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Protective Measures

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Imagine being stuck in school forever. Living there, working there, and eating every meal there. That’s what Taryn and every other kid from her town has to do. Freedom comes at a heavy cost.

Fantasy / Action
Age Rating:


“Remmy, 1305,” the lunch operator’s voice rang over the intercom.

“Wonder what’s for lunch today,” Laiken said, removing a piece of his unruly black hair from his eyes.

“Probably the same as yesterday and the day before and the day before,” Ryker answered, tying one of his black work boots.

“I was just being sarcastic,” Laiken said.

Ryker noticed Laiken's baggy gray T-shirt. "Why are you wearing a tent?"

"It was the only one in the laundry room. It's the same size as yours."

"Yeah, but compared to your tent, mine fits like a wetsuit." Ryker pulled the fabric from his skin and let it snap back.

"The only thing that fits right are these stupid boots," Laiken said, gesturing to the black combat boots everyone was required to wear.

"You need to bulk up, I could snap you like a twig," Ryker said, tucking his gray cargo pants into his boots.

“Where’s Taryn?” Laiken asked.

“Probably still in class,” Ryker said. “Her fourth hour teacher's a bitch.”

“Language, Mr. Stills!” screeched the line monitor.

Ryker whispered, “How the hell did she hear me?”

TARYN WAS SITTING IN HER FINANCE class waiting for the teacher to dismiss them for lunch. They never got out the same time as everyone else. Today they were learning about auto insurance. The rest of her class was just as agitated as she was.

“Can we go to lunch yet?” one of the students asked.

Mrs. Garn yelled, “Did I dismiss you?”

Taryn grabbed her things, got up, and walked toward the door, her light brown hair flowing around her shoulders. Instantly everyone else did the same. She didn’t care that she would probably get punished, she just wanted out of this room.

“Where do you think you are going Ms. Bicks?” Mrs. Garn asked.

“Lunch,” Taryn responded with mischievous emerald eyes.

“I don’t recall giving you permission,” Mrs. Garn spat.

Taryn said, “Well I don’t recall asking for permission.”

Everyone was obviously trying to hold back a laugh as they filed out the door.

“I’ll expect to see you after lunch, Taryn,” Garn said.

“Wouldn’t miss it.” Taryn left the room. She put her stuff in her locker before meeting her friends outside the cafeteria.

“What took you so long?” Ryker asked Taryn as she walked up.

“Oh, you know, just got into the lesson today,” Taryn responded with a hint of sarcasm.

“Did she dismiss you?” Laiken asked.

“No,” Taryn responded. “And let me tell you, she was pissed. I have to go back after lunch.”

“Well, say goodbye to your pretty face for a while,” Ryker said.

“Stills, 1390,” the announcer said.

“Finally. I’m starving. See you guys in there,” Ryker said and went to the door.

Taryn and Laiken had to wait for three more numbers to be called before they could eat. By the time they got there, Ryker was already finished and waiting at a long, black, slate table. He was sitting on a black metal folding chair.

“I could only save one other chair,” Ryker said when his friends got to the table. “I guess you’ll just have to sit on my lap.”

Laiken said, “I’d rather sit on the floor.”

“I wasn’t talking to you,” Ryker said to Laiken, but he was smiling at Taryn.

“Hopefully the chair holds up,” Laiken said with a laugh.

"Are you calling us fat?" Ryker asked.

"No, just you," Laiken said.

Taryn laughed, jumped up on the table, and sat cross-legged with her food tray in her lap.

"I'm not fat," Ryker protested.

"You're the one who said your uniform fit like a wetsuit," Laiken said.

"Well, we weren't all born popsicle sticks," Ryker said.

"I'm not a popsicle stick," Taryn said innocently.

"Shut up," Ryker said giving up.

Laiken laughed and said, "I think we're making him self-conscious.”

The bell sounded to mark the beginning of afternoon sector work. The morning was all classes, and after lunch everyone had to go to work in the jobs they chose. Taryn, Laiken, and Ryker were all in building, which is where they had met.

“I guess I’ll see you guys when I’m done with Garn and her boys,” Taryn said as they split up at the doors. She watched them leave, pushing each other and laughing. She loved seeing them together, just like brothers. When the boys rounded the corner, she made her way back to the classroom.

Before she even reached the classroom she knew something was wrong. The hallway was too empty and too quiet. She walked into the room to find most of the teachers present, and at the very back stood the master, Alloy. He was short and heavyset. His black suit fit like a second skin. He had bleached blond, slicked-back hair, and his face was always tight and emotionless. Taryn knew this could not end well. She put on her best “I don’t care” face and stood in front of the assembly.

“Do you know why you’re here, Ms. Bicks?” Alloy asked.

“I left class without being dismissed. Since when is that something you get involved in?”

“That is one reason you are here, but there are many more. I have been keeping my eye on you and have found that you are a leader for some of these students—too much of a leader. They seem to think that when you are around they can get away with more. Not to mention your constant misbehavior anyway. We are going to put a stop to that.” Alloy said. He grabbed the intercom mic and made the announcement, “All students must now report to the auditorium. Please sit in your rank order, with the highest in the front.” He clicked off the intercom and faced Taryn again.

“Now, Taryn if you would follow me to the auditorium, we can get this over with and put you back in your place.” Alloy's face sported a devilish grin.

ALL THE STUDENTS ASSEMBLED IN the gym and sat according to their ranks. Ryker and Laiken sat in the front row because they were in the highest ranking group.

“What’s this for?” Laiken asked.

“Probably another video and lecture telling us why we're here.”

“I wonder where Taryn is,” Laiken said.

“Maybe cleaning the blood off her face,” Ryker said with dry humor.

Laiken said, “You know she wouldn’t clean it off without letting us see it first.” But that was the end of the conversation because Master Alloy walked to the center of the auditorium with his microphone and began his speech.

“Hello students. I have decided that the new members should see what happens when things get out of hand. We are here to suppress the acts of rebellion. I have come to the conclusion that one student in particular has been the instigator. She has given the student body the idea that they can do whatever they want,” Master Alloy said.

“Uh-oh,” Laiken whispered.

“Crap!” Ryker hissed.

“Now, Mrs. Garn will you please bring in Ms. Taryn Bicks,” Master Alloy said. The whole room went into mumbles. Mrs. Garn escorted Taryn to the center of the room, right next to Alloy. Taryn, with a huge grin, turned and waved to the student audience.

“I wouldn’t be so cocky if I were you. No one will be following you when this assembly is over,” Alloy said facing Taryn. He turned back to the students and continued, “You all should feel honored to have the ability to see this rare event. Guards, come in.”

“It’s not her fault we have our own opinions!” A girl yelled from the second row of builders. The whole crowd erupted in agreement.

“It may not be her fault, but she will be putting it to an end.” Alloy turned to the girl in the second row. “And Ms. Tracker, I advise you to keep your thoughts to yourself. Guards, if you would please tie Ms. Bicks' hands, we will begin.”

The school guards approached Taryn. She held out her arms for them to tie.

“She's way too cocky for her own good,” Laiken whispered.

“I’m pretty sure she's going to enjoy this,” Ryker said.

Laiken just shook his head.

The head guard brought out The Stick and handed it to Master Alloy, who took The Stick and continued his speech.

“We will begin with the punishment for leaving without being dismissed, then we will move on to the punishment for Tracker’s outbursts, and finally we will finish with one Spout for each of her cohorts,” Alloy explained.

The whole crowd again erupted, this time with anger. A Spout was the worst kind of punishment in the history of the lockdown. Taryn was lucky she only had two friends, but that was bad enough. One Spout consisted of a mystery phial, the contents of which are injected into the victim.

“Damn, she's gonna hate us when this is over,” Laiken said.

“Nah, it’ll be fine, she’s a tough girl. She just has to keep her composure in front of everyone here,” Ryker said.

“I will be the one giving the punishment for the no dismissal because Mrs. Garn has a bad arm,” Alloy said.

Taryn braced her feet and kept her eyes on the audience—Laiken and Ryker in particular—while Alloy wound up for the hit. Taryn didn’t know where it was going to land, but she was used to it by now. It was always the same punishment; a few hits with a thick yard stick. Most of the time in the face.

“This is nothing for her,” Ryker said.

“What about the Spout?” Laiken asked.

Only one other person had gotten one of those, but that person had never come back.

Alloy wound up, bringing his arm as far back as he could, and swung The Stick fast and hard on Taryn’s nose, which began gushing blood. Taryn would normally have put it back in place, but seeing as her hands were tied, that was not going to happen. Blood was dripping all over the front of her gray T-shirt, all the way down her gray cargo pants, and onto the floor.

“How much trouble do you think I would get in if I went up and snapped her nose back in place?” Ryker asked.

“That’s when she'd hate you,” Laiken answered.

“Yeah, she is pretty proud.”

“I will now have Ms. Tracker come down and give the punishment for her outburst,” Alloy said into the mic. Tracker walked down the steps to the center of the room and grabbed The Stick from the Master.

“Who's she?” Ryker asked.

“Wasn’t she the new member that was brought in last month?” Laiken asked.

Taryn whispered through the blood with a smile, “Make it a good one,”.

Tracker pulled her long red hair back into a ponytail and brought The Stick back to aim. The room was dead silent as Tracker brought it back around. Crack! The Stick broke in half when it hit Taryn’s cheek. Tracker looked bewildered as she held up half of The Stick to Alloy.

“How the hell did you manage that, Track?” Taryn asked. She had a huge welt on her cheek that was full of splinters. Still smiling, she winked at Ryker and Laiken.

“Well, looks like we may have a new friend,” Ryker said.

“Thank you, Tracker,” Alloy said taking both pieces of The Stick. “Now we will get on with the Spouts. There will be two of them. One for Ryker Stills and one for Laiken Haster. Guards, would you please get three chairs. Place one for Taryn to sit in and the other two for her friends, so they can watch close up.”

“Oh this should be fun,” Laiken said as the guards set up the chairs. Taryn sat in hers and the boys left the stands and sat in theirs.

“Mrs. Garn, please tie these boys to their chairs. I have a feeling they aren’t going to like what they're about to see,” Alloy said.

“I don’t think that'll be necessary,” Taryn said glaring at her friends. “They can sit still.”

“Alright, we’ll see. If either of them gets out of his chair, we will add another Spout.” Alloy said.

“Have fun,” Ryker said to Taryn.

Laiken punched him in the arm and glared. “This isn’t funny!”

“Calm down Laik, it’s fine,” Taryn said with a smile.

“Alright enough chat. Let’s get on with this. You’re wasting working time.” Master said.

Ryker sat in his chair with his arms crossed and gave a small yawn.

“Are we boring you, Ryker?” Alloy asked.

“No, not at all,” Ryker responded sarcastically.

Laiken just shook his head and looked at Taryn. She smiled back at him.

“Well, this next part will be interesting for everyone. Bring out the phials and syringes.” Alloy said. “Let me explain what will happen. I will inject this green liquid into a vein. It will quickly take over her body, slowly killing her. When she is on the brink of death, I will inject the yellow liquid to bring her back. Since she has two friends, this process will be repeated twice.”

This was the first time Taryn’s smile faded and was replaced with genuine fear. Again the crowd erupted in anger. Ryker shot up out of his chair.

“Ryker, sit!” Taryn hissed.

“I advise you to listen to your friend, unless you would like me to add another Spout,” Alloy said.

Ryker sat back down, cursing under his breath. The students again went quiet.

Master Alloy took the green phial and a syringe from the guards and drew out the amount. Taryn was sweating like crazy.

“Not so tough now, are we Ms. Bicks?” Alloy said with an evil grin.

“I’m gonna kill him,” Ryker said to Laiken under his breath.

“Shh,” Laiken hissed.

Master Alloy grabbed Taryn’s arm and stuck the needle in a vein in the wrist. She didn’t flinch but could immediately feel the effects of the poison. Her arm went slack and she coughed up some blood. Her throat felt like it was on fire.

Ryker was white-knuckling the arms of the chair.

Taryn’s body felt like it was being torched. She fell forward off her chair onto her knees and coughed up blood for what felt like forever. Ryker was about to get up again, but Taryn looked at him with warning eyes and shook her head.

Her breathing was slowing, and she fell over to her side. The blood had stopped coming. She lay on the floor seizing, each breath taking longer to register.

“Stop it!” Laiken yelled.

“Do you think she has learned her lesson?” Alloy asked. “Let’s see. Give me the yellow phial.” He filled the syringe with yellow liquid and injected it into the same vein. It took about five minutes of dead silence for it to take effect. Taryn’s breathing began to return to normal, and she stopped shaking. She lay there for a few minutes before pushing herself up. She did not bother wiping the blood from around her mouth.

