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  1. #11
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    Chapter 9

    The band of rebels filtered down to the streets below, chasing the fleeing limousine off with a few sporadic bursts from their rifles. Bodies lay strewn across the pavement, Republican and resistance alike. A few dismembered limbs had been thrown onto the sidewalks, likely from the poor souls inside the Humvees when they went up.

    Smoke rose through the pristine, glass-faced buildings of the Capital’s southern district. But there was no time to admire the architecture. A shrill siren pierced the otherwise still air. A death note for the rebels should they linger too long but they needed to strip the convoy of anything they could carry.

    Giselle rolled one of the soldiers onto his side with her foot, rifle at the ready in case he wasn’t quite dead. Crouching, she inspected the insignia on the lapels of the dead soldier’s jacket – red bars.

    “These were the spooks,” Amir said from above her. “They don’t look like super soldiers to me. Just some fucked up looking swine.”

    She shrugged as she patted his pockets. “Just because they have extra shit on their collar doesn’t make them any different from the regulars. I’ll have to give it to the ones we run into most of the time. They don’t turn tail and run nearly as fast.”

    Amir chuckled and left her to her own scavenging. She pulled a ring on a chain out of one of the soldier’s pocket. Holding it up, she inspected it. Precious metals would fetch a good bit of food at the market. Throw in a good story about how it was acquired and one might be able to get a bit more in trade.

    “We got a live one over here!” A primal cheer rose through the band as Rocco’s half of the party rushed over to a soldier sitting against a building.

    She watched as they circled him. Hyenas. The fucking wastelanders that they were.

    The soldier rose to his feet, clutching his stomach. He spat at them, a mixture of blood and phlegm. He straightened his coat as best he could and waved them forward. Some would saw it as brave, but it was fool’s arrogance because the lot of them pounced on the injured soldier. Fists and feet rained down on him as he fell back to the ground.

    Pocketing the ring, Giselle stalked over to where Rocco was watching the beating. “Tell them to end it. We don’t have time for this.”

    “You are trying to spare one of them? Why do you always go soft? He asked for it.” He nodded toward the red barred soldier who was still trying to get to his feet despite being outnumbered. “Let ‘em get their justice. They’ve lost people just like you have.”

    “I’ll do it then.” She pushed her way through the crowd, pistol at the ready and shot the soldier in the back of his head. The body crumpled to the ground and blood pooled out on the pavement.

    Turning to the wastelanders, she shook her head to ignore the jabs of Rocco needing to “keep his bitch on a leash.”

    The man himself stepped forward. “Are you happy now?”

    “Over-fucking-joyed.”

    “As you put it, we’re out of time. Their backup will be here in a few minutes. We need to clear out unless we want to end up like our friend down there,” Rocco said.

    A series of low thuds had the rebels shouldering their rifles and scanning the streets for any threats.

    “Hey! It’s coming from the van. Looks like there’s people in there.” Amir dropped his weapon and stepped towards the bullet-riddled vehicle.

    “Fuck them. Leave them to fend for themselves. We have to go.” Rocco shook his head as Amir and one of the other rebels began pushing debris away from the van. “You’re going to get us fucking killed! Let’s go.”

    Amir ignored Rocco’s orders and yanked the door open when it was clear, falling on his back in the process. Five blood-soaked, scantily-dressed women scrambled out of the van.

    “Looks like the pigs were going to treat that senator to some prime rib!” a wastelander shouted.

    “Hell yeah! I wish we were so lucky!”

    Amir rolled to his feet, his eyes wide when he recognized one of the women. “Rose? Rose?!”

    “It’s nice that you know whores, Amir, but leave them for their keepers,” Rocco ordered.

    “Is that really you?” Amir ignored Rocco and took a step forward. The woman nodded, tears in her eyes. Running towards her, Amir swept her up in a hug. “I thought you were dead.”

    “Amir! I will fucking leave you, too!”

    Giselle grabbed Rocco’s shoulder. “That’s his fucking sister.”

    “They are coming with us,” Amir said, still holding onto his sister.

    “The fuck they’re not. We don’t have food for five extra mouths,” Rocco countered.

    “They are coming with us,” Amir repeated.

    “We don’t have time for this.”

    “They are coming with us.”

    Rocco looked over his shoulder at the other rebels behind him and shook his head knowing they were short on time for an argument. “We’re all going to starve because of this one bitch. Let’s go before the pig patrol gets here.”

    ---
    Giselle leaned against a wall in the alley behind the building they used as base camp. It had been hours since they returned from the Capital. Tensions were high among the group. Not everyone was happy about five extra mouths to feed. Amir hadn’t let his sister out of his sight and his hand never left his rifle thanks to a few lingering looks from the men in the basement.

    It had become suffocating, but this gave her some reprieve from it all.

    Her hands trembled as the cold air whipped through the dingy corridor of trash, human waste and vermin. Reaching into her pocket, she pulled out the ring she’d taken from the dead Red Bar. She couldn’t pinpoint what its composition, a bank of knowledge lost some time ago. Everything was just shiny metal now.

    It probably meant something to the soldier or someone he’d stolen it from. A symbol of love, commitment or just something to put a small smile on someone’s face in an era of little happiness for the majority.

    The service door swung open, some of Rocco’s wastelanders spilling out. They dragged two of the women they’d brought with them past her, barely sparing a glance in her direction.

    “C’mon. You heard the boss. Gotta earn ya keep and last I check they didn’t start teachin’ whores to shoot nothin’!” the one Giselle knew as Tank said. Tank grabbed at one of the women, but she pushed his hands away.

    Another called Will wrapped his arms around the other woman’s waist. “This is going to happen one of two ways. But it’s going to happen so you might as well enjoy it. The both of you.”

    The women tried to make a run for it, but there were too many men around.

    Giselle diverted her attention to the ring in her hand as screams filled the alley. But her hand itched to kill one of those fucking dogs. Pocketing the ring, she crossed her arms over her chest and stared at the wall opposite her.

    Rocco stepped in front of her. “You can stop them. You’ve killed before.”

    She said nothing.

    “Or is it that you don’t want to try and fail and end up next on the menu?” Rocco laughed at his own question. “Self-preservation is a much needed trait for pretty girls in this world we live in. Don’t be ashamed. There’s no place for heroes these days anyway.”

    “Fuck you. You let them do this.”

    “I didn’t let them do anything. Your buddy Amir is at fault here. Every other person here knows how to kill a man. But them,” Rocco pointed behind him. “They aren’t worth a fuck here… or they are worth a fuck and nothing else. They’re just more mouths to feed and we don’t have enough food as it is. We don’t need free pussy here. That’s why I have you.”

    Giselle’s face twitched in anger but she remained silent.

    “If you’re into this type of thing, stay out here and watch. I wouldn’t suggest it. But I’m not going to take that from those loyal to me, loyal to what we are fighting for here. Lay the blame at your own door and Amir’s door for putting us in this situation.”

    She shook her head and turned to go back into the building.

  2. #12
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    read the first two chapters of this and was definitely intrigued by it. definitely going to read the rest. loved the war of the roses chise, just feel out of the loop on reading it and lost my place on it.

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  4. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by redsox907 View Post
    read the first two chapters of this and was definitely intrigued by it. definitely going to read the rest. loved the war of the roses chise, just feel out of the loop on reading it and lost my place on it.
    Welcome on board, hombre.

  5. #14
    G.O.A.T. Soapy's Avatar

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    this just reminded me that i haven't worked on mine in nearly a month smh.


    [Today 6:58 PM] CountdowNxx : if you think a bunch of overrated thugs running through smoke is better than Osceola planting the burning spear at midfield then I don't know what to say to you
    [Today 11:27 PM] BazeGOAT : I'm gonna enjoy watching the Patriots lose some time in the next month.

