My body felt drugged and uncooperative, but Husk was there to guide me, as we were about twenty feet from the only way out, that’s when the coal mine finally started to close in on itself.
I was immediately struck with a large stone to the head, nearly knocked unconscious, but the rushing blood and adrenaline coursing through me prevented that. I stood to my feet, taking Husk’s offered hand for assistance, when I felt a sweltering hot grip take hold of my leg.
It was the Hunter…
Choking on dirt, as I was dragged across the ground, a deadly game of tug of war had begun. I knew Husk couldn’t keep pace with him for long, because I could feel myself slipping further and further into the creature’s clutches. His sharp talon nails ripped through my jeans, and I cried out when I felt his jagged teeth sink into the flesh of my left calf muscle. I flailed my lower limbs till I connected with his face just as a large boulder came down sharply on his back, it was enough get more than a second of reprieve, and Husk hastily took advantage, dragging me out of the tunnel barely three seconds before it completely enclosed upon itself.
As the dust cleared, the bright morning light could be seen rising in the east, blinding my one good eye that wasn’t obstructed by the blood trailing down my face, and though I couldn’t really see, immediately I smelt the smoke. The fire had spread fast in the night, the imminent danger threatening to consume us, after already escaping the belly of the beast.
“Come on Loki, we have to run faster! Move it!” Husk screamed, as he half carried me through the smoking brush, the heat was sweltering even tho it was the near the peak of winter solstice.
“It snowing..” I replied dreamily, as I noticed the the pale flakes falling from the sky, foolishly I stuck my tongue out, only to recoil at the taste.
“It’s ash.. try not to breath it in directly, we’re almost out of this, it’s just a little farther.” The merc told me, and I nodded before covering my mouth and nose with my shirt, then tried to focus on keeping my balance to push ahead to safety.
We made it to a clearing, situated high in the valley, with a view looking down to see there was a shallow creek slicing through the deepest point, leading straight to a large compound. It looked like ‘Super Walmart’ on steroids, longer vertically, than it was tall, but it was sitting in a space between limbo and nowhere. There was literally nothing around but trees and more trees, steep hills and plateau mountain ranges, all of which provided a natural barrier for the prying eyes of unwanted intruders and the risen dead.
“Listen, do you hear the barking? It’s coming from that way..” I mentioned to the Merc, pointing to where I thought the noise was coming from.
“I don’t hear it, must be out of the normal range for a normal human, but I trust your ear.”
“It has to be Buster, I’m almost certain of it..”
We followed the sound and eventually found the source, Sera ran up to me, pulling our bodies into an emotional embrace. As I hugged her back, my eyes seem to naturally connect with Caiden’s, as he knelt near Patiences still benumbed form on the ground. He could see the remnants of tears on my face and the glaring lack of Granny’s presence was painfully obvious, we had lost the matriarch of our fold. He turned from me with tight eyes, as he fought the overwhelming hurt that cut through his heart, I could feel the despair from where I stood, and the guilt of survival began to etch at my soul.
“I’m sorry Caiden, I tried, I swear I did, I tried..” I could barely speak, while falling to my knees, as my body finally broke down on me.
“I know you did all you could, you would do anything it took to save one of us..” Kahlil said trying to console me, but everyone else was still processing the loss.
“Where are the others?” Husk asked Sera, only then did I notice Balthazar, Bloodhound, and the two bastards we’re missing.
“We lost them in the forest, and they haven’t responded to Buster’s call.. I’m hoping they went on ahead, rationalizing that we’ll all eventually get there.”
“Was that bitch with them?” I asked, my tone sharp and deadly, my eyes dripping malice and napalm at this point.
“Why do you want to know?” Caiden replied with his own question, and I turned to him genuinely surprised he was one to answer, I hesitated as those crystal blues stare back at me.
“Because Granny’s death was all her fault.”
I had been running for a while, the downward slope made part of the trek easy on the knees, so it wasn’t before long I caught onto her trail. I had chanced upon a snag of cloth that matched the ivory sweater she wore, Husk was at my side as I refuse to relent until she got what was coming to her.