“Now Taryn, what is your opinion of this school?” Alloy asked.

“Please don’t be a smartass,” Ryker said under his breath.

Taryn spat at him and immediately went into a coughing fit.

Laiken sighed. “And there it is,” he said.

“Well that is quite the opinion Ms. Bicks. I think we will have to up the dosage to change your mind,” Master Alloy said.

Tracker yelled from the stands, “Don’t give in! Remember your opinions, Taryn.”

“Shut up!” Ryker yelled back.

“I guess all these people like seeing you get punished for them,” Alloy said calmly. “Now then, we will move on to injection number two.”

Master Alloy loaded the syringe, grabbed Taryn’s other arm, and injected it. This one was a little slower to take effect. The crowd sat in silence before anything happened. Then Taryn let out a heart-wrenching groan through gritted teeth and doubled over in pain. She had tried her hardest not to let it out but could not suppress it. She felt her insides being flattened even though nothing was touching her. It was all Ryker and Laiken could do just to stay in their seats. The pain became so intense that she threw up. It was mostly blood, but it was not something the younger members should not have had to watch.

“I told you they would stay in their seats,” Taryn said in between blood vomits. She had tears streaming down her face and could not stop coughing blood. Without warning she went stiff and fell to the floor. Everyone gasped and stood up.

“Coward!” Ryker yelled. He grabbed his chair and threw it sideways. “You damn coward.”

“Oh, I would watch what you say for the sake of your friend here,” Alloy responded.

Laiken grabbed Ryker and forced him down on the bleachers.

“Stop it, you’re just making it worse,” Laiken said.

“At least bring her back!” Ryker yelled at Master Alloy.

“Why would I want to do that? Cut the head off the snake...,” Alloy quoted.

“You can’t just outright kill her. It’s in the rules!” Tracker yelled.

“Well, I guess if I want to keep my operation running I will have to follow the rules,” Alloy said. He grabbed the yellow-filled syringe and injected it into Taryn’s arm. When she didn’t move for several minutes, Ryker was worried she had been gone too long. The whole auditorium sat in silence waiting for the motionless Taryn to move.

“Come on Tair,” Laiken whispered.

At that moment Taryn took in a huge gasp of air and started coughing. There was still blood coming from the cough, but it was not as bad.

“I think we have wasted enough time today. If anyone sees fit to follow any more of Ms. Bicks' opinions, this will continue until she is eventually eradicated,” Master Alloy said, ending the ceremony and dismissing everyone back to their sectors. He left the room with the teachers and guards. The different sectors filed out leaving Taryn lying on the floor with Ryker and Laiken at her side. Ryker rolled her onto her back, placed her head in his lap, and stroked her hair.

“Did you learn your lesson?” Ryker asked.

“What do you think,” Taryn said hazily.

“I knew your downfall would be being a smartass,” Ryker said.

“Yeah, me too,” Taryn choked and then went into a coughing fit.

“Take it easy Tair,” Laiken said.

“We should probably go back to work or we’ll have to do this again,” Taryn said, struggling to sit up.

BACK AT THE BUILDING SECTOR no one was working. They were all crowded in a circle listening to someone talk.

“We should have the right to have our own opinions,” Tracker was saying. “Outside this building, everyone is free. Only kids have to come here, and not even all of them. Rich kids get to run free and work wherever they want.”

“What are we talking about?” Taryn asked, walking to the center of the crowd.

“Taryn, you’ve looked better,” Tracker said as she got up.

“Yeah well, you haven’t,” Taryn responded. Everyone laughed.

“Shouldn’t you clean your face?” Tracker asked as she put Taryn’s nose between her two index fingers. She pushed it hard to the left and felt it go back into place with a small crack.

Taryn responded by taking a big breath through her nose. “Maybe later.” She took another big breath. “So, more of your ‘having your own opinions’ crap?”

“I think we've all heard enough of that,” Laiken said. “We all have opinions and know how to use them, but we have to keep them in check around Alloy.”

“Except for Taryn, who doesn’t care who hears her opinions,” Ryker said lightly punching her arm.

“I just died, and you’re punching me,” Taryn said sarcastically, lightly pushing him.

“Sorry, didn’t know you became a pansy after dying,” Ryker said.

“Anyway, how are we going to get out?” Taryn asked.

“Out of what?” Laiken asked, looking confused.

Taryn realized everyone else also looked confused. “Daycare,” she said. “What did you think I meant, moron?”

“You just died twice for speaking your opinion, got hit twice with The Stick for disobeying, and now you want to make a plan to escape. What is wrong with you?” Ryker asked.

“We need to get out of this place before they completely brainwash everyone,” Taryn said. “We can do it.”

“How do you propose we go about it?” Laiken asked. “If Alloy found out about it, he wouldn’t think twice about killing you. Rules or not.”

“Then we don’t let him find out,” Taryn said as if talking to a child. Everyone was now staring at her.

“The first thing we have to do is get as many people as we can on board,” Taryn started. “A few of you will sneak into the other sectors to tell them what's going on and find out how many want out. After that, we'll make our plan. One of you will be selected to go to each sector. You'll have to talk to them after lights out and stay the night with that sector. Then report back to me at lunch tomorrow.”

“I’ll go to the cooking sector,” Tracker said.

“I’ll take technology,” a boy called out.

“Ok, that just leaves the learning sector,” Taryn said.

“I’ll go,” Laiken said.

“Okay, that settles it. When we get dismissed for dinner, weed your way into the different sectors, but don’t get caught. Don’t talk to anyone until the lights are out. Just act like you belong there until then.” Taryn said.

Everyone went back to work. Tracker went to work on her bed frames, Laiken and Ryker went to assemble the cafeteria tables, and Taryn went to finish welding the sector framework. When they were finally dismissed for dinner, Taryn went to the laundry room to find new clothes. She could only find a different shirt, but it was better than the blood-covered one she was wearing.

Taryn found Ryker waiting in the dinner line leaning with his back against the wall. She walked right up to where he was, ignoring the annoyed yells of the people she was cutting.

“Laiken make it in?” Taryn asked.

“Yep,” Ryker said coolly.

“Ok, what’s your problem?” she asked.

“Nothing,” he responded.

“Bull. Now spill it.”

“Why do you want out?” he asked, turning to face her.

“What kind of question is that?”

“What are you going to do when you get out? Where are you going to go? We only have two more years in here anyway,” he responded.

"And you think Alloy is just going to let me leave?" Taryn asked.

"He has to," Ryker said.

"He'll make me leave the school, but he'll put me somewhere else," Taryn said. "We can't let this keep happening to kids forever."

“Since when do you give a damn about anyone else?” Ryker asked.

“I want Alloy done, and the only way to do that is with everyone’s help,” she said. “Let’s just eat; we can discuss this more when we get feedback.”

When their numbers were called they grabbed a tray of slop, picked a table, and ate. After about ten minutes people started filing out, and the announcement for lights out rang over the intercom.

“See you tomorrow,” Taryn said to Ryker. The boys and girls bunks were on separate floors, so Taryn had to go up one flight of stairs and down the first hallway to her room. The room was empty, which was not normal, but she did not think much of it. She went to her bed, took off her boots, lay down, and instantly fell asleep.

When she woke up, she had a pounding headache, and her face felt wet. It took her eyes a while to focus, and when they did the first thing she saw was Master Alloy. She looked around and noticed she was in a solid brick room with one door and a camera in every corner.

“Morning sunshine,” Alloy said.

Taryn tried to get up but found her arms had been tied to the chair behind her back and her legs to the chair frame.

“Just couldn’t get enough of me, huh?” Taryn said coolly.

“No need to get smart,” Alloy said. He went over to a small control box on the wall and punched in a code. All four cameras buzzed and a projection lit up one wall. Taryn was watching herself on the screen.

“Your fellow schoolmates will be watching and listening while they eat their breakfast this morning, which should be right about now.”

“So what is the importance of this?” Taryn asked.

“Well, it seems that you have come up with a plan,” Alloy said.

“And what would this plan be for?” Taryn asked.

“Don’t play dumb with me,” Alloy said in a threatening tone.

THE STUDENTS WERE JUST SETTLING into their breakfast tables when the projections came on. Ryker and Laiken were sitting with Tracker and Remmy at one of the back tables. The instant Taryn’s face came up on the screen, Ryker dropped his spoon.

“That son of a bitch,” he spat.

Everyone was now watching the screens and mumbling.

“I do hope everyone will enjoy the show,” Alloy said. “It will be quick but very effective.”

“Damn right it'll be quick. Come on Laik, we have to find that room,” Ryker said as he got up from the table. Laiken joined him, and they took a detour to the building sector to grab a couple of shovels. Then they proceeded to the basement where all the holding cells were. Once there they heard it, an ear splintering scream followed by silence.

“This way,” Laiken said pointing to the left hallway. The two boys ran down the hallway and stopped at the only door there. They waited and listened.

There was another scream followed by Taryn shouting, “This won’t change anything! We will get out and I will be the one to kill you!”

Ryker backed up and kicked the door in. Alloy was momentarily shocked; just enough time for Laiken to whack him over the head with his shovel. Ryker ran over to Taryn who was sitting in the chair with her head hanging.

“Hey, hey!” Ryker yelled lifting her head. She had a little stream of blood coming from the side of her mouth and her eyes were unfocused. He noticed wires coming from her arms leading to a machine.

“Laik, turn it off!” Ryker yelled. He was already working on untying her arms and legs. Once she was free and the wires were removed, Ryker put one of his arms through her armpit and the other under her legs. He carried her out following Laiken to the building sector break room.

“Go find water,” Ryker said as he put Taryn down.

Laiken brought back three water bottles and handed them to Ryker who poured some in Taryn’s mouth and some on her face.

“Go tell everyone if they want out, meet at the main doors. Make sure they take out the guards. Then you go ahead and lead everyone out and find somewhere to go,” Ryker ordered.

“What about you guys?” Laiken asked.

“We’ll be there. Don’t forget weapons. We don't have much time before Alloy wakes up."

Laiken grabbed as many shovels, hammers, and as many other tools as he could carry that could be used as weapons, and ran to the cafeteria.

“Taking charge, I like it,” Taryn said from the ground.

“Hey, you good?” Ryker asked.

“Fantastic. Now shouldn’t we get going? We don’t want Laik to steal the show,” Taryn said, getting up.

They each grabbed a shovel and wound through the empty halls to the main doors, Taryn stumbling a few times. The doors had already been broken open, and there was no sign of Laiken and the others.

“Damn it Laik, you could have left us some direction,” Ryker said.

“Hey look at this. It looks like blood,” Taryn said.

“I wonder whose.”

“I don’t know, but there’s a trail. Let’s follow it,” Taryn said.

They followed the blood trail down the road then through a field next to the school. There was still no sign of the others.

“Laiken! Laik!” Ryker yelled.

“Shh. Do you hear that?” Taryn said. They listened to what sounded like chopping.

“In the trees?”

They ran to the nearby forest looking for more blood. Taryn ran ahead of Ryker, following a few blood drops. She walked between two trees and SMACK!

“What the hell!” Taryn yelled holding her face.

“Sorry, protective measures, Tracker said, lowering the shovel. “What took you so long?”

“God! Where's everyone else?” Taryn asked, massaging her face.

“Camp, 'bout a half a mile that way.” Tracker pointed. Ryker and Taryn followed her farther into the forest until they came to a huge opening where everyone was gathered. The group had set up tents, and some people were working on making fires.

“How many didn’t come?” Taryn asked.

“Maybe ten or twenty. Wasn’t really worried about it,” Tracker said. “We grabbed what supplies we could and followed Laiken.”

“What was the blood trail?” Taryn asked

“I knew you'd need a way to find us,” Tracker said as she held up her palm showing a four inch dripping cut.

“Where’s Laiken?” Ryker asked.

Tracker went silent and looked at the ground.

“Tracker, where’s Laiken?” Taryn demanded.

“He led us to the doors, where we got into it with the guards. We finally overpowered them, and he broke open the doors. He ushered everyone out and told us to go to the forest to the north. He was the last one to leave. When I looked back...I saw Alloy shoot him, and he went down.”

“Why didn’t you go back for him?” Ryker asked, pushing Tracker against a tree.

“I had to get everyone else out, and I knew you were still in there,” Tracker said, pushing Ryker off.

“Damn it, Laik!” Taryn shouted throwing her shovel on the ground.

“We have to go back for him,” Ryker said.

Taryn knew Laiken was like a brother to him, and it would kill Ryker if anything were to happen to Laiken.

“I know, but we need a plan,” Taryn said.

“You do realize that’s exactly what they want,” Tracker said.

“Shut up!” Taryn and Ryker yelled at the same time.