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  7. #15
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    Chapter 10

    The screams echoed in her head. The pleas for help reminders that she’d done nothing. No one had done anything. Like no one had done anything for her when they came that day all those years ago. For a cause believed to be so righteous, they were no better than those they fought for their silence and inaction.

    And she was the worst of them all, once again sharing a cot with the ringleader.

    Giselle sat up and grabbed her shirt from the floor. Better a willing participant than the alternative in this world, she continued to try to convince herself.

    Ensuring her pistol was loaded in case any of the wastelanders hadn’t gotten they fill already, she made her way to the top floor of the complex hoping to find some peace among those fortunate enough to have drawn watch that night.

    Amir had cut an ever-present figure among those scanning the streets below for the past week. It was the way he decided he would best be able to protect his sister who was never more than a few feet away from him.

    The man swung around, rifle at the ready when she stepped into the room. A tense moment passed before he lowered the weapon.

    She shook her head. “You’re going to have everyone up here ready to shoot if you keep doing that shit. One would hope you all would see the soldiers before they made it all the way up here.”

    “It’s not the fucking soldiers I’m worried about.”

    “The soldiers are the enemy. Or are we about to start fighting each other?”

    “I think everyone has shown their true colors here over the past few days. Wouldn’t you agree?” He raised an eyebrow and nodded in her direction.

    “Passive aggression doesn’t suit you, Amir.”

    He didn’t answer and instead continued to look out over the streets below. The Slums never slept. The people there were always going somewhere, trying to survive. The Rebels never had to worry about any of them being spies for the government, though. Between the prostitutes, street gang members, drunks and addicts most of them wouldn’t be too useful. And if the army did need information out of any of them, the conversation would be a little more forceful than sweet talking it out.

    “I’m done with this fight,” Amir said. He looked at his sister who was asleep in a nearby corner, a knife clutched in one hand. “It’s always been about finding her and now that I have, I’m not going to hang around here until I get her killed or worse.”

    “When did you come to that decision?”

    He pointed to the poorly-lit streets. “We’re no better than anyone down there, you know? Just because we have guns and fight back? We’re just the ones trying to find death just a little faster than they are. Don’t you get tired of it?”

    “I do what I do because I’m trying to survive. I am here because I’m trying to survive. I know what is waiting for me out there,” Giselle said, “And you know what’s waiting for you and your sister out there if you try to ‘run.’”

    “I’m not running!” The outburst woke the rest of the lookouts from their watches, but they all only spared a glance over their shoulders.

    “Could’ve fooled me because I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what you just said. There isn’t anything for you out there but a fucking bullet.”

    “I’ve already planned it out. The Republic’s reach doesn’t go too far past the Waste.”

    She shook her head and sat down on a nearby window sill. “You see how high security is around the city right now. If you’re armed, you’re dead. If you’re not, you’re dead. I don’t want you to get killed, Amir.”

    “I need—I want you to come with us.”

    “Are you serious? You really have lost it.”

    “No one can navigate around soldiers the way you can. Besides, aren’t you tired of getting fucked for a cot? Doing who knows what to get information? It’s not better than what would happen to you if they sent you to the Valley.”

    She didn’t argue. She had no problem using her sex to get what she wanted. All weapons were needed in the game they played. That truth didn’t hurt. “The difference is choice. My choice. I can show you how to get out without attracting attention from soldiers.”

    “You have to come. You’re like family.”

    “I’m not family material.”

    Amir laughed, probably the first time in days. “I didn’t say I was trying to knock you up.”

    “But you would if you could. And I’d have to shoot you for such a thing.”

    “Okay, seriously. Two weeks. That’s what I have left here. I’m taking my sister with me. There’s a storm in the Waste right now and I don’t want to starve to death because I can’t take off a gas mask. You need to come, too, Giselle. You’re not meant to end up dead in a ditch or some sex slave at the Valley. The rebel life gets old after a while, doesn’t it?”

    Wondering daily if that day was your last did wear on a person’s mind. That much she would agree with, but there was nothing outside of the city for them either. She’d tried to run alone before. It didn’t end well.

    So, she lied.

    “I’ll think it over. Two weeks is plenty to make a decision.”

    He nodded and looked back out the window, satisfied with her answer.

    Standing up to go back to the basement, she reached into her jacket pocket and pulled out the ring she’d stolen one of the dead Red Bars. She dropped it on the window sill in front of Amir. “Here, give that to your sister. Girls need pretty things in life and knives aren’t shiny enough.”

    He picked up the ring. “Says the woman who stole this from a dead man.”

    “Thought I could sell it.” She shrugged.

    ---

    Her thoughts were dark as she headed back to the basement. She’d lied to the one person she trusted with her life. Gave him false hope when there was none to be had. Surviving in these times meant doing things you didn’t want to or normally wouldn’t. She’d learned that lesson years ago, and she thought he had as well, but his priorities had changed now.

    And she didn’t blame him, but she wasn’t foolish enough

    Mumbled chanting could be heard when she reached the landing on the floor where Buck claimed his quarters. She looked down the hall to where he was kneeling before a small shrine to the Triplets he’d built when he wasn’t able to get to one of the sanctuaries.

    She didn’t trust religion, and much less, its followers. Religion destroyed the world before, and in the Waste and beyond the reach of the Republic where cults ran free, the dark days of yesteryear continued to reign supreme.

    The chanting stopped. “Your clouded mind disrupts my connection with the Sovereign. They wish to speak to you.”

    Buck stood and beckoned her towards the altar, pocked with candles and idols.

    She debated refusing. Trying to calm her mind with sleep if Rocco was in the mood to let her share the cot without her needing to uphold her end of that agreement. But the fiefdom’s peasants denying their lord may not have been wise if they wanted to keep a roof over their head and scraps of food in their bellies.

    She knelt in front of the altar. Felt nothing. No spiritual beings taking over her mind and soul. Instead, she just stared at the little figurines, no more significant than paper dolls or toy soldiers that the Capital’s residents were able to afford their children.

    Buck put his hands on her shoulders. “Do you remember when you first came to us? Your body was weak, but your mind likely much worse.”

    She remembered all too well. No matter how much she tried to blot those days from her memories, she would always remember.

    “The Gods foretold your arrival. Like many others before you and many others who will come after you. When a man is asked to shepherd one of the Gods’ flocks, he only accepts those who are sent to him and none who will jeopardize our fight against the godless in their towers of debauchery and evil.”

    Giselle fought the urge to cringe. The government officials were a lot of things, but she would hardly call them the only “godless fiends” in the world.

    “Make no mistake. This is our crusade until our dying day,” he continued, “The Gods demand we continue to press the fight against our oppressors. We have sat on our laurels for much too long with the advantages we have gained against the enemies of the Sovereign.”

    “What advantages? We got lucky twice. Surprised them both times and they turned tail and ran.” His hands tightened on her shoulders causing her to wince. Calling the Triplets’ word into question was a mistake.

    “There is no luck. Only what is written. And as it is written, ‘When the moon waxes anew, the Damned will be vanquished in the Land of the Forsaken by the Chosen Ones. Guided by the Her Grace, victory is assured.’ It has been prophesied. We must carry out Their will.” She felt Buck step back. “If you’ll excuse me, I wish to continue praying.”

    She stood up and left Buck to his babbling. She knew the passage, telling of a monumental battle in the “Land of the Forsaken.” And the lunar month would start over at the end of the week.

    Chills ran down her spine. Death was coming.

  8. #16
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    Enjoying so far, looking forward to chapter 11.

