In the middle of the New Hampshire countryside, that looked from the sky like a sea of inky blackness from the lack of human development, lay a small sea of light. Like a million fireflies that had just descended from the heavens and gathered together, the pinpoint spots of glow from the streets, windows, and cars of Sycamore twinkled and shifted, flashing on and off into space like a Morse code signal that would never be read. Normally at this time of night the lights would be thin and scattered, but tonight was not a normal night and the town was flashing like a Christmas tree.
Joe shifted his head, and the illuminated town whizzed by through the small circle of the binoculars' lenses. It reminded him uncomfortably of his ethical dilemma while sniping security personnel back at Blackwood. But now, as he lay flat under the bush at the top of the hill, pine needles poking at his elbows and stomach, he didn't think he would care if he had to do it again. This was it, he told himself. This is the night where we finish everything we started.
He swept his gaze over the Southern border of the town once again, his eyes pushed firmly into the twin sockets of the binoculars. What he saw both amused and saddened him.
The townspeople had obviously known he was coming. From the looks of it, the entire area had been locked down and put under martial law. There were thick bands of flashing red and blue lights at every intersection, indicating police roadblocks and checkpoints. Long thin beams of spotlights swished through the air, scouring the surrounding hills from a distance. Every once in a while one would pass over Joe's hiding place, giving him the most unsettling feeling of being naked under a microscope. But he reminded himself that he was well concealed under the bush and trees, whose newly-budding leaves offered him complete protection from all angles. The only thing he needed to worry about was thermal cameras like the one he'd been tracked with by helicopter when he'd first run away. The thought deeply worried him, sending a shiver down his spine that he knew had nothing to do with the dew on the grass. With the entire Red Delta crowded behind him, there was no way they could be mistaken for hunters.
But as he searched the starry sky he saw no helicopters or planes, only the full moon staring down unblinkingly like some great unholy eye. He knew there were still satellites glaring down at the Earth from out of reach, but due to the police's apparent lack of offensive action he assumed that they had not been located yet.
He lowered the binoculars from his face, and ducked his head further back into the bush. Twisting around, he looked at the boys and girls clustered around him on the ground. The all looked either scared or determined, or both, and he gave them a comforting smile. He pushed his hands again the trunk of a nearby shrub, and slid down the hill on his back, mud slipping and oozing under him. Once he was back in the middle of the group, he turned to Clara.
"You got it?"
She nodded resolutely and patted the bag that held the metal briefcase. Even though it was contained, the all were looking at it nervously, as if it might jump out at any moment and attack them. Joe gave a thumbs-up and raised himself into a squat, his feet sliding in the mud several times until he was able to maintain his balance.
"Ok, here's the plan. We move around the outskirts until we're here," he drew a diamond shape into the mud that vaguely looked like the town. Then, he scratched an X into the West corner.
"This is the train station. From what I've read the P-44 is very resilient, it's hard to kill and it lasts a long time. We release it here, and even if they manage to kill most of it some will get on the trains over the next few days and spread all over the country. We just need to get it in a place there where it can be safe and grow. I think our best bet is the tunnel, here." He drew another X, right next to the first. "That tunnel is old, and starting to crack and fall apart. Even if they find out and clean it, there will probably be some left in the cracks in the walls. Also, even if that doesn't work the wind blowing through the tunnel will force it out into the air and spread it farther than a normal breeze outside. Does that sound alright?"
He looked around questioningly at their scared faces, but nobody disagreed.
"Remember; we get in, we let it go, then we get the hell out. It'll be guarded, so there's going to be fighting. Just so you all know that. If you want to back out, now's your chance."
He scanned their faces again, but still no one said a word.
"Right then, let’s do this."
He stood up, still hunched over beneath the low branches of the trees, and pulled out his pistol. After racking the slide, he stuck it back into the holster but left the strap off, so he could reach it at a moment's notice. As he turned towards the Northwest, he heard a sudden cacophony of clicks and scratching behind him. He turned around hurriedly, and saw them all cocking and charging their weapons at the same time. He grinned, and some of them weakly smiled back. Then he turned back into the woods, and started off.
But he had only gotten a few feet when he suddenly threw himself onto the wet, slimy ground before he even realized why. It was like for a moment his instincts had taken over and the logical part of his brain still had to catch up. But a half a second later, he understood.