They started walking back the way they had come, but Tracker ran up behind them.

“You don’t even have a plan. You’re just going to walk right in and ask them to hand him over? We aren’t coming to get you if you're going to be stupid about it.” Tracker said.

“Then don’t come get us, just take everyone and find a safe house. When you find one, leave a trail back here so we can find it when we get Laiken.” Taryn said.

“If you get Laiken. I told you they shot him,” Tracker said.

“Just stop talking and leave,” Ryker said.

“Jerk,” Taryn heard Tracker mumble as she went back to the group.

Taryn and Ryker started walking again. They had no plan, no reasonable weapons, and no backup. They made their way back to the edge of the trees facing the back of the school.

“This is really gonna get bad,” Taryn said.

“I know, but we have to get him back. Alive,” Ryker said.

“How do you think we should do it?”

“I’ll go in as bait and...” Ryker started, but Taryn interrupted him.

“No. If anyone's going in as bait, it's me. Alloy doesn’t care about you. Tracker was right about that,” Taryn said.

“You can’t just hand yourself over.”

“Oh, but you can? Besides, I’m not handing myself over, I'm going to trade places with Laik. You're going to take him to the safe house. I'll get myself out.” Taryn said. She turned and started walking toward the school. Truthfully, she did not think Alloy was going to go for the trade. She also had no idea how she would get out, but she walked around the school to the front doors, which were closed again, and yelled, “Hey jackass! I have a proposition for you!” She stood there waiting, but not for long.

The doors swung open, and there was Alloy standing in the middle, flanked by guards. “You have a proposition. How cute,” he said.

“You can have me for whatever purpose, but you have to let Laiken go,” Taryn said.

“Deal. He doesn’t have much longer anyway,” Alloy said.

Taryn clenched her teeth. That was too easy, she thought. “You'll send him with me to that field. You can have a guard come too if you want. I just want to make sure he gets to Ryker, then I’m yours.”

“Guard, get the prisoner and accompany Ms. Bicks to the field, then bring her right back.” Alloy said.

One of the guards left and came back seconds later carrying a blood-covered human form that Taryn was sickened to realize was Laiken. The guard followed Taryn out to the fields and put Laiken down on the ground. Laiken had not stirred the whole time, but Taryn knew he was still alive.

“Son of a bitch!” Ryker said. “Hey, Laik. You’re gonna be alright.” Taryn noticed a tear escape his eye as he looked at Laiken.

“He’s lost a lot of blood,” Taryn said. “Take him and find the others.”

"We should hurry before Alloy comes looking for me," the guard said helping Ryker pick up Laiken.

Ryker and Taryn stopped dead in their tracks and stared at him.

"Are you just going to look at me?" the guard asked. "Alloy probably sent other guards by now."

"Aren't you supposed to be taking her back?" Ryker asked, nodding in Taryn's direction.

"You think I want to go back to that hellhole?” the guard asked.

"Why should we trust you?" Taryn asked.

"You know the answer to that," the guard said, looking straight into her eyes.

Ryker appeared even more confused, but Taryn finally understood.

They m ade their way back to the forest meeting place, looking for any signs for the safe house. When they got to the clearing, there was the slightest trail of ripped clothing and rock piles. They followed the trail, and Taryn kicked the pieces away so they wouldn’t be followed.

“How far away is this safe house?” Taryn asked. It seemed to her like they had been walking forever. Laiken still had not stirred. They finally came to a river, which was the last thing they expected. The guard and Ryker set Laiken down and cleaned his face. As Taryn was taking a drink of water, she noticed something scribed in the sand: 354 W then 120 E. “Hey, look at this,” she called out.

“What the hell are we supposed to do with coordinates?” Ryker asked.

“They can’t be coordinates. The numbers are too big,” the guard responded. “They're probably the number of paces to the safe house.”

“Well, someone’s efficient,” Ryker said. “Let’s go.”

“Did you find the bullet wound?” Taryn asked.

“Yeah, it’s in his thigh,” Ryker said. “It looks like it went all the way through. I wrapped it with his shirt.”

The boys picked up Laiken again, and Taryn took the lead, counting paces. After about 250, Laiken made a strangled noise in his throat.

“Wait. Hey Laik, can you hear me?” Ryker asked.

“Uh huhh,” Laiken mumbled.

“Ryk, set him down,” Taryn said.

They placed him so his back was against a tree. His body was still limp, and he could barely lift his head. Taryn ran down to the river, not too far away, and brought back a handful of water for Laiken to drink.

“Trughng shhpsh,” Laiken mumbled.

“What?” Taryn asked.

“Trasking desvishe,” Laiken tried again.

“Tracking device?” Ryker asked.

Laiken feebly nodded. He lifted his arm with noticeable struggle and pointed to his other forearm. There was a small cut on his arm that was turning blue.

“I completely forgot about that," the guard said.

"You forgot? That's some pretty important information to forget!" Ryker yelled.

"Why would Alloy put in a tracking devise?" Taryn asked.

"He knew you'd come back for him," the guard said. "It was an easy way to find everyone."

“How are we supposed to get that out? We can’t continue or they’ll find our safe house.” Taryn said.

“Got any broken glass or a sharp stick?” Ryker asked.

“Shhh! Did you hear that?” Taryn whispered. They all went quiet and listened.

“Voices. How could they have found us already?” Ryker asked.

“Don’t move, or you’ll regret it,” A voice rang out.

The next they knew, their faces were full of guns. The leader, tall and muscular with a don't-test-me face and buzz cut hair, had a small handgun pointed at Taryn. He looks like an Army drill sergeant, Taryn thought. “Who are you?” she asked.

“Don’t think it matters,” he responded.

“Well I think it does matter, because this is private property, and you don’t look like one of us,” Taryn spat back.

“I'd watch the attitude if I were you. There's nothing you can do about it,” he said, pushing the gun farther into Taryn’s face.

She rolled her eyes. “Whatever. Is there something you want, or are you just passing through?”

“What’s wrong with him?” the leader asked, waving his gun in Laiken’s direction.

“Don’t think that matters,” Taryn said smugly.

“Tair,” Ryker said. “Just cool it. It’s not worth it.” He continued supporting Laiken on the tree.

The leader looked at the tattoos on each of their wrists and dropped his weapon. “You guys are from 1445,” he said.

“Yeah, so what does that have to do with anything?” Taryn asked.

“We’re from 1214, just south of yours.” The boy said, showing them the numbers on his wrist. “Hey guys, you can put down your weapons. My name's Halo, and this is Devin,” he said, pointing to the taller, thinner boy next to him.

“I’m Taryn, that’s Ryker, the limp is Laiken, and that's...uh...” Taryn said.

"Sam," the guard said.

Taryn continued, “The rest of our group is at a safe house somewhere. We can’t go there until we get this tracking device out of Laiken’s arm.”

“How did he get that in his arm?” Halo asked.

“He was captured when we escaped. He was shot and presumably tortured,” Taryn said. “I went and got him back. Now we’re all here wasting time.”

“Well I guess we should get the device out,” Halo said.

“Do you have a knife?” Ryker asked.

“Yeah, why?” Halo asked.

“Why do you think,” Taryn said.

Halo took out a five inch hunting blade.

“I’ll do it, Tair,” Ryker said.

“No you won’t. Your hands are shaking too much,” Taryn picked up a stick and turned to Laiken. “Laik, this is probably going to hurt. Bite down on this stick and stay calm.”

Taryn held Laiken’s arm and put the stick in his mouth.

Sam took the knife from Halo and began digging out the tracking device. After about two minutes, Taryn held a small microchip in her hand. Sam wiped off the knife and handed it back to Halo. Taryn ripped a strip from the bottom of her shirt and tied it around Laiken’s arm.

“Here. Take this and walk in a few circles, then drop it somewhere” Taryn said to Halo.

“You’re giving me orders?” Halo asked in a surprised voice.

“Wow, you’re smarter than you look,” Taryn responded sarcastically.

“I guess I can take it, but just to get away from you,” Halo said.

Taryn noticed Ryker glaring at Halo, but she just ignored it, and Sam handed Halo the chip. “I’ll go get some water,” she said.

“I’ll go too. We have water bottles we can fill,” Devin said, putting his gun in the belt loop of his jeans.

“I guess we chose the wrong school,” Ryker said.

Taryn and Devin went down to the river and filled the bottles. Ryker and Sam stayed with Laiken and the rest of the 1214 group. They all looked pretty much the same age but had different builds. After a while Laiken passed out again, and Halo came back.

“Where’s Devin?” Halo asked wiping the leftover blood from the tracking device on his red shirt.

“He went with Taryn to the river to fill the water bottles,” Ryker answered coolly.

“Oh. Well I ditched the tracking device on the edge of the woods,” Halo said. He looked down at Laiken. “How’s he doing?”

“He passed out again. He’s lost way too much blood,” Ryker said.

“We have a doctor in our group. When we get to the safe house, she can look at him,” Halo said.

“Who said you’re coming with us?” Ryker asked, an edge in his voice.

Halo must have caught the edginess. “Well, if you want pretty boy there to live, we are.”

“Fine,” Ryker said.

Taryn and Devin came back with four full bottles. Ryker grabbed one of Laiken's arms, and Taryn took the other to give Sam a break.

“Shall we?” Taryn said.

They continued the remaining paces and turned east; that part of the trek was much shorter than the first. After about 200 paces, they found a huge building surrounded by trees.

“This is the safe house?” Taryn asked, completely shocked.

“It’s an old warehouse. There should be plenty of room for everyone in here,” Halo said.

“Sam'll go first.” Taryn said.

Sam walked into the building without question. As he walked through the door a shovel impacted his face.

“Son of a bitch!” He yelled grabbing his nose and turning to face Taryn. “You knew that was going to happen!”

“Protective-” Tracker started.

“Yeah, yeah, we know. Protective measures,” Taryn said.

“Where's everyone else?” Ryker asked.

“In the main room, eating,” Tracker said.

“Eating what?” Halo asked.

“Who are you?” Tracker asked.

“They’re from 1412. They escaped just like us, I presume.” Taryn explained.

"What's with the guard?" Tracker asked.

"Not important," Taryn said.

“Whatever. Come on, there's plenty of food to go around.” Tracker said with little interest. They all followed her into the main room.

Taryn thought, Looking at the building from the outside, you'd never expect there to be this much room. The space opened up to a huge hall with tables and chairs and piles of food. Everyone was sitting at the tables, apparently enjoying something to eat. “They look...happy,” Taryn said.

“This is the first real food they've had in a very long time,” Tracker said. “Hey everyone, look who’s back!”

The whole crowd turned to look in the direction of Tracker's voice, and the room erupted. Some people screamed, some cried, some even laughed. It's like a huge weight has been lifted from everyone's shoulders, Taryn thought.

“About that doctor,” Ryker said to Halo.

“Right.” Halo motioned to a woman from the 1214 group. She rose and came over to meet Halo and the others. She was shorter than Ryker but stocky with long black hair. She could not have been more than thirty. “Render, can you take a look at Laiken?” Halo said.

“Yeah. Is there a small room we can go to?” she asked.

“Down that hall and the second door on the left,” Tracker said, pointing opposite to where they had come in.

Ryker and Tayrn followed the doctor to the room and came back a few seconds later. “She’ll be back in a few minutes to tell us what’s going on,” Tayrn said.

“In the meantime, come have something to eat,” Tracker said.

Taryn, Ryker, Halo, and Devin followed Tracker. The rest of Halo’s group dispersed throughout the crowd. Sam joined some guys about his age. Everyone finally had a substantial meal. There were vegetables, some kind of meat, potatoes, gravy, fruits, desserts, and even bread.

“I could get used to this,” Taryn said before putting a fork full of potatoes into her mouth.

After everyone had finished their meal, the doctor came back and joined them.

“How is he?” Ryker asked right away.

“He’s lost a lot of blood, and he may not be able to walk on his left leg for a while. But other than that, he's fine. He should be up and talking later. At that point, you guys should get him something to eat,” the doctor said.

Ryker let out a huge sigh. The doctor sat down and had some food herself. Halo started talking to Tracker about how they escaped, but Taryn and Ryker were not interested. They made a plate of food and grabbed a bottle of water for Laiken and took it to his room.

“Do you really think we can trust these people?” Ryker asked Taryn when they were out of earshot.

“I think we can trust them, but we should keep an eye on them. They've had more and different training than us.” Taryn responded.

"And what about Sam?" Ryker asked. "I just don't know about him."

"We'll have to watch him too," Taryn said. "He doesn't act like the bad guy."

"None of them ever do."

They walked into Laiken’s room. He was lying on a small bed with a cabinet next to it. Taryn set the plate and bottle down on it. She sat down on the bed next to Laiken and grabbed his hand. Ryker sat down on the floor next to the bed.

