I lower our joined hands and look over at Tina as the noise of the crowd begins to die away into a low murmur. I can’t take my gaze from her, let alone believe that I’m actually looking at her and touching her. If nothing else good comes of my future, it wouldn’t matter. Everything I need is standing in front of me right now clenching my hand, her mind and heart wide open to me. I’m home, and I take my first real satisfying breath in what seems like an eternity.
There is only one dark cloud looming over this momentous feeling of both sadness and happiness. I know that it would appear to be over, but as I look into Tina’s eyes, as I peer into her mind, we are of the same trepidation: it was too easy. I can’t shake the nagging feeling that we’re missing something important, but in this moment, I don’t seem to care. I can’t. There are too many emotions vying for control and they all lose to one: Tina’s alive.
She smiles at me, radiant and beautiful, and that’s all the encouragement that I need to lean in and kiss her again. This kiss is slow, almost tentative in its reverence, but needy, breathless, and desperate. I’ll never grow tired of how lush and soft her lips are. It surprises and delights me to hear her heart beat a little faster at the contact and matching the excited rhythm of my own. All of my thoughts focus on that sound which reverberates inside of me in the form of a single word: home.
I pull back and allow myself to drown in her, reaching up to caress the delicate angles on either side of her face. I don’t know if I will ever get enough of just looking at her. It’s so surreal. I’ve been so lost without her, like a dying man crawling aimlessly through the desert in search of a single oasis only to find a mirage, but somehow mustering the will to keep moving, to keep searching the endless horizon. Today, this day, as the morning vapors cool against the sand of my mind, what’s left when the warped tendrils clear is Tina, lit in the glow of a new day.
We’re both anxious to rest. We’re filthy, exhausted, and wound up all at the same time. If I could only have five minutes alone with her, it wouldn’t be nearly enough, but it would give me the chance to really look at her, to really feel her, to really know that she’s alive.
It hurts, the very thought that I’ll have to take my eyes off of her or find a way to focus on something else, something somehow less important even as it should be the priority. But as those still gathered around us close in for their leader, I realize that we won’t be allowed a reprieve, not yet.
I step down off of the vehicle and hold a hand up to her. Her smile is brighter than the sun and sends a blossom of warmth spreading through my breast. I feel the sting of emotion behind my eyes and can’t help the grin that splits my face.
How I love her…
How I’ve missed her…
She extends toward me and accepts my hand, and I pull her down to meet me, still unwilling to give her over to the impatient crowd. The adoration in her eyes is unmistakable as she reaches up, her fingers tentative as she strokes two of them down my cheek and across my jaw, as if she’s trying to memorize the map of my face.
I close my eyes and kiss the palm of her hand, her fingers squeezing mine and her thoughts apologetic as she finally turns away from me. I decide to keep her hand if I can’t yet have her full attention. I need to keep this closeness, just something, an anchor. She interlocks our fingers and we first see Shane.
Her eyes are wide and clouded with a bittersweet pain that would consume her if she would let it, but she won’t. That’s not who she is. My eyes land on the head in her hands and I feel my stomach churn. The full force of what’s happened hasn’t hit me yet, though it threatens to.
Shane notices where my eyes have landed, and she displays a strength that I don’t believe that I possess. I don’t regret that I killed Lilith, but how do you kill your parent and find joy in the task even if it was necessary?
Her question steals me from my thoughts. “The rest is on the roof?”
“Yes,” I can’t seem to meet her eyes.
“I’ll take care of it.”
I feel a sense of dread in leaving her alone to accomplish that task, but something tells me that she would rather have it this way.
“Where are Anna and Liam?”
I look up at Dana’s question, my throat closing and my eyes stinging as I am forced to confront a devastating truth. I don’t know how to speak or to say those words.
Fortunately, she seems to understand what’s happened without my fumblings, though I try. “They saved my life…”
I meet her eyes, Tina’s grip on my hand the only thing keeping me tethered to the moment. “They’re on the roof too.”
She nods and swallows hard, and a cry of pain tears through the air that mirrors the weight of our collective silence. Rebels and humans have started to look for their own loved ones amongst the fallen, and unfortunately, some have found them. Everywhere I look, there are similar tableaus and I feel my heart sink. There is so much sorrow and loss surrounding us, and I feel ashamed that while I feel it too, all in all, this is the best day that I’ve had in two years. Why must everything worth having be at such a heavy price?
I feel a gentle pressure and glance down at the beautiful hand clasped in my own. Unthinkingly, I stroke the back of it. It’s not fair. I’m not ungrateful, and neither is Tina, but she refuses to regret that we’re both alive, even as she can’t fathom how.
I feel her brush the haphazard curls from my brow and lift my face to hers. How is that she can make me feel like I’m good and decent, despite all that’s happened and all that I’ve done? How is it that with her, I don’t feel that shame as acutely? How is it in all that’s happened, all I can focus on is the fact that, even filthy and exhausted, she’s the most beautiful sight that I’ve ever seen?
