pulling any cargo or passenger cars.
The scenes outside the windows were changing quickly. The train-yard was gone; the tracks made a beeline out of the city, first cutting through empty slums, skirting junkyards. Then they passed a tract of greenery on either side of the tracks. The trees folded back, and revealed an intersection and storefronts. Ryan pulled the cord to blare the horn, but the drivers in the intersection had no prior warning. There was no one operating the crossing-gate, no one stopping traffic where the rails ran through the street.
The engine plowed through cars, shrapnel spraying ahead of the locomotive in a wide fan, shattering windows in the storefronts and sending pedestrians running for cover, a handful of them cut down by flying debris. The cars rolled and crumpled, thrust along ahead of the locomotive like toys, until they finally fell to pieces and were scattered along the tracks. Dorothy was screaming and sobbing in the back of the compartment; this was no worse than anything they had all done already, but the horror was wearing on her. They were, all of them, beginning to break under the strain of it.
Ryan was sweating at the control panel, blaring the horn so others would scatter as the onrushing train advanced through the city. David prayed quietly. Only Jacob was silent, staring ahead into the chaos with bright, hot eyes. He alone was not gnawed by doubt.
He knew that they were right, and that the blood on their hands wouldn’t stain. He was too pure to stain. How can you stain light? How can you defile a star?
They saw the flashing lights of emergency vehicles in the streets as they whipped past. Police, ambulances, fire-engines. The city was scrambling to clear the tracks ahead, as reports poured in of a rogue locomotive crashing through town. Meanwhile, police, military and emergency medical personnel were already on the scene of the shooting at the courthouse, and the obvious connection had immediately been made between the separate acts of terrorism committed that day. The authorities knew they were dealing with lunatic Christian extremists, by the statements of survivors at the courthouse, and by the graffiti at the burned hospital. And they guessed that the stolen locomotive was another step in this campaign of terror.
The military mobilized to head them off, calling patrols from all around the countryside beyond the city to cluster at the train-tracks, blocking the terrorists’ escape route.
Jacob, staring ahead, watched the buildings recede beside them, as the train erupted out of the city and passed into a wide field. The tracks wended around the rolling foothills of the Rockies, and soaring, dark, snowcapped peaks could be seen far off, slowly scrolling, like a painted arras rigged up behind a theater stage.
There were black dots in the green fields ahead, like beetles crawling along the ribbon of tracks. Jacob saw them and watched them grow. David saw them, too.
“Oh, fuck,” Ryan said. His eyes were wild, like a hunted animal. “Those are fucking tanks. They’re gonna blast us off the tracks.” He reached frantically for the brakes, to stop the train before they got any closer to the military formation.
“Speed up,” Jacob screamed, knocking Ryan’s hand away from the brake lever. “Ram them.”
“Are you fucking insane?” Ryan screamed.
Jacob had been watching Ryan at the controls all along; he knew basically how to use them. Ryan wasn’t important anymore. And now he had lost faith.
Jacob grabbed his rifle off the floor and shot Ryan in the head and chest, the bullets cutting through his body and breaking the window behind him.
Dorothy screamed again, and David lunged forward to wrestle the gun away. But he wasn’t fast enough. Jacob shot him, too.
The cabin was splattered in blood, but Jacob didn’t care. He dove for the control panel, jamming down the lever he had watched Ryan use, and was knocked over backwards by the force of the rapid acceleration.
Dorothy slipped in the blood and fell, hitting her head against the wall. She lay there quietly, as Jacob scrambled upright and looked out the windshield.
The tanks were coming into clear focus, now. Jacob could see the tread-plates churning, crushing the grass. He could see the pattern of green and brown camouflage painted onto metal. He could see the gun turrets turning to track the train. And then, all at once, they began to fire. The muzzle-flashes of those huge guns were like the exhaust ports on a launching space shuttle. The shells whistled across the field. The grass bent under the sudden, harsh wind, sweeping towards Jacob’s advancing train.
The first shell hit the tracks just ahead of Jacob, and the locomotive flew off the burst rails and into the air, crashing down and rolling with a catastrophic spray of dirt and grass. There was a Banshee-shriek of metal shredding and tearing, and glass sprayed into the cabin as the windows all exploded, mincing Jacob’s skin with a million cuts and gashes. He was thrown around inside the rolling train like loose clothes in a tumble dryer.
Incredibly, he hadn’t yet lost consciousness; he was aware of the searing pain of his bones breaking as he crashed against the walls and ceiling, was pelted and buried by jagged hunks of metal, uncovered as gravity suddenly reversed, and buried again. David’s mangled dead body thudded into him, pinning his legs.
The train came to rest on its side.
The windows were covered by debris. Jacob was in the dark, except for one slant ray of sun that fell through a gap in the twisted, broken seams of the walls and landed across his eyes. He lay there, his weak, broken legs pinned beneath David’s body, and was dazzled by the light in his eyes.
His concussed brain swam; he tried to think, but it hurt to think, so he stopped. There were voices outside. The soldiers were coming. But God was speaking to him. He could hear a voice whispering, now that he was too tired to think. His own thoughts cleared away, and he could hear God.
There was a scraping sound; a fragment of sheet metal was moved off one of the side windows, now directly above Jacob like a skylight.
Voices. There were soldiers there.
Jacob saw a face, framed by the sky above, peering into the dark cabin.
“There’s someone alive in here,” the soldier said. “What the hell? It’s a kid.”
“Help,” Jacob rasped.
God was whispering the right words to say into his ear. He had to continue the work. He needed these people to pull him out of the wreckage.
“They took me hostage,” Jacob said, coughing.
The soldier forced his way through the window now, scaling the wall on hand- and footholds like a rock-climber.
“They took me hostage. I managed to get the gun. I shot two of them. I want to go home.”
Jacob finally lost consciousness.