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  10. #17
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    Chapter 11

    Sweat beaded on the old Senator’s forehead and he adjusted his collar, then his tie. His hands shook as he leafed through the dossier that had been slapped down on his desk. The air was thick, making it difficult for him to breath, difficult for him to think.

    “I believe you would agree that it’s very disheartening to see a loved one in such a compromising position, Senator Taylor, and it would be terrible if I were forced to take action because of what’s in that folder.”

    The senator’s hands stilled. He glanced up at the colonel sitting opposite him. Behind him, his subordinates cut a vigilant watch. Their weapons in hand despite being in the nation’s most secure building. The two enlisted men wore balaclavas over their faces. A show of strength no doubt.

    “Colonel Austin, I know you have a job to do rotting out the terrorists, but I assure you that my daughter is no terrorist. She’s been involved with some boy from the Highland District and I am sure that’s where these accusations originate.” The man wiped at his brow, but a new stream of sweat sprung anew almost immediately.

    Mark leaned back and removed his cap, setting it on the senator’s desk. “If anything, you didn’t throw suspicion away from your daughter, but only gave me someone else I need to find and arrest for crimes against the Republic. It would surely be a black day should I have to haul in the family of Parliament’s majority leader.”

    A sneer coated Taylor’s face. He knew when he was being strong-armed. A long-time veteran of Parliament, Senator James Taylor was the leader of the country’s largest political party, the Republican Revolutionary Party.

    Hardly true revolutionists, the Revolutionaries’ aims matched those of the president’s – as did most of the Republic’s political parties. However, unlike their counterparts, the Revolutionaries’ had plenty in power who had skeletons in their closets and a penchant for demanding militarized responses to situations.

    Two things Mark needed.

    “And how exactly am I going to make this little dossier go away?” The senator shut the folder and placed a hand on top of it – protectively.

    “I’m afraid that’s not something I can do, Senator.”

    “Of course it is! What do you want? Money? How much?”

    “Justice and the safety of the Republic are not things money can buy. I do, however, have something else to show you before we continue our conversation.”

    Mark held up a gloved hand. Lieutenant Colonel Rollins reached into a briefcase and retrieved a stack of dossiers similar to the one the senator was holding. Retrieving the files from his second in command, the colonel placed them on the desk.

    “What’s that?” The old man’s face twitched.

    “Kill orders. For one hundred and eighty-seven family members of Revolutionaries’. As you may know, Protocol 732 has not been rescinded. I’m sure you are aware of my authority under that protocol, but as a refresher, it would be within my right to not only kill these one hundred and eighty-eight people including your daughter, but also their families as threats to the Republic.”

    Senator Taylor’s face grew red and he sprung up from his chair, sweeping the folders onto the floor. He was steps from flying at the colonel when the sound of safeties being switched off stopped him.

    “Sit down, Senator,” Lieutenant Colonel Rollins ordered, his pistol aimed at the politician’s chest. Defeated, the man slumped back down to the chair.

    Mark waved for his men to lower their weapons. “This doesn’t have to end in the death of good Republican citizens, Senator.”

    A cynical laugh crept from Taylor’s throat. “I’m more than aware of how the Red Bars handle terrorists and suspected terrorists.”

    “You wound me. We are only doing our duty. I can make this all go away. We’ll forget we ever had this conversation and I’ll destroy all the evidence implicating all these fine people as terrorists and rebels. I only need one thing in return. It won’t be nearly as painful.”

    Senator Taylor pondered his options. He was a well-respected Republican senator. Surely, there were people who had seen soldiers from the Harbinger’s Regiment walk, or rather storm, into his office with rifles hanging across their shoulders. It wasn’t the most normal occurrence for Parliamentary proceedings to have armed soldiers running about.

    But did he have any options? Saying no would result in the death of hundreds of people and agreeing could cast him in a bad light if word got out.

    The colonel, sensing the man’s hesitancy, leaned forward. “Senator, silver or lead?”

    “What is it?” Taylor wrung his hands together and looked at the clock. The next session would convene shortly.

    “A vote is all. I need you to suspend the Yost Accords.”

    “The agreement with the slum gangs and Waste gangs? Why would you need that suspended?”

    Mark shook his head. “That’s none of your business. I don’t recall you sitting on the Security Committee. What will it be? Suspend the Accords or we’ll be coming ‘round for dinner tonight at your villa.”

    “That takes a three-fourths vote!”

    “You’re resourceful and persuasive. Besides, your party makes up 30 percent of the chamber. You just need to get to 75.”

    “Fine. I’ll do it, but you better hold up your end of the bargain.”

    The colonel stood and put his cap back on, canted forward as usual and casting a deep shadow over his face. “Don’t worry. Jacey won’t be harmed. You have my word.”



    Colonel Austin and Lieutenant Colonel Rollins stood on the balcony overlooking Parliament’s main floor. Two sergeants of the 197th watched the entrances to the upper level of the building, their rifles poised threateningly over their chests.

    Unlike the regimented decorum of legislative bodies in past centuries, the Republic’s Parliament operated closer to what one would expect to find in a stock market. The floor was a pit where the senators bartered and brokered deals on the fly, shouting across the room to keep the various parties’ rank-and-file in line and voting the right way. Pseudo-democratic chaos.

    A screen hanging at the front of the room listed the bills put forth to be decided on. The Speaker sat at a dais under the screen and called for the votes. A running tally of the yays and nays was also on the screen. In times of intense discussion, the Speaker would relinquish his seat to allow for more formal arguments than the minor spats that happened in the pit.

    Mark kept his eyes on the balding senator in the middle of the Revolutionary Party’s pen. He could see the sweat on the man’s brow even from some distance.

    With his arms folded on the railing, Jerad Rollins scanned the room. Entrances and exits, a habit. “Do you think he’s going to be able to pull it off?”

    “He doesn’t have much of a choice in the matter. He knows what happens to pretty girls like his daughter that get sent to the Valley.”

    “If she makes it that far.”

    The colonel shrugged. His men were on strict orders to exterminate any citizen assumed to be aiding the insurgency. They’d made a handful of exceptions to gather information, but he doubted the senator’s daughter’s ability to provide information on bigger rebel cells. She wasn’t actually a rebel, just fucking someone who liked to play one. And he’d already been dealt with.

    “Have you spoken to Colonel Greene’s second-in-command?”

    Jerad nodded. “Actually, they let me in to see Greene himself. The fucking guy’s a piece of work. These Reg birds are beginning to think they are generals even though the rebels are kicking their ass all over the Republic.”

    “Let them get complacent. That’s a good thing for us. What’d he say?”

    “There’s an outpost that need resupplying some fifty klicks into the Waste and with that next big storm rolling in at the end of the week, they’ll need it brought to them or they’ll be stuck eating radioactive sand for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The Reg Bird said he wouldn’t mind an extra set of hands helping him.”

    “Good.”

    Mark’s plan was coming together. Colonel Andre Greene’s brigade of Republican Regulars was currently the only military personnel allowed to go into the Wasteland, and only to resupply the outposts and checkpoints. It’d be easier to convince the Commandant to allow the Harbinger’s Regiment to aide in a supply mission – Yost Accords or not.

    A bell rung down in the pit as the Speaker stood. An aide handed the aging man a sheet of paper and disappeared behind the raised stage.

    “New legislation has been proposed.” The man’s voice was gravelly and weathered. “The senator from Naper, Jacob Burton, wishes to repeal the Yost Accords.”

    A hush washed over the pit as the parties began to congregate, likely wondering why someone from Naper which was nowhere near the slums or the Waste would want to repeal something that ended the last rebellion.

