Jasper was tied to a chair, every inch of his body was aching and blood was pooling in his right eye. He could still clearly see Charles letting the last of his guests out.
“What’ll ya do to him?” Romie asked.
Charles smiled at her and Jasper noticed her face relax. “You don’t need to worry about that.”
“I don’t need to worry about that.”
“You just need to go to bed.”
“I just need to go to bed.”
“When you wake up, everything will be okay.”
“When I wake--”
Charles slammed the door in Romie’s face and turned back to Jasper. He had his usual smile plastered on his wrinkled face, only it was somehow more intense. More terrifying. “Very few people are able to resist me, you know.”
“Well,” Jasper responded, “I guess I’m just the right combination of cocky and self aware to pull it off.”
“I guess so. What were you doing out on the roof? Did you finally give up on your mission? Were you running home to Graham and his idiot cronies?”
Jasper didn’t respond.
“I know you haven’t been able to reach them, my man knocked out their communications days ago. Unless you managed to signal them another way.”
This time Jasper purposely looked away.
“You did, didn’t you? You got a message to Graham? What was it? What were your last words to my wayward protégé? ‘Mission failed’? ‘All hope is lost’? ‘Give up now’?” Charles laughed and Jasper finally turned to look him in the eye.
“It’s way better than that, Chuck. It’s a good thing you’re always prepared to accept company, cause they’ll be here any minute now.”
Charles’ laugh died very quickly and he stared down at Jasper. “You’re lying, I would know if Graham was making a move on the tower.”
“The number of things that go on right under your nose that you’re completely blind to is astounding, old man.”
Just then the front door splintered in under the weight of a massive black boot. A man with an impressive automatic weapon entered the room, followed by a woman with golden skin.
“Graham, Mariella! It’s about time,” Jasper said as the woman moved to his side to untie him.
“Good to see ya, Chuck,” Graham smirked and let himself into the room.
“I was beginning to think you forgot about me!”
“How could we possibly?” The woman said as she worked to get him free of his restraints.
“I am pretty unforgettable.” Jasper smiled and gasped as he stood up straight, causing agony to arc across his ribs. “I think I’m broken, will you fix me?”
“Not now.” The woman’s tone was much more serious than Jasper’s as she helped him walk to the door. “Where’s Chang?”
“Marion’s dead.” Jasper gulped but shook it off as he focused on the task at hand. “Just like Donovan will be if we don’t move fast!”
“So what now?” Charles said. “You take your man away and what? You know I’ll just gather more followers. I’ll find you eventually. You can’t hide from me.”
“I don’t plan on it,” Graham said. “I plan on killing you all right here and now.”
“How interesting,” Charles grinned. “And how do you plan on doing that?”
Graham held out a remote detonator. The old man simply shook his head and clucked his tongue.
“You can destroy me,” he said, “and you can destroy my work. But someone will come to take my place. It’s how things work. Nature abhors a vacuum and such.”
“You’re not a part of nature.” Graham said. “Mariella, Jasper, tie him up. I want him alive to see the fireworks.”
Charles just grinned as Jasper helped Mariella tie him up, a grin that made Jasper feel uneasy but he pushed the feeling aside.
“Where’s the target?” Graham asked Jasper.
“It’s a long story, let’s just get down to the infirmary.” They descended through the dark stairwell and pushed into the tenth floor. Jasper felt a sharp pain in his right side as Aleksi came from the shadows and punched him hard in the ribs.
“Good to see you again, old friend,” Graham said with a smirk. “I see you’ve finally embraced your more violent side.”
“I’d say ‘friend’ would be stretching the truth just a little, wouldn’t you?” Aleksi pulled back his fist for another jab but Mariella slipped her gun from its holster and fired at the man’s shin. Aleksi screamed in pain and fell to his knees.
“Maybe a little, but it’s such a nicer word than what I was really thinking.” Graham placed the muzzle of his gun to Aleksi’s forehead and sneered down at him. “Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t blow your brains all over this room.”
