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Chapter 20 - Barbarians at the Gates

The Major studied the tactical display of their target on the bridge of their flagship hover tower. While she had almost four thousand people under her direct command, only a small percentage were actually capable of any effective form of combat. She would take her shock troops in with the transport and allow the remaining to follow on foot in a second massive wave. They had been secretly ferrying troops up to striking distance of the Cultists for the last two days and now everything was finally in place for the planned assault. The process would have gone much faster if they still had use of the other floating tower that they had captured in St. Louis, but they had tragically lost that one in a foolish accident.

She took a deep breath and once again took stock of the dramatic changes in her life over a scant four-month period. Here she was about to lead thousands in a surprise attack on a vicious enemy who was bent on enslaving humanity. Never in her wildest dreams had she ever anticipated that she had the hidden qualities within her to lead an army to save the world. If only her husband could have seen her accomplishments. She felt strongly that he would have been proud of her, if not a little intimidated. But, after the horrors of the St. Louis Industrial Complex, she had resigned herself to the fact that she would never see him again.

She was totally opposed to Cheryl Martin’s master plan for the Cultists, especially after having spoken with one of their members, Carlo Olvera, before his brutal execution. He had not been what she had expected of the much maligned cultist leadership. While she agreed that the cruel regimen she had heard tales of had to be stopped, the Major strongly disagreed on the unnecessary slaughter of the remaining innocents. The Boss had countered that there were no innocents among the cultists, and the Major had believed her at first. However, after several reconnaissance trips to spy on their target, she had only witnessed a peaceful, kind people who were actively caring for the simple-minded ones whom the Boss had rejected so callously as an unsustainable drain on resources. Doubt was insidiously creeping into her mind and she was starting to wonder if this operation was really for the common good, or to only consolidate more power for Cheryl Martin.

The Major knew that she had won the respect of her fellow soldiers, including the ex-military types like Jonas Mulligan, and if push came to shove, she believed that she could successfully oppose the Boss under the right circumstances. However, Cheryl Martin had saved her life on several occasions during the chaos of the Complex and the Major had felt a loyalty to her that was only now beginning to lose its luster after Martin’s many unscrupulous decisions. Until now, she had felt that Martin’s hard rule was the best that could be hoped for in this unforgiving reality, but that feeling was beginning to be replaced with a desire for something better.

“Are we all set, my little nightingale?” Cheryl Martin asked gregariously as she slithered onto the bridge, followed closely by one of her beefy bodyguards.

In past engagements, the Boss had chosen to remain well away from the fighting, but this time she had decided that she would accompany her leading troops on their glorious campaign. The Major suspected the true reason was that the Boss didn’t fully trust her after she had voiced her opposition to the current plan, and that she was politically savvy enough to realize that her army was dangerously becoming more loyal to the Major than to herself.

“We’re ready,” the Major reported.

“Remember, I want to take that building in one piece, so don’t fuck up,” she ordered, her voice switching rapidly to a nastier tone.

“I understand,” the Major confirmed. “We’ll take it.”

Cheryl’s snake-like smile appeared again on her face and her tone morphed back to a more melodic inflection, “I know you will. You’ve always come through for me, just like I came through for you. I know you’re not crazy about this plan, but you’re just going to have to trust me. It will all work out.”

The Major nodded then turned to the pilot, “Prepare for combat landing at the designated coordinates and notify the troops to standby by for deployment.” She then turned back to Martin, “If you’ll excuse me, I have a battle to run.”

Janice Wong chased after the playful and mischievous outgrown child for whom she was responsible. She had assimilated quickly into the Reclaimers and had started a daycare service for the many outgrowns that had come to live with the group. This extremely self-sacrificing work had instantly earned her great respect among the others who cared for those unfortunate children of the old world.

The Reclaimers had arrived at the Theia Facility three days earlier and the group was beginning to settle into what everyone thought would be their new home. Some of the more ambitious types had even begun cutting down trees with the thought of creating a protective wall around their new settlement. Janice was certain that, in time, the area could become a beacon of civilization and a place that she would be proud to call home. She once again thanked God that he had led her to his prophet, Jason, and that she had quite literally been delivered from the wilderness.

Just as Janice finally caught up with the wayward outgrown, a man wearing orange coveralls sprinted out of the nearby Jolly Rogers, yelling something that Janice could not quite made out. He seemed panicked and his demeanor instantly broke the tranquility of the beautiful day. She watched in anxious curiosity as he made his way at breakneck speed toward the Theia facility, unapologetically knocking down several gawking outgrowns as he went.