    The Speaker coughed and wiped phlegm from his mouth. “As you all know, a proviso in the Yost Accords requires a three-fourths yay vote to be repealed. As the Speaker, I am not officially authorized to speak, but I will say that is a gross misjudgment of the current political climate to even debate repealing these peace negotiations.”

    The Revolutionaries fidgeted. Burton was one of theirs, of course.

    “This country will descend into chaos if the wrong decision is made today.” A wrinkled and pock-marked hand raised towards the pit, finger pointed in accusation. “We owe it to our people to vote correctly today. May the Gods be with us. The floor is open.”

    Before the old man had made the labored journey back to his chair, 188 yay votes appeared on the screen. The entire rank-and-file of the Revolutionary Party.

    Senator Taylor looked up to the balcony at the Red Bars. Mark tipped his cap.

    If chaos would find its way to the Republic, it had already begun in Parliament. The Revolutionaries spread out to convince their fellow senators to vote with them. The pacifists circled the wagons.

    Slowly, the votes ticked up in each column. A handful of yeses, more nos.

    The senator nervously glanced back up at the balcony.

    “Jerad, remind the senator of what he’s fighting for here,” the colonel said.

    Rollins smiled, pulled out his pistol and dropped the magazine before racking the slide and letting the chambered round fall to the floor. He picked it up, threw it in the senator’s general direction and mouthed “For your daughter.”

    The bullet was lost in the sea of bodies, but Senator Taylor got the message. He ran to the Speaker’s dais and demanded the floor.

    The old man stood and shuffled to the podium and a bell tolled. “The senator from Blue Ridge, James Taylor, wishes to speak on the matter at hand. You have the floor, Senator Taylor.”

    “Ladies and gentlemen, I understand what the Yost Accords have brought to our country. I was one of the first signatories. At that time, it was better for everyone to stay in their corners. We face a new threat now. Using our refusal to send the military into certain parts of the country, terrorists have sprung up and are attacking our people. And like the cowards they are, they retreat into the slums and the wasteland to escape justice!”

    “Justice isn’t yours to met out, Taylor! That is for the Sovereign to decide!” another senator shouted.

    “You can sit on your hands, Smith, but I refuse!” Taylor wiped sweat away from his head and unbuttoned his shirt’s collar. “The terrorists intend to invade the Capital and cause anarchy! They intend to come into your homes, where you sleep and raise your children, and murder you all in cold blood. Wastelanders have joined these organizations. The same Wastelanders who were run out of our cities all those years ago because they would rape our women and children, steal our food and burn our buildings. It may not be you today, but if we do not allow our soldiers to protect us, one day it will be. Chaos is already here. Don’t let it come to your homes! Think of your sons, daughters and grandchildren. Repeal this act and repeal it now!”

    Taylor stepped away from the dais and went back to the pit. The votes continued to roll in, 400 senators already having weighed in on the matter and the initial deluge of votes had slowed to a trickle. Thanks to the initial 188 yays, the vote was still passing.

    “He’s eloquent if nothing else,” Jerad said.

    The colonel’s eyes were on the screen.

    “How many is three-fourths, anyway?” his second-in-command asked.

    “468.” Two hundred and seventy-eight had voted to repeal the Accords so far. Fortunately, Republican senators weren’t allowed to abstain or miss a vote. All 625 votes would be cast one way or the other.

    The soldiers watched the yay count tick up over 450 and then 460. Taylor was down on the floor selling himself like a common whore to get the votes. He’d never be able to recover from all the promises he was likely making to other party leaders to get their backing.

    Yes number 468 came from a certain Edgar Leopold from Pitman. Another bell tolled and the Speaker rose to his feet, his face grim as he took his place at the podium.

    “Seventy-five percent of Parliament has voted to repeal the Yost Accords. Please finish voting.” The elderly man hacked through a coughing fit. An aide rushed up with a glass of water which the man pushed away before turning back to the microphone. “Let it be known than 468 men and women voted to potentially plunge this country back into war. The repercussions of our decision today will be felt by the Republic for generations. The Harbinger must have saddled up his army.”

    Colonel Austin smiled and turned to leave, his subordinates in lock step behind him. The Speaker’s last words were poetic. In the Books, it said that the Harbinger would bring about the end times as he led an army of faceless men through cities and towns the world over. A hundred years of death and destruction would follow until the Judge decided that the world had been cleansed and the Sovereign’s grace would rebuild.

    “What’s the next move, Colonel?” Jerad asked as they stepped out of the building.

    “I’m going see Greene and offer our services for his supply mission. You need to take Second Battalion to Blue Ridge. A certain senator is harboring rebels.”

    The lieutenant colonel couldn’t help the giddy bloodlust that overtook him. “And my orders?” He already knew the answer.

    “Kill them all.”

    “Yes, sir. With pleasure, sir.”
    Last edited by Caesar; 03-13-2017 at 1:38 AM.

  11. #18
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    Chapter 12

    Rain fell from the sky in stinging sheets, turning the street into glistening streams of grime and oil left behind from passing vehicles. People scurrying about with their heads down under umbrellas, ducking from one storefront to another to limit their time in the rain. And for once, something had forced the soldiers off the streets and into the huts near the checkpoints.

    Giselle pulled her jacket closer around her neck and held an umbrella a little lower in an attempt to blend in with the crowd. This district was known for its loyalty to the government, a plethora of people who would rather not bite the hand that fed them. The slightest indiscretion would have most people calling for Metro and that would only serve to complicate matters.

    Scanning the walls of the buildings as she was moved down the street with the throngs of citizens, she spotted chalk markings on one corner. Three lines that were randomly etched into a crevice. Random enough to be spotted, but indescript enough to be missed by anyone who wasn't looking for them.

    She turned into a dimly lit alley. A figure waited at the end. Even from a distance she could make out the fatigues of a Republican regular. The man lifted a bent cigarette to his lips and cursed when he ventured too far forward and the rain extinguished the burning stick of paper, tobacco and any number of chemicals people mixed into their cigarettes these days.

    He tipped his cap towards her when she was close enough to make out his face. His skin was weathered and scarred on his neck. He looked behind her down the alley before moving around so his back was to the opening. "Pleasant day for a stroll isn't it, ma'am?"

    "It certainly is, private. I don't remember the sun shining like this in some time."

    The man laughed, a hearty bellow from deep in his belly. "I believe the code had something to do with snow, not the fucking sun."

    "Well, I don't think either of us were planning for rain for this. I don't recall you being a soothsayer, Chewy," Giselle said. She gestured to the uniform. "Do I even want to know what happened to the poor soul that you took that from?"

    "Same thing that happens to them all, I guess." He shrugged, but a small smile played at his lips. “I’m too identifiable to just go waltzing through checkpoints. I can’t do the wig thing you do. Blonde doesn’t suit you, by the way."

    "Maybe it's time for you to move to the outskirts of the city like the rest of us."

    "Is that your way of telling me that you're finally going to put down Buck and Rocco and come shack up with me on some nice farm out on the other side of the Waste, Giselle? I'll have you know that not even you could make an honest man out of me." Chewy let out that laugh again, but soon began coughing, hacking up a yellowed mass of phlegm.

    The man known as Chewy to the rebels, or Thomas Chu to the government, was the Resistance's ghost. He could get to information that most others couldn't. No one knew how and most didn't ask too many questions. He'd spent time in a "re-education camp" where he ended up with a scarred body that belied his age.

    He and Giselle had a thing once or twice. Heat of the moment. Emotions got in the way of business and they both knew they were on borrowed time as the war between the resistance and the government began to heat up.

    "Do you have the information Buck wanted?"

    "Right." He started patting on pockets and smiled. "Can't really be too sure where I put it. Surprisingly, these fucking things have more pockets than you know what to do with. It's like they think soldiers have to carry all their possessions on them all the time."