She smiles sadly, and I hate what Lilith has done to us, all of us. A shadow falls over her features, darkening the well my eyes are drinking from, and I frown. There are no clouds in the sky except for the blemish of black smog rising from the fires still smoldering throughout this once thriving metropolis.
No, it’s clear, and that’s when I realize that the shade is emanating directly from the sun. I gaze at it in curiosity. The enormous globe is rising in the heavens as it should be, but something more is taking place. It’s like watching a drop of heavy blood settle smoothly into a globe of tempered honey. It’s burning a dark, crimson-black as an inky red spreads over the explosive surface, blotting it out with what I can only describe as an infection.
It’s almost as if it’s… transitioning, evolving. A thick, silvery sheen, the color somewhere between gun medal gray and abyssal black, settles over the whole of the atmosphere, reminding me of the visual clarity that comes with transition. The sun, the sky, they swirl together, all the colors gathering in the middle as if they’re circling a drain until there’s nothing left but silver-gray light and a honey red beacon moving across the horizon, its surface blotched with angry scarlet wounds.
It’s not as bright to my eyes, even as I gaze into it, and there is no longer the subtle sting to the skin or underlying current in the soul that cries out for the cover of darkness. I glance over at Tina and find her expression worried. Neither of us understands this development. And as I look around us, I find that we aren’t the only ones.
A great rumbling shakes the earth under our feet, starting low and slowly building momentum. It’s not violent or threatening, or the kind of motion that would cause me to seek cover. It almost feels as if nature is signaling a completion, the last tremors of a fever that has broken.
Everything settles again, and I look around me. Everyone is still gazing into the sun with awe and trepidation. Even those in mourning have stopped to witness this… something. The change in light has sharpened my vision and that’s when the full weight of destruction that was once this incredible city registers. From a distance, it was incomprehensible, but as the sun pulls everything into sharp clarity, it’s worse than I had thought.
Most everything has been destroyed, and it’s not just the ruins of human civilization that lay wasted and spent around us, it’s the meaning behind them that will shake history at its very core just as the earth seems to prelude.
There are more bodies than I’ve ever seen before, human and vampyr alike, some in parts, some whole, and some merely splatters of a dark, ghastly crimson or gently scattering sand. Blood paints this city almost black in the silver light of the new sun. Fires continue to smolder and consume, and smoke still chokes the air. Civilian and military vehicles lie abandoned, wrecked, and overturned, some still letting out their haunting call of agony into the distant air on the upturned streets. Military planes fly overhead, leaving loud trails of groaning sound echoing off of the dilapidated structures. That sound is the only thing that overshadows the incessant call of precariously balanced lives still teetering on the edge of life and calling for assistance. For a moment, I’m overwhelmed and I don’t know what to do.
Tina is quick to rein me in and I decide to focus on her. She is a tremendous relief, so much so that I could almost curl up in the midst of this warzone and find the satisfaction of contented sleep. But something about her has changed as well, and I don’t just mean the delicate rhythm of her wonderfully fluttering heart. There is a… darkness… in her now. I gaze at her, my heart in my throat. Her light is dimmed… and perhaps that is a bigger tragedy than anything I’ve just witnessed.
The sound of helicopters in the distance grows louder and the wind picks up, tossing her hair around her face in a truly hypnotic way. I want to crawl into her and find this thing that darkens her countenance, to make it right. I feel, somehow, responsible.
‘Later,’ she smiles at me reassuringly but it fails. The sounds draw dangerously closer and I’m forced to reluctantly shelve it. We push back with the crowd to create an opening so that the helicopter can land, and several military personnel file out. A sense of dread fills me and again, Tina squeezes my hand before moving to release me.
I stay right with her as she approaches our visitors, unwilling to let go of her for even a moment. One of the men, obviously a general of some sort by his tailored green slacks, overly starched petticoat, and gaudy trinkets pinned to his chest. He removes his hat and tucks it under his left arm as he approaches.
His voice is loud over the sound of the helicopter behind him as he asks, “Tina Kennard?”
I’m not sure why, but I want to step in front of Tina. I don’t trust this man or anything else about this situation. Tina glances at me before nodding.
He continues, “Raymond Masters, General of the United States Army. We spoke over satellite phone.”
She nods in recognition and I furrow my brows at his words. “We received intelligence that Lilith has been neutralized?”
Tina nods. “Yes, General.”
He seems put off by this news but releases an overly practiced smile. “President Wischnia was hoping that you’d apprehend her alive, but her body will do. Where are the remains?”
I’m taken off-guard by his presumptuousness as well as his imposed authority, but Tina isn’t, and as I look around me, Shane, Duffy, Alice, Dana… none of them seem surprised. More than that, Duffy’s demeanor is a mass of controlled anger.
She steps forward. “General. It’s imperative that we burn the remains. It would be careless of us to hand her over to anyone, for both humans and vampyrs. I’m afraid that we can’t do that.”
