The outpost, a short, squat building of gleaming windows and white walls, sits just beyond the forest. Enforcers surround it, weapons at the ready, waiting for our arrival.
And we’ve walked right into their trap.
Zappers and guns fire. Men and women drop all around me, their cries of pain clear in the crisp air. We duck back into the trees, but the Redeemers are advancing. It’s too late to run away.
From here, I can see an unguarded side-door on the west side of the outpost. I scan our soldiers until I catch Gray’s gaze. He cocks his head towards the door, and I know we’re thinking the same thing. Get inside.
He cups his hands around his mouth and shouts to our men. They respond quickly, splitting into two groups as they advance. Warrick’s men stay behind to provide cover.
Darren appears next to me. “We’re with Gray,” he tells Xander and me. “Let’s go.”
We spring into action, darting across the clearing. Gray and Janet join us along the way, guns ready. The outpost is close now, and the other soldiers keep the Enforcers distracted as we get nearer.
A zapper needle comes flying my way, and I barely dodge it. We’ve been spotted – we’re running out of time to get inside.
We manage to reach the door, just as several Enforcers come our way. Gray flings the door open, and we stumble in. Darren shuts it behind us, cutting off the sounds of battle. Zapper needles shatter against the closed door.
The inside of the building is crisp and clean, much like the Redeemer Centre in Cativy. We’re in a corridor of some sort. My eyes skirt down the hall, searching for Enforcers. But there’s no one; the halls are deserted. Are they all outside? Or is this another trap?
Still catching his breath, Gray looks around, gun raised. “No guards?” he remarks.
“That won’t last,” Janet says. “Where’s the Core, Gray?”
The young man motions down the hall with his gun. “Carper said all halls lead to it - just go straight. And keep an eye out for Treasurer Miller.”
How does Carper know how to get to the Core? Putting my thoughts aside, I follow the rest of the group as they creep down the hall.
Janet, who leads the group, turns around to look at Gray. “Did Carper say if-?”
Her words are cut short by the distinct sound of a zapper being shot. She instantly falls to the ground, her body shuddering, limbs flying, a weak cry ebbing from her throat. Gray lets out a sort of yelp and falls to his knees next to her.
A lone Enforcer stands at the end of the hall, a launcher in his hand. Without hesitation, Darren shoots him. My eyes widen at my brother. Xander stands, frozen, unsure of what to do.
Next to Janet’s convulsing body, Gray shouts her name, panicked. He doesn’t know Redeemer tech – he has no idea how to save her.
I quickly crouch beside to her, searching for the dart. I find the needle stuck in her shoulder. It’s thick and long - longer than the one I was hit with. It must hold more than enough power to kill her.
Wincing, I pull the dart out. A sharp crack comes as the electricity separates from its source.
But Janet doesn’t still. The streaks of voltage are still pumping through her veins. She’s going to die if we don’t do something quickly.
Gray is in a panic, hovering above the young woman and calling to her, his green eyes wild with fear of losing her.
I can’t help her. My throat tightens with panic. I don’t know enough.
“Darren-!” I choke out, scrambling to my feet. My brother still has his gun raised, but he comes swiftly, kneeling next to Janet.
He glances at Janet’s thrashing body. “The electricity needs a direct opening to escape through,” he says quickly, voice calm. “Gray, do you have a knife?”
Gray quickly pulls one from his belt. Darren grabs it and cuts a gash in Janet’s shoulder, deep enough to do the job. Sparks fly and I draw back in surprise. Janet lets out a groan, and then stills.
Gray feels her pulse with shaking fingers, then gasps with relief. “She’s alive.”
Darren cleans the knife on his pants, then tucks it into his own belt. “We need to get her to safety.”
I step forward. “I can take her-“
Gray quickly shakes his head. “No, I’ll do it.” He pulls out a hand-held radio, the kind used before the Bloodletting, and hands it to me. “When you reach the Core, alert Warrick. He’ll take it from there.”
Xander glances down the hall. “We should go, before someone else comes."
“Right.” Gray slings Janet’s arm over his shoulder and hoists her up, gently carrying her in his arms like a mother would her child.
We continue, this time with Darren in the lead. The facility is strangely empty. I tense as we round every corner, expecting an attack or the sharp hiss of a zapper being launched. But nothing ever comes, and, surprisingly, we make it to the Core safely.
The Core is a big, open space filled with computers and workstations. It’s completely empty, just like the rest of the facility. We close the doors behind us.
I pull out the radio and start pressing buttons, unsure of how the old-fashioned device works. If Elle were here, she would figure it would within seconds. Finally, I press a key on the side of the device, and the speaker fills with a muffled cracking and the sounds of battle.
I clear my throat and talk into what must be the receiver, telling the man on the other end that we’ve taken the Core.
“Is that really the right word?” Xander asks when I’ve put the radio away. “Taken? There wasn’t anyone to take it from.” His gaze sweeps across the room, nervously bouncing from end to end. “It almost feels too easy.”
Seconds after the words leave his mouth, the doors of the Core burst open.
A squad of Enforcers pours in through the doors. Xander starts to put his hands up in surrender, but I whip out my gun and drop to my knees, firing blindly. The sound of gunshots erupts from all sides, some my own, some the Enforcers’. I duck behind a desk. I can’t see Xander in the madness, and my panic swells.