    "Next time, steal a uniform from Metro. They have fewer pockets."

    "Why do I feel like you know that from experience? Don't answer that." He reached into a pocket inside the jacket, pulled out an envelope and held it out to her. "Do you know what this is?"

    She shook her head. "How do the soldiers say it? That's above my pay grade. I'm just the one coming get it from you and bringing it back to Buck."

    "Are you sure you don't want to look at it?"

    "You know I never look at the shit I get from you. It's irrelevant. I'm not going to have a change of heart and throw it away. You working for them now?"

    His hand tightened on the envelope and he pulled it back. "You fucking know I'd rather slit my wrists than work for the scum. It's just that this wasn't easy to come across and this might be some make or break type shit. The whole resistance could hinge on what's in here."

    "Again, that's not my problem. I'm just following orders and getting that from Point A to Point B. Now, if you don't mind." She held her hand out.

    "Don't say I didn't warn you."

    "Hey! What are you two doing back here?!"

    Chewy took a step to the side as two soldiers walked down the alley towards them. When they were close enough, Giselle could see the lustful glare in their eyes. Someone surely made note of her cutting down the alley and reported it to the soldiers. And a woman alone in an alley with a Republican soldier wasn't exactly a place most women wanted to be.

    "Just giving her directions," Chewy said as he handed her the envelope and forced her hand down, "If you turn back and go a couple blocks down, the grocery will be on the corner. Have a good day, ma'am."

    One of the soldiers stepped forward. A scraggly beard covered his face, black and oily hair stuck out in all directions from under his cap. The markings of a sergeant adorned his jacket's lapels.

    "Not so fast. You don't think she would like an escort down that way. It would be terribly unprofessional of us to just let a woman walk by herself in this weather. Who knows what could?”

    Giselle’s hand inched towards the pistol her waistband, but Chewy caught her wrist and shook his head. They were outgunned with the two soldiers holding their rifles at the ready, but she wouldn’t go alive and she didn’t intend for it to keep going down the path she assumed it was heading.

    The second soldier waved his rifle at her. “Come on now. You know it’s better to share. Give us a little twirl, why don’t ya?”

    “Fuck off, scum.” She spat on his boots.

    “That’s off to the Valley for you, missy,” the sergeant said with a mocking chuckle, “You can’t just be going around assaulting the President’s soldiers with your bodily fluids. We don’t know what hole you crawled out of. Detain her, private.”

    Chewy looked at her and smiled, a tight-lipped grimace that marred his already beaten skin. He nodded to the sergeant and reached behind his back.

    Everything happened in an instant. Chewy pulled a pistol from the holster on his hip and leveled it at the sergeant, but the second soldier reacted quick and sprayed the rebel with a burst from his rifle. Chewy hit the ground, clutching at his neck where the bullets ripped through his throat.

    “What the fuck did you do, Stone?!” the sergeant yelled, smacking the rifle down.

    “He drew his fucking sidearm!”

    “To arrest her! You’re going to get us fucking court-martialed. I have to call this in.”

    Giselle ignored their frantic argument and stared at her dying comrade. He was a man to his word, preferring death over helping the Republic.

    She looked at the soldier who’d killed him, muttering to himself as he paced between the walls of the alley. The sergeant shouted into his radio, calling for medics. Neither of them were watching her.

    Slowly, she reached behind her back for the pistol that was hidden beneath her jacket. She aimed at the first soldier’s head and pulled the trigger. His face exploded into a cascade of blood, bone and brain.

    The sergeant looked back in time to see her aim the pistol at him and ended his life as well. Then she ran.

    Pushing through the crowd, she darted out in front of a military truck. The soldiers cursed her and ordered her to stop, but instead she fired blindly in their direction before running into a bakery on the opposite side of the avenue. A hail of automatic rifle fire from the soldiers sent the patrons to the floor. Some screaming, others crying out in pain.

    She cut through the kitchen and out of the building through the loading dock, finding herself in another alley.

    Her boots pounded the pavement as she pushed herself forward, but the soldiers were getting closer. She could hear their heavy footfalls, their commands to one another. They’d soon be close enough that any farm boy could drop her with a burst from his rifle.

    The alley turned and became wider, the backs of newer buildings facing banks of windows. A likely result of too fast construction. Her muscles screamed for relief and she could feel her body slowing down. The soldiers were gaining on her. What sounded like a stampede echoed off the brick walls, but she didn’t dare glance back behind.

    “Stop or we’ll shoot!”

    She willed her legs to keep moving even as her lungs felt as if they would explode at any second. Her heart thumped loudly in her ears, but it almost stopped when she saw a dead end looming ahead of her.

    Without thinking, angled her run towards one wall before turning head on with the nearest row of windows. She threw her body at the glass, arms covering her face. The panes shattered, cutting her at her body like thousands of needles. And she fell onto a tile floor of an apartment’s kitchen.

    Scrambling on her hands and knees, she was back on her feet in a flash and running again. The loud thuds of the soldiers kicking at the back door spurned her through the living space and towards the front door.

    She threw the door open and stumbled into a hallway, the entryway to the street in front of her and a staircase to her left. Sirens backed her into the hall, but she heard the soldiers coming through the apartment. Swinging her arm around, she fired back through the door. Objects crashed to the floor as the soldiers dove for cover.

    Up the stairs she went, bullets peppering the wall where she was only seconds before.

    “Fucking stop!” came an order from below. “You’re outgunned!”

    “Just shoot that crazy bitch!”

    More bullets cracked into the bannister and boots followed her up. She went up four flights before coming to the roof exit. She shoulder-barged the door open and almost slipped on the wet gravel. As she caught her footing, she caught her first glimpse of the soldiers. Regulars. Probably a checkpoint squad. No wonder they couldn’t hadn’t shot her. Yet.

    Not wasting time to critique their shooting, she looked for a way out. She ran to the edge of the building, but the fire escape was rusted through.

    “Gotcha, bitch! Drop the gun! You have nowhere to go!”

    She turned to see the soldiers had made it up to the roof, their rifles trained on her. Her eyes darted around. She couldn’t shoot it out with them. Glancing over her shoulder, she saw the next building was shorter. She walked towards them, her hands up. When she felt she had enough room, she turned and sprinted towards the edge of the building and jumped.

    All at once, she crumpled onto the next building’s roof. Her ankle rolled under her as she hit the gravel. Pushing through the pain, she got to her feet and ran, or limped as fast as possible to the edge of the building. Just as she swung over the ledge to the fire escape, the soldiers began shooting at her.

    Dropping down to the next floor, she slipped into an open window. A child’s room. All pink and ponies. She looked down as saw a wide-eyed, blonde girl staring back at her. Then the child screamed.

    Seconds later, what Giselle assumed to be the girl’s mother burst into the room.

    “What are you…”

    Giselle lifted the pistol. “Shut the kid up.” Her voice was ragged. “Now, or I’ll kill her.”

    The woman ran over to her child and shushed her. She looked up at the bloodied, ragged woman with a gun trained on her and shrunk back. “We don’t have much money. You can have it all.”

    Giselle reached behind her and shut the window. “Out the room.” She waved the gun to drive her point across.

    The mother picked up her child, hiding her face in her shoulder and backed out of the room. Giselle followed behind, shutting the door behind her. She saw a bathroom to their right.

    “Put your daughter in there,” Giselle commanded.

    The woman did as she was told despite the little girl’s protests. She quietly closed the door and seemed to steel herself before turning back. “Now what? You kill me?”

    Giselle looked at the woman’s attire. A turtleneck sweater and jeans. She was well-off. Around her size, too.

