The guns of the firing squad ran out in unison. Five bodies dropped to the ground. Zoey tried not to look at their faces. She would have screamed if she did, and that would have been fatal.
She was behind a pile of farming equipment near the dock. About a hundred feet in front of her was a warehouse or something for storage. Every now and then a few militia would go into the warehouse and pull out five members of the Bright Side's crew and line then up against the wall. Then five men would come forward and shoot in unison.
Five more bodies would drop to the ground. Then a few other militia guys would take the bodies and throw them into the bay. The Bright Side had maybe a hundred and fifty crew members at the least. At this rate by nightfall they would all be dead.
Zoey had no plan. She was outnumbered heavily. She had left Derek, who couldn't do anything but crawl with his legs the way they were, behind a barrel in an alley once they'd got into town. She'd given him the pistol too, because he had more experience with it, and she didn't want to leave him defenseless. It seemed like a useless precaution now. She hadn't seen a single living thing in between there and the dock. Most of the militia must have been out in the field's looking for her and Derek. Her first instinct had been to try and find George, but then she'd thought better of it and decided a crew of hardened seamen would be more useful in the sort term. And she'd guessed where they would be held correctly.
She peered over her cover again. The firing squad wasn't like the other militia she'd seen; scared and reluctant. They casually chatted in between shootings. They were calm and confident. She wouldn't be able to scare them off, as she'd first considered. Maybe she could find some-
Her thoughts were interrupted when someone jumped her from behind. And hand covered up her mouth and stopped her from screaming out. She twisted and thrashed, trying to get free, and let loose several muffled scream.
“Be zilent!” a strangely accented voice said behind her. “We'll both be cauht!”
Zoey twisted around until she was face to face with with the unbelievably thin man that had grabbed her. He had fiery red hair and a beard to match. He was so thin it seemed like his body was nothing but skin stretched over bone. He had a pistol in a hip holster.
She calmed suddenly. The man she knew was named Kurt lowered his hand. “I've seen you before,” she said. “You were on the ship with Clooney... you jumped off with George. Of course!” She kicked herself mentally. “If George is here that means you're here too.” She frowned. “You've been here a month, did you join with the militia?”
“No, no, no,” Kurt said. “Zey got George but zey didn't get me. I've ben hiding out in za fieldz for the last month. When I zaw de boat in da harbor I thought maybe I could get out of zis hellhole.”
“Well if you want to get out you'd better help me Kurt,” Zoey said. “I'm trying to rescue the crew.”
Zoey flinched at the noise of five more deaths. “I just can't figure out how. Any good with that pistol?”
Kurt shook his head. “My aim izn't all dat good. Und zere are a dozen guards. I couldn't take zem all.”
Zoey bit her lip and started to turn back to the firing squad. Half-way through she saw a new group of militia who were practically right on top of them. She ducked lower and motioned for Kurt to do the same. Two militiamen were carrying a bleeding figure. Behind those were two other prisoners, Joshua and... Clooney? Clooney's awake? Zoey thought, glancing back to make sure. Yes, it was Clooney. And behind him was the bloated form of Father Connel. With him was perhaps another dozen guards. The odds were even more stacked against Zoey now.
Strangely, this new development made her grin. Were there once was death, see now saw opportunity.
Joshua had been waiting for the right moment to make his escape, that single moment when his enemy's concentration wavered and he could run. But that moment was not forthcoming. He was stuck.
As they entered the small space at the docks that stank of blood, Joshua tried to form a plan in his mind. But he couldn't think of how to rescue the crew and get off the retched island without outside help. If Chan had been there then he might have been able to think of something, but all alone there was very little that he could do.
Joshua and Clooney were lined up against the wall of the warehouse, and Bates, still bleeding, was leaned up next to them.
Father Connel came forward to speak, forming a small, cocky smile of victory with his mouth. “You, Jack Clooney are charged with heresy and treason. Your punishment for these offenses against God can only be death.”
“When are you going to end this Connel?” Clooney said. “These poor people only follow you because they're petrified by fear. What happens when there is no more disease? They'll overthrow you in an instant.”
Connel ignored Clooney's retort and turned to Joshua. “You, the man called Joshua, are charged with heresy. Your punishment for this offenses against God can only be death.”
“Great!” Joshua said, sarcastic. “I always wanted to get shot by a bunch of religious nuts for violating the nonsense rules of some non-existent deity!” He threw his hands up in the air. “Stick a fork in me, I'm done!”
Connel took no note of Joshua's strange reaction and let his eyes glaze over Bates. “You always were weak,” he muttered to himself. Then, in a louder, official voice. “Proceed with the purging.”
The firing squad put their weapons to their shoulders. Clooney was muttering a prayer to himself. Joshua's eye swung around looking for some way out. “Ready...” the bored looking sargent said. “Aim...”