“He’s one tough kid,” Taryn said.

“Almost as tough as you.”

“He's gonna be pissed, though, when he finds out he can’t walk on his left leg,” Taryn said.

“Damn right,” Laiken mumbled.

“Hey bud, how you doing?” Ryker asked.

“Fantastic. You?” Laiken said.

“Great. You should eat. They have amazing food here,” Ryker said.

“You ate without me?” Laiken asked sarcastically.

“Well, we weren’t going to wait for the limp to wake up,” Taryn said. “Eat.”

Laiken had his plate cleaned in less than five minutes.

“Now what?” Laiken asked.

“Now you're going to sleep,” Taryn said.

“I’ve done enough sleeping. I need to move around.” Laiken said.

“Ok, get up,” Ryker said.

“Ryk,” Taryn said with caution.

“No, just watch this,” Ryker said grinning.

Laiken pushed his legs around so they were hanging off the edge of the bed, then he sat up.

“So far, so good,” Laiken said.

“Stand up,” Taryn said. She was waiting for him to go down.

Laiken pushed himself up and put his weight on his right leg. He made it to the standing position and grabbed the cabinet for support.

“See, I’m good,” he said.

“Walk,” Ryker said, holding back a smile.

“Well, if I'm going to walk on my left leg, I'll need a stick to help” Laiken said.

“And there it is,” Taryn said to Ryker, smiling.

“He finally got it,” Ryker said.

“Just go get me a stick,” Laiken ordered them.

“Well!” Taryn said, acting as though she had been insulted. “Someone must have lost their manners along with the blood.

Ryker stayed with Laiken while Taryn searched the closets in some of the other rooms. She noticed a crutch leaning against the wall, so she took it back to Laiken’s room.

“Where'd you find that?” Ryker asked.

“I’m pretty crafty in my old age,” Taryn said sarcastically. She handed the crutch to Laiken.

“Much better,” Laiken said hobbling around the room.

“Come on, let’s go out to the hall and see what everyone else is up to,” Taryn said. She led them out to the hall and back to the table with Halo, Devin, and the doctor. They all sat down, and instantly the noise level dropped.

“What’s up?” Ryker asked Halo.

“There's been talk," Halo said. "About what we're going to do now and if it was really a good idea to leave.”

“Took 'em long enough,” Taryn said. “Let me guess; Tracker started it.”

“We don’t really know who started it, but she isn’t doing anything to stop them,” Halo said.

Taryn got up on the table and addressed the crowd. “We'll figure this out. If you don’t want to stay here, then go back to Alloy and slavery. Just be kind enough not to tell him where the rest of us are.”

No one moved. The whole room was silent, and everyone was staring at Taryn. She got down from the table and started to walk out.

“If you're going to listen to Tracker about all this, maybe you should ask her about her past. Then you can decide if it's better to be free or working your whole life.” Taryn said as she left.

“Why don’t you keep your mouth shut once in a while,” Ryker said to Tracker.

“Someone should probably go find her,” Halo said with little emotion.

Ryker and Laiken instinctively got up and went to find Taryn. They wound through three hallways and out to the back entrance. They pushed open the door. Standing in front of them was a whole army of 1445s, all decked out in black jackets and black cargo pants tucked into black lace-up boots. Two of them in the front were holding up a limp figure with a bag over its head. The figure did not move, and the head was hanging down. From behind the second row of soldiers, a man with the same uniform, but with a few medals and buttons, walked right to the front and stood there smiling.

“Hello boys, glad to see yo u’re doing better Laiken. Looks like we have come to sort of an impasse, wouldn’t you say?” Alloy said.

“How did you find us? We took the tracking device out; we made sure we weren’t followed.” Ryker said.

“That’s none of your concern,” Alloy said.

“Well, I damn well think it is. You’re going to take us anyway,” Laiken said.

“Who said I was taking you?” Alloy pointed to the figure. “She’s the only one I’m interested in.”

“Then why the whole army?” Ryker asked, gesturing to the soldiers.

“I didn’t think she would just walk right out to us,” Alloy responded.

At that moment Tracker came out the door yelling up a storm. “If you want to know so much about my...Oh crap!” She stopped dead in her tracks.

“Now’s not really good for story time,” Ryker said.

“Yeah, I see that. How did he find us?” Tracker asked.

The soldiers apparently had no interest in going inside.

“Take off the bag,” Alloy instructed one of the soldiers holding up Taryn. He ripped off the bag revealing her bruised and bloodied face. She did not look up. In fact, she did not move at all.

“What’s your big deal with her?” Ryker asked.

“Again, that is none of your concern,” Alloy said.

“I think it is!” Ryker yelled, taking a step forward.

Instantly most of the soldiers raised their weapons and pointed them at the three. Alloy waved a hand at his men, and they lowered their weapons.

“There’ll be no need for that,” Alloy said. He moved closer to Ryker, Tracker, and Laiken. “We'll be on our way. And unless you want more casualties, you'll either stay here or move on.”

“More than half of your institution escaped and you don’t want them back?” Ryker asked.

“They can be replaced. She, however, can’t,” Alloy said.

“What makes you think we won’t tell anyone?”

“Oh, I know you will, but no one will believe you.” Alloy turned around. The rows of soldiers turned and parted down the middle. Alloy and the two guards holding up Taryn walked down the open space. Then the soldiers came back together like a zipper and walked away.

Ryker and Laiken just stood there. Tracker turned around and started back into the building.

“Where the hell do you think you’re going?” Ryker yelled, grabbing the back of her shirt.

“Back inside. Is that a problem?” Tracker asked coolly.

“Yes, as a matter of fact, it is a problem. This is your fault and you just casually walk away,” Ryker said.

“How do you figure this is my fault?”

“Oh, I wonder. Maybe telling these people to doubt what we're doing!” Laiken yelled, but he instantly braced himself, and cradled his head. Ryker looked over at him, obviously worried, but Laiken waved his hand dismissively.

Tracker said, “We never know what goes on. It’s just you three, and the rest of us are in the dark.”

“What's happened that you and they don’t know about?” Ryker asked.

“Well, we don’t know anything about you. You could all be traitors working for him,” Tracker said, pointing in the direction Alloy and his soldiers had gone.

“Yeah, and Alloy beats the crap out of his traitors and kidnaps them,” Ryker said.

Laiken said, “I think you’re the shady one. We don’t know anything about you but your name. You could be working for him, for all we know.”

Without another word, Tracker turned and stormed back into the building. After a few minutes Halo came out and joined Ryker and Laiken.

“What’s up?” Halo asked.

“Alloy took Taryn,” Ryker said.

“How did he find us? I personally took the tracking device away,” Halo said with a hint of anger.

“Did they put more than one device in you Laik?” Ryker asked.

“Not that I can remember. I don’t have any more sore or bruised spots.” Laiken answered. “He must know this place is here. It's probably the closest place to the school that's big enough for everybody, and he must have figured out we'd end up here.”

“Well we have to figure out how to get Taryn back and stop Alloy for good” Ryker said.

As the three boys were walking back to the dining hall, Ryker began talking about Sam. “He could very well be the traitor, but I want to trust Taryn's judgement.” When they reached the dining hall everyone was murmuring to each other. Ryker got up on a table and the room silenced. “If anyone knows how they found us or if any of you are working for them, then you'd better come forward before we find you ourselves.” Ryker cast a glance towards Sam.

No one moved. Sam looked Ryker straight in the eyes and shook his head side to side. Tracker rolled her eyes. Halo sat down with Devin.

Ryker jumped off the table and sat down, putting his head in his hands.

Laiken sat across from Ryker. “We’ll probably have to do this on our own,” Laiken said.

“Yeah, I figured that.”

“We should wait until morning, so Alloy doesn’t think we're up to anything right away,” Laiken said.

“You’re reading my mind today,” Ryker said with the slightest bit of humor. “I’ll meet you in your room in the morning.” He began to get up. “You need any help getting back?”

Laiken shook his head. “See ya in the morning.”

“RYKER! RYKER! GET UP! TRACKER yelled, shaking Ryker from one of his usual nightmares.

“What do you want?” Ryker asked dazed.

“It’s Laiken. Come on.” Tracker ran to the doorway.

Ryker jumped out of bed and followed her. “It's a good think I slept in my clothes,” he mumbled. When they reached the room, Ryker reeled, nearly passing out. The walls and the floor were covered with writing, blood used as ink. Laiken was lying on his bed unconscious and pale with bleeding cuts all over his arms, chest, and face. One particular message on the wall read: “Next time he won’t live.”

Dr. Render was cleaning and stitching the major wounds. Ryker ran over and kneeled beside Laiken’s bed. “Who did this?” he asked in an overly aggressive tone.

“We have no idea. There aren’t any blood trails, and everyone is accounted for. No one is acting weird, either” Dr. Render answered.

Ryker got up and quickly pinned Tracker to the wall.

“If I find out you did this, I'll make your life a living hell!” Ryker yelled in her face.

Tracker remained calm. “No matter how pissed off you make me, I wouldn’t do anything like this,” She pushed him off. “How did his screams not wake you up? It was heart wrenching.”

“Why didn’t anyone come get me sooner?” Ryker asked.

“We thought you were already in here. Most of us were out securing the doors and windows.” Tracker responded.

“Would one of you go check for more alcohol please,” Dr. Render said frantically.

“On it,” Tracker said, rushing out the door.

“Have you guys made a plan to get Taryn?” Dr. Render asked.

“No, we were going to do that this morning. Someone must have heard us.” Ryker looked down at Laiken. “Is he going to be alright?”

“I honestly don’t know. He lost a lot of blood, as you can see,” Dr. Render said, motioning around the room. “And he hadn't had time to recover from all of the blood he lost earlier.”

Just then Tracker ran back into the room carrying bottles of alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, and Betadine solution. She handed them to the doctor, who continued furiously cleaning and wrapping wounds.

“Come eat something,” Tracker said to Ryker.

“No, I don’t think I'd be able to keep anything down after seeing this,” Ryker said.

“Alright. If you change your mind, there's plenty of food in the dining hall.” Tracker grabbed a handful of the doctor’s used rags and left.

“Can you get me some more water bottles please?” Dr. Render asked.

“Yeah, be right back,” Ryker said.

He walked out of the room and took a deep breath. He just could not take the fact that Laiken was hurt again. He mumbled, “Laiken and Taryn are the closest thing I have to family. Now both of them are in trouble and I can’t do a damn thing about it.”

He walked into the dining hall; no one was talking or eating. They were either staring at their plates or playing with their food. A few people looked up at him as he walked by. Sam was sitting with some of Halo's group. Sam looked up at Ryker, and Ryker glared at him for a couple of seconds, then he grabbed three water bottles from the storage cabinet and made his way back to Laiken’s room.

“Empty them into that bowl,” Dr. Render said, pointing to the metal bowl on the table.

TARYN WAS TIED TO A chair in the middle of a holding cell in the school. She had slipped in and out of consciousness all night. After she walked out of the safe house she was immediately hit over the head and beaten for what seemed like forever. Alloy evidently had his guards bring her back to the school and put her in the most secure room in the building. There were no windows, the door had triple deadbolts, and a surveillance camera was mounted in each corner.

Each time she became unconsciousness, she had the same dream—Ryker and Laiken being killed by firing squad, and she had to watch. Some guards came into the cell, and one of them stuck a needle of something in her arm. She didn’t know what it was, but immediately she was alert to her surroundings.

“Look who’s awake,” a voice she recognized said from behind her. Alloy came around and stood right in front of her.

“Look who’s still a moron,” Taryn shot back at him.

“You really need to watch what you say. There are so many things I can do to you and your friends,” Alloy said casually.

“You can’t do anything to them without them knowing,” Taryn said.

“Well my little helper did a wonderful job of cutting up your friend...what’s his name? Laiken?...last night.” Alloy said.

Taryn’s heart sank, and she was completely speechless.

“Nothing to say to that?” Alloy asked with a superior attitude.

“You have a spy at our safe house.” Taryn said, exasperated.

“I’m actually surprised you didn’t guess that earlier,” Alloy said.

“Tracker,” Taryn whispered angrily.

“Nope. Although she was my first choice, she wouldn’t take the deal.” Alloy said. “Don’t waste your time trying to figure it out.”

“So why are you so obsessed with me?” Taryn asked.

“Oh, you know exactly why. I don’t understand why you haven’t told anyone yet. It could be the turning point in your life.”

“I don’t need to be at a turning point. You need to be at gun point, though,” Taryn said.

“Have it your way.” Alloy left.

