The Luckiest by Ben Folds comes up on the music player and I’m almost immediately in tears.
Am I the luckiest?
And what about Billy? And…?
I can’t take this anymore. Maybe I made a mistake. Maybe I should turn back and see if I can do something back there.
I don’t even know if this device I stole is worth anything.
The road stretches on before me. The sun sets in the distance. And I know. I know. I’m not the luckiest.
The luckiest would have never ended up here.
The sun’s nearly at the horizon as I watch them walk to the place where my parents are still being forced to kneel at gunpoint in front of Eve’s parents. I feel uneasy. I look around in every direction to try and get an idea of where Grant may have wound up. If he’s in SP uniform, he may be hard to pick out, but I’d feel a heckuva lot better if I knew someone on our side was down there with them.
Maybe I should go down there. Maybe I am overreacting. If there were anyone in this world I should trust, it would be John and Mary, wouldn’t it? They were so absolutely nice to me when I met them back in Utah.
Eve and The Geek are only a few steps out into the open before they are noticed by three of the SP armed guards. They hustle to Eve and The Geek’s position, guns raised toward the faces of this newfound unknown threat.
“Mom, Dad!” I hear Eve shout out. John and Mary take a few steps closer, but in the dark, appear to be unable to make out the face of their daughter.
“Bring them here!” I hear John yell.
The SPs shove Eve and The Geek forward with the ends of their weapons, and the five of them begin a march to the foot of the castle. As my friends reach their destination, my parents stand to greet them. I can tell words are being exchanged, but I have no clue what’s being said.
I can only hope they’re good words.
Shots ring out in the air. Everyone in the center square scatters in response to the gunfire. Everyone, that is, except John and Mary Gardner. They are shouting instructions to the scattering crowd, making certain The Geek and Eve are taken care of, as well as my parents. All four of them are escorted away from the danger by SP guards.
I look off toward the right, down the long road to where I assume is the entrance. A group of twenty men and women enter the area, wielding large guns and marching down the path toward the castle. A look back shows John and Mary still standing their ground. No, they’re walking toward the approaching army.
Everyone converges just below where I am hiding. I recognize the man leading the army as the same man I faced off against in Cheyenne. The man who had his hands around my neck, ready to snap my windpipe. The man I brought to his knees with one well-placed kick.
I can’t imagine he would be too happy to see me.
“John and Mary Gardner?” he says more than asks.
“You’ve found us,” John replies.
“I hereby have the authority of The United States of America to offer you the opportunity to surrender. Do you surrender?”
“What authority does The United States of America have anymore?” Mary asks.
“All authority!” he spits. “Don’t think your little terrorist schemes have changed anything. Now do you surrender?”
“I’m sorry,” Mary continues, “but could you perhaps tell us who sent you here? You may not realize this, but we’ve struck a fairly nice agreement with the federal government which allows—“
“My chain of command is of no importance to you. And all former deals and arrangements ceased to exist the moment your people committed an act of war against this country.”
“Well, now,” John says, stepping between Mary and the general. “You’ve got us mistaken, sir. We had nothing to do with the attacks on Washington.”
“Based on my intelligence reports, you, John Gardner, and your wife, Mary Gardner, were top enforcers within the rebellion for nearly twenty years. That alone gives me the authority to bring you in for questioning.”
“I thought your authority came from The United States of America,” Mary says, stepping to her husband’s side. “Now you sound like you’re just giving us excuses.”
“I am The United States of America!” he growls.
“Whoa now, mister,” Mary replies. “There’s no need to get all defensive here. I’m just trying to understand. Are we surrendering to you, or are we being brought in for questioning?”
“Well now, that brings us to quite the quandary, doesn’t it?” Mary continues. “You see, if you aren’t willing to make any deals with us, why would we want to be answering any questions?”
Suddenly, a large number of people in Street Patrol uniforms flank my position. A man shoves me out of the way and places his gun exactly where my head had been. He positions it and keeps his eye on his scope.
My mouth is covered by an unseen hand and I’m pulled backward. I turn to see Grant, wearing SP clothing, using only his eyes to tell me to keep quiet. He’s successful.
A single shot rings out from across the way. I can’t tell if it’s from us or from them. Wherever it started from, it’s quickly joined by gunfire from all sides. The air fills with the crackle of exploding weapons. I see a few men on the rooftop fall backward, red pouring out of their helmets.
I want to turn away, but find myself incapable.
After just a few minutes, the guns stop. Considering there are still men standing up here, I’m assuming we’ve won. Well, I guess I don’t know who “we” are, but I certainly wouldn’t put myself on the same team as that guy who tried to choke me to death a few days ago.
Grant pulls me backward toward the rooftop access ladder.