“Stop! Or I'll kill you all!”
Everyone's heads turned to see Zoey, who had just walked out from behind a pile of farming equipment. She was covered head to toe in mud, and her hair was frazzled. Despite her disheveled appearance she had an air of confidence, and a small smile on her lips. “Half the crew is still free Connel. You messed up.”
All the guards leveled their guns at her. Joshua took note that they had no problem turning their backs on him. “What do you mean girl?” Connel said spitefully. “All of the crew are under lock and key.”
Zoey allowed herself a small laugh. “I'm sure you think so.”
Connel twitched at Zoey's defiance. “I'll give you one chance to surrender.”
A shadow ran across Zoey's face, so small that Joshua doubted anyone except for him noticed it. He smiled internally. She was bluffing.
“I'll give you one last chance to surrender,” she said, confidence shining past her momentary lapse. “I'm being merciful. I shout and you're all dead in a second.”
Several moments of silence passed. Joshua could practically hear the gears grinding away in Connel's head. He tensed his muscles, preparing himself to rush the guard closest to him, who was armed with a shotgun. If the shooting started, he had no intention of staying put.
Silence echoed through the execution square. Joshua took a good, hard look at Zoey's face. She was a remarkable actor. She had even mastered the cocky swagger of someone in a position of complete dominance.
“Kill her,” Connel ordered suddenly. He was apparently not convinced.
The guard nearest Zoey fell back in a cloud of red. A gaping, bloody hole was in the center of his forehead. Several other shots rang across the square, none of them as well aimed.
Joshua seized the moment. He tackled the nearest guard and snapped his neck with his own gun. He then flipped around and blasted the militiaman standing next to him. He pumped the gun and swung it around to kill another guard. He ducked inside the warehouse for cover, taking another shot as he did, but not hitting anyone.
It was dark in the warehouse. Joshua headed inwards through rows of rotten grain and rusty tools. The building must have been the main hub of trade before the disease, but now it seemed to have fallen into disrepair.
Through twisting rows of grain Joshua suddenly came face to face with a surprised looking farmer, who let out a small yep before Joshua snapped his neck. He glanced down at the body and saw that the man had been unarmed. Who cares? Joshua thought, waving off the tinge of gilt without hesitation.
The crew was tied up in the back of the warehouse, guarded by perhaps a half dozen militia. A dozen half-trained militia with little to no experience. Joshua almost laughed at how easy it would be. He ducked and weaved between the shelves but held his fire, knowing that he had at best four shells left.
The militiamen, unnerved by the shooting outside, fired off a spray of shots in Joshua's general direction. He was moving so fast and their aim was so poor that they had no chance of hitting him. Tow men ran into the maze to try and find him like the idiots they were.
He sneaked up behind his first victim, a older man armed with a revolver. He grabbed for the revolver with one hand and twisted it out of his grip, and with his other hand prepared to snap the man's neck. But the old man wouldn't die that easy. Joshua got his blow blocked and then an elbow intercepted his gut. Joshua countered, got a hold of the old man's arm and twisted until he heard a snapping sound. “Phyllis!” his enemy cried out before falling to the ground, writhing in pain. “Phyllis! Phyllis!”
The man stopped screaming. Joshua had found the revolver lying on the ground.
Hearing the shot, another, much younger man raced around the corner. “Oh God!” he cried, seeing the dead man lying there. “Dad!”
Joshua used his stolen revolver again. He picked apart the other guards in similar fashion to the first two. But it took too long. There was still shooting outside, but Joshua got the feeling it wouldn't be going on much longer. Without Zoey and whoever her gunman was to distract the militia, escape would be much more difficult.
BLAM! BLAM! BLAM!
Joshua fired three shots precisely aimed and cut the bonds of three of his crew. “Free the others, I'm needed outside,” he ordered, and the crewmen jumped to obey.
Joshua started back towards the entrance and ran almost strait into Zoey. “What's going on out there?” he asked immediately.
“Connel's sent most of his men after Kurt. He's only got two with him now. But there's a small army on it's way from the Monastery, and they could kill Clooney if we go out there.”
“Alright,” Joshua said calmly, masking his frustration. “I can take two of them, no problem.” He slowly opened the warehouse door and quickly and cleanly dispatched the two remaining militia.
They were dead before they even knew he was there. But he resisted the urge to put a bullet into Connel's brain too. He needed Connel.
The aging priest tried to back away, his mouth hanging open like a fish. He shuffled backwards, then lost his step and fell onto his back. He tried to strike at Joshua with his cane but a single kick sent it flying. Joshua pressed his foot down on the priest's chest and aimed his pistol at the dead center of his face.