Like the rumbling voice from some beast of his darkest nightmares, a low thumping filled the air. It vibrated everything from the branches of the trees to the ribs in Joe's gut, and some wet leaves fluttered down from the treetops that they had been prematurely blown from. He could see the helicopter in his mind before he could see it with his eyes, and his body shook like it hadn't done in months.
The other kids were also taking cover beneath whatever they could find, but they were not filled with the same penetrating terror as Joe. he knew why. They hadn't been there, the second day of his escape, cowering under a tree while the hellish beast from the sky circled overhead like a buzzard, tracking his every move and just waiting for him to die. It's infrared camera had seen him, and nothing he could do, no hiding place he could find, no camouflage he could invent, had helped him. It had been a stroke of luck that had saved him, he knew it wouldn't happen again.
Joe clutched the ground, feeling the dirt shaking as the helicopter swooped overhead. They'll see us, he thought desperately, they'll see us and it will all be over, just like that...
But the helicopter didn't stop, didn't hover over the trees or circle around like a bird of prey. It didn't deviate from its course at all, and Joe saw the piercing spotlight beams emanating from the cockpit sweep over him without paying him any notice. The low, reverberating hum gradually quieted, like the fade-out at the end of a song with heavy drums.
Joe dared to raise his head slightly off the ground, mud and twigs clinging to his hair, and he just barely saw the glistening, flashing monstrosity pass over the tree line towards the town. He breathed normally again. It had been a transport, that's all; they hadn't been out to look for them.
He painfully raised himself into a standing position, the broken branches scraping his arms and head. Once he was back on his feet, he felt his chest to check that the gun was still there, took several deep breaths to calm himself back down again, and looked at his comrades.
They were all standing already, looking at him strangely. Joe didn't care, he'd been looked at like that before more times than he could count. He just gave them a blank look.
They were silent, and didn't press the topic. He nodded slightly and continued through the woods, shoving low-hanging branches out of his way as they pushed on through the undergrowth towards the train station.
Chief Ward pressed his hand onto his head, to hold the blue police hat in place as the winds swirled around him like a small yet vicious tornado. Squinting his eyes against the xenon spotlights burning into his brain, he watched as the State Police helicopter hovered in the air, slowly maneuvering into position over the landing pad like a giant clumsy animal. Finally, it's left landing skid touched down onto the asphalt on the roof of the police station and the rest of the vehicle settled onto the ground.
Ward walked forward, bending over subconsciously as though the rotors could lop off his head if he stood too tall. This wasn't easy as the long, sweeping blades still swung overhead, sending gusts of wind blasting into his torso and making his open jacket flutter like a flag.
The door on the left side of the cabin popped open, then slid out to the side. The light difference between the helicopter's cabin and the darkness of the night made it hard to see clearly, but Ward could tell that a tall figure dressed in a black coat was standing up in the doorframe. The figure climbed down onto the launchpad, slammed the door firmly shut behind him. He walked over to Ward, who knew who it was before the copter had even landed.
The Chief extended his hand. "Mr. Scott, thank you so much for coming out here on such short notice!" he had to shout loudly to be heard over the raging wind of the rotor blades, slowing but not yet still.
Mr. Scott took his hand and gave a half-hearted shake. His silvery hair seemed to glow in the light of the many security stations and flashlights around the building, and Ward realized he had never know that the man was that old.
Scott let go of his hand, and stared levelly into the Chief's eyes.
"It had better be good, I wouldn't want to be here when they arrive."
That was completely false, the only place the former director would rather be than here was right in front of Joe, with his hands around his neck. But he had no intention of letting Ward know this, or that he planned to kill the boy whether this small-town Chief liked it or not.
Ward laughed. "No need to worry, we've got more security than Area fuckin' 51 right now. All we need from you in some info on the other kids that are working with him, most of the files were-"
"Destroyed by gunfire at my facility. Yes, I know that Mr. Ward, as I was nearly killed along with them."
Ward seemed momentarily taken aback, but seemed to calm down a moment later. "Yes, yes, of course, I know and I'm very sorry...but for both tactical and legal purposes we needed you here, we'll do our best to make your stay as short and comfortable as possible."
Scott nodded wordlessly, then strode to the edge of the building with his hands clasped behind his back. Ward followed him, but stayed a few feet back. He didn't like heights and the roof had no railing.
Mr. Scott gazed out at the town, and the streets below. "Quite impressive."
