Awakening: The ALPHA Generation

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Chapter 19

It’s dead quiet when we step out into the hall, except for the buzzing of the lights overhead and the muffled rumble of voices down the hall. Each door stands like a grave marker - any of them could be hiding the body of one of my best friends.

Hysteria rises. Xander and Elle could be dead right now, because I couldn’t reach them in time. My vision blurs, and I take in a deep breath to calm myself. Panicking will only make things worse. I need to push my emotions away, just long enough to find my friends and escape the Hub.

This all feels like a dream, a figment of my imagination. I expect to wake up any second now, lying in my bed in a pool of sweat.

But it’s not a dream.

Darren moves quickly down the hall. We make our way back to my Cleansing room. The door is still closed, the bodies undiscovered, for now. Darren enters for a moment, then comes back out holding a thin card and another pistol – most likely Harrison’s.

“The card will let us into most of the Cleansing chambers,” he says as we hurry away from the room. He reaches over to hand me the pistol. “You’ll need this.”

I nod, slipping it into my pocket. Its cold surface presses against my thigh.

Minutes later, the sound of heels against tile comes from down the hall. A female Redeemer in a white uniform rounds the corner before we can hide. She stops cold when she sees us, her eyes scanning our bodies for threats. The pistol is heavy in my pocket, but I force my hands to remain still.

“Are you authorized to be here?” she asks.

Darren takes me by the arm and pulls me towards him. “This young woman is here to visit a relative before he’s Cleansed. Could you please lead us to the room where Xander Lockman is being held?”

She studies me for a moment. “A visit?” she echoes. “I don’t believe we allow those…?”

“Lockman is a minor – the rules are different for underaged Flawed.” He tilts his head. “I expected you to know that.”

“Yes, of course.” She considers for a moment, then says, “Well, I suppose it’s allowed. It’s just a visit, after all. Follow me, please.”

“I have a similar situation with Ellen Dalal,” Darren says as the woman leads us down white halls. “In which room can I find her?”

“Room 507,” she answers promptly, right as she stops in front of a door. “This is where Xander Lockman is being Cleansed-“

“Thank you,” Darren cuts in, slamming the handle of his gun against her skull. She crumples into a heap on the ground. I stare at my brother in surprise as he slides the card in the lock and pushes the door open.

Xander sits on a medical table, just like I did, with a Redeemer next to him. A sparking tool sizzles in the man’s hands, electricity rippling off the surface. It hovers right next Xander’s temple, preparing for the death blow.

I draw the gun before my actions register in my brain. A kind of yell breaks from my throat. The Redeemer spins around and sees me, his face a mask of confusion and surprise. The tool in his hand crackles as my finger pulls the trigger.

My aim is true. The death tool clatters to the ground, hissing when it makes contact with the floor as the man falls. Xander stands in the middle of it all, staring at the fallen man, and then up at me. When his eyes land on the gun in my hands, they widen. His face drains of color.

“Nat?” he squeaks.

I rush over and pull him into a hug. Relief swells in my chest, overpowering the horror of what I just did. The life I just took has yet to fully register.

I release Xander, looking at him for a long moment. “You’re alive.”

He nods, glancing at the fallen man. His gaze shifts to the dropped tool, which still crackles against the tile. Something clicks behind his eyes, and I know that he understands. He breathes a soft “Oh.”

“We need to go,” Darren says from the door.

I nod and grab the sparking baton from the ground and click it off before leaving. We sprint down the hall, my heart flying in my chest. Xander is alive. But what about Elle?

“What’s going on?” Xander asks as we move down the corridor.

“The Cleansings are killings. Everything they told us is a lie.” I tell him what happened to me, trying to leave out the gruesome details. When I finish, he stares at me in shock, glancing over his shoulder as if the souls of the dead men are following us down the hall.