After hearing four distinct clicks of locks from outside the door, Taryn let the tears roll down her face. Yes, I've been keeping a secret from everyone, even my closest friends. But it was from my earlier days here at the slave school, before Ryker and Laiken came. I know they'll soon know the secret, but I don’t know how they'll take it. Then the possibility of Laiken being dead went running through her mind. She couldn’t bring herself to believe it.

OVER THE NEXT FEW DAYS LAIKEN neither got better nor worse. He did not wake up, and his breathing was abnormal. Dr. Render said it would take extra time for his body to build up his red blood cell count back to a healthy number.

Ryker rarely left Laiken's room and ate only a little. He had offered countless times to give some of his blood, but the doctor said there was no way to tell if he was a compatible match. Laiken’s condition had gone from bad to worse.

Ryker had a few notebooks strewn around the room, trying to make a plan to recapture Taryn.

On the fifth day, Tracker came into Laiken's room and asked Ryker, “Got anything yet?”

“Yeah, a bunch of scribbles and wadded up paper,” Ryker answered, tossing aside a notebook. He was sitting with his back against the wall and his feet balancing on Laiken’s crutch. “He may be tough, but I think things are pushing his limits.”

“Well, I see the way he acts around you. He’s trying to keep it together for your sake,” Tracker said.

“He’s been doing a pretty good job. I don’t know what all of this'll do to him, though,” Ryker said.

“Maybe he’ll be able to tell us who did it.”

“Let’s hope.” He changed the subject back to Taryn. “I don’t know how to get Taryn out quietly.”

“Maybe we shouldn’t do it quietly,” Halo said walking through the door with Devin, each holding a folding chair.

“We could go in guns blazing, light the place up,” Devin said, sitting down.

“How do you propose we do that without any weapons?” Ryker asked.

“You clearly haven’t explored this place. Come with me.” Halo said. “Devin’ll stay here with Laiken.”

“I’ll stay too,” Tracker said. I’ve seen it enough times, though it still fascinates me every time.”

Ryker got up reluctantly and followed Halo down the hall, through a few doors, and finally to a long, steep set of stairs. Halo hit a switch on the wall and the whole staircase lit up. They walked down the stairs and around a few more corners, Halo hitting switches here and there. Finally the narrow hallway opened up to a huge room.

“Wait till you see this,” Halo said lifting a breaker lever. The whole room was flooded in light, revealing rows and rows of metal shelves with every type of weapon imaginable. Machine guns, hand guns, rifles, swords, knives, grenades, bombs, crossbows, flamethrowers, ammo, and armor lined every wall and shelf of the huge expanse.

“What the hell?” Ryker said in total astonishment.

“I know, right?” Halo said. “We have an arsenal.”

“Who even owned this building?” Ryker asked, making his way to the weapons.

“Don’t know, but they were freakin’ awesome!” Halo said, handling each crossbow. “A few of my people and Tracker have been coming down here for a while organizing and sizing up the stock.”

“Is this a flamethrower?” Ryker asked. picking up the double-tanked weapon, pointing it at Halo.

“WHOA! Don’t point that at me!” Halo yelled, ducking away from the aim.

“We are so gonna light them up,” Ryker said, putting the flamethrower down and moving on to different weapons. “Is there a practice range?”

“Oh yeah!” Halo answered. “It’s back there. There’s even a secret combination lock.”

“How did you get it open then?” Ryker asked.

“Render is sort of an expert in the field. Says it's her hobby. She can get past anything mechanical.”

Ryker looked at Halo and smiled. “Well I'm going to throw a few knives. I haven’t touched throwing knives in so long.” Ryker said.

“Boys and their weapons,” Tracker said, shaking her head as she walked in. “But I have to admit, I already went through a few hollow points with one of the Winchesters.”

Ryker's happy face turned serious. “How’s Laiken?”

“No change. Devin's still with him.” Tracker picked up a short-handled dagger.

BACK AT THE SCHOOL, TARYN was on her sixth day with no food and what little water the guards gave her. Alloy had been in once to tell her that this could not last forever; sooner or later she would die of starvation. She had told him to go to hell, and he had left.

The same images of Laiken lying dead in the safe house had been playing in her mind since Alloy’s hint. She was thinking how devastated Ryker must be and what everyone else was doing.

“He’s not dead,” she finally said out loud. “Laiken isn’t dead, and neither is anyone else.” She was hoping Ryker had a plan to get her out—and soon. She was getting weaker every minute.

OVER THE COURSE OF THE next week, Ryker, Halo, Devin, Dr. Render, and Tracker took turns training anyone who was willing to learn. They served on shifts with different weapons, teaching people how to shoot, throw, and block. Tracker stuck to teaching the ways of a rifle and some blocking maneuvers. Ryker was in charge of throwing knives and swords. Halo took on the crossbows and hand guns. Devin was teaching sniping skills to a few younger students. The doctor, when she wasn’t checking in on Laiken, taught people how to decode messages and how to pick locks. Laiken still hadn’t awakened during the seven days of training.

“What are we going to do about the people who don’t want to go in fighting?” Tracker asked at dinner one night.

“I’ll show some of them how to clean and patch up wounds,” Dr. Render answered between bites. “They can help the injured at least.”

"Hopefully there won't be any," Ryker said.

“Do you have a plan yet?” Halo asked.

“Not a final one,” Ryker said, putting his fork down. “I was thinking the rifles could surround the building, and a few snipers could be placed at different points around, too, in case of an emergency. We’ll see if we can get Alloy to come to the door, and when he opens it, Devin will snipe from his point.”

“You do realize that Taryn wants to be the one to kill Alloy, right?” Tracker asked.

“I know,” Ryker said. “That’s why it isn’t a final plan.”

“I think everyone but the snipers should surround the building. Like you said, snipers for emergencies.” Halo said. “Maybe the guards will realize they're outnumbered and will surrender. Then we can capture Alloy, and Ryker can go in and get Taryn. We’ll bring Alloy back here, and when Taryn gets her strength back, she can do as she pleases.”

“When do you have time to think of all this?” Devin asked.

“Oh, when I’m not painting my nails or brushing my hair,” Halo said.

“You’re funny,” Devin said.

Ryker rolled his eyes and said, “Ladies, back on subject, please.”

“What if the guards don’t surrender? Then what?” Tracker asked.

“I never said mine was a final plan either,” Halo said.

“Well it’s the best we got so far.” Ryker said. “I hate waiting so long, but I think we need another day to finalize and get everyone in the loop.”

They finished their dinner and continued to talk about the school structure and where Taryn might be. They were discussing Laiken’s condition when a horrific scream echoed through the building. The whole dining hall went silent as a young girl ran in with tears streaming down her face, blood on her hands.

Ryker got up and ran to her. “What is it? Are you alright?”

She nodded but continued to cry. “R-Remmy!” She wailed.

“What about Remmy?” Tracker came up behind Ryker.

“He...he’s dead,” she sniffled.

The whole room gasped, and Ryker wiped the little girl's face. “Where is he?”

“Laiken’s room,” the girl said.

“Devin, take her and get her cleaned up!” Ryker yelled as he was running to Laiken’s room. When he got to the room, Halo and Tracker were right behind him. Remmy was lying on the floor, his uniform soaked in a pool of blood. The walls were covered with the words “I’m Sorry.”

Tracker picked up a piece of paper that was lying next to Remmy’s head. “A note.”

“What’s it say?” Halo asked.

“'I’m sorry for everything,'” Tracker read out loud. “'It was me who did this to Laiken. I was the one who told Alloy where we were. It’s my fault Taryn’s gone. I was Alloy’s spy from the beginning. He came to me after the assembly and asked how well I knew you guys. He offered me better food, sleeping arrangements, and work schedule. He disregarded all my class grades. I didn’t’ know he would go this far. He said if I didn’t do what he told me to, he would kill me and everyone else. I’m sorry for everything that has happened. Now that I’m gone, I hope things will get better. I didn’t tell him about the training or the plan. I’m sorry.'”

“Wow,” Halo said.

Tracker lowered the note. “I guess the closer they are, the harder they are to suspect.”

“I’ll go dig a hole,” Ryker said. “Halo, can you help Devin bring the body out when he's done with the little girl?”

“Yeah, no problem” Halo answered.

Ryker found a shovel and made his way to the back door. He went out into the night, located a good spot next to the trees, and started digging. After a few minutes, Halo and Devin came out with Remmy’s body wrapped in a sheet. They dropped the body in the hole and kicked the dirt back in.

“You alright, man?” Halo asked Ryker.

“I don’t know. This is just way too much.”

“I hear ya,” Halo said as they walked back into the safe house. They met Tracker and the doctor back in Laiken’s room.

“What are you going to tell everyone?” Tracker asked.

“The truth. They need to know what's going on,” Ryker said.

“You want me to do it?” Halo asked.

“No, I’ll do it. I can tell them the plan at the same time,” Ryker said.

The five of them made their way back to the dining room where everyone was chatting among themselves. Ryker immediately went to talk to the little girl.

“What’s your name?” he asked softly.


“Well Mya, you did a great job. I think you should come to the next training and have Tracker teach you a few things. You could be a little ninja,” Ryker said. Mya smiled and hugged Ryker before running back to her mom at one of the tables.

Ryker stepped up onto a table at the head of the room and started his speech. “Remmy was found dead in Laiken’s room by brave little Mya over there,” Ryker said pointing at her. “He killed himself by slitting his wrists and throat. He wrote an apology letter, if anyone would like to read it. It may be hard to believe, but he was the spy, the one who messed up Laiken. He said in his note that he didn’t give away our training or plans. Tracker, Halo, Devin, and I have come up with a plan of attack that will be executed in two days. We want to get in some more training and make sure everyone's ready.”

His friends knew he was also waiting for Laiken to wake up, and they also knew he wanted so much for Laiken to be at his side. The room went into mumbles as soon as Ryker jumped down from the table. “We'll be telling people the plans in their training sessions. Tomorrow morning we'll start right away with Tracker’s group.” Ryker concluded. He joined the rest of his friends at a table and let out a huge sigh.

“WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO get out of this?” Taryn asked weakly. It was her 13th day in this cell. For the past few days the guards had been bringing her water and biscuits.

“I’m trying to get you to see it my way,” Alloy said.

“No,” Taryn said. “You just don’t want me with them because you know I could shut this whole thing down in a matter of seconds.”

“True. You are just like your mother. Sly, scheming, and stubborn.”

“Don’t talk about my mother!” Taryn yelled.

“I did love her, you know,” Alloy said.

“Oh gag me.”

“I used to love you too, until an unfortunate turn of events,” Alloy said.

“An unfortunate turn of events. Yeah, you killed my mother, so I tried to shut down your operations.” Taryn said.

“You know what really happened, but you continue to blame me. I could give you partial ownership. A father-daughter enterprise.”

“You are not my father, not anymore!” Taryn yelled. “I would rather die than work with you, especially in this slave school. You’ll get what’s coming to you, and I'll be the one to put the bullet in your brain like you did to my family.”

“Such a shame you won’t live long enough to accomplish your dreams,” Alloy said. “You’ll be dead by tomorrow night.” With that he left Taryn sitting by herself again.

RYKER WAS SITTING NEXT TO Laiken's bed, like he did every night, waiting for him to wake up. "You have one more day to wake up, or you're going to miss the fun," Ryker said to a still unresponsive Laiken. Laiken had regained most of his complexion, but he still would not wake up.

"I honestly have no idea what's wrong. He's in some kind of coma," Dr. Render said the next morning. Halo, Devin, Ryker, and Dr. Render were all gathered in Laiken's room discussing the plans and training.

Halo said, "Even if he did wake up, he wouldn't be strong enough to go fight with us anyway."

"I know, but I wish he knew what was going on," Ryker said.

"Well, my group knows the plans," Tracker said, walking into the room. "That just leaves Halo, Devin, and you."

"And the doctor," Ryker added.

"I went for training before Tracker did this morning," Dr. Render answered.

"My group's going after lunch," Devin said. "We're working in the woods."

"I'll go now I guess," Halo said, getting up. "I'm working on target manipulation."

"Don't forget to tell them the plans," Ryker said as Halo left. When Halo finished his training, Ryker went, then everyone gathered for lunch. There was an excited buzz in the room among the people who knew the plan. Devin's group still had no idea.

"Are you going to rely on whoever stays to tell Laiken what's happening?" Tracker asked with a mouthful of peaches.

"I think I'm going to leave him a note with a rundown of the plans. Then he'll at least have a rough idea of where everyone is," Ryker answered.

THOUGH SHE DID NOT WANT to admit it, Taryn was losing hope that her friends were coming to get her. “They have to have a plan,” she said out loud.

Alloy entered the room looking as smug as ever. He had two guards with him. To Taryn's surprise, one of them was Sam. She hid her recognition.