“Well, we’re friends aren’t we?”
“As you’ve already pointed out, that’s kinda stretching the truth a little, no?” Graham cocked his pistol and stared down at Aleksi, “Give it one more try.”
Aleksi didn’t respond, he closed his eyes and started praying, first in his native language then in English. He held his hands out wide and turned his face to the ceiling. Graham hesitated. He bit his lower lip and lifted the gun. “If you wanna live, you’d better get out while you can.”
Aleksi stood and limped toward the door to the stairs. Jasper led the others to the back of the infirmary and through a door that led to the quarantine room which contained Donovan and Eden.
“Jasper!” Eden said while Donovan struggled to speak around a gag.
“Are you okay?” Jasper asked as he removed Donovan’s gag.
“I’m okay,” Donovan said. Jasper untied one of his hands and Donovan touched his boyfriend’s swollen face. “What about you? You look hurt.”
“It’s fine, nothing that a little time won’t heal.” Jasper smiled and finished with the restraints. They embraced for a moment before Jasper felt Donovan pull back.
“Donovan, about what Charles said up there.”
“Now’s not the time!” Graham said. “Who is this woman? Why is she being kept with the target?”
“Charles said he misinterpreted the prophecies, he seemed to think Eden could fit his role. My guess is if there were two in such close proximity that might not be a coincidence. There may be more targets out there even still.”
“There’s the word again, target, anyone mind telling me why I’m a target?” Donovan said.
“Not now, I can explain later.”
“It’s time to go,” Graham said, pushing the others to the stairs and down to the third floor to climb through the open window. Each of them scaled a rope that hung from the roof to the parking lot, Jasper a little uneasily as his injured body protested his every move.
“This way.” Mariella led them once they were on the ground. Graham took up the rear and they slipped into a dark alley. There was an open manhole and Mariella gestured for the others to climb down into the sewer first.
“I don’t think so. It smells like crap down there,” Eden said, looking from Mariella to Graham.
“Of course it does,” Graham said, “but there are no zombies in the sewers. It’s safe down there.”
Eden wrinkled her nose and put her hands on her hips, still looking uncertain. Graham just stared coldly at her as Donovan climbed down through the manhole and then helped Jasper down.
In the dark underground Jasper couldn’t see the interaction between Graham and Eden, but he heard a heavy slap and Eden’s responding shriek.
“Hey!” Donovan yelled up through the manhole but Jasper pulled him back.
Eden came begrudgingly down the rickety metal ladder that led into the darkness of the sewer system and even in the lack of light Jasper could see a bruise growing around her eye. Mariella followed her and Graham climbed down last, replacing the heavy manhole cover.
“Everyone accounted for?” Graham asked.
“One team hasn’t returned,” a man slightly younger than Jasper said as he approached from a side tunnel.
“Nice to see you, Petey.” Jasper pretended to salute but the other man didn’t seem to receive the humor well.
“Please, it’s Pietro.”
“Pleasure to see the apocalypse hasn’t softened your spirit.”
“Let’s blow this place,” Graham said as he pulled the detonator from his pocket.
“Weren’t you listening? Mitchel and his team haven’t reported in.”
“Mitchel?” Jasper turned on Graham with a sense of urgency. “You brought him? He was the source who sent me to the tower to begin with! He was spying for Charles!”
“That would explain why he insisted on coming.”
“But we don’t know about his teammates,” Pietro said, “they may be with us still!”
“Enough!” Graham turned away from Pietro and pressed the button. The ground rumbled from the explosion above them. Dust and dirt fell from the sewer ceiling and it cracked in a few spots.
Jasper noticed Pietro’s fists clenching but he knew the little guy wouldn’t question Graham’s orders. Graham stalked away, down one of the dark and smelly tunnels. He led the way with a bright flashlight as the others held back, staring at each other.
“It’s true, Petey.” Jasper said, clapping a hand on the young scout’s back, “Sad, but true.”