“What’s wrong?” she fearfully asked another man who had begun running as well.

“Something big is coming this way. Find cover and stay out of sight!” he shouted in alarm as he continued to run away.

With no regard to her own welfare, Janice quickly began gathering the confused and lumbering outgrowns together to lead them to safety. Just as she was about to move them toward a thick groove of trees, she began feeling the deep thrumming vibrations that she had come to recognize as the engines of an incoming hover tower. The sound of people screaming and snapping tree limbs mingled with the increasing volume of the engines as a dark shadow enveloped the clearing where the children had been playing only moments before. She looked up in horror as the ominously black tower quickly descended directly on her position. She screamed at the terrified children to run, but her soft voice was easily drowned out by the deafening thrum of the landing behemoth. The confused children only covered their ears and fell to the ground in fetal positions of horror. Janice made one last desperate attempt to drag one of the shrieking outgrowns to safely, but it was too late. The massive, inescapable base of the rapidly plunging tower did not even register a slight disturbance as it coldly crushed the kindly Janice Wong and her twelve young charges beneath its tremendous bulk.

Jason watched the descending time counter on the screen with growing excitement. He had been nervously watching the countdown all night and in less than ten minutes he would finally have his answer at long last. He checked the system health for the thousandth time and was rewarded, once again, with green indicators on all subsystems.

“Jason!” yelled Mike Hagen as he erupted into the Theia facility control room, obliterating Jason’s solitude.

Startled, Jason bolted upright and guiltily turned his chair so that its back was blocking the monitor, “Jesus, Mike. You scared the shit out of me.”

“We’ve been looking for you everywhere. We’re under attack!”

Jason jumped up from his chair, “Shit! Drones again?”

Mike shook his head frantically. “I don’t think so. Come on, we got to get up there,” the large man pleaded.

Without a thought to the impending scan results, Jason hurriedly followed Mike out of the control room and the two returned to the surface as fast as they could. As soon as the elevator doors opened onto the lobby, chaos once again came crashing down onto Jason’s fragile world. The sounds of rapid gunfire could easily be heard through the thick bullet proof glass doors. He peered outside to assess the situation, but in the fading light, all he could see was a confused mess of people firing weapons at seemingly random targets.

“Where’s the lieutenant?” Jason demanded of his friend.

“She was trying to coordinate with the rest of the Regulators, but I think they are cut off. Most of them were still over by the Rogers when the attack happened.”

“I’m going out there to find her. Get some weapons and defend this place as best as you can. There should be good line of sight from the second floor. Conscript anyone you can to help. We’re all Regulators today.”

With that, Jason parted the heavy doors, crouched down, and then ran toward a line of blue-clad Regulators who had taken up a defensive position in a shallow ditch. He quickened his pace significantly as bullets began impacting the ground around his feet, puffing out clots of turf and dust like tiny explosions. He slid into the ditch and was almost shot by the surprised Regulator who was already occupying the spot. The two men quickly recognized each other and the disaster was narrowly averted.

Ray Parker helped drag Jason further into cover then patted him on the back, “Damn, it’s good to see ya, Jason. It’s been awhile,” he said in a tone that felt more like they were accidentally meeting in a grocery store isle then under enemy gunfire in a ditch.

Jason forced a smile to the North Carolinian. “Good to see you too, Ray. Where’s the lieutenant?” he shouted over the gunfire as Ray let loose a few rounds toward the tree line at the edge of the old parking lot.

Ray pointed down the line of Regulators, “She’s over there. Keep your head down though.”

Jason began crawling down the ditch toward Amy’s position when Ray called back to him, “Hey Jason.”

“What?” he yelled back over the peppering sounds of gunfire.

“I heard what you found in there. I told ya it was fucking aliens, right from day one. Ha! I was right!”

Jason shook his head in amusement. “Leave it to Ray Parker to find the bright spot in even the deadliest situations,” he thought. Jason was surprised to suddenly realize that he had come to consider the jabbering mechanic a close friend. This was an idea that he would have never entertained four months ago during their first meeting, sitting around a campfire in a cornfield, speculating on their common predicament.

Amy Hammersmith was busy directing the fire of her Regulators when Jason finally dragged himself to within earshot of the lieutenant.

“What’s the situation?” he yelled.

She shook her head grimly, “Not good. I’ve only got sixty or so guys on this side of the enemy and there seems to be a shit load of them. They’re coming in fast and we can’t hold them.”