“You know, I was actually expecting more from your cohorts. I thought for sure they would be here in no time after the Laiken incident,” Alloy said with mock surprise.

Taryn forced her anger down and put on her best “you can shove it” smile. “They’ll be here,” she said calmly.

“Don’t you think they would have been here by now? Especially that Ryker boy. He seems to have deep feelings for you,” Alloy said dismissively.

Taryn knew he was just trying to get under her skin, but she could not help believing what he was saying. She was just hoping it was taking this long because Ryker was finalizing a good plan. Maybe even Laiken will be here.

“My spy hasn’t checked in for some time now,” Alloy said as if talking to himself. “Maybe your people found him out. Maybe they even killed him. He was pretty close to you, you know.” He was pacing the room with his arms crossed, sometimes stopping to look at Taryn.

“Why are you wasting your time with me? Can’t you just kill me and get it over with?” Taryn asked.

“What fun would that be? No, I’m going to keep you around until your friends do show up. Then they will get to watch you die.” Alloy said. “If I wanted you dead, don’t you think you would be already?”

With that he left the room. Each of the two guards gave Taryn a biscuit and a cup of water. She could see concern in their eyes, but also something else—excitement?

“Tonight. Be ready,” Sam said, and then they were gone.

What does that mean, she wondered.

BY NIGHTFALL, EVERYONE AT THE safe house was buzzing. There was an excited air through the whole dining hall as everyone ate. Ryker, Tracker, Halo, and Devin were sitting together making final arrangements and running through the motions. “When they get back, that’s when we move out,” Ryker was saying.

“Hopefully they weren’t found out,” Tracker said.

Earlier that morning they had sent in the decoy guards. One was Sam, and the other was one of his friends. Their main goal was to make sure Taryn was alive and let her know when the rescue was happening. It was not part of the original plan, but Ryker figured they needed to let Taryn know. He also needed to know if she was alright.

“Where’s the doc?” Devin asked.

“Making sure the bombs are ready,” Halo said, taking a bite of cherry pie.

“Everyone’s groups know what to do?” Ryker asked for the 100th time.

“You can quit asking. Each time is going to be a yes,” Halo said.

After a few more minutes of discussion, the fake guards came through the front doors. The excitement moved up a few notches. Ryker was shaking with anticipation, and Tracker started jumping up and down stretching out.

“So?” Ryker asked Sam.

“She’s fine, and we told her it'll be tonight.” Sam responded.

Ryker let out a sigh. He wasn’t sure if he was ready to lead, but he did not have another option. “Well, looks like it’s show time.”

“Is everyone ready?” Tracker yelled to the crowd.

Everyone cheered. Some people threw napkins into the air. They were finally going to get some justice.

“Give me five minutes,” Ryker said. He did not tell anyone what he was doing, but they already knew. He made his way to Laiken’s room. Ryker had written the note that morning explaining the plan and what to do if they did not make it back.

When he walked through Laiken’s door all of his excitement left. He sat in the chair next to Laiken’s bed. “I don't know how this attack is going to play out, but at least you're safe. I wish you were coming with me…us. I’ve always looked after you like a little brother. You were a pain in the ass, but it was worth it. I know you always put away your pain just for me. I’m sorry I didn’t see it. Anyway, we’re going to get Taryn back. That school is history. You better be doing good when we get back.” Ryker's voice cracked, and he put his head down. Tracker came into the room but stopped short when she saw Ryker breaking down.

“He’ll be fine. We’ll all be fine. When we get back he’ll be at the doors waiting for you,” Tracker said calmly.

“I’m good,” Ryker said wiping his face and regaining his composure. “Give me a minute and we can go.”

“You got it,” Tracker said, turning around and leaving.

“I’ll see you when we get back,” Ryker said, patting Laiken’s hand. He got up and went back to the dining hall where everyone was waiting.

“Let’s go kick some ass,” Ryker said to Halo. Halo clapped him on the shoulder and showed him the biggest grin anyone had managed in a long time.

“I’ll take my group and get positioned,” Devin said. He went to the front door and called the snipers to action.

Ryker and Halo started handing out weapons.

“Remember the plan,” they would say every so often. Once the weapons were dispersed, Ryker, Halo, and Tracker separated their groups. They waited for the doctor to give them the all clear.

'TONIGHT'...WHAT DID THAT MEAN? There are only two options. Taryn was running the possibilities through her head. It either means that tonight's the night I die in front of my friends, or tonight's the night that they're coming for me. But why didn’t the guards tell me? What was their role? How did Sam get here? She was becoming overly excited at the thought that the guards were there to help. Do they hate Alloy as much as everyone else, or is there another reason? She did not care; after tonight she would either be dead or rescued. Hoping for the latter, she began running tactics through her head. She had to be ready to fight if it was a rescue. “Hopefully my legs still work,” She accidentally said out loud, but she was too excited to care.

BACK AT THE SAFE HOUSE, RYKER'S and Halo’s groups were the only ones left. The doctor had taken her group and the bombs to their location. Tracker's responsibility was to lead her group as close as they could get to the school.

“Halo, I’ll take my group first and get situated, then you can surround us,” Ryker said.

“Sounds good.” Halo said.

“Alright, my group, we’re moving out.” Ryker said. “When we get to the school take your positions and don’t make any noise until Halo’s group surrounds.”

The group members nodded in agreement and started filing out the door. Ryker took one last look toward the hallway to Laiken’s room then followed his people.

ALLOY CAME BACK INTO THE room, but even the sight of him did not discourage Taryn. “Still alive, are we?” he asked with a disappointed tone. “I figured you might be getting lonely, so I brought you some company. Although he doesn’t do anything, so it will still be like you’re alone. Guards, bring him in.”

When she saw what the guards were bringing in, her heart dropped to the very pit of her stomach. They deposited Laiken’s motionless body onto the floor in front of her. He was pale and covered in stitched cuts.

“What did you do to him?” Taryn spat.

“I didn’t do anything. That was the work of my spy,” Alloy said. “Oh, and one more thing: your friends will be here shortly. But don’t get your hopes up.” With that he left, leaving Taryn with the guards and Laiken. The guards cut her loose and left.

When the door was closed, Taryn sank down to the floor next to Laiken. She stroked his face, ran her fingers through his hair, and checked his pulse. He was still alive. “We’re going to be fine,” Taryn said to his body. “Ryker is coming.”

At the name Ryker, Laiken stirred and let out a low moan.

“Hey,” Taryn said.

“What's happening?” he asked, barely audible.

“We’re going to war,” Taryn said.

“Where are we,” he asked, sitting up.

“Back at the school,” she said, supporting him. “We were captured.”

“Again,” he said with a sigh.

“Yeah, but Ryker and everyone else are coming for us.”

“I should still...be there,” he said, short of breath.

“What happened?” she asked.

“I should have...been paying...attention.”

“To what?” she asked.

“Remmy. He did this...kept saying he was sorry...with each cut...said he had to...had to do it. I should have...fought him off.”

“It’s not your fault,” Taryn said.

“I’m sure Ry...Ryker thinks it is.”

“No he doesn’t,” she said. “He would never blame you for something like this. He's probably worried sick. If this is anyone’s fault, it’s mine.”

Laiken looked at the floor. Taryn could tell he still blamed himself. She thought, All of this is my fault, but none of it's going to matter after tonight. Things are going to be put in place.

THE AIR WAS CRISP, BUT there was a slight warm breeze. Ryker's group followed the path of beaten-down grass from previous groups. Ryker, evidently going over the plan and speech in his head, did not notice they had stopped until he ran into someone.

“Why did we stop?” he whispered.

“We’re here. People are starting to disperse,” someone whispered back.

There was rustling in the trees behind Ryker. He looked around his circle formation. Right across the field, one of his people disappeared, as if he (she) had been pulled backwards by something. As Ryker scanned the treeline, more and more kept vanishing. He turned to find one of the school guards pointing a gun at his face.

“Drop your weapon,” the guard said.

Ryker put his gun down and slipped a hand behind his back. He held up two fingers then immediately made a fist. The distress signal. He repeated this four or five times, but nothing happened.

One of the guards took a step forward, and blood splattered all over Ryker's face and shirt. A bullet hole showed up on the guard's forehead, and the guard went down. Ryker turned around; someone was on the roof of the school. Ryker bent down and picked up his gun. He scanned the treeline again; his people were back in form. “Thank God for snipers.” He went over to the fallen guard and took his weapon.

A few guards exited the school, walked to the front lawn, then turned around and tossed some kind of canisters to the roof.

“Damn,” Ryker said after smoke began to rise. He did not notice the guard behind him until it was too late.

When Ryker came to, he was lying in the grass in front of the school. He picked himself up. Everyone from the safe house group was on their knees, surrounded by guards. They were in rows facing the steps of the school. “I should have known there'd be more than one spy. Now they're all waiting for their deaths,” Ryker said.

“Hello all,” Alloy's voice rang out over the safe house group. “I don’t know how you expected this to work out, but it looks like I win.”

Ryker panned his view to the side and saw Halo with a bloody nose and Tracker with a deformed arm. Neither Devin nor any of the other snipers were in sight. “They're probably still knocked out on the roof,” Ryker said aloud, looking up at the roof. “No guards. Maybe if the snipers wake up in time, they might still have a chance,” he mumbled, rubbing the back of his head.

“I hope the entertainment I have set up will prove my point. Guards,” Alloy continued, “If you would please bring out the show.”

Mumbles went through the crowd of safe house people. A couple of guards walked out the doors of the school, one with Laiken limping, and the other with Taryn walking behind. Both Laiken and Taryn had battered faces, but they still looked hard-set and proud.

Taryn scanned the crowd and locked eyes with Ryker. A quick wave of relief swept across her face. Laiken grimaced with pain every few limps.

Ryker's brows furrowed, and he squinted at what was before him. “Laiken?” Still, Laiken did not look up at Ryker.

“As I said, entertainment,” Alloy gestured toward Laiken and Taryn. “Bring the boy.”

The guards brought Laiken forward, made him face the crowd, and kicked him behind the knees so he would fall. His knees hit the cement, his face counld not hid the extreme pain, but he did not make a sound. One of the guards handed Alloy a small handgun.

“Now, we can make this easy or you can make this difficult,” Alloy said eying the gun. “If you all surrender and agree to come back to the school peacefully, things will go back to how they used to be.”

There was a mutual mumble of “no” throughout the safe house group. Taryn shook her head and glared at Alloy. Ryker looked right at Laiken, but he kept his head down.

“Alright then, I really didn’t want to have to do this,” Alloy said. In one swift movement, he raised the gun to Laiken’s head. Laiken finally lifted his head and locked eyes with Ryker.


It was done. Laiken slumped, blood running from the hole in his forehead.

Taryn's world went blurry. Everything seemed to move in slow motion. Her heart-wrenching scream echoed through the area. She could hear the sound of muffled sobbing and struggled hard against the guards restraining her as she yelled and screamed at Alloy. Things slowly came back into focus. Sounds got louder. She could see tears streaming down Ryker's face and could almost feel every last bit of soul leaving his body.

“Now, would anyone like to change their minds?” Alloy asked casually.

Among the safe house group, several hands went up.

“No! Put your hands down,” Taryn said from the steps.

“Let the people make up their own minds,” Alloy said.

“They aren’t making up their own minds; they're doing what you want because they don’t want to die.” Taryn responded. “If we go back to how things used to be, then I will do everything in my power to stop you again. And next time, I won’t fail.”

“Well then, I guess I should just get rid of you before you cause any more trouble,” Alloy countered.

“Do it,” Taryn said to Alloy. “But let me tell you, it'll be the last thing you ever do.”

“How sweet. Any last words?” Alloy asked.

Taryn took one last look around the safe house group, then locked eyes with Ryker for a final goodbye. His blue eyes were full of so much sadness and despair, Taryn had to look away before she started to cry. She was determined to go out proud.

Alloy raised the gun to her forehead. She could see Ryker out of the corner of her eye. He was completely broken; she knew he would never recover from this.

“Is this what you really want?” Alloy asked mockingly.

“Just pull the damn trigger!” She yelled louder than she had intentioned.

Alloy pulled back the hammer, Taryn shut her eyes. It would be over soon.


She heard the click and the sound of gasps; she felt the warm liquid on her face. How is this possible? I'm dead. She slowly opened her eyes. Standing in front of her was Devin pointing a sniper rifle right at her face. He slowly lowered the gun, and Taryn saw his black eye and broken nose. She looked down at her feet and was shocked at the sight of Alloy, crumpled and dead. Just like Laiken, he had a bullet hole in his forehead.

“Nice shot,” she said to Devin. Luckily it had missed her when it went through.

He just shrugged.