Pietro remained in one spot as the others filed down the tunnel after Graham. Jasper could see he was shaking with anger, but he let out a frustrated sigh and followed in their wake.
“Jasper, where are we going?” Donovan asked as they passed another junction in the city’s sewer system. “Who are these people?”
Jasper didn’t answer. He just kept moving quicker than one would think his injuries would allow. Donovan and Eden were barely able to keep pace.
“Jasper!” Donovan said, no longer trying to keep up Jasper turned to see Donovan planted firmly in one spot. “If you don’t tell me what’s going on here, I swear I’m not taking another step.” He wrenched his hand free from Jasper’s grasp and backed away, shielding Eden with his body.
“There’ll be plenty of time to explain when we get to the base.” Jasper said, noticing that Graham had slowed his pace and was watching now.
“Problem?” Graham asked.
“No sir,” Jasper shook his head and reached out for Donovan’s hand again.
Pulling away, Donovan said, “I’m not going anywhere until someone explains what’s going on.”
“And I said we’ll explain when we’re out of the city,” Jasper said, desperation creeping into his voice.
“Where, exactly, out of the city?” Donovan asked.
“Yeah, where’s this ‘base’ you guys keep talking about?” Eden demanded.
“It’s not that far away,” Jasper said. “It’s safe. You’ll understand when we get there.”
“Safe like Charles insisted the tower was safe?” Eden asked.
“This is different,” Jasper said.
Donovan took Eden’s hand and they turned away from Jasper. Jasper noticed Graham making his way towards them and he knew the man wouldn’t deal with this situation gently. “Come on Donovan,” he said. “Just trust me, okay?”
“Trust you? TRUST YOU? I may never trust you again after this! How can you even think about asking me to trust you? Why did you call me a ‘target’? Why did Charles say I was just a job? Is that really why we’ve been together this whole time? Because I’m a ‘target’?”
Graham was finally beside them now, staring down his nose at them. “What’s the hold up?”
“Nothing-” Jasper started to speak but was interrupted.
“I wanna know where you’re taking us,” Donovan said, his face stern. “We don’t even know you, and you hurt my friend, and you expect us to crawl through the sewers with you no questions asked?”
“You and Jasper know each other. What’s the problem?” Graham cocked a brow.
“Do we?” Donovan asked and Jasper looked away.
“Look kid,” Graham said as he stepped forward and grabbed hold of Donovan’s elbow. “I don’t care what you’ve got to say about it. I’m under strict orders to get you back to base A-SAP. So let’s get a move on.”
Jasper could see Donovan was trying to resist Graham’s strength while Eden pounded the man’s broad back – but he knew they couldn’t fight him.
“Hey!” Eden yelped as Graham grabbed hold of her with his other hand and dragged both of them along the sewer.
“Who are your orders from!? Why do they want me?” Donovan asked.
“That’s unimportant,” Graham said to Donovan before looking at Jasper with stern eyes.
“Just let go of them, man!” Jasper stepped in front of Graham, even though every instinct he had told him not to.
“Jasper, I swear, you get in my way one more time and I don’t care what kind of a beating you took from Charles and his pathetic men. I will do far worse. You still have to answer for taking the target right to Chuck as soon as we lost contact. My advice to you, son? Worry about your own hide right now and stay outta my way. I’m in no mood.”
Jasper sighed and backed off, skulking through the darkness behind Graham.
“Why don’t we just tell them the truth?” Pietro asked as he approached Jasper from behind.
“How would you feel if some strangers abducted you during a zombie apocalypse and told you that whether you liked it or not, some prophecy fell from the sky and declared that you were the saviour of mankind?” Jasper asked, not looking at Pietro.
“I... I...” Pietro was at a loss for words. He scratched his head and looked away.
“Exactly.” Jasper kept moving, making sure to lag far enough behind that Donovan couldn’t hear him. “I don’t know about you, but I know Donovan well enough to know that that kind of pressure is enough to break him. We’re just going to have to get him back to the reader and let him deal with it.”