Chapter 52 - Nat
It’s been nearly two hours since we fled from the outpost – two hours of driving in the dark, following the taillights of the vans in front of us. But in all that time, I haven’t been able to calm myself.
The silence in the car is barren and hollow. ALPHA’s presence is long gone, but my memory of it still lingers. Images of dead bodies and glazed eyes creep through my mind.
We made it, I reason with myself. We’re okay.
Except…not all of us made it.
I glance at Gray in the driver’s seat. His eyes are distant, his grip tight on the steering stick. The tension in his jaw betrays his emotion. I know exactly what he’s going through right now.
I shift in my seat, glancing back at the others. Elle and Xander sit together. Her eyes are closed, and Xander leans his head back, staring at the roof of the car. Darren looks out the window, jaw set, eyes troubled.
I turn back to Gray, picking my words carefully before speaking softly, so only he and I can hear. “I…I’m sorry. About Janet.”
“Five years,” he says. “We were together for five years.”
I nod silently.
“She was with me before we came to the Truth.” His shoulders sag. “We were together through everything. And now…” He lets out a long breath. The back lights from the van in front of us gleam against the glassy green of his eyes. “And now she’s gone,” he says simply.
I don’t know how to respond. What can someone say, really? Tell him the loss will become easier to bear? Remind him that she died peacefully? Both of those are lies; the pain of her death won’t leave him, and she died violently, by the hand of the enemy. There’s no comfort I can give him.
So, I remain silent until we arrive at the colony. The crumbling walls and broken windows have never looked more welcoming.
Gray stops the car in front of the prison. When I step out, I see Carper getting out of one of the other vans. Our eyes uncomfortably meet for a split second. I feel a twinge of apprehension.
But I need to trust Carper. So I don’t say anything and let the moment pass.
Overhead, dawn creeps into the sky, taking a hold of the stars and pushing them out of sight. The air is still and quiet. Where’s the night guard? Wouldn’t they be coming out to meet us?
Come to think of it, this entire area is too quiet. I scan the clearing, searching for guards, soldiers, any member of the colony. But there’s nothing, no signs of life.
That’s when I finally notice it. The front door. It’s wide open.
Dread sweeps over me. I hurry into the building ahead of everyone else, telling myself that I’m just being paranoid. It’s quiet because it’s still early; no one is up yet. A guard left the door open, nothing more. That’s it.
But when I enter the colony, it’s silent. Empty.
No. I race down the halls, peering into rooms, cells, hoping to find someone. But the building is deserted.
Many of the rooms are scuffled and upturned, beds undone, furniture knocked over: signs of a struggle.
I find the first body. It’s a young solider, one of the few we left here to defend the colony. More follow – most are soldiers, but there are others. Children. Seniors. Pregnant mothers. A silent sob ebbs in my throat as I see them. Oh, god.
I run to the mess hall. When I reach it, I stand in the doorway and stare.
It’s empty. Not even the hum of electricity or the buzzing of lights fills the void.
My gaze latches onto a small white envelope sitting on the nearest table. I go to it. I don’t need to see the Redeemer symbol on the other side to know what it is.
I don’t want to open it. Someone else should read it first. Like Carper.
But my fingers won’t listen to my reasoning. The opened envelope falls to the floor as I pull out its contents. My hands tremble as I read.
Confirmation of Cleansing Notice. A list of names fills the seemingly endless pages.
The entire colony has been Cleansed.
They’re gone. Everyone.
We weren’t here to protect them. Our best soldiers went to the outpost, leaving the most vulnerable members of our colony to fend for themselves.
I kneel to pick up the envelope and slip the paper back in its place. Tears threaten to spill over, but I can’t let them. I won’t. If I allow myself to cry now, it will never stop; the pain and guilt will grow until it consumes me.
We should have seen this coming. More people, innocent people, are dead. The Redeemers are monsters.
They have to be stopped.
This can’t go on anymore.
We must stop them.
Carper calls me from the hall. I can’t let him see me like this - I straighten, composing myself, tucking those thoughts and emotions away.
He appears in the doorway. His face is solemn - no doubt he’s already seen the bodies. I can hear the other soldiers in the halls, their voices rising in indignance.
I hold out the envelope to Carper. Moving closer, he takes it, but doesn’t open it. He knows exactly what it is.
“They’re gone,” he finally says, weariness lining his voice. I nod silently. “Those…those cowards. They took them while we were away.” He curses under his breath. “We should have left better soldiers here.”
“There’s nothing we can do now.” I’m surprised by how flat my voice sounds. How emotionless. “We need to plan our next steps. Can I make a suggestion?”
He nods, distracted. I’m moving forward already, shoving this disaster aside. No time for pain or guilt. Just address the next issue – keep your mind on tactics and planning.
“The Redeemers might come back. We need to keep moving. I suggest we travel to Warrick’s-“ I pause. “-Ivan’s colony,” I correct myself. “At this point, they’re our closest allies.”
“I doubt they would welcome us. Not after what happened to Warrick.”
“Do we really have another choice?”
He exhales and shakes his head. “We don’t. I’ll make the arrangements. We leave as soon as possible.”
He leaves the room quickly. I hear him call for the men to take care of the fallen. It’s going to be hard to put them all to rest. And there are so many.
We’ve suffered a great loss.