Ward smiled, but inside he didn't feel that proud. The state had donated nearly every SWAT team available, and what few National Guard troopers and vehicles hadn't been sent to Iraq were now deployed to Sycamore. Overnight, his peaceful little suburban town had been turned into a veritable fortress, and although he felt it was best for keeping the terrorists out, he felt slightly guilty. He had been forced to turn this town into a police state, with himself holding absolute power of everything within it's borders. Looking out at the scene in front of him, it looked rather disturbing.
The town was lit up like a beacon, with searchlights mounted on the tops of every building sweeping the streets and walls. Citizens huddled in their homes, those who had chosen not to evacuate now under strict orders not leave their homes until the authorities had given the OK. The deep, robotic clump of the black masses of soldiers marching through the streets, moving as one, the black and white blur of their urban camouflage suits gliding over the concrete as hundreds of boots stomped mercilessly into the pavement over and over again.
Every once in a while, over the incessant clomping of the infantry, came the cold, high whine and screech, like fingernails on a blackboard, of a tank's treads squeaking as it slugged its way down suburban roads that normally would have been traveled by tricycles. Their headlights blazed out into the night, peering coldly into the houses of civilians as if demanding to see what was going on inside.
The intersections, usually congested with mini vans and SUVs filled with squealing kids on their way to soccer practice, were now blocked off by the massive green bulks of humvees, looming over the discarded toys and cheerful chalk drawings like a heard of dark beasts from the nightmares of the children who had drawn them. Ward turned his eyes toward the east, near the downtown area. There, faint screams echoed through the alleys as protestors and vandals, as well as those out after curfew, were tackled by armored SWAT units and thrown into unmarked vans. Flames were flickering into the sky as a few scattered houses were Molotoved by angry residents.
Deep inside, Ward could hardly blame them. His town looked like a scene from 1984.
All at once he heard more yelling, and whipped his head around towards the park. The sight that met his eyes was made even more painful by his inability to do anything about it at the moment.
The large, fenced-in field that was usually reserved for families to let their dogs roam around off the leash, had been filled with prisoners who had been caught outside after curfew. They huddled together inside, wrapping themselves in blankets and sitting with their backs up against the fence. The hulking shadows of guards patrolling around the outside of the fence could bee seen all the way from the roof of the station, and yellow circles of light moved over the prisoners crowded inside as the spotlights set up in temporary watchtowers glared down at them, as though already accusing them of some heinous crime. Ward was too far to be sure, but most of the people clustered within looked very young.
He squeezed his eyes shut as if hoping to block it out, but when he opened them again this nightmare version of his town was still there, the military-controlled streets glowing like rivers of hellish light between the looming islands of darkness made by the buildings.
He lowered his eyes to the floor in front of him, and said a prayer under his breath. Mr. Scott must have heard, because he looked at him curiously as though wondering what was wrong.
Ward turned to him sympathetically. "I hate seeing Sycamore like this, Scott. I can barely stand it. Even when Murphy burned it at least we had our freedom, now it's almost like everything worth defending is gone."
Mr. Scott appeared completely unmoved by this, and kept looking at him with the same quizzical expression. "But it's what needs to be done, of course."
Ward turned away, looking sadly back out at his town.
"I hope so, I really, really hope so."
Then without a word, he turned away from the edge and headed for the door that led down into the station. Mr. Scott stood there looking at the town for a moment, then he too turned and disappeared through the door.
Joe peered out from around the tree he had flattened himself against. Looking around quickly, he then ducked back around the trunk and tiptoed a few feet into the woods, taking extra care not to step onto the many twigs and empty cans littering the ground. Once he was safely behind the line of shrubs, he addressed his people squatting in a dirty depression between two clusters of pine trees.
"Ok, the situation is this: there are lightly armed guards patrolling the edge of the railyard every hundred feet. They'll be easy to take out, but they're just for warning. From what I could see, there's a machine gun nest in the alley between the fuel house and the main station building. The tunnel is about one hundred feet down the tracks, but because of the fences the only way to get there is to pass the gun. Do you understand what this means?"
Several of them shook their heads, looking even more worried than before.
Joe sighed grimly. "It means we have to take out the guards and the nest, and do it without being seen by the others."
This was greeted with many gasps and hushed protests. One or two of them looked ready to back out at this point, but they gradually calmed themselves and after a minute, looked determined again.
Joe was silent for a moment, and many of them recognized that he was in the middle of deep thought and tried to be as quiet as possible. But after a few minutes of rolling his eyes skyward and muttering to himself, he spoke.