When she had recovered enough to look out into the crowd, she was shocked to see every guard putting his weapon down. Everyone was starting to sigh or sob with relief. Tracker started the hooting and hollering. Everyone seemed at ease, except for Ryker. He slowly got up, walked up the steps to Laiken’s body, and knelt down beside it.

“Go find Halo and tell him to get everyone back to the safe house,” Taryn said to Devin. “Have the doctor check everyone.”

Devin nodded and walked down the steps into the crowd. Taryn went over to Ryker and knelt beside him. She took his face in her hands and wiped away some of the tears. She began crying herself. She wrapped Ryker in a big bear hug and they stayed there, mourning.

“I’m sorry,” Taryn said between sobs. “I’m so sorry.” She was actually talking to both of the boys, but only one of them could hear her.

Slowly they composed themselves and each took one Laiken’s arms. They silently drug him back to the safe house.

“HEY DOC, HOW’S EVERYONE DOING?” Taryn asked Dr. Render a few hours after they arrived.

“No one is seriously hurt,” Dr. Render began. “Tracker has a broken arm, and I put her nose back in place, Devin’s nose was pretty smashed up, a few people had minor cuts, and one guy got grazed by a bullet, but I stitched it up.”

“Good. Have you seen Ryker?” Taryn asked.

“I saw him a while ago; he wouldn’t let me check on him. I think he went to the armory.”

“Whoa, wait a minute. This place has an armory?” Taryn asked, bewildered.

“Yeah, it’s downstairs. Just go a couple of turns past Laiken’s room and you’ll find the stairs.” Dr. Render said.

An armory. I should have known. You wouldn’t have had as much confidence if you hadn't had weapons, Taryn thought, walking toward the hall. “Thanks, Doc.”

It took Taryn a few hallways and dead ends before she finally found the one with the staircase. When she got to the bottom and rounded the corner, she stopped dead in her tracks. The room was like a military playground.

“Holy...” she managed.

“Yeah, it’s pretty awesome,” Ryker said coming around a gun rack.

“Hey, how much of this have you tried out?” Taryn asked.

“A few hand guns and throwing knives,” he said with a dry smile. “Wanna try something?”

“Oh yeah.”

“I’ve been on the firing range for the past hour. It’s a pretty good stress reliever.” He led Taryn to the back of the armory.

“The doctor said everyone's fine,” Taryn said.

“That’s good.” Ryker gave her a small hand gun.

“How are you doing?” Taryn asked.

“It’s a little soon to give you a direct answer, but I'm pretty mellow right now.”

Taryn fired off three rounds into the target poster.

“How are you?” Ryker asked.

“Something I have never been in my life,” she said. “A mixed bag of emotions.”

“Eww,” he said sarcastically.

“I know, the sound of it makes me want to barf,” she said with a small laugh.

Ryker took on more serious tone. “Listen. I’ve been thinking about what we should do next.”

“Whatcha got?” she asked.

He walked over to a table and brought back a small black box with multiple wires dangling from it. He handed it to Taryn. “The doctor made this as a last resort if things didn’t go as planned,” Ryker paused while Taryn stared at the item in her hands, then he continued, “I think we should go back to the school, take everything we can use and bring it back here. Once we have everything, we can put Alloy’s body in the school and use this to bring it down.”

“This is a bomb?” Taryn asked, handling the box with more care.

“Yeah. I think it would give everyone peace if that place was gone.” Ryker said.

“Have you told anyone else about this?” Taryn asked.

“No. I wanted to run it by you first,” Ryker said, taking back the bomb.

“I think it’s a great idea,” she said, putting her hand on his shoulder.

“I guess we should tell everyone else about it,” he said.

“Let’s wait a day or so. Maybe things will settle down a little,” she said. “For now...me with the gun against you with your knives.”

“You’re on,” he said with a genuine smile.

The sadness was still there in Ryker's voice, but keeping his mind off of it was the best thing Taryn felt she could do. They needed a break from the tears and the depression. She would much rather see Ryker smiling and happy, even if only for a little while.

“ALRIGHT, THIS IS WHAT’S GOING to happen,” Taryn started from on top of a table. “We're going to go back to the school and collect everything we can use—food, clothes, chairs, tables, weapons, supplies, and anything else we can find. We'll need volunteers, people who can handle carrying a lot back here. I’d say forty or fifty should work. If you want to come, meet outside the front doors in an hour.” And with that she jumped down from the table.

Devin, Halo, Tracker, and Ryker were waiting for her to finish. “You didn’t tell them about the bomb,” Ryker said.

“I know. I’m going to wait until we get everything back here. Then everyone who wants to come to the bombing will be ready.”

“Has anyone found anything with wheels or handles that we could carry more in?” Halo asked.

“All we could find were a couple of large freight containers,” Tracker said, readjusting her arm brace.

“We might have to make more than one trip,” Devin said.

“We'll have to see how many people volunteer.”

AFTER AN HOUR TARYN, RYKER, Halo, and Devin made their way to the front of the building. Once out the doors. Taryn was blown away by the number of people waiting to pillage the school. "I guess we have plenty of hands," she said.

"Some of them probably want to get personal items from their bunks," Ryker said.

"Yeah, and others probably sent people for them so they didn't have to go back," Devin chimed in.

"I guess we better get going," Taryn said. "If everyone's ready, we can get this over with."

Taryn took the lead with Ryker beside her. They made their way back through the trees to the school. Taryn could tell that Ryker was getting tense. Her stomach was turning to knots.

Halo appeared from the crowd and put a hand on Ryker's shoulder. He didn't say anything, but Taryn could tell the gesture had been enough. The group automatically stopped when they reached the treeline. “Alright, grab anything that can be useful. Look for crates or wagons to carry stuff back,” Taryn said.

“Grab any personal items you want, but make sure they get to the right owner, and don’t take too long,” Ryker said.

The group broke up and went into the school. Devin and Halo started in the kitchen, and Taryn went to find Alloy’s office. She did not know why, but she needed answers. Ryker told her he did not think it was a good idea, but she told him it was personal. He nodded and went to the laundry room.

Taryn tried the basement first, winding through countless hallways and dodging group members. It was amazing how fast these people could collect. The school now seemed hollow and even more prison-like.

Taryn whispered, “If I were an evil leader’s office, where would I be? I knew I should have asked the guards.”

As she rounded the last corner, she slammed into a boy carrying crates.

“Sorry,” she said, picking up the boxes.

“It’s fine,” the boy said.

“What’s in the boxes?”

“Extra uniforms,” the boy told her.

Taryn nodded, then the boy went about his business. Just when she was about to give up and turn around, she heard a slight metallic squeak from the end of the hall.

“Tair,” someone said from behind her.

She turned around and saw Ryker walking toward her. He was empty-handed, and his face was tight.

“What are you doing?” Taryn asked.

“Just wanted to make sure you were okay,” Ryker said.

Taryn could tell that wasn’t the real reason, but she shrugged and gave him a little smile. “I heard a squeak from down there,” she said, pointing to the end wall.

Ryker said nothing. He walked in front of Taryn down the hall. At the end of the hall was just that, the end. No turns, no doors, just a solid metal wall.

Taryn heard another squeak, and this time Ryker looked at her, acknowledging that he had heard it too. “There’s nothing here,” Ryker whispered.

“Really? I hadn’t noticed,” Taryn whispered back with playful sarcasm.

“Ha ha, you’re funny,” Ryker said, lightly punching her arm.

Taryn was glad to see that he was at least somewhat relaxed. She always enjoyed hearing him laugh and seeing him smile, but she knew it would only last until they got back upstairs.

“Yeah, I know, I’m hilarious,” Taryn whispered. “I don’t understand. There's nothing here, but the noise is clearly coming from here.” She started knocking on the wall in random spots. Ryker followed her lead and did the same on the side walls. After a few solid knocks, Ryker hit a hollow spot. “Hey, listen.” He continued to knock.

“It’s a solid panel. How can it be opened?” Taryn asked.

“Look for screws or buttons,” Ryker whispered, running his hands along the wall.

“You are such a nerd,” Taryn said, doing the same.

“I know, it’s the end of the world,” Ryker said.

Taryn’s hand barely hit the screw head before the metal wall panel lifted into the air. Through the door was a typical work office.

“What the...” Ryker said.

“Alloy was also a nerd,” Taryn said staring at the door.

“I guess this is it,” Ryker said. “Let’s check it out.”

They walked through the door into the office. In the center was a rustic wooden desk covered in papers and framed pictures. The walls were lined with full bookcases, the floor was pure black carpet, and there was a fake window plastered to the back wall.

“So what exactly are we looking for?” Ryker asked.

“I don’t know.” Taryn walked around the desk looking at the pictures. She nearly passed out.

Ryker must have read her face, because he hurried around the desk. “What’s wrong?” he asked.

“Nothing,” she said, her voice cracking.

Right in the center of the desk was a picture of a smiling brown-haired woman. Looking at her face brought back way too many memories for Taryn. She stumbled and sat in the desk chair. Her eyes filled with tears as she reached for the picture.

“Do you know her?” Ryker asked. “What’s wrong?”

“This is my mother,” Taryn said choking back a sob.

“Why does Alloy have a picture of your mother on his desk?” Ryker asked.

Taryn took one look at his face and realized he was trying to put the pieces together. Taryn followed his eyes as he scanned the other pictures on the desk. One showed Alloy, Taryn’s mom, and a little girl about four years old, sitting on the school steps. Another showed the same little girl, maybe eight years old, riding a bike, her brown hair blowing in the wind and her green eyes glowing bright with her smile.

Ryker picked up a picture of a ten-year-old girl wearing a white T-shirt under blue overalls and holding up a welding mask. He dropped the picture.

“No, no, no,” he stammered. “Alloy was your...”

“Father,” Taryn began to sob. “Alloy was my dad and this is my mom, Brittny.”

Ryker stumbled. He grabbed the edge of the desk for support. “No. You’re lying. This isn’t funny.”

“Ryker, I’m not lying,” Taryn said, standing back up. “This is one of the times I wish I was, though.” Taryn put the picture of her mother down on the desk. She could not bring herself to look at Ryker. This was the moment she knew would kill her. What made it worse was the fact that Ryker was dealing with Laiken’s death. She had hoped to tell them both when things settled down. Now it was all out on the table at the worst possible time.

“Why?” Ryker asked. “Why did I not know about this?”

“Because I didn’t tell you.”

“Why?” He asked again, this time looking her right in the eyes.

“I didn’t want you to know,” Taryn said.

Ryker started pacing the room. He would not meet her eyes, and she could tell he was trying to process the information. “What happened?” He finally asked.

“What do you mean?”

“Last time I checked, parents don’t torture their children,” he said, waving his hands.

“Do we really have to do this now?” Taryn asked.

“Well, there isn’t going to be a better time.”

“I wanted to wait and tell both of you,” Taryn said.

“Both of us?” Ryker appeared confused. “Oh, you mean Laiken and me. Well guess what; he’s dead!” The moment after he said it, his face softened.

“I’ll tell you everything later, I promise,” Taryn said. “Right now we have to focus on collecting.”

“Fine, I’m going to see if anyone needs help,” Ryker turned and left.

Taryn could tell he was angry and unsettled. She could not blame him for being angry. She hoped they would be able to work things out. The way he yelled that last sentence kept replaying in her brain. He said it like it was her fault. She knew he was right; it was her fault, but she never imagined he would blame her. She wiped her face and took a drawer out of the desk. After dumping the contents on the ground, she put all the photos in it. She scanned the room for anything useful. She picked out a few books on war tactics and weapons.

Just as she was about to walk out the door, she heard the squeak again. She had completely forgotten about it. She noticed a small metal hamster moving in a wheel on one of the bookshelves. Each time the robotic creature hit a certain part of the wheel, the wheel squeaked. For some reason Taryn smiled. She had no idea why, but at that moment the little hamster, endlessly running on the wheel, gave her hope.

She grabbed the metal contraption and carefully placed it in her drawer. She walked to the door and turned around for one last look. Then she took her drawer back upstairs to meet everyone else.

BACK UP AT THE SCHOOL doors, everyone was waiting with arms full. People had food, weapons, blankets, clothes, pans, plates, and glasses. Others had mattresses, tables, chairs, crates, and books. A few people gathered tools and building supplies. Taryn felt guilty that all she had was a drawer, but no one seemed to take any notice.

“You guys can start heading back,” Taryn said. “Are we going to need to make another trip?”

Halo said, “Yeah, I think we are. There's still so much stuff in there.”

“Alright. On the next trip tell anyone who wants books to go to the basement and find the office. The door will be open, and they can pick out anything they want,” Taryn said.

The crowd made one more trip, and the school was empty. “I think we should give it a couple days. Let everyone get settled, then we can make the bomb plan,” Taryn said to Ryker, Halo, and Devin.