“What’s going on?” I ask him.
“Shhh,” is his response.
He gestures for me to climb down, which I oblige, and when we enter the trees behind the building, he pulls me deeper into the forest before pulling me down onto the ground and covering me with his body.
“Um, Grant, buddy,” I say, not sure whether I should be concerned about the men out there, or the one currently pressing his weight on top of me.
“Shhh,” he says again. “My uniform should keep us hidden. We can’t let them see us.”
I open my mouth to say ‘Why?’, but hear the shuffling of feet heading down the ladder and around the building. After it has been completely silent for several minutes, Grant finally gets off me and takes a deep breath of relief.
“What the heck was all that about?” I ask him.
“Well, it looks like we found ourselves right in the middle of a turf war. Except, of course, the turf we’re talking about is the entire country.”
“Isn’t that what we’ve been dealing with ever since I started this run?” I ask him.
“Well, yeah, um, I guess so.”
“Okay, so, what’s going on out there?”
“Alright, so, the man leading the charge, his name is General Harmon. He’s one bad—“
“Yeah, we’ve met.”
“Well, it looks like he has decided to take charge now that all lines of command have disappeared.”
“Okay, so, military guy wants to take the power?”
“Sort of,” Grant answers. “From what I gathered, it sounds like he’s trying to find a place of control in a world gone mad. He doesn’t like that his commanding officers are all dead or gone running. He doesn’t like that, by all reports, America has lost this war on its own soil. So, he’s taking charge. And he’s on a full rampage trying to figure out who is responsible for the attacks.”
“Okay, so what is he doing here?”
“My guess is that he’s got very little to go on. He doesn’t seem like a very bright guy. He’s probably running wild after any lead he can find. And apparently this place isn’t quite as secretive as everyone thought.”
“Okay, so, out there, what happened?”
“Sounds like folks running this here camp, who call themselves the Refugees, realized they were in danger and as soon as the government fell, they hired as many of the old SP force as they could get.”
“You managed to get a lot of information in those few minutes since you left us.”
“Yeah, well, the guy I stole this uniform off of was quite talkative when my knife was against his throat.”
“Oh,” I frown. “Yeah, I could see how that might make someone ready to talk.”
“Right, so, The Refugees have been set up here for years, from what it sounds like. They’ve developed this old theme park into a sanctuary for enemies of the government. I’m guessing that’s why the Gardners led you here.”
“But why were they holding my parents hostage?”
“Weren’t your parents high level government officials?”
“Oh, yeah. I guess a bunch of people hiding from the government wouldn’t like government people snooping around.”
“Right. For the record, I doubt they like to have anyone snooping around.”
“Okay, so, they’ve been hiding people here. The Gardners are here, possibly to set up a place for me, Eve, and The Geek to hide. But that Harmon guy, he’s just here by accident?”
“It’s possible he might have heard you were coming here.”
“And how would he have heard that?”
“Who knows? Maybe he was following your parents. Maybe they were following me. Heck, the SPs aren’t exactly great at keeping secrets, so just having them here could have alerted Harmon. The Refugees could have caused themselves a whole lot more trouble by hiring them as guards.”
“Okay, so, where does that leave us?”
“Not sure, yet. I did catch that there are a few old hotels where they house most of the folks. I’m guessing that’s where they sent Eve and The Geek. But they should be safe now. All you need to do is join them and—“
“Not a chance,” I scowl.
“We can’t just stay here,” I explain. “I’m not living out the rest of my life as a refugee, not even in a cool run down place like this. Not to mention how we’re on a mission to stop Mackenzie-Lena.”
“You’re starting to sound an awful lot like Eve.”
“Right. And there’s no chance she’ll want to be holed up in here either.”
“Well, that might be a problem. Sounds like if you’re allowed into the compound, you’re kept under lock and key. It’s not quite a prison, but it’s not much better than one.”
“Alright, so I guess we’ll have to break them out.”
“You sure about this?”
“I don’t know how sure I am, but I definitely don’t trust this place. Besides, I’ve already staged three prison breaks. How hard could this one really be? Where are they at?” A smile crosses my face as I think about how easy breaking Eve and The Geek out of a hotel should be.
“Well, that’s the thing, I don’t have a clue. This place is huge. And everything kinda looks like it could be a hotel, if you ask me.”
“You don’t think they’re in the castle, do you?”
“Your guess is as good as mine. But, if I were a betting man, I’d say that fiberglass beast up there is just for show.”
“Well, crap,” I mutter. “I guess this isn’t going to be nearly as easy as I thought.”
“I do happen to have a bit of an idea,” Grant says, a smirk growing on his face.
Go to Chapter Twenty