“Are you guys ready?” Darren asks from the front seat. “Remember our plan.”
I nod, tugging at the stiff collar of my borrowed uniform. In my hands lies a cold, heavy gun. Elle and Xander sit across from me, their hands bound in loosened handcuffs.
“Good. You two, try to look like you’ve just been caught,” he tells the others. “And Nat?”
“Let me do the talking, okay? Just act like a Redeemer.”
Moments later, a wide structure appears over a hill. The building is gray and plain, like a massive block of concrete. Half of it disappears into a thick forest that runs alongside the road. The trees are tall and broad, with heavy pine needles that create a canopy between ground and sky. They continue far past the border; a seemingly endless stretch of wilderness on either side. The place is mostly abandoned, except for small groups of Enforcers standing on either side of the checkpoint, eyeing our van as we roll to a stop.
Darren lowers the window as a young Redeemer marches over to our car.
“Name?” the man asks when he approaches the window.
“Andrew York,” Darren lies.
The man looks at Elle and Xander, who are doing their best to look like they’ve been captured.
“Flawed,” Darren explains. “They ran off when we announced their Cleansing. They made it all the way to Sector 7 before we caught up with them. We’ve been ordered to return them to the Sector 3 Hub.”
The man peers into the back of the van. I feel his gaze land on me and latch onto my uniform, looking for signs of deceit.
“Who is she?” he asks Darren.
“I see.” He watches me for a second more before saying to Darren, “You said your name was Andrew York?”
“I’ll need to see your mark.”
My brother shows him, and the Redeemer, once satisfied, takes a step back. “One moment, please.” He disappears into the building.
As time ticks by, a nervous fog settles over my mind. It shouldn’t be taking this long.
The other Enforcers have completely disappeared. That’s not normal. Redeemers are always alert, constantly watching the people around them. Even if they didn’t think of us as a threat, at least one of them would be keeping an eye on us.
Something is very wrong here.
“Darren,” I hiss under my breath. “Darren.”
Before I can say any more, the door to the van flies open. I raise my gun, only to find seven barrels aimed back at me. Before I can react, an Enforcer grabs me by the arm and hauls me out of the van. The world bursts into a flurry of noises; the struggle inside the van, Darren’s panicked excuses as he and the others are pulled out.
The gun is ripped from my hands as I’m hauled across the border. A voice speaks, carrying the refined tone of a Redeemer. “You have all been found Flawed, and are under arrest, by order of Simon Krane.”
Krane wants us dead? What have we gotten ourselves into?
A woman’s hands force my arms behind my back. I struggle, kicking my legs and trying to wriggle out of her grasp, but her grip is too strong.
The man is still droning on. “You will be taken to the nearest Hub for immediate Cleansing.”
Cleansing. Death. They’re taking us away to be murdered. I’m going to die, bearing a secret the world needs to know.
A tidal wave of adrenaline crashes through my veins. The woman’s face is directly behind my head as she struggles to keep me still. I rear my head back, hitting her nose with my skull. Her cry rings close to my ear as the pressure on my arms loosens.
With my arms now free, I try to run, but stumble and fall. A boot connects with my jaw, sending a burst of pain across my chin and lights across my vision.
Moments later, a body stands above mine. I grit my teeth and kick their legs from beneath them. They fall, and I crawl away, looking up long enough to catch sight of the scene in front of me.
Darren has stopped trying to talk his way out of the situation. He’s fighting against two Enforcers who grab at his uniform, trying to get a hold of him. Elle is no where to be found – she could already be captured. The thought alone makes my breath catch.
Xander is being dragged away by an Enforcer, towards a van that sits on the inside of the border with the Redeemer symbol plastered on the side.
Rage pumps through my veins, and I find myself running towards them. My footsteps match my heartbeat, pounding on the ground in time to my racing pulse.
I make impact with the Enforcer within seconds, slamming my body against his without any form of thought or calculation. He falls with a sharp gasp of surprise, letting Xander go as he lands on the ground. Xander backs away frantically.
On the ground, I struggle against the Enforcer, lashing out with my nails and fists, trying to cause the most damage I can. He has me pinned within seconds. My chest heaves with heavy breaths; panicked, terrified.
The crack of his gun handle against my skull sends fireworks across my vision. The world tilts. Dust, sweet and dry, fills my mouth and nostrils as my head rolls to the side. Somewhere above me, I hear Xander yelling my name.
I barely make out the image of the Enforcer pointing his gun down at me.
There’s a gunshot. The Enforcer falls next to me in a motionless heap.
And then chaos erupts.