“Do we know who they are?” he shouted as a bullet whizzed by his head, causing him to involuntarily drop closer to the ground.

“They aren’t the implanted drones, that’s for sure. My guess would be the St. Louis group, but it really doesn’t fucking matter at the moment,” she responded impatiently as she fired her weapon at a target that Jason could not see. “I really hope that you got at least one more miracle up your ass, ’cause we’re gonna need it.”

“We should pull back inside the Theia building. It’s pretty damned fortified and I’ve got Mike setting up some firing positions to help cover you on the second floor.”

Amy shook her head as she hurriedly changed the magazine on her assault rifle, “We’re gonna get trapped in there, and they can just take their time to blow up the building.”

“It’s better than getting killed out here,” Jason countered. “And besides, I’m betting that Theia is the entire reason they are here. I doubt they’ll take a chance on destroying the building.”

The lieutenant shrugged, “You’re the boss.” She then shouted down the line in each direction ordering her Regulators to pull back to the Theia building.

“What’s the delay?” the Major asked Jonas Mulligan angrily as she ran up to his formation of men taking cover in the tree line.

“They got a nice little defensive position right there along the edge of that old parking lot,” he said, pointing to the ditch where the enemy had taken cover. “We didn’t see them until we were right up on top of them and we got hurt pretty bad. We lost a bunch of men.”

“We can’t sit here, we’re too exposed. Get your men’s asses back in gear and move forward,” she reprimanded. “Send twenty men around that old office building and have them flank them on their right side. We’ll roll up that line like a tape measure.”

“What about the other enemy force back at their tower?” questioned Jonas. “What are we supposed to do about them?”

“Ignore them,” answered the Major. “Just use the minimum force necessary to keep them off our backs and let the second wave take care of them. Our focus is that damn building,” she said, directing a slender finger at the distant, foreboding, two-story concrete structure.

“Yes, sir,” acknowledged Mulligan, obviously approving of the Major’s plan.

“We got to get inside that funky looking building and secure whatever the hell they got in there before they can destroy it themselves. That’s the mission.”

She knew that Cheryl Martin would be watching the action closely, so the Major wanted this nasty business over as quickly as possible. The Boss might even leave the comfy confines of the transport and come witness the carnage in person. The Major had a sneaking suspicion that Martin actually enjoyed the violence and relished its aftermath no matter the outcome. The Major took one look at the many bodies splayed across the ancient parking lot and knew that this battle would certainly furnish Martin with many grotesque delights.

Amy Hammersmith’s small Regulator unit had successfully pulled back to the heavily reinforced concrete Theia building just ahead of a potentially devastating flanking maneuver by the enemy that would have easily wiped them all out. Amy knew that four short months of military service had not qualified her as a tactical expert and Jason’s timely recommendation had saved them all from certain disaster. Again, she wished that the captain was here. She was certain that he would know the correct maneuvers to save her embattled unit, but left to her inadequate command, Amy was sure that it was only a matter of time before she got everyone killed.

Mentally, she chastised herself for allowing her self-doubt to consume her again. Carlo had warned her many times that her tendency to minimize her own abilities was her greatest weakness as a leader. She had endeavored hard to overcome that failing, but it was often difficult to forget a lifetime’s worth of bad habits in only four months. Once she centered herself, she realized that she was doing the best she could against an overwhelming enemy force and she doubted that anyone else could have done better, including the captain. She steeled herself, then, projecting a confidence that she didn’t quite feel, began redeploying her limited soldiers to defend Theia and their lives.

“They’re still comin’!” reported Ray Parker from his second story vantage point.

Bullet impacts began to crater the outside wall of the building like acne scars while a token force of Regulators took up new firing positions behind the heavy concrete truck barriers a few short yards in front of the facility. Jason cradled his newly acquired rifle and tried to formulate a plan. Everyone was looking to him to once again conjure some miraculous solution to the seemingly hopeless situation, but his mind was paralyzed with fear, not of death, but of failure after having come so close to his goal.

“Jason, we have to seriously consider using the charges to destroy Theia. We can’t let this thing fall into their hands,” George Willard pleaded.

“He’s right, Jason,” agreed Charles Patel.

The two councilors had been in the Theia underground facility when the attack had begun and were now trapped along with everyone else in the building.

“Theia might be our only bargaining chip to get out of here alive,” countered Jason. “If we blow it up, there’ll be nothing to keep them from just destroying the entire building with us in it.”