At some point she must have caught up to the other members of the group, and I cursed, knowing now that things would have to get messy. I didn’t have to ask where Husk’s loyalty lied, I knew he had fallen in love with the feeling of being apart of a family, so his priorities had totally restructured. It was his idea about telling the others to stay behind, who knew if these government types would find them to be expendable assets.
It hurt to think of how my cousin got himself roped into the bullshit, following up some fucking man, it was a bitch-made move but he was still my only blood in all this. I thought how we both changed in the End of Times, even though we clutched to the old world to remain the same.
“Look, we can catch them before they get to the compound..” Husk said, pulling me back to the moment, and just ahead I could see the four of them.
I ran with such speed I almost left the mercenary behind, the thirst for revenge overwhelming my palate, inciting a blood rage that tint my vision in crimson. I felt myself let go, fury taking the reigns, feeding the mind and acting with an internecine abandon. I was willing to sacrifice myself for the bliss of her death.
“We made it.. Oh my god, finally.” Karishma sighed, sounding so full of relief, so free from burden.
“Yes, bitch. We finally made it.”
She whipped her head so fast, I’m sure I heard it crack, the others seem just as surprised to see us. Bloodhound’s face immediately soured at the sight of me, he made to step towards me but Tzar held him back, I half wanted him to let the man go, fuck it.
“How dare you show your pathetic face after what you did?” The merc accused, and I gave Husk a bewildered look. “Karishma told us how you attacked her, you are a fucking monster like I been saying all along!”
“You believe the lies that spew from this whores mouth way too easily, she’s been playing us all from the start, she’s the true fiend.. If it wasn’t for her Granny could be alive right now! She could have been saved,yet this cowardice cunt left us to watch her die..”
“Granny’s dead? No, God no..” Tzar gasped, immediately breaking out into tears, as he was overcome with a familiar grief.
“This bitch had my bag, and all she had to do was pass me an aspirin, that’s fucking it! But no, she decides to fucking run..”
“So for that you assault a woman?!” Bloodhound yelled at me angrily, and I looked at the dusky red skinned woman just a little bit closer, her eyes were blackened around her broken bruised nose.
“I was the one that hit her.” Husk broke in, to their surprise, causing them all to look at Karishma for a moment with same judgmental and wary gaze they had given us.
“Did you really leave that old woman to die?” Jerry asked her, genuinely horrified as he looked at a person he thought he knew, he shook his head in disbelief. “I’ll be the first to admit I’m no good as a person, never was, never will be, but even I have my limits.. I’m not in the business of killing old ladies and hurting little girls, I want no part of what ever you are planning with him, I’m refuse to be implicated when these people find out the truth about what you’re doing.”
“What?!” I exclaimed, about to grab him but the Doctor raised a gun, one she shouldn’t have had, and it was pointed directly at me.
“Well it’s too late to back out now, we come as a pair or not at all, you read the same manifest and signed the same god damn contact. You surprise me Jerry, I always pegged you the avaricious narcissistic bastard who did what it takes to feast off the best scraps coming from the top table, who knew there was a moral code amidst all the debauchery and white collar crime.” She spat at him, never taking the gun, or her eyes, off of me.
“What the hell do you want with Patience?” I screamed at her in anger, not caring about the bullet she could put in my head to shut me up, and I would die a million times before I let a bitch like Karishma get hands on that little girl. “She’s just a child.. She’s innocent, the only one who can honestly claim that in the world YOU created. Will it end when you destroy her too? Is this the woman you’d always dreamed you would become?”
“You think it’s so simple don’t you? You think this is the worst of it?!” She replied looking absolutely mad, spittle spilt from her lips as she screamed, red had tainted the whites of her eyes. “All this shit is just a symptom of the Real problem, your mind would explode trying to rationalize the truth, the world was going to end regardless of this mistake, we were trying to save it!”
That when we heard the chopper, I almost thought I was hallucinating, sure and enough a U.S. armed forces hovercopter breach the tree line about three miles away. Karishma was distracted as well, hope momentarily lit up her eyes, and Husk advanced as soon as he saw an inning. He tackled her hard, sending the gun flying as they tussle on the floor, she creamed and scratched at the mercenaries face as he tried to restrain her. I looked for the pistol but it was too late, Bloodhound had recovered it, and with all that was revealed, he still decide to side against us.