    “Take off your clothes.”

    “Wha—“

    “Now.”

    “This is—“

    “I can shoot you and take them anyway. Let’s do this the easy way.”

    Tears formed in the woman’s eyes as she did as she was told. Taking a couple steps back and keeping the gun trained on the woman, Giselle kicked off her boots and made a labored attempt to do the same with a bum ankle and a gun in one hand.

    The woman gasped after Giselle had pulled her shirt off.

    A genuine, motherly look of concern on her face despite the predicament of standing in her underwear with a strange woman in similar state of undress. “Those scars….”

    “In the bathroom, lady.” Her voice was hard now. The woman didn’t move fast enough so Giselle moved forward and gave her a shove towards the door, the gun at her forehead. “In the fucking bathroom. Lock the door. You and your daughter count to 10,000 before coming out. If I hear the door unlock, I’m shooting.”

    The woman nodded, tears running down her cheeks. Giselle shoved her into the room and pulled the door shut. A tiny click told her the woman did as she was told.

    Putting the gun down, she hurriedly dressed in the woman’s clothes, a bit too snug and much too ritzy for her liking, then put her boots back on. She put the pistol in her waistband, grabbed the envelope from her discarded jacket and limped down the stairs. Finding the kitchen, she did her best to clean her face. Fortunately, the sweater was dark so she wouldn’t have to worry about any random blood being seen. She threw the wig on the table and shook out her hair.

    As she was leaving the house, she stopped and picked up a picture frame of the happy family’s home she was in. All smiling at some park, ice cream cones in hand. Shaking her head, she tossed it on the floor and left.

    ---

    Amir jolted out of his sleep as loud knocking rapped against the door beside him. He reached down and picked up his rifle and waited. Then he heard the code: three solid knocks, five quick knocks, two spaced out knocks.

    He stood up and looked out the peephole, almost expecting to be shot. Relief overcame his body as he pulled the door open where Giselle was standing on the other side.

    “There’s fucking scum all over. Where the fuck have you been? I thought you said the drop was twenty minutes away?”

    She pushed him aside as she limped into the safe house. Without the adrenaline of the chase, her ankle had begun throbbing with pain. “Chewy’s dead. I shot a couple of soldiers and had to run. It took me a while to find my way back here.”

    Amir remained silent for a second, out of respect for Chewy. While he hadn’t known him personally, he felt a kinship to all the rebels. Then he gestured to Giselle’s pilfered turtleneck. “And at what point in this did you start dressing like a senator’s wife?”

    She chose to ignore the question. She felt some regret for what she did to those people, but survival made it necessary. “Where’s Kenny and Smith?”

    “Out scrounging up some grub.”

    “You didn’t think that was too risky?”

    “It would’ve been if we were leaving here tonight like originally planned.”

    “What are you talking about?”

    “Buck told me when we were leaving that they’d pick us up from here in a few days. Said the Gods didn’t think it would be safe for us to go back to the Capital now.”

    Giselle sighed. Resigned to the fact they’d be holed up in the two room safe house for a while. She turned to Amir. “You left your sister back in the Slums alone for days without a fight?”

    “Fuck no. She’s in the other room. Told her to leave before us and went back and got her after we dropped you off outside the checkpoints.”

    “You’ll have to leave her behind when we go to the Waste.”

    “Who said anything about the Waste?”

    “The Gods, of course,” she said, sarcasm painting her voice. She nodded towards the adjoining room. “I’m going to get some rest.”

    “Don’t sleep too long. You have next watch or will we have your bodyguards at Parliament do that, m’lady?”

    “Fuck off.”

  12. #19
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    Chapter 13

    Centuries ago, humanity decided to attempt to end itself. Wars spiraled out of control, fueled by religion and xenophobia. The arms races of yesteryear resumed with each country developing bigger, better, deadlier weapons. And then they used them. Cities were vaporized. Large swaths of land were turned into radioactive wastelands to prevent forward thrusts from enemy armies… or prevent the retreat of those same armies when more bombs fell.

    As nations fell, they sent death knell salvos of ordinance to their enemies’ doorsteps. Civilization as it was known ceased to exist. A new way of life was birthed from Armageddon.

    The Waste was once one of those buffer zones. One which from which the Republic was forged. Over time, the Waste had become inhabitable once more if one had the means and wherewithal to survive the deadly storms that swept through the barren lands, dumping radioactive rain across the desert landscape.

    People lived by different rules there. Cults and outlaw gangs ruled the day, with the Republic’s blessing for the most part. Those brave enough, or stupid enough depending on who was asked, to go it alone usually ended up dead.

    Men feared the Waste, and rightfully so. But there were men who deserved to be feared more even in the desolate and unforgiving fringe of civilization.

    Colonel Austin stood in the loading bay of the Republican base, Fort Hollow, his hands clasped behind his back as he watched his soldiers unload supplies from trucks. Their faces covered by the balaclavas as he ordered and gas masks hanging at their waists in case a storm brewed up unexpectedly.

    The regulars were uncomfortable. He could smell the fear. Some of them fumbled with boxes as they passed the masked Red Bars. Others busied themselves outside repairing battlements and cleaning equipment.

    Colonel Andre Greene stepped to his side. A man much older than Mark, he didn’t cut the same figure as Republican officers in the Capital. With the frequency of attacks on Republican installations in the Waste, the Colonel likely had to pick up a rifle and man the walls with his men.

    “You think it’s necessary your boys walk around like they are going into battle, Mark? That can’t possibly be the most comfortable way to work out here,” Greene said, wiping at his brow for effect.

    “Better prepared than dead. I don’t have an endless supply of men.”

    “Isn’t the whole ski mask thing a scare tactic though? Playing on old grandmothers’ fear of the Harbinger and his faceless hordes?”

    Mark pointed to a private who tripped over his own boots as he attempted to scramble out of the way of two Red Bars. “Consistency is necessary for ‘scare tactics.’ That one is going to go tell his precious ‘grams’ that the rumors are all true.”

    “We’re all on the same side here though, right?” Greene guffawed and smacked his fellow officer on the shoulder. When he noticed the laughter wasn’t mutual, he faked a cough. “Right? I don’t think any of my men are harboring dangerous sympathies.”

    Colonel Austin gave the man a tight smile. “That’s right. The same side. Giving our lives for the defense of the Republic and the President.”

    “I hear that aim is getting particularly difficult in the Capital. That’s why I was surprised when the President’s personal death squad was sent out here to the middle of Nukeville to help with a resupply mission. Believe me, I appreciate the extra hands if we get attacked, but it doesn’t make much sense.”

    “I believe the phrase that is used in situations like this is ‘above my pay grade.’ Though I think the Presidential Guard will have something to say about you calling the 197th, the President’s ‘death squad.’ Our mission is root out the insurgency.”

    “A lot of good people have died because of the 197th and the Commandant’s protocols.”

    “You’re toeing into those dangerous sympathies, Colonel. Need I remind you that we don’t destroy cells of old women knitting sweaters?”

    Greene held up his hands. “Let’s chalk that up as a misunderstanding. I just think we all could use some restrain. Someone could point the finger at you or me as trying to topple the presidency and the next thing you know someone will be kicking in our doors and laying down enough fire to take down an entire battalion. Investigations don’t hurt anyone, right?”

    “I’ll let you know when I require advice on how to command my unit.” Mark turned to the man. “I’ll have to take my leave. I have some ‘investigations’ to see to. Lieutenant Colonel Rollins will see to it that all the supplies are unloaded and my men will assist in the watch rotation.”

    “Thank you, Colonel.”

    Colonel Austin tipped his cap. “No. Thank you, Colonel. I’ll see you at sun up to organize any plans should we be attacked.”