“We can’t bargain with this, Jason. They won’t know what they are doing. They could inadvertently reopen the door to the aliens. Then all of mankind is screwed,” said George in a far more forceful tone than Jason was used to hearing from him.

“It’s getting dark. Perhaps if we can hold them off just a bit longer, we can sneak away in the night,” suggested Charles. “At least some of us might make it,” he added ominously.

“No way we’re getting out of here now,” interjected the lieutenant from her post at the lobby doors. “They look like they’re massing for a final assault. We don’t have a lot of time. If we’re gonna do something, we need to do it now.”

“OK,” Jason said, defeated. “We’ll blow it. I just need to get a couple of things out of there first. Just give me a few minutes.”

“You’d better damn well hurry,” warned Amy. “Are you sure you need to go down there? Everyone is topside and we can blow it from right here. The facility is far enough underground that it shouldn’t affect us.”

“Yes, I need to go and I’ll be fast,” said Jason as he ran toward the elevator. “Just give me ten minutes. If I’m not back by then, go ahead and blow it.”

He saw the shocked expressions on his beleaguered friends’ faces as the elevator doors closed and he began his rapid descent in more ways than one.

As the Major had predicted, Cheryl Martin had indeed come in person to witness the final assault on the Theia structure. The woman known as the Boss, stood beside her field commander and examined the ongoing battle.

“Greetings again, my little Nightingale,” said Cheryl, intentionally using the hated nickname for the Major. The commander was certain that Martin used the moniker solely to undermine her authority with the men and keep her popularity in check. “Why am I still standing outside of that building?” the Boss asked, switching to her menacing tone.

“It’s almost dark. We got them bottled up now. By waiting just a few more minutes, our men will have much better chance to approach without getting picked off by their defenses. Just be patient, Boss.”

“We’ve got ten times their numbers. Just rush them and be done with it,” she ordered coldly.

The Major looked incredulously at her Boss, “It’s just a few more minutes. They’re not going anywhere…”

“Fucking order them in now!” screamed Cheryl unexpectedly, causing everyone in her vicinity to flinch.

The Major reluctantly looked to Jonas Mulligan and nodded solemnly. The large man looked disappointed but obeyed the unspoken order, gathering his men and ordering them to rush heedlessly toward their objective.

An undulating mass of over nine hundred amateur soldiers grudgingly ran out from behind their cover and into the open, deteriorating parking lot. As they traversed the distance to their objective, they began firing their weapons indiscriminately while screaming a bloodcurdling war cry in unison. Almost instantly, scores of the exposed, charging men were cut down from the well-sighted defensive positions of their enemy, but still the horde moved forward.

The Major cringed at the unnecessary slaughter of her troops as she unslung her own rifle and rushed into the fray to join her soldiers. She felt it would be far better to lead from the front, and possibly die, then to be associated with the misguided orders of her boss in the rear.

Jason sprinted into the Theia control room and quickly turned the monitor back on. Relief washed over him as the green words “Global DNA Scan Completed Successfully” displayed on the screen. With no time to fully review the results, he sent the report to the printer where several sheets of paper were quickly spat out. He snatched the papers, ensuring only that there was writing on them, then hastily made his way back to the elevator.

Once inside the rising car, Jason finally took the time to review the results that he had risked everything for. He studied the sheets under the dim red light of the elevator and then did a double take and read them again. His mind whirled with the possibilities and he quickly felt his inside pocket to ensure that his most prized possession was still there. Confirming that it was, a tentative smile crept across his face as a plan crystalized in his mind. As the elevator doors opened onto the chaotic lobby, he called desperately to get Hammersmith’s attention.

“Don’t blow it yet! I’ve got a plan. Hold them back. Trust me this one last time. I’ll be right back.” he screamed as he frantically punched the down button repeatedly.

As the elevator doors closed once again with Jason still inside, a baffled Amy Hammersmith stood shocked and indecisive against the seemingly nonsensical actions of her chairman.

“What the hell is he doing?” yelled Mike Hagen as he and Ray Parker entered the lobby looking for more ammo.

“Fuck if I know, but all my men outside are dead and the horde is still coming. If we don’t blow it now, we won’t get another chance,” she said as she moved her hand toward the detonator switch which had been rigged up at the security desk.

Mike grabbed her wrist at the last moment. “Don’t,” he pleaded. “If Jason said he’s got a plan, then he does.”