I caught the shocked look on both Jerry and my cousin’s face, it was the first time I could see that Balthazar saw him in the same light I did, but he disappointingly remain silent. I charged for the Hispanic but it was too late, the roar of the bullet as it escape the chamber combined with the sickening sound of its entry into the back of Husk’s head, was enough to stop me in my tracks.
“You son of bitch! He was your comrade, your brother, the only one of your fellow soldiers you had left! How could you?!” I cried, running to my friends body, no, my brother, that’s what the loss truly felt like.
Bloodhound held the gun to my head and yelled for me to stand to my feet, in the fleeting moment, I grabbed the fallen man’s dog tag as I rose, it read Mackenzie ‘Husk’ Siberian. The tears on my cheeks dried as wind beat against my face from the Hover powered aircraft, while it remained stationary above us, men dressed in black and coal fatigues drop down from a rope line and immediately began to circle us.
A single man dressed in traditional camouflage, came down last, he didn’t have his face covered like the others, with the mouth guards and thick goggles. He was clean shaven and handsome, looking to be either Italian or mixed, because of his swarthy tan, streamline features, and silken shortly cropped hair. He had a lit cigar in his mouth, and kept his hand on his gun holster, it was clear he was the type to shoot and ask questions later. He scowled at us as he approached, giving me the once over before turning to a bloody lipped Karishma, seemingly tisk-ing at the sight of her tarnished beauty.
“Dr. jhedav, we, of course, have been expecting you.. Though I’m sure it was specified, you were to be unharmed upon delivery, was there a misrepresentation of the contract?” He said, looking at the only Merc left with a side eye, The doctor was quick to reply.
“Purely unavoidable circumstances, I assure you Mr. Donovan, and quite worth the sacrifices made to acquire the subject I spoke to my colleague about. I assume you were filled in on the details?”
“I’ve been briefed in full.” He answered, looking at me with haunting dark green eyes, they put me in the mind of some nocturnal predator. “President Rockefeller wants you to get started toward completion of the antiviral agent immediately, we have no more time for delays, the missing child will be located in short order, I assure you.”
With that said, he lifted the firearm from his waist and pointed it straight at me, I put my hands up and backed away, my eyes wide in shock.
“Wait, wait, wait.. What the fuck!!! Ahhh!” I screamed as I felt the searing fire of the bullets penetration, but looking down, I could see it was a tranquilizer dart of sorts.
I burst into a full sprint, as my vision was the first to falter, the incessant watering and burning of my eyes blinding me. The outer ring of militants blocked my way, but I instinctively leap impressively over the tallest man, who was just shy of six foot eight. My legs were on autopilot, moving swift and fast, navigating over every rock and obstacle. My heart was cracking from the electric adrenaline and flushing blood that pump viciously through my veins, I use my hands to cut a path through the thick bush and bristling branches, that laced my dark skin with scratches. I could hear the sound of many boots behind me, gaining fast, so I must have been unintentionally slowing down.
I pushed my body to its limits, as well as my mind, yet the drug began to win the waging war for dominance. In my rush to escape I ended up crashing into something hard, that I thought may have been a tree, until Caiden began to speak.
“Loki, what the hell, whats wrong?”
“Why are you here?” I asked in a panic, he should be with the girls and Kahlil, he should be keeping them safe, safe from the likes of the people chasing me.
“I couldn’t give up the chance of seeing my brother again, I’m sorry.. I know he’s in that place, and if I could just talk to him..”
“No! We must go!”
“Woah, relax Loki.. What’s this sticking out of your chest?! Holy shit!” He cursed, recognizing the Tranq-Dart still stuck in my collar bone.
“Them.. They, kill me.. Trying to hunt me down.. like I’m some.. fucking.. animal.” My tongue and lips fumbled and refuse to coexist, the interior taking on the texture of sandpaper, I had to keep moving, WE had to keep moving. “We Run! Must Run! NOW!”