    ---

    The wind shrieked like a banshee, kicking up the sand into a violent blizzard of grit and dirt. The sound of shovel smacking against the metal walls of the fort hidden by the storm that brewed overhead. Pairs of soldiers carried crates out of the camp and to the wall. Gas masks had replaced the balaclavas that they wore only hours before nightfall.

    Lieutenant Colonel Rollins grabbed the nearest man and drew him close, raising his voice to be heard through the mask and over the wind. He pointed to the ditch they’d made. “Make sure that’s flat. The storm will do the bulk of the work, but it can’t be too obvious.”

    The soldier nodded and hustled off to relay the order.

    The camp’s sentries had retreated into the guard houses, afraid of the storm which was predicted to be a particularly nasty one. The lieutenant colonel didn’t mind. Even the most inquisitive man’s curiosity would’ve been cowed by rank, or death. This just made the job easier and less bloody.

    As the crates were placed in the trench, wires were run between them and connected to one placed in the middle of the row.

    Rollins pulled a remote from his jacket, wires hanging freely from the bottom. He flicked a series of switches and a green light appeared on the top. He pushed a button and the light began flashing slowly at first before picking up pace then turning red.

    “Kaboom,” he muttered to himself.

    Pushing the remote back into his pocket, he signaled for the soldiers to pick up the pace.

    He looked up into the angry night’s sky through the smudged lens of his gas mask. Large bolts of lightning streaked the sky and black clouds whipped around in circles. Old priests said the Gods were at their angriest in the Waste, attempting to rid of the world of heretics who led cults and heathens who peddled violence to the Godless.

    If the Gods were watching, the Republican officer squared his shoulders defiantly. No make-believe deity would make him shrink away from victory.

    ---

    Colonel Austin sat at the desk in his assigned quarters, curtains drawn and working by a single light above the desk. The pen in his hand moved quickly across sheets of paper topped with the Republican Army’s seal. Stationary for desk jockeys who’d never been in a gunfight, but were all too willing to send communiques reprimanding those who had been for doing their duty as soldiers.

    His nerves were frayed; from lack of sleep, from constant planning, from the mission at hand or a combination of the three.

    A pistol lay within arm’s reach and his rifle was leaned against the wall, both were loaded and ready to fire. Outside the door, two privates stood guard. Only one man would be allowed in until the sun rose. Anyone else was to be shoot where they stood under his orders.

    In the barracks below, the regiment was in a state of heightened readiness. Sleep would come in shifts so only a fourth of them were not combat ready at any given time.

    The plan would have to be enacted in a moment’s notice. The regulars were being purposefully kept in the dark. Mark had given his soldiers strict orders to not speak to their counterparts and to ignore all orders from the Reg Officers unless the camp was attacked.

    His writing hand stilled only for the other to begin tapping against the desk. A thought formulated in his mind and he began writing again. He flipped the scribbled mess from one stack to the next, pages piling up and sliding from the top.

    He needed just cause to go into the slums. That’s where they were hiding, the ones who had been scoring so many victories against the Republican Army. His informants had confirmed it. For now, he was handcuffed. They’d come out, strike and slink back into the dredges of society. The trap was waiting for them this time.

    Lives would have to be lost for the sake of the mission. For his plan to work, soldiers would have to be sent home to their parents in boxes to be cremated. They’d be given a piece of tin to honor their service to their country, having given the greatest sacrifice. Mothers would mourn and fathers would be angry. The President would have to take action. Have to bring the fight to the rebels.

    There was too much hope in the resistance. They felt like they were winning. The poor were flocking to the banner, holding them up as heroes. Complacency would come next. The insurgents would forget they were outnumbered, outgunned and at a tactical disadvantage then he would crush them beneath his boot like the roaches they were.

    It was the warrior’s way. Kill or be killed. Some in the Republican Army had forgotten that.

    The door creaked open and he instinctively he reached for the pistol, but one of the privates quickly announced himself.

    “Colonel, Lieutenant Colonel Rollins is here.”

    Mark retracted his hand. “Let him in.”

    The crunch of sand beneath his boots announced Jerad’s entrance into the room before he shut the door behind him.

    “Job’s done out at the walls,” the lieutenant colonel said.

    Mark stabbed a period at the end of a sentence, stacked and straightened the pages and held it up over his shoulder. Without a word, Jerad took it from him and began reading. He flipped through the pages, skimming the words.

    “Sounds like a perfectly good admission of treason to me.” Jerad handed the stack back to his commanding officer. “The burden is on the accused to prove they didn’t commit treason anyway and in this case—”

    “The accused will be dead,” Mark finished.

    “Taking the coward’s way out with suicide. Wandering off into the Waste with a busted mask to try to save some face by at least showing he suffered for his crimes against the Republic.”

    The colonel looked up at the ceiling, his hands resting on his stomach. “I hear that it is a terrible way to go. Slow and painful to die in a storm out here.” He waved a hand in the direction of the end table. “Get the envelope from there so I can sign this.”

    Jerad retrieved the envelope, another piece of stationery marked with the Army’s seal, from the end table and placed it on the desk.

    Mark pulled a letter to a fallen soldier’s family from the envelope and flattened it. He read aloud as he wrote. “I certify that everything I have written above was done so with clear mind and spirit, under no duress and with the Gods as my witness. The shame I have caused my country can never be undone and my family will feel my mistakes for centuries to come. I have sullied the name of the Republican military and the seal of the President. I hereby confess to treason and accept my sentence of death. Signed, Colonel Andre Greene, 14th Expeditionary Force, 6th Infantry Brigade.”

    “Traitors deserve a torturous death. May the Gods grant him their justice,” Jerad said.

    “The Gods shall have their justice,” Mark nodded. One dead bird would be the offering for the Gods to send their justice to the doorstep of the rebel factions.

  13. #20
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    Chapter 14

    Two days had passed and she couldn’t get the look on that little girl’s face out of her mind. Innocence was a rare trait in the world. Even rarer in the Capital. That child would never forget the look of fear on her mother’s face as Giselle pointed a gun at them. There wouldn’t be any idyllic family strolls in the park anytime soon without the both of them looking over their shoulders, flinching whenever someone reached into their pocket.

    Lying on a cot in the safe house, staring at the ceiling, she replayed her escape from the soldiers to the point of obsession.

    She’d done what she had to do; that much she’d come to terms with. And her threats were honest and real. She would’ve shot the woman if it was required. They were on the other side. The side of the Republic. This was a war and everyone was a combatant or aided the combatants. Giselle was sure that the woman’s husband was likely a high-ranking soldier or someone of importance. The clothes smelled of an account full of credits.

    Yet, she still saw the fear-stricken, cherubic face of a child who couldn’t have seen much more than three or four years in the world.

    No matter how she tried to steel herself, the child reminded her of the fear she felt all those years ago when they came for her.

    Absent-mindedly, she ran her hand over her abdomen. She traced the rises of the scars that lay beneath the shirt, paths she knew well. There were others etched on her back. Souvenirs for escaping. Reminders of the night it all ended.

    ---

    Seven years ago

    The sound of wood splintering and her mother screaming rose up the stairs. Jumping to her feet, she darted from her room and bounded down the stairs two at a time. A dozen soldiers, rifles at the ready, greeted her when she reached the bottom. She made a move to run back upstairs, but two of the soldiers grabbed her arms and forced her to the floor.

    Her father had been forced to his knees. A gun a pressed to his head. Nearby, her mother lay on the floor sobbing.

    “Please don’t hurt my daughter, Charles,” her father said to the soldier in charge, a lieutenant judging by the silver bar on his lapel. His voice was quiet, weak. She’d never heard him sound so meek.