Jason Rawlings ran like he had never run before. He swept into the main conference room and quickly spotted his target. Awkwardly, he hefted the heavy Ob-Pro device, while confirming that its battery was fully charged. He then dashed back to the elevator as fast as his burdensome load would allow. The extra weight caused his failing knees to shoot great bolts of pain up and down his legs, but Jason ignored the terrible discomfort and pressed forward. When he again stepped into the lobby, he was immediately mobbed with questions which he didn’t have time to answer.

“No time to explain,” he said as he moved toward the outside doors carrying the heavy projector.

“Where are you going? You’ll be killed out there,” warned Amy as she grabbed his arm to stop him.

To the shock of everyone, Jason wordlessly yanked away from her grip and proceeded outside into the hail of gunfire.

Without a moment’s thought, Mike Hagen hefted his rifle and bravely followed his friend out into the storm of bullets. A split second later, Ray Parker did the same.

“Has everyone gone fucking nuts?” screamed Amy as she too joined Jason outside in confronting the oncoming horde.

George and Charles, along with the other few remaining defenders cautiously peered out the bullet pitted glass doors but could see nothing in the decreasing light of the evening. George went to the detonator and hovered his shaking hand over the switch. When it came time, he would be the one to destroy Theia, but he prayed that Jason would once again be able to save them all. At that moment, a very strange thought crept into the back of his social scientist’s mind, “Perhaps he really is a prophet.”

Jason could actually see the screaming faces of the charging horde as bullets ricocheted off the concrete truck barriers. He collapsed behind one of the bullet ridden slabs and quickly began powering up the projector, while Ray, Mike, and Amy fired their last remaining rounds futilely into the onrushing mob. First Ray, then Mike were knocked down as bullets penetrated their unprotected bodies. Jason watched in impotent horror as his friends writhed in pain on the ground.

The tiny LCD screen on the Ob-Pro infuriatingly kept saying “Initializing” as if the device itself was unconvinced of Jason’s insane plan and hesitant to help. After what seemed like an eternity, the words on the miniature display changed to “Ready” and Jason swiftly removed the flimsy object from his inside pocket and slapped it down on the projector’s input pad. The Ob-Pro obediently performed its function, and a gloriously enlarged projection of the object was displayed against the side of the bullet ridden two-story building.

“What the hell?” the Major exclaimed emotionally as she immediately came to a skidding stop. She stared, dumbfounded and disbelievingly at the giant image being projected against the side of their target. “Oh, my God,” she mumbled as the ramifications of what she was seeing came crashing down upon her. Tears began to involuntarily stream from her eyes and for a brief moment she had to confirm that she hadn’t been shot and that the unexpected, wonderful sight before her was not some near death experience.

“Hold your fire! Fall back!” she began to scream over and over as loudly as she could manage. She prayed that she wasn’t too late to stop the massacre already in progress.

“What the fuck is that supposed to be?” demanded Amy as she gaped up at the large image floating above her head.

“It’s my wedding picture,” Jason answered flatly without explanation.

“I can see that. Why is it there?” she asked again angrily.

“Hopefully to save us all,” he responded cryptically.

Amy screwed up her face in confusion, “Why the hell would that…”

The repeated call of “Hold your fire! Fall back!” from within the enemy forces cut the lieutenant’s question short and left her staring, slack-jawed at Jason who could only muster a weak, relieved smile in reply.

The gunfire quickly fell away and Amy scrambled to check on Ray and Mike who were in pain and bleeding, but stable. Jason tentatively peaked over the concrete barrier and watched as hundreds of enemy soldiers, some only a few feet away, reluctantly stopped their advance and then retreated toward their line in the trees. Confusion and anger were clearly expressed on their faces, but Jason didn’t care. It had worked and that meant that she really was there.

As the vast parking lot slowly cleared of combatants, eventually only one figure remained, shadowed and unidentifiable in the weak twilight of the day. Jason slowly rose from behind his cover and cautiously began to approach their position. His heart jumped into his throat and his emotions threatened to choke him, but he continued forward, fearful he wouldn’t find what he hoped and afraid that he actually would.

The Major watched the old man slowly limp his way toward her with the gigantic, ridiculous backdrop of her own wedding picture silhouetting the advancing man. She had long ago given up all hope that she would ever again experience any part of her old life, and yet here she was, looking at a photo that she thought destroyed decades ago. “Maybe life did give second chances,” she mused as the limping man finally came into view wearing the huge, goofy grin that she knew so well. The grey, thinning hair and wrinkles, may have altered his appearance, but no ageing could ever hide that smile from her.