"Ok, here's what we're going to do. We're going to take out the guards silently, then instead of going all the way down the tracks, we get across fast, then move along the side of the building where they can't see. Once we get to the corner of the alley, we get them with silenced weapons before at point blank range. That way they won't even have time to aim the machine gun. The hard part is getting across the tracks. After that, we're cool."
From several reactions, this didn't sound remotely cool.
He quietly clapped his hands together. "Right then, let's go. Those with knives or melee weapons, front and center."
He stood up, and reached into his pocket. Fishing around inside, he finally felt the smooth, hard surface of a knife handle. It was a long, sharp hunting knife that he'd stolen on the day of his escape while sneaking though a construction site, and during his long period of life on the run it had saved his life more times than he could count. He pulled it out of his improvised cloth sheath, and held it tightly in his fist. Looking around, he saw three of them do the same. Two others pulled out wicked-looking clubs made from heave sticks and pieces of metal. The boys and girls with firearms were attaching crude silencers to their muzzles, mostly made of crumpled cloth and tape. When he looked around at them once more and saw them all ready, he gestured with his hand towards the railyard and they started creeping through to the end of the woods.
The railyard was big, a great, sprawling plain of gravel crisscrossed with the thick metal bars of train tracks. Although it was only about seventy feet across, it seemed to stretch out to the left and right for infinity, until it vanished into the night. A few lights were on in the station, casting sharp yellow squares of light onto the yard, and Joe and he team were careful not to step into them.
Fortunately, there was cover. Every few feet there would be some piece of machinery; signs, lights, and large metal devices used to direct trains that looked like they had been around since the Industrial Revolution. They were hulking, oddly- shaped, and orange colored with rust, but provided adequate protection from the eyes and bullets of the three men at the gun.
They waited in the murky black shadow of a low concrete wall, broken in half with the spindly red twists of rebar poking out of the top at weird angles. Joe scanned the yard, until a small movement caught his eye off to the right. He squinted into the dark, holding up his hand to block out the distracting light from the station and could just barely see the figure of a guard, walking along the middle track. Even at this distance, Joe could tell it would not be the usual police patrol. This man was decked out in full combat gear, with a helmet, goggles, tactical vest and everything. With a start, Joe realized that the National Guard had probably been brought in.
Looking off to the left, he could suddenly see another guard, in the same war outfit. Studying their paths and extrapolating them along the ground, Joe realized that they would pass directly in front of the wall. They had to act, and they had to act fast. He made a motion towards the others behind him, and they all got up into crouched position, motionless but ready to spring into action at a second's notice.
The guards moved closer. Joe knew that their only chance was to kill them both at once, if one died first the other might yell. He adjusted his grip on the knife and waited, not even breathing.
The two men kept coming closer, now he could clearly see them, their combat gear giving them the appearance of bizarre Medieval knights.
Joe held his breath until he couldn't stand it any more, and dared to let out a tiny breath.
The first guard stopped.
Joe felt a surge of panic, and the idea of everything going wrong pulsed through his nerves like poison. But a moment later, he heard a click and a small flame, blindingly bright in the darkness, sprang into the guard's hand. Joe breathed in relief; the man had just stopped to light a cigarette. For a few seconds the tiny butane flame lit up the man's face, and Joe could clearly see the features of the man he would be killing in a moment. Then the light flicked out, leaving the weak orange glow of a cigarette in its place, and the guard started to walk again. They got closer and closer, converging on the wall, until Joe could hear the crunching of their boots as gravel scraped its way out form under their feet. Still, he gestured to his comrades to stay down.
Now the guards were mere feet away, their polished black helmets shining in the darkness. But still, Joe stayed in place. The boys and girls around him were getting scared, and as they sat there silently in the dark watching the men move inexorably towards their hiding place their nerves seared with pain and adrenaline. At last, the two men stopped, directly on the other side of the low wall, and nodded to each other.
"You got a light?"
"Yeah, here you go..."