    “Senator Meunier, I am placing your family under arrest for aiding and encouraging acts of sedition against the Republic. I am sure a man of your standing understands how serious of a charge this is,” the lieutenant said.

    “You have no proof!”

    “Are you calling the President a liar, Senator? We received a tip from a citizen that you have been advocating some pretty radical ideals. Ideals that would topple the very fabric of our democracy. That is treason, sir.”

    Her father’s head dropped. “Can’t you leave my wife and daughter out of this? I beg of you.”

    “You know that’s not an option. They will have their days in court. Because you are an elected official, I will tell you that while I don’t know what will happen to your wife, your daughter has a cot waiting for her at the Valley.”

    Her eyes grew wide with fear at the mention of Iron Valley. She struggled to get free, but a muscled forearm wrapped around her neck, holding her in place as handcuffs were slapped onto her wrists. She’d rather them kill her.

    She could see the resignation in her parents’ eyes. Her father cowed. Her mother sobbed quietly as they lifted her to her feet and handcuffed her. She wanted them to fight. To demand their freedom. To die on their feet if that was the only option.

    “Take them outside,” the lieutenant ordered.

    The family was herded out of their home. A crowd had gathered on the street, held back by Metro officers. She and her mother were pushed against the military trucks parked on their well-manicured yard.

    Her father was stood against a garden wall as six soldiers lined up facing him. The lieutenant stood next to his charges, his hands behind his back.

    “Senator Thomas Meunier, under direct command of the Commandant of the Republican Army Aaron Hutchinson, I have been ordered to carry out your execution for the crime of treason against the Republic. May the Gods have mercy on your soul and shall the Sovereign grant you absolution,” the lieutenant said. His voice wavered on boredom at the task.

    She opened her mouth to scream, but no sound came out. The crowd was silenced by the deafening crack of the rifle fire.

    The lieutenant spit in the direction of her father’s body before turning on his heels and stalking towards the trucks. He eyed her as he approached. A lecherous smile crept across his face as he stopped in front of her.

    He leaned close and whispered, “I can’t wait until you’re processed at the Valley. Can’t say I’ve had ever had the pleasure of fucking a senator’s daughter before.”

    ---

    His name was Charles Duncan.
    A lieutenant in a random battalion of Republican soldiers. He made good on his promise to not be able to wait. It would be the cause of his death. He was the first man she’d killed. The only one with a name. The only one with a face.

    The thump of approaching boots had her reaching for the pistol on a nearby chair.

    “It’s your watch, Giselle,” a voice called from a cot closer to the door.

    She sat up and saw Kenny nod out of the door. Tall and lanky, Kenny was one of the least intimidating men she’d stumbled across. Likely a few years younger than her, he’d been fighting in the resistance for quite a while before she found herself a part of Buck’s group. Gossip was that his dissident ways began in the training fields of the Republic Army. A wash out turned rebel. No one was sure. She didn’t push and he didn’t push her for her story.

    Swinging her legs off the cot, she’d chalk up her almost shooting him to survival instinct. Forgetting that she was in a safe house with a number of friendly guns laying around.

    She shoved her feet into the boots next to the cot and picked up the pistol. She checked the magazine to ensure there were bullets in the gun. Navigating the maze of rucksacks and cots, she made her way to her post near the front door for the next handful of hours.

    Rose sat at the table in what would’ve been the apartment’s kitchen, staring out the only uncovered window. It faced into an alley, but she looked out of it nonetheless.

    Some moonlight filtered in, bathing the floor in the soft glow cast by the celestial watchman. Giselle filled a pair of cups with water from the sink, placing one in front of Rose as she took the seat opposite her. She set the pistol on the chair next to her.

    “It’s hard to sleep here.” Rose’s voice was quiet and soft. Like a wisp of sound dancing on the air. “There’s nowhere to run.”

    Giselle said nothing. Running wouldn’t be an option if they were found. They’d have to fight and die.

    “You can sense the fear. Not knowing if you’re going to die tomorrow. It was the same at the houses,” she continued, referring to the pleasure dens the army set up, “The soldiers, most of them, they come in and they are afraid. Ashamed of what they’ve done. They would cry sometimes. Scream for their mothers’ forgiveness in their sleep. Tell you how they didn’t want to die alone on some street far away from home.”

    “They’re all somebody’s son. The son of some farmer, of some politician, of some other soldier, of someone. They’re all away from home. This is war.” Giselle would not feel sorry for them. She refused. They’d made their choice as she had hers.

    Rose nodded and wrapped her fingers around the cup, but left it on the table. “I’m not a fighter like you. Not like Amir. I don’t understand viewing anyone as the ‘enemy’ regardless of what was done to me. I don’t understand living to die, but I understand wanting to survive. Survive this world. This war as you call it. Do you honestly believe that you will see the end of it?”

    “No.”

    “Are you looking to die?”

    Again. “No.” Perhaps a lie.

    The girl turned towards her for the first time since she’d walked into the room. “So, what are you fighting for? Justice? Revenge?”

    Giselle shook her head. “Same as anyone else. To survive to the next morning.”

    “Can I ask how’d you end up here?”

    “The same story as everyone else,” she lied. A part of her was ashamed of her background. “The soldiers came one day, picked my family up, killed my father, disappeared my mother, and sent me to Iron Valley. Someone got sloppy and I got away.”

    She left out the part about wandering into the Waste, bloodied and beaten with the lieutenant’s service pistol.

    “I was only at Iron Valley for a few weeks then I was transferred to Blood River.” Rose looked back out of the window. Blood River was a much gentler detention center compared to Iron Valley – if gentle could be a word applied to how the Republic treated women they’d detained. “I was shipped out to the houses pretty quickly after that.”

    Giselle looked down at the somewhat cloudy water in her cup. The Republican golden standard of sanitation for enough below the faux royalty – clean enough. She once had water that was clear coming from kitchen faucets.

    “The soldiers who were there that day we found you; the ones with the red bars on their collars. Did they also speak of their fear of death? Their fear that they would never see mama again?” the rebel asked.

    “I only spoke to one. He seemed to be in charge. Younger than the others with the fancy star pins on their uniforms.”

    “Officers like to get their jollies just the same.”

    “He didn’t seem too interest in that. He was looking for information from that senator. He wasn’t like the ones I’d seen before. This one was unstable. We only spoke briefly, but his mood was all over the place. It was a bit frightening. Even the rough soldiers stick to one mood.”

    A young, unstable officer was not out of the ordinary in Giselle’s experience. One who fought with his charges was. Being an officer in the army was political. She’d known many aspiring young officers in her past life. Few of them had any aspirations of doing the killing and dying didn’t look good when you were trying to garner support. It added another level of mystique to this “Gold Stars.”

    “They are the President’s pet death squad. Hunting rebels across the Republic to bring us to heel. It’s nothing new, stamping out dissent, but they are a new tactic,” Giselle said.

    “Something big is coming. Something terrible. I can feel it.” Rose’s voice dropped a few decibels as she spoke. “There’s tension in the air in the streets. Everyone’s on edge.”

    The rebel laughed. “I’ve never been the religious sort, but doesn’t the Sovereign decide when we’re all going to die?”

    “I believe you’re mistaking the Sovereign for the Harbinger.”

    “I’ll keep that in mind.”

    Rose stood from the table and turned towards the adjoining room with the half dozen cots lining the walls. Before she left the kitchen, she turned slightly back towards Giselle. “For my brother, be careful. Whatever happens. He wouldn’t forgive himself if you died in this.”

    She nodded, hearing the love for her sibling in Rose’s voice. “I’ll be careful.”

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