The small army arrived as promised, swarming around the corner and brandishing enough weaponry to start world war four. “They'd better stop, because my bullet is just dying to meet your head,” Joshua whispered so that only Connel could hear.
“STOP!” Connel yelled as loudly as he could. The militia froze.
“Good, now they'd better not move another muscle or I'll blow your head off,” Joshua threatened. The crew was beginning to trickle into the execution square behind him, most of them armed. Giba appeared, making the militia back up a few steps. A gaggle of men appeared, holding Kurt at gunpoint.
The militia, held back only by Joshua's revolver, were about two hundred men strong. Facing them were the perhaps ninety survivors of Joshua's crew. They must have found weapons stored somewhere, as they were all armed to the teeth. Zoey stood with them, armed with a gun she couldn't quite handle. Yet neither side moved a muscle.
Suddenly, quite suddenly, a silence descended. All that could be heard was the breathing of the hundreds of men who had assembled to kill each other. Wind whistled through the houses. Joshua noticed for the first time how very cold he was. He had been cold ever since he first set foot on the island, but this was the first time he ever really noticed it.
The steps of one man echoed across the killing place. Father Clooney walked out of the gaggle of crew men to the space between the two armies, where he could be seen by all. The silence held as he glanced at either side. The grizzled and bloody men of the crew and the scared but fresh looks of the militia.
“Ridiculous,” he said in that strong, authoritative voice of his. It commanded that the silence be kept in place to allow him to speak. “Do you know some men say that the devil doesn't exist? You have all done a wonderful job of proving those men wrong. Do you know why you're trying to kill one another? Not because the Bright Side is full of heretics or the island is a haven of fanaticism. It is because Father Connel wants to keep his stranglehold of fear on this island. How many have died already to keep this dictator in power? Dozens? Hundreds? It is a testament to the idiocy of our race that the moment something goes wrong in our lives we embrace fanaticism and we embrace oppression. During the ancient war they did this. We became so obsessive and so blind that we laughed as the world disintegrated. Is that what you are now? Laughing murderers? I don't think so. I don't think the devil has gotten that deep. I think the only thing keeping you from lowering those guns right now is fear of what the other side might do. And you're braver then that aren't you? I think all the men here are brave enough to say that they will not kill. The simplest commandment and the most often forgot. So you can do the cowardly thing and throw yourselves into hell because a priest named Connel told you too. Or you can do the brave thing and say 'I will not kill,' lay down your weapon, and talk.”
The roar of silence filled the gap between the two armies. They stared across at each other, waiting for the other side to make a move. Finally, an young militiaman stepped forward. He dropped his gun to the ground and said, “I don't wanna fight. I've got to much to live for.”
“Don't listen to that man he's a here-” Connel was stopped when Joshua put the revolver in his mouth.
Another militiaman came forward and dropped his gun. And another, and another. Suddenly the silence was broken by a few hundred guns dropping to the stones. The militia disarmed themselves, and Connel could only look on in terror.
Clooney turned and waited for the crew to drop their guns as well. Only they didn't. The hardened smugglers, pirates, and murders of the Bright Side stared at their helpless enemies. Joshua's trigger finger twitched.
Zoey came forward and threw her gun skittering across the ground. “Sounds reasonable to me,” she said. The rest of the crew copied her actions and the only one left with a gun was Joshua, still holding his revolver in Connel's mouth.
All eyes turned to him. “Look,” he started with a condescending sneer on his face. “I'm not gonna join your little 'give peace and chance club.' And if you think for one moment that I'm gonna let this fat worm get away with murdering half my crew, you're dead wrong.” He pulled the revolver's trigger before anyone could stop him.
The hollow click of an empty gun echoed. Joshua stole a glance over the horrified audience and burst out laughing. “I really had you going there didn't I? You think I don't keep track of how many bullets are in my gun?” No one else thought it was funny.
“Everyone, we should go to the Monastery to lock Connel up for trial,” Clooney said in his commanding way. “I need to talk to Father Curtis about finding a cure for this disease in science, and to ensure that Connel's associates are punished as well. Joshua and his crew may accompany us. I will try to compensate them for their losses if at all possible.”
“Sure, why not?” Joshua said casually. He pulled Connel to his feet and then pushed him back down, laughed, and then started dragging the old priest across the stones, his crew forming a line behind him that the militia followed.
Now that the fight was over Joshua's emotions started to come up from the surface. A cold by intense hatred for Connel was at the very top. It was usually an emotion that Joshua reserved only for the White Fleet and the doctor; who had unfortunately survived and was treating the wounded. It was a precise, longing hate, not the sudden anger that seized him so often. And as Joshua dragged the helpless man up the hill, one thing was certain.
Connel was a dead man.