The room closes around me like a cage. My breaths are panicked and shallow. I can’t seem to pull in enough air.
The room is eerily dim, the light a dull gray, like all the color has been drained from it. Cold metal brushes against my shoulder. The walls are so tight. I can’t breathe.
I…I’m going to die. I’m going to die-! Sweat breaks out on my skin.
Through my panic, I imagine that door opening again, after the gas has stopped. I picture them pulling my body across the floor, in front of all my comrades - like they did to Carper.
Not like this. I can’t go like this.
I press myself against the wall. My foot brushes against something hard, like metal. I look down and see that it’s some sort of grating – like the cover to a vent.
My eyes snap above me to the hole in the ceiling where the gas will pour out through at any moment. This must be its cover. In the faint light, I can see a duct – the one preparing to pour poison into the chamber. It’s partially lodged out of place.
Hope begins to rise from my despair. If that duct is pushed all the way back into the ceiling, the gas will seep in above the chamber, not into the room itself. Someone already started the job. Someone tried—
Carper. He must have used the little time he had left to give the next person a chance to survive.
The Commander pulled through for us. Even as he lost his life, he made a way for us to escape. I feel a swell of emotion before setting my jaw. I won't let his efforts be in vain. First, I need to get up to the vent and push the duct into the ceiling before gas starts seeping into the cell.
Quickly, I slip off my jacket. I wobble to my feet. Muscles cramping, I press my hands and feet against the opposing narrow walls of the room and begin making my way up towards the ceiling. My muscles quiver with effort.
The ceiling brushes against my head. I reach a hand forward. My fingers meet the opening in the ceiling and the duct inside.
A hissing comes from the opening. The gas has started. Stopping my breathing to avoid inhaling, I reach my hand inside the hole and knock the duct further to the side. The motion almost throws me off balance, but I manage to stay upright.
I ram my hand into the duct again. It groans as it moves, and turns to the side, its opening now venting into the space above the chamber.
Quickly, I jam my jacket into the hole, stopping the flow of any poison coming down from the ceiling.
My legs give way, and I fall, landing on my back. Pain shoots up my spine, but I force myself into a crouching position. My lungs beg for air.
I listen for the hiss of the gas to stop.
The room is silent.
The Cleansing is over, and I’ve survived. I feel a burst of relief and silently thank Carper for what he did. For saving me, even when he couldn’t save himself.
Sounds come from outside, the clicking of the bolts being undone. I turn towards the door and prepare myself. My only chance is to catch them by surprise and attack with everything I have.
No holding back this time. No mercy, no hesitation.
The door opens, scraping against the ground. Light spills into the room. I spring forward and slam into the Redeemer in the doorframe.
He’s taken off guard. It gives me the chance to reach for the gun at his belt. I retch it from its holster and fire.
He goes limp as I begin to shoot at the Redeemers guarding the Truth members. As soon as they’re down, the prisoners scatter, grabbing guns and weapons from the bodies.
I pivot around and shoot again, aiming for anything dressed in white. The room is in chaos. I catch sight of Gray, who’s somehow managed to free himself from his cuffs, undoing the bonds of the others.
The surviving Redeemers start running from the room now, hoping to find backup. But we don’t let them leave. Gunshots split through the noise of the room. The men and woman fall, shot down by their own weapons.
Then I see him; a blonde head, running for the door. Darren.
I’m raising the gun before I know it, aiming for his head. For that halo of gold.
I don’t hesitate before pulling the trigger. But no gunshot follows.
I curse and fling the empty weapon aside, nabbing one from a fallen Redeemer. I fire again, running across the room to get nearer. But my brother has already disappeared through the door.
I grit my teeth in anger, turning away from the door and firing at the remaining Redeemers. Bullet after bullet, they fall.
The fight is over within minutes. All the Redeemers have fled, leaving us standing alone in the room. The floor is littered with bodies. I look down at the gun in my hand. I half expect my hands to be shaking, but instead, they’re perfectly still. There is no shame, no twinge of nausea at what I just did. Just a cold acceptance.