He hoisted me up, supporting me with an arm over his shoulder, as we ran. I didn’t know where we were going, I didn’t care, as long as we got away, as long as we could be safe. Bright lights burst on overhead, the artificial light shining us with the starkly bright luminance of daylight, it was too late.. they had found us.
The craft settled above and a net shot out the bottom, fast as a bullet, snaring us in its web. I fought as hard as I could to stay conscious, but it only added to our entanglement and accelerated the drugs through my system. Soon they been to reel us skyward, the effect felt like the Lord was calling his children home, if only God was kind to the risen and damned of the earth.
The last sound filling my ears as I enter the darkness, was the harsh erratic thumping of my heart, and the howl of the Hunter in the distance.
“Get the fuck off me! Loki! Get up.. ahh, fuck! You motherfucker!”
I could hear Caiden’s voice as he struggle against them, I couldn’t move a muscle, but I could feel I was strapped down to something, possibly a gurney. My eyelids were low, but slit enough to let in the fluorescent light, and the blurry faces of my captors. The unmistakable face of Karishma look down on me with a smirk at one point, as well as the man with the haunting dark green eyes.
“Zachari! Zach! It’s me Caiden, brother! Please put a stop to this..”
“Take him to the Pen, prepare him for project SYMPHony.. We have no time for anymore delays.”
“What?! Zach, what the hell! I’m your fucking Brother, how could y.. ughff!”
One of the soldiers hit him with the butt of his gun, silencing his protests, I could feel the tears streaming uncontrollably from my eyes, as the familiar face of Hunter and Caiden’s older brother stare down at me, with that same clinical look I had seen in Dr. jhedavs gaze countless times, like I was some puzzle to figure out, a subject to be studied, like something to dissect in a sick experiment.
I closed my eyes, hoping it was the last time they would ever open, especially if my fate was to be a lab rat for these fucks, if only fate could be so generous.
“No, they know nothing about this secured link sir, I’m quite sure of it, as far as they know, I’m working exclusively for them like you wished. All of what’s left of the world’s government are convinced the experiments and what they could mean, align with their agenda. They have no idea that what they plan to do, was our intention from the very start, sir..”
It was Karishma, her annoyingly posh voice was immediately recognizable, though surprisingly all the snark and attitude was gone, and dare I say she sounded almost.. humble.
“I see the ‘Lazarus’ subject, but where is the child? You mentioned the discovery of a little girl, as well as stressed the improbability of her identity, if what you say is true, she belongs with us, she should be present here now.. explain.”
She was speaking to a man, his voice was soft, non threatening, almost welcoming, yet you could tell cloaked beneath there was a seriousness and authority that was unquestioning.
“A minor setback I assure you.. I have pressured Minerva’s people with the importance of the Rosén child’s safe capture and recovery, we have all the resources at her disposal as President, working on the job.” She stammered quickly, knowing any excuse she made was little more than admitting failure.
“I see.. disappointing, but expected.” He said with non interest and melancholy, yet you knew he was irrevocably displeased with her.
“I’m sorry sir, if I had only recognized the gene in her sooner, or even knew her last name, I would have acted immediately..”
“Enough excuses for your failure, just show me this Loki, I’ll see for myself if what you say is true about him.” He commanded, and I could see her form move toward a control console, a wave of her hand caused the bed to adjust and rise.
The bed I was strapped to lifted and shifted to a vertical position, as I was rotated one hundred eighty degrees, slowly bringing the holographic image into view. He had a slightly tanned complexion, like he was kissed by the sun, the kind of skin where you couldn’t tell if he was white, black, or mixed race. Long silken hair spilled down past his shoulders, as he studied me intently with those bright green hazel eyes he was so known for. He frowned slightly, but his lips were so sexy, even that was attractive.
“Hello Loki, I can sense you’re awake, so we might as well make an acquaintance.. though I highly doubt such introduction is needed, for you already know who I am..”
Of course I knew who he fucking was, everyone left alive in this post apocalyptic world would know, this was was one of the most infamous faces ever spawned on earth, no one would mistake this man for anyone but the notorious character he was, one just doesn’t forget…
Jynx Joseph Ellison