“Sounds good,” Halo said.

“Where are we putting Alloy’s body?” Devin asked.

“Sitting in a chair in the middle of the gym floor,” Ryker said.

“We might as well do that now,” Halo said.

Halo and Ryker grabbed the body while Taryn set up a chair. The boys slumped him into it and they all left.

Back at the safe house, people were sorting and organizing everything. It was like a beehive, people running around putting things here and there. Everyone looked happy, and that was all that mattered to Taryn.

THEY HAD BURIED LAIKEN AFTER everyone had gotten back to a normal routine at the safe house.

Taryn and Ryker stood behind the safe house in the cold wind. There was a fresh mound of dirt next to Remmy’s grave. Ryker had suggested they bury Laiken next to Remmy because they were both casualties of Alloy. Ryker told Taryn he had forgiven Remmy, deciding Remmy really had not had a choice.

Taryn had prepared herself for her big explanation. She told herself she was not going to break down, but she knew it would happen anyway. She gave a sigh, put her hands in the front pocket of her black hoodie, and began her story. “My mom and Alloy met in high school. She was pretty and smart but didn’t quite fit in. Alloy was kind of like the class freak. No one wanted to be around him.”

“No surprise,” Ryker cut in.

“Anyway, they always hung out together after school. My mom liked going to museums, and Alloy would do anything for her. They fell in love, got married, had me, blah blah blah. Alloy got a job at the school as a janitor. Even though he was an adult, the kids picked on him, called him names, and pulled pranks. He put up with it for eleven years because he and Mom needed the money.

“I used to love him; he taught me everything about building. He pushed me toward my welding dream and helped me raise money for my own welder. We did everything together, and my mom loved to come watch me at work. She'd ask me questions and want me to explain certain things just because she knew I'd know.”

“No wonder you’re so good with that kind of stuff,” Ryker said. “What changed? How did he turn into the evil school leader?”

“I’m getting there,” Taryn said. “I want you to know everything.”

Ryker gave her a gesture to continue.

“A few months after my eleventh birthday, Alloy came home from work in the worst mood I had ever seen. He wouldn’t talk to me or my mom. He just grumbled to himself, something about ‘stupid kids’ and ‘no respect.’ We actually never found out what exactly happened, but he became very secretive and rarely talked to anyone. My mom got worried, but she told me it would be fine. A few weeks later, my mom was shot, right outside the school, after she had come to see Alloy.”

“Shot by who?” Ryker asked.

“Some stupid gang member. He thought she was coming to bust them.” Taryn was doing her best to hold back the tears. “From that day forward, I began to hate Alloy more and more. I blamed him for her death. Eventually we became bitter enemies, as you have seen. He took charge of the school, blackmailed all the guards that worked for him, and punished every child that didn’t follow the rules, main child being me because I was trying to get out of that school every second. He's the one who set up the rule that you had to have so many classes and so much work time before you could apply to leave. And thus, the story of my life and how I'm to blame for all of this.”

“How is any of this your fault?” Ryker asked.

“If I hadn’t grown to hate him maybe I could have helped him. After my mom died I was just so confused and angry, I didn’t want anyone around me. I never took into consideration how he was dealing with it. I formed my own opinion of what I wanted to believe happened.”

“This is in no way your fault,” Ryker said, taking Taryn in his arms. He gently stroked her hair as she cried.

“I’m sorry,” she said with a small laugh. “I told myself I wasn’t going to cry.”

“Why was Alloy so obsessed with you?” Ryker asked.

“Because I was a leader. Every day I had a new idea about how to shut down his operation.”

“You never give up, do you,” Ryker said, giving her a squeeze.

Taryn gestured to the graves. “And look what it led to.”

Ryker put her at arms length and looked her right in the eyes.“It’s not your fault.”

“You can keep telling me that, but I’ll never believe you,” Taryn said with a sad smile. She wiped her face with her sleeve. She was glad she had let everything out. There were no secrets.

“Now what?” Taryn asked.

“If you think everyone's ready, and you’re ready, we can blow the place.”

“You can give the speech this time.”

“Deal,” Ryker said. “Want to go shoot some things. I really love that armory.”

“Thought you’d never ask,” Taryn said putting her arm around Ryker's waist.

“Nice chat,” Ryker said wrapping his arm around Taryn’s shoulders. “I hope you heard all of that, Laik.”

They both smiled and then walked back through the doors and down to the armory for some friendly competition.

IT WAS A COOL, CRISP MORNING and everyone was gathered in the dining hall eating breakfast. Taryn and Ryker were eating toast and canned soup while waiting for Devin, Halo, and Tracker. Today was the day they were going to tell everyone about the bomb, and if everything worked out, they would go through with it today.

“Are we ready for this?” Ryker asked.

“I think we need to be,” Taryn said. “We need to get this over with and let these people get on with their lives.”

“What are we going to do once this is all over?” Ryker asked. “We can’t stay here forever.”

“I know,” Taryn sighed. “Everyone will have to go into town and find work.”

“Morning,” Halo said as he and Devin grabbed some food and sat down.

“Hey,” Taryn said. “I know this bombing has nothing to do with you, but your people can come and watch too.”

“Wouldn’t miss it,” Devin said shoving a piece of bread in his mouth.

“Where’s Tracker?” Ryker asked. “I haven’t seen her in a few days. I don’t think she was even at the pillage.”

“Huh, how could we not miss her?” Taryn asked.

Just then Tracker came through doors, scanned the room, and started walking toward them.

“Speak of the devil,” Halo said, making room.

“Where have you been?” Ryker asked.

“Sleeping,” Tracker said. “When’s the pillage?”

Taryn and Ryker exchanged looks, Devin slightly choked on his bread, and Halo laughed.

“That was two days ago,” Taryn said. “Everything's here, and we're going to tell them about the bombing today.”

“Aw man, I missed it,” Tracker said.

“You missed it alright,” Ryker said.

“Just don’t go back to sleep and maybe you can watch the bombing,” Halo said.

Tracker mimicked his tone and began slurping her soup.

They all seemed to get along great, but Taryn wondered what would happen after things had settled and they had to move on.

“You ready for your big speech?” Taryn asked Ryker.

“Yep,” Ryker said, getting up and going to the front table. Once he was on top of the table the room quieted.

Everyone turned to look at him. Taryn, Halo, and Devin got up and stood around the table. Tracker stayed to finish her breakfast.

“Okay, we've come up with a plan, and we want to share it with you,” Ryker started. “Later today everyone who wants to come can follow us back to the school.” There was low mumbling among the people but Ryker continued. “Let me explain what we're doing before you tune out. We're going to use the bomb the doctor made, and we're going to blow up the school. Alloy’s body is already inside, and we got everything out that we can use, so there's not much use for the building. It holds too many bad memories for everyone, and once it’s gone it'll give closure. You don’t have to come if you don’t want. We'll meet back here in three hours, then we’ll head out.”

With that Ryker jumped down from the table, and the room burst into energy. Some people were hugging and crying, but most were smiling and laughing.

“That wasn’t too bad,” Taryn said.

“Should we go rig up the bomb before anyone gets there?” Devin asked.

“Yeah. Take the doctor and get everything ready,” Ryker said. “Make sure the detonator is far enough away.”

Devin nodded, and he and Halo went to find the doctor. Ryker and Taryn went back to the table with Tracker. She was still stuffing her face.

“It’s like you haven’t eaten in a week,” Taryn said.

“I’m starving,” Tracker said with a piece of bread in her mouth. “Nice speech, Ryker.”

“Thank you.” He made a show of bowing deeply. “Yep, I can’t believe it’s going to be over before nightfall. What are we going to do next?” he asked.

“I don’t know about you guys, but I’m going into town and getting a job at the power plant,” Tracker said. “I've always wanted to work there.”

“I think a lot of people will want to go and find jobs,” Taryn said, twirling a fork in her fingers. “This'll just be a place to come if they can't find a place to live.”

“You should look into the welding shop,” Tracker said to Taryn. “They never have enough help. And you’re a girl, so that’s a plus.”

“There’s a welding shop?” Taryn asked, suddenly interested.

“There are a lot of shops,” Tracker said. “Any skill you can think of.”

“I guess it won’t be too hard to move on,” Ryker said with a slight sadness in his voice.

“Guess not,” Taryn said putting the fork down. “I’m going to find some warmer clothes for the bombing.”

Taryn got up and walked toward the hallway to her room.

Ryker nabbed a piece of Tracker’s bread and got up.

“Hey!” Tracker said.

“I’m going to throw a few knives,” Ryker said. “Let Taryn know, if she’s looking for me.”

“Yeah, whatever,” Tracker said.

“ARE YOU READY FOR THIS?” Ryker asked Taryn when they met at the front door.

“Yep,” Taryn answered while putting on her heavy black sweatshirt. “Did the doctor get the bomb ready?”

“Sure did,” Dr. Render said, walking up waving a small remote. “We’re good to go.”

People started gathering in the dining hall. Most were dressed in sweatshirts, boots, hats, and gloves. Devin and Halo were talking to a few people from their group. Taryn figured that all but ten or twenty people were tagging along to watch. Most of the ones not coming were still too injured to walk.

“It'll all be over in a matter of minutes,” Ryker said.

“We’ll give people a little more time, then we can go,” Taryn said.

“I didn’t miss it, did I?” Tracker said, running up.

“Sorry, it’s all over,” Ryker said with a smirk.

“Liar,” Tracker said.

“No, we just got back,” Taryn said playing along. “It was amazing.”

Tracker looked around horrified, scanning people’s expressions. She had just started to storm away when Halo came over.

“When are we leaving?” he asked.

“Ha! I knew it,” Tracker said. She turned to rejoin them.

“You could have played along,” Ryker said to Halo.

“Oh, you should have given me a signal.”

“Not funny,” Tracker said.

“I think everyone that’s coming is here,” Taryn said. “We can head out if you guys are ready.”

“Hey!” Ryker yelled and the crowd suddenly quieted. “We’re going now, so make sure you're dressed warm enough.”

Ryker, Taryn, and Tracker led the group out the doors. Halo dispersed back into the crowd, and they all filtered through the forest.

Once they were at the designated safe distance, Ryker and Taryn told the people to make a big circle with the school in the middle of the ring. Taryn and Ryker made their way back to Dr. Render.

“Ready?” the doctor asked.

“Whenever you are,” Taryn said.

“I’m not doing it,” Dr. Render said. “I just hooked everything up. This is your school, your decision, and your moment.”

“Taryn, you should do it,” Ryker said.

“We’ll do it together,” Taryn said. She took the remote from Dr. Render and locked hands with Ryker. Ryker took Tracker's hand on his other side. All around the school everyone grabbed hands, and Taryn took the hand of the kid next to her. Ryker and Taryn simultaneously raised their connected hands with the remote, and everyone else did the same.

“On three?” Taryn asked.

“1!” Ryker yelled.

“2!” Taryn yelled.

“3!” Taryn and Ryker yelled together.

They hit the button, and the school blew to pieces. Debris flew everywhere, but the ring of people was far enough back to miss most of it. In a matter of seconds the building was a pile of dust and rubble. Everyone let go of each others' hands and started clapping and laughing and crying. Ryker pulled Taryn into a hug. Tracker was running around the people giving random high-fives. Even with a broken arm, she wasn’t any less enthusiastic.

“Nice show,” Halo said as he and Devin came over.

“Thanks, choreographed it myself,” Ryker said, letting go of Taryn.

Ryker high-fived Halo and Devin, and they both gave Taryn a quick hug.

“Maybe next we can do our school,” Devin said.

“You okay?” Halo asked Taryn. She had tears on her cheeks.

“Yeah, I’m great,” Taryn answered wiping her face. “I’m so glad it’s over.”

“Woooooo!” Tracker screamed as she practically tackled Taryn in a one-arm hug.

“I won’t be able to work in that welding shop if you cripple me,” Taryn said with a laugh.

Everyone was smiling and laughing and just plain happy. No one had been happy in a long time. Taryn was glad to see these people getting closure. She was glad it was over and they could all move on.

“I’m starving,” Tracker said.

“We can go back to the safe house and have a celebration dinner,” Halo said. “Maybe we can find a radio and have a party.”

“Sounds like fun,” Devin said.

“Yeah, we can watch Ryker dance,” Halo said.

“Only if you want to go blind,” Taryn said, and they all laughed.

“Hey, I’m not that bad,” Ryker said.

Slowly everyone made their way back to the safe house. They had a huge dinner, then they moved the tables to the side. Devin and Dr. Render found an old radio in the armory and got it up and running. The night was filled with singing, awkward dancing, and a lot of laughing.

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