Horror sweeps through me as the Redeemer army’s silhouette comes into view. Trucks, vans, tanks, and vehicles of all kinds make their way towards the outpost.
I stumble to my feet and barrel back towards the outpost. I need to get back there. I must. My friends are there. My brother is there. All I have left lies in that building.
ALPHA is still in my mind. Its presence weakens as the seconds tick by, but I can feel it. Its voice speaks to me – a whisper and a scream all at once.
“Flawed,” It calls me again.
I burst through the side door of the outpost, skidding on the tiled floor.
My hands grope the walls for light switches, lighting the hallways with a florescent glow that stings my eyes. I scream for everyone to wake up.
The words have hardly left my mouth when the far end of the hall burst into flames, throwing me to the ground. Screams fill my ears, but I can’t tell who they belong to, or if they’re my own.
The voice repeats the word one final time.
Then, it goes silent.
People have come out of the rooms, dazed and confused, gripping their weapons. Someone hauls me to my feet. I recognize the hand and reach out for Darren.
“The Redeemers,” I rasp. “They found us.”
But the words are useless – the explosion has already happened. I can see the yard through the opening it left in the wall. How? A bomb? But there wasn’t enough time for the Redeemer soldiers to plant one themselves. Unless…
My thoughts are cut off when a white-uniformed figure steps through the opening, followed by countless others.
“Nat!” I hear Gray’s voice before he appears in my vision, holding two guns. He tosses one to me, barely giving me enough time to catch it before he keeps moving, yelling for me to follow.
“I’ll stay and help the others,” Darren quickly says before giving me a push towards Gray. “Go!”
I reluctantly follow Gray down the hall, away from the incoming Redeemers. Dust from the broken walls and ceiling fills the air, making my eyes water.
Janet seems to appear from no where, joining the two of us. She’s holding a long-barreled gun. Xander trails behind her, and I feel a release of anxiety at the sight of him.
“Where’s Elle?” I ask him, slowing my pace so I can speak to him. Gray and Janet continue, practically jogging.
“I don’t know.” His eyes are panicked. “I might have seen her go with another group, but-“ He’s cut off by a spray of bullets, and we all duck into a side hall.
A small silver cylinder rolls around the bend in the hall. I recognize it instantly - a Redeemer’s grenade. A poison grenade.
“Get away!” I kick the grenade back and push Xander further down the hall.
The grenade erupts, spewing an acid-like substance across the tile. It splatters on the walls, making the paint peel. Part of it splashes onto my hands, and I hiss in pain. My skin seems to scream as I clutch my hands to my chest.
Xander reaches for me, eyes wide. “Are you alright?”
I nod silently, pulling away. “Don’t touch me - it might get on you. I’m fine. Really.” It’s clearly a lie; the poison is already beginning its work on my skin. “We need to move, fast, before-”
I’m cut off by another grenade rolling into view in the hall.
It’s a death sentence.
“Go!” I choke out. Xander complies, scrambling away, and together we race to catch up with Gray and Janet. The sound of the grenade exploding makes Xander flinch.
“There’s too many,” Gray says when we reach them. “We need to get more weapons to fight them off.”
“Armoury,” Janet says quickly. “There are Redeemer-style weapons stored away, remember?”
The weapons. They’re one of the reasons we came to the outpost to begin with.
“Right,” Gray agrees. “But we need to get to the others first-“
The floor rumbles with the sound of another explosion, this time coming from the other end of the outpost. Gray curses loudly. “We need to hurry. Let’s go!”
He turns on his heel and races down the hall. We follow. I try to wipe away the poison on my sleeve as we go, but it just eats away at the fabric. I need to wash it off – soon.
A few minutes in and I notice Janet lagging behind the group, her steps sluggish. The slowness of her movements and her gaunt face tells me that she hasn’t completely recovered from the zapper hit.
Gray cranes his neck to look back at her. “You doing okay?”
Before she can respond, the wall behind us explodes.
Heat crawls up my back, and a scream tears at my throat. The impact sends me flying forward, making me drop my gun. I’m thrown to the floor like a ragdoll.
Smoke fills my eyes. All sound stops, leaving only a high whine. Hollow vibrations of more explosions make the ground tremble beneath me.
I slowly pull myself up, groaning as pain shoots up my body. My balance is off, making me sway, nearly falling back to my knees, but manage to catch myself in time.
The others. Are they alright-? I force myself to take a step forward, wincing at the pain that creeps up my back. I mumble names through the smoke. My hand brushes against a wall, and use it to keep myself upright. Vibrations from distant bombs dance up my legs.
My foot bumps against something. I kneel to grasp for it, expecting the familiar shape of my gun.
Instead, my fingers brush across a still face with open eyes.
Panic tears through me. I squint in the dust and smoke, coughing and wiping my stinging eyes. I reach out again, desperately trying to make sense of the features.
My fingers touch short, soft hair, just as the smoke clears.
Janet lies in front of me, her neck twisted at an unnatural angle.
Oh, no. I quickly pull my hands away.
Janet looks empty in death, like a candle blown out too soon. She stares at the air with a blank gaze; an emptied shell.
A strangled cry comes from next to me, muffled through my muted hearing. I turn to see Gray standing amidst the rubble, staring at Janet’s body.
“No.” His voice is a hollow croak. “God, please, no.” His steps are unsteady as he runs over and falls to his knees next to her.
“Janet,” he stammers. “J-Janet, come on. Get up.” He brushes a trembling hand over her hair. “Get up,” he repeats in a whisper.
I stare at them, and complete sorrow fills me. Not anguish, or shock, or rage. Just…sorrow.
A groan comes from my left. I turn and see Xander. Dust coats his hair. His face is scratched, his clothes singed, but he’s alive. The relief I feel at the sight of him is drastically overpowered by the shock of Janet’s body in front of me.
Movements from the newly made hole in the wall makes me spin to face it. Through the dust, I can see Enforcers climb through the opening.
“Gray.” I nudge his shoulder, pointing to the Enforcers. “Gray, I’m sorry, but we have to go. Now.”
“I can’t leave her.”
One of the men shouts something, and I know that we’ve been spotted.
“You have to!” I grab his arm and haul him to his feet. “Come on!”
“I can’t leave her!” he repeats, voice ragged, tears in his eyes.
Gunshots ring out. I pull Gray away, breaking into a sprint with him in tow and Xander following. I snatch my fallen gun from the ground as we run. The Enforcers shoot at us, but don’t pursue – instead, they turn down the hall and go deeper into the outpost.
We finally slow down and duck into a room so we can regroup. Our breaths are all heavy, making our chests heave. I’m still holding Gray’s arm – I let go of it, stepping away from him. He doesn’t seem to notice. He looks broken as he stands motionlessly, shoulders sagging.
“They killed her.” He says it with disbelief. “They killed her.”
I don’t know what to say. An apology won’t bring her back. And it won’t punish the ones that took her away. So, I say what comes first. Words I know are harsh.
“I’m sorry. She’s gone.”
He nods slowly. “We’ll…” He clenches his jaw, gaze hardening. “We’ll avenge her death.”
“We will. In this battle – right here, right now.” I look at Xander, who stands a few feet away, arms hanging at his sides. “Caught your breath?”
“Then let’s get moving.” I look to Gray. “Let’s fight.”