“I…they’ve…” He stutters for words, but his eyes tell it all. They’re clouded, a mix of horror and fear. His gaze travels to the gun in my hands, and I know that he’s recalling the man I shot. The guilt has already started to weigh on me, but I can’t let it. I have to fight it, to push it away. I need to be strong. At least for now.

The hall suddenly fills with a screeching alarm that sends shudders down my spine. It blares across the building. A warning. They must be looking for us, which means that we’re out of time.

Darren skids to a stop in front of a door. “This is Elle’s room.” He glances in the window. “No Redeemers - she’s alone.”

I run in and find a scared-looking Elle, huddled in a corner, her eyes wide with fear and confusion from the alarm. The mere sight of her is enough to ease my anxiety. She’s alive and unharmed.

“Nat? What’s-“

“No time to explain. We’ve got to go, now!”

Her eyes are wide with fear and confusion, but she nods and follows me out the room.

“Which way?” I ask Darren.

“Follow me.”

The sirens drone on as he leads us down the twisting halls. The combination of shock, and the shrieking of the alarms quickly drains my energy. Already my steps feel heavy and languid, and each breath tightens in my chest.

The pounding of footsteps and shouting comes from down the hall behind us, a preamble to the horde of Redeemers that round the corner a few moments later. I curse under my breath and pull out my gun, knowing that it’s too late to try to hide. They’ve found us. Orders are being shouted and weapons trained on our limbs, places that will only wound us, not kill us.

“Can you fire a gun?” I ask Xander, already knowing the answer.

He hesitates, looking at the men and women charging down the hall. “I’ve never shot one before.”

I throw him the baton instead.

Satisfied, I turn on my heel and shoot, hitting few of my targets.

The Redeemers respond with their own fire, sending tranquilizer darts and bullets shattering against the walls and floor. I hop out of the way, leaning against a wall for support before firing another shot that hits a man in the arm. His cry cuts through me like a knife, but I force myself to shoot again before following Darren down the hall. We duck to avoid incoming shots.

“Down here!” Darren calls, flinging open a door. A dark staircase spirals downwards, its path barely illuminated by a few dim bulbs. The walls down there are tight and dark, almost close enough to brush my shoulders on both sides. If we’re shot, we could die in this cramped darkness. Black spots of fear crawl across my vision.

The sound of a dart hitting someone comes from my left. Elle gasps, clutching her arm and stumbling into the doorframe. I curse out loud as Xander and I pull her through the door as it locks behind us. I call for Darren, who’s already halfway down the stairs, to stop.

Wincing, I pull out the emptied dart. It’s only a tranquilizer – nothing more. I let out a relieved breath. If it had been something worse, like a zapper, she wouldn’t have survived.

Elle’s eyes have started to roll, and her face is turning pale. As she grows heavier in our arms, we have to support her with most of our bodies. How could I be so stupid? It was my hesitation, my irrational fear, that injured her.

I push those thoughts out of my mind. Now isn’t the time for that. We need to get out of here as fast as we can. I can’t allow my regret to slow us down.

“Hurry!” Darren calls from halfway down the stairs.

I grunt in response. “Elle’s been hit!”

Xander and I balance her between us and carefully make our way down the stairs. It distracts me from the tight walls and the darkness, both closing in like black oil. Strangely, none of the Redeemers have followed us.

Elle has gone completely limp, her head rolling back to reveal a whitened face. A sheen of sweat has begun to form on her forehead.

The staircase finally ends, stopping us at a metal door. Darren swipes the admission card and lets us out. The cold breeze zigzags through concrete pillars supporting the building. The garage is full of cars. Rain still falls outside, and I’m surprised to see that night has fallen, leaving the world in darkness. A cold evening chill crawls up my spine.

Another door on the opposite side of the garage bursts open. Instantly the air is filled with bullets. This time they leave black holes in the walls, and the explosions from the barrels are all too real. They’re only using guns now; no more tranquilizers.

In other words, they’re trying to kill us.

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