He never finished giving the man the lighter. At that moment, Joe cast his raised hand down and sprang up and around the wall, all the stored energy in his muscles and nerves shooting out at once like a spring, or a bomb. He grabbed the first guard around the neck, and drove his fist into the man's Adam's apple. He gave a muffled grunt, and his arms swung around into the air in a desperate attempt to shake Joe off. But it was too late. Through the darkness and the savage animal instincts clouding his brain, he could faintly see the other guard struggling under the grip of Alex and two others, but he concentrated on his own job. Holding the knife blade up in his right hand, he swung his fist around the man's neck, and the shiny metal wedge, razor-sharp from six months of being filed on rocks, flashed once in the moonlight. Then it disappeared into the folds of the man's vest and shirt as the momentum of Joe's arm drove it into his throat. The blade sunk in deep, and he didn't even have time to cry out before it stopped at the hilt, buried in the flesh of his neck. As his lifeless body slumped to the ground, a thin squirt of blood spilling out of his neck, Joe caught him by the arms before he could make noise by hitting the gravel. Pulling the knife out, he quickly wiped it on his shirt. It was soaked in blood, and left a dark stain on the cloth. Joe breathed deeply and looked up, the adrenaline fading enough for him to regain control of his brain.
But as he looked up, he realized the others hadn't been so lucky. Alex had tore the guard's helmet off and aimed his club for his bald skull, but the man had shifted at the last minute. Joe saw, with a sinking heart, the heavy metal head swing through the air sa if in slow motion, and could see what was going to happen before it did.
The club missed, and struck the man in the shoulder. There was a faint sound, like a crack and a pop, and he realized that the man's arm had been dislocated. Even the force of one of the boys wrapping his arm around his throat couldn't silence this. The man took a short, crackling breath, then let out a hoarse yell of pain. Alex's body reflexively sprung into gear, raising the club up again and striking the man square on the head. There was a resounding crack, and the guard's skull split. Blood poured out, spraying Alex and the two others with him. The man fell silent, but it was too late.
"Hey! Hey YOU! What the fuck's going on!?!?" Joe whirled around, just as a the bright eye of a spotlight flew across the stone and steel of the railyard floor and fixed itself onto Joe. His reflection on the wall was immediately cast into sharp clarity, and his blood ran cold. He could hear shouts from both his people and the men at the machinegun nest, and all at once there was a loud sound like a clack and a sliding scratch. Joe knew instantly from experience that it was the sound of the machinegun, a .50 Browning, being racked. He whipped his head around while simultaneously yanking the Glock out of his shoulder holster, until he faced his crew.
"Head for the building wall, go-NO! NOT THE TUNNEL THEY'LL SEE!"
Alex and the two other boys who had killed the guard had taken off down the tracks in the direction of the tunnel. Joe didn't know if they meant to, or if they had just panicked. But it looked like he would never find out. As the spotlight turned the three of them into speeding black silhouettes, gravel spraying into the air as they ran, Joe heard a noise that battered his eardrums and shook his brain inside his skull. It was the sound of the machinegun opening fire.
Once as a kid, Joe had tried setting off a string of firecrackers in a large metal pot, and the noise had almost deafened him. But this was a hundred times worse. The echoing bangs shook the windows of the station, and Joe felt the gravel bouncing with the vibration around his feet. He got once last look at Alex and his two friends, a horrific image that seared itself into his memory for the rest of his life. They were still running, not even looking where they were going, as a thin flickering beam of light sprayed out of the darkness and knocked all three of them off their feet at once. The bullets tore through their clothes and flesh with the same level of ease, and their limp bodies shook and jerked as they were knocked around in midair by the horizontal hailstones of lead filling their bodies, and the air around them. When they finally hit the ground, they were already in pieces, a fine red mist covering the tracks and the gravel like paint from a spray can. If Joe's instincts had been any less developed, he would have just stood there in horror and been cut to pieces. But fortunately, being on the run for half a year had given him better reflexes than most, and while his mind was still paralyzed with shock his body was already running, kicking gravel everywhere like a cloud of rock as he dashed across the railyard, jumping over the thick metal tracks whenever he encountered them. This seemed to mobilize the others, and they ran behind him like a panicked heard of deer beset by vicious lions. By now the gunners had seen them, and as they swung the smoking barrel of the Browning around they still held the trigger, and as the boys and girls of the Red Delta followed Joe to the wall bullets thudded into the ground around them, and gravel was blasted into the air. Joe saw two others go down, but he didn't have time to recognize them.
All hell had just broken loose at the train station, and the only thing that mattered now was staying alive.
TO BE CONTINUED
I think Buenaventura Durruti is a pretty cool guy. eh kills fascists and doesnt afraid of ruins.
The quickest way to kill a revolution is to wait for it.