“My God, babe, you’ve gotten so old,” she jested, smiling as she wiped away tears.

Jason gazed lovingly at his wife and took a few brief moments to examine her new appearance. Her closely cropped grey-brown hair exposed her long, graceful neck, a feature that Jason had always loved to nibble on. Her face now bore several long, jagged scars, but they detracted nothing from her still elegant beauty in his mind. Her eyes were the feature that most caught his attention, however. They were no longer the deep, energetic, glowing hazel eyes that he remembered. These eyes had darkened with more than just age. Jason recognized the effect because he had recently started seeing the same thing in his own mirror. Those eyes had seen horrible things and it was clear that they no longer belonged to the innocent, almost naïve creature that Jason had married. But all of that was meaningless. He had found her.

“You know what they say about snow on the roof, right?” he responded suggestively while waggling his eyebrows. “I always thought you’d look gorgeous with short hair and, of course, I was right,” he continued, laughing and smiling so joyfully that his face actually hurt.

Finally, convinced that it wasn’t a dream, the two collapsed into each other, falling into a deep, loving embrace for which neither had ever experienced the equal. Jason felt the dampness on his shoulder and realized that Beth’s tears had actually soaked through the worn fabric of his coveralls. They were tears of unbridled joy because Beth Rawlings felt, for the first time since awakening in that hell hole, that things were going to be OK.

“How disgustingly touching,” came a female voice from behind Beth.

The voice sent a chill up Beth’s spine and ripped her back down to the reality of the moment. This wasn’t some gooey love scene in a young adult romance novel. This was a battlefield strewn with the dead and dying and the Major had just halted a full attack for her own personal reasons. Beth disengaged from Jason and whirled around to confront the speaker, placing herself squarely between Cheryl Martin and her husband.

Martin was flanked by an annoyed looking Jonas and a furious looking Greg. The Boss stood with her hands on her hips while shaking her head disappointedly at Beth.

“Well it’s a small world after all, isn’t it?” Cheryl said with a toothy, sarcastic smile. “Judging from the fucking picture up there, I’d say this asshole is your husband. Aren’t you gonna introduce us, sweetie?” Martin asked, using her famous, disingenuously friendly tone.

Beth instantly recognized the terrible danger that they both were in. “This attack is over. We can work with these people,” Beth said firmly, hoping that Martin would see the logical benefit in her statement.

“Over? Over! Really?” Cheryl sputtered in rage. “Who the hell do you think you fucking are to tell me when something is over? Hmm? You were a cowering mess when I found you in that shithole. I protected you. I made you.”

Beth winced. It was obvious that the Boss wasn’t going to go down the logical path. She was heading toward a full-blown tantrum and those never ended well for the people around her, especially for those who had caused the meltdown in the first place.

“Listen, my name is Jason Rawlings and I’m sure we can….”

“Shut the fuck up, lover boy. No one is talking to you,” Cheryl interrupted before Jason could finish his sentence. “This is between me and this bitch here.”

“Cheryl, you need to calm down,” Beth said soothingly.

“Calm down? No, fuck that! This is what you’re gonna do. You are going to turn around and shoot that asshole husband of yours in the head to prove your loyalty to me. If you can’t do it, then I kill you both. It’s as simple as that. You have to the count of five. Five…,” explained Martin simply as she lifted her handgun and pointed it directly at the Major’s face.

“Cheryl, don’t do this,” Beth pleaded.


Beth began to panic. She was not going to lose Jason after coming this far.

“Three, come on my little nightingale, I’d hate to lose you,” Cheryl said in a strangely encouraging tone.


Beth defiantly dropped her rifle onto the broken asphalt. “I’m sorry, Jason,” she said softly as she closed her eyes to wait for the inevitable.

“What a fucking waste,” remarked Cheryl disappointedly. “One…”

The deafening sound of two gunshots rang out into the evening.

All of Beth’s muscles clenched but the expected impact and pain never arrived. She tentatively opened her eyes, praying that Cheryl had not just killed Jason to spite her, but she instead saw Jonas Mulligan lowering his still smoking rifle. The bodies of Cheryl Martin and her sycophant, Greg, both laid sprawled unceremoniously on the ground in gradually expanding pools of their own blood.

Beth looked expectantly to Jonas who only shrugged nonchalantly and said, “I never liked that bitch anyway.”

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