I slide the gun into my waistband and crouch to take another from a nearby body. Gray follows in suit, going from body to body and taking anything that can be used to kill. He looks at me as he does, a question in his eyes. He wants to know how I survived.
I explain it to him quickly as I grab extra ammo from the bodies. He doesn’t say anything in response, just nods silently.
We all gather, holding the weapons of the people we’ve killed. Gray looks to me expectantly. “What’s our plan?”
He’s wanting me to be the leader. I glance at the others and see that they’re looking to me as well, ready to follow my lead.
I’m the Commander now.
I take in a deep breath.
“They’ll bomb the colony within hours,” I say in a clear voice. Murmurs of dismay rise from the group. “We need to warn them as soon as possible. Get the word out, before it’s too late.”
“There are other Flawed in the cells,” I continue. “If we get them, we might have enough manpower to overpower the Redeemers. The mission still stands - take the Hub.” I cock my head to Gray. “We’ll split into two groups. Half go with Gray.”
I turn to him. “Find a way to communicate with Pamela’s colony. Phones, computers…even Cliks will work, if Elle is connected. Just get them out of that mountain.”
He nods in understanding, calling half of the group to him.
“The other half will come with me,” I announce. “We need to find their armory, then release as many prisoners as possible. If we take the Core, the Redeemers will run. Just like at the outpost.” I pause, looking at the bodies on the floor. “We’re not here to be merciful. Kill on sight, no questions asked. Don’t give them the chance to kill you first.”
They stare at me with wide eyes, but I can see the determination and anger setting in their gazes. Good. We need to be angry. We need to be vicious and merciless, incapable of pity.
I slip my pistol into my hand, cocking it sharply. “Remember who you’re fighting against. Everyone ready?”
They all nod, and I crack a dry smile.
I run through the halls of the Hub with a small army charging behind me.
We’ve freed all the prisoners from their cells. It wasn’t easy – we had to break down the doors of their rooms. But now we’re twice as big as we were before. We’ve stolen weapons from each Redeemer and Enforcer we’ve killed. Now I hold an automatic gun in my hands, with several rounds of ammo stuffed into my pockets.
We also pick up Flawed on the way, people being brought in for Cleansings. Some are weak – they’re here for a reason, after all. But there are those who were taken for petty reasons, like a scars or imperfect grades in their studies. Those are full of anger and eager to fight. As time goes by, I find the group with me growing larger.
For once, we are strong. For once, the Flawed can actually fight back.
Just like the outpost, all areas of the Hub lead to the Core. If we go straight, and only straight, we’ll end up there. We’re doing that now, running through the halls like a crazed army, shooting anything in white. Alarms shriek overhead, altering the Hub of our revolution.
Finally, we enter the Core. Underprepared Enforcers are waiting for us. Most fall before they can raise their weapons.
It’s over within a matter of minutes. Bodies are scattered across the ground, some dressed in white, others in the casual clothing of the Flawed. I stand among them and once again feel nothing.
I turn to the remaining members of our group. They’re bruised and bloodied, holding guns that aren’t their own. Fatigue lines every crease in their faces, but their eyes are alight with rebellion and anger. We’ve survived. We’ve won.
But I know that this is only the beginning. ALPHA will be released within days - there’s no time for rest.
“We need to find Gray and secure the rest of the Hub,” I tell them. He should have contacted the colony by now. My chest contracts at the possibility that we’re too late. A missile could have been launched while we were taking the Core. Elle, Pamela, the soldiers there – they could all be dead.
Swallowing those thoughts back, I continue. “Some Redeemers are still here. We need to drive them out. Expand throughout the Hub. I need soldiers to defend the Core.”
A group volunteers. The rest split up into multiple parties. I take the lead of the largest.
“Everyone ready?” I ask.
They all nod, and we split up.