A bullet grazes my arm. I falter, clenching my teeth, and lose my grip on the gun. Within the same moment, a hand grabs me by the shirt. I’m thrown to the ground. A barrel trains on my heart.
My hand grabs for my fallen gun, but the woman above me, who wears a commander’s uniform, kicks it away. Her finger tenses on the trigger.
And then she stops, staring at my face.
She shouts out a command. The sound silences the Enforcers, who’ve grabbed Xander and have Darren pinned to the ground.
“This is one of the runaways from Sector 7 they’ve been searching for,” she says. She grabs me by the arm and hauls me to my feet. I wince at the pain in my arm.
She turns me towards her and examines my face again. “Are you Natalie Spearse?”
I shake my head.
A sort of smile parts her lips. “Dishonesty is a Flaw – but I suppose you’re going to be Cleansed, anyways.” She grabs me by my injured arm and drags me across the floor. I cry out, making Darren struggle against his own captors.
The woman hands me to another Enforcer. “Take her and the other runaway to the nearest Hub. If they give you any trouble, eliminate them.”
“And the deserter?” he asks, motioning to my brother.
“Take care of him now.”
I take in a sharp breath. “No!”
In pure desperation, I thrash in the Enforcer’s arms. He doesn’t falter, and twists my good arm behind my back.
Cold metal presses against the back of my skull. I still immediately. Ice runs through my veins. The Enforcer, holding the pistol, gives the main woman a questioning look. She nods curtly, turning her back on me.
Before he can pull the trigger, the sound of pounding footsteps comes crashing down the hall. The man holding me hesitates, just as Warrick’s men burst through the doors, sending bullets through the air and bodies dropping to the floor. The Enforcer’s grip releases, and I drop to the ground to avoid the gunfire.
It’s over within seconds. Our men enter the room, grabbing the few Redeemers who are still alive and forcing them to their knees.
Warrick reloads his gun, watching as the others flow into the Core. “Secure the outpost."
I heave a sigh of relief, wearily climbing to my feet. Darren rushes over seconds later, asking me if I’m alright. Xander follows, looking shaken.
The next minutes pass by quickly. Someone bandages up my arm, but I’m too dazed to even notice who. A portion of Warrick’s men are going through the outpost, getting rid of any Redeemers who’ve managed to hide. The gunshots can be heard from the Core. Another group leaves in search for the Treasurer.
The captive Enforcers keep their faces expressionless and their mouths shut, even when Warrick demands to know how the Redeemers knew about our planned attack. He gets no answer.
Before Warrick can respond to the silence, the group sent to find the Treasurer returns empty-handed. When Warrick raises an eyebrow in question, they just shake their heads. He curses and turns back to the Redeemers.
“Where is Treasurer Miller?”
None of them answer.
The silence undoes the last of his patience; he grabs the nearest Redeemer - the woman who ordered my death moments ago - and drags her forward.
“Where is the Treasurer?” Warrick repeats, gripping her tightly. She stares back at him, the tightness of her jaw the only sign of her discomfort.
Ivan, who returned with the men, strides over, brandishing a poisoned-bullet gun he must have stolen off a Redeemer. “Maybe we should try a different method,” he says to Warrick. Without waiting for an answer, he aims it at the woman. “Where is he?”
She raises her chin defiantly and looks him in the eye. “I’m not telling you anything.”
“Your choice.” He pulls the trigger.
The woman collapses out of Warrick’s grip. I take a step back in shock. She doesn’t scream, but I can see the pain and fear in her eyes. As the poison starts to work, her color drains and she struggles to breathe. White, acidic foam froths from her mouth and burns her skin. I want to retch, to look away, to do something, but my eyes are locked on her.
“Dammit, Ivan!” Warrick roars, shoving his second in command out of the way. He takes his pistol and fires one clear shot at the woman. Her body stills on the ground.
Ivan stands a few feet away, leering at the wide-eyed Redeemers as they stare at their dead commander. Warrick rips the gun from his hands.
“Who do you think you are?” he spits, shoving Ivan in chest. “You aren’t in command here. You have no authority.” He points to the Redeemers. “We need them alive. Thanks to you, we just lost a prisoner. A commander, even, someone we could have used if Miller isn’t found.”
Ivan lowers his eyes and mutters an apology, but I can see raw anger hidden beneath his humiliation. Warrick turns back to the prisoners. Hatred still lingers behind Ivan’s eyes.
“Get them to a secure holding place,” Warrick orders. “I’ll alert Carper that we’ve taken the outpost. I want everyone searching for the Treasurer. We need to find him ASAP.”
The group disperses, some removing the dead, some taking the prisoners, others leaving in search of Miller.
I watch silently as the dead are taken away, trying to keep my eyes off of the woman Ivan shot. She was a Redeemer, a monster – one of the people I’ve grown to hate. But her death still makes my stomach turn.
She ordered Darren’s death. She isn’t worthy of your pity. As much as I try to convince myself, her death still horrifies me.
I look at Ivan. His eyes are still alight with loathing for his commander. And he enjoyed watching that woman die. He enjoyed her suffering.
Are all of Warrick’s men like that? What about Carper’s?
Can anyone in the Truth really be trusted?