Masters shakes his head and ignores Duffy, focusing intently on Tina. “That’s not acceptable.”
His next words nearly strike me unintelligible. “Ms. Kennard, we had an agreement.”
She exhales softly… too softly given our predicament. “Yes-”
I pull her hand to turn her and gaze into her eyes. What is she doing? What has she done?
I can feel her mind warring with itself but I’m not given the time to understand as Masters breaks in again. “It’s true that this debacle has been an eye-opener for the human race. Vampyrs do pose a great threat. The President has given strict orders and they must be followed. I’m afraid that I must insist that you turn over her remains.”
Tina tries to quiet me before I speak, but it doesn’t work. “With all due respect, General, we don’t take orders from the President.”
His thinly-lided eyes are cold and shrewd as he scrutinizes me, and I can tell that he’s not accustomed to being told no. His shortly buzzed hair doesn’t move even a fraction of an inch against the force of propelled wind whipping around us, and I get the feeling that he is unmovable in all areas of his life. His face is lined with age and too much sun, and his heart is strong and steady, even while the smell of endorphins is rich in his veins. It’s evident that he enjoys the power that his position affords him… maybe a little too much.
His baritone voice is gravelly and its harshness grates on my eardrums, and again he focuses on Tina. “I’m afraid you don’t understand. Going back on your agreement and disregarding a direct order from the President at this time could be viewed as an act of war, and our relations are precarious enough as it is. If you don’t turn over her remains, we’ll be forced to take defensive action.”
My heart is beating so wildly that I can almost feel it in my throat as it pumps seething anger throughout my system. I feel like I might hyperventilate, and the feeling is so foreign that it’s both exhilarating and disconcerting.
I can’t help the incredulity that seeps out with my words. “You’d start a war for the body of a dead vampyr?”
He snickers. “We’ll do what we need to do to keep our citizens safe.” He gestures to the city and then the sun, his point very clear. “We only wish to be certain that the threat has been completely neutralized.”
He’s lying. Something more is happening here. Tina puts her hand on my back and I look into her eyes. She’s imploring me to stop, to let this go. How can I? How can she? I feel the need to shake her. This is a terrible idea and there’s nothing that she wouldn’t sacrifice to see Lilith destroyed and vampyrs free. Why is she giving up? What could have possibly convinced her to make an agreement such as this one?
As I gaze at her, listen to her, nothing is any clearer, but she’s our leader, and she’s consistently made the right choices to help see this turn in history successful. How could I not trust her implicitly, even as everything in me tells me that she’s about to make a huge mistake? I have to trust her, and so I do.
She doesn’t acknowledge my thoughts. Instead, she placates the man in front of us. “Of course we want to maintain the peace as well, General. We’ll turn her over to you as agreed.”
Tina glances over at Shane but Duffy puts a hand on her arm to stop her. “Don’t do this,” she says simply.
Shane seems to consider Duffy’s request, her eyes darting from Duffy to Tina as if trying to determine the best course of action. There are several long moments of nothing but the steady chop of steel against air and hearts that shouldn’t beat trying to break through ancient ribs before Tina gives Shane a direct command. “Shane, give her to him.”
I gaze at Tina disbelievingly and she looks up at me. She reaches up to smooth her hand across my face, but somehow the touch isn’t as comforting. I know that she doesn’t want to do this, but I can also see the truth of the situation: we have no choice. Our numbers are far more devastated than theirs; we have no heavy artillery, and any act of defiance now could send us into yet another war.
Truly the humans are the only reason that we’ve won and if we have any chance of a mutual future, we have to trust them. But that’s the problem, we don’t. And if I’m honest with myself, none of that explains why Tina would have painted us into this corner willingly.
I can’t find the answer, not even in her mind. She takes my hand and presses it to her lips. She must care… she just must, but she is making no move to stop this. ‘Why, T… What’s going on?’
Shane shrugs Duffy from her arm and again distracts me from my answers as she makes a move forward and shoves Lilith’s head into the General’s chest neck first. He’s unfazed, though disgusted as he fumbles with the head and pulls it away from himself. It leaves long, sticky trails of viscous matter suspended between the torn edge and his chest, and he gazes as the neat circle of clotted blood and matter that now stains his dress fatigues.
He scowls at her. “Delightful… and the rest?”
Shane points to the top of the building where I left the rest of Lilith twitching, but makes no move to collect it for him. Instead she crosses her arms over her chest.
Tina steps in again. “Shane… please.”
Shane glances at Tina, and with barely contained annoyance, sprints to the building. In one fluid jump, she’s up, back, and dumping the body in the General’s arms in much the same manner as the head was delivered. This time though, he’s unable to hold it.
She lands at his feet and he seethes for a moment before a semi-genuine smile lights his weathered face. “Wise decision.”
He motions to two of his entourage to collect the body and gives the head to another. They make their way back to the helicopter and we watch as they leave just as abruptly as they arrived. What did we just do?
I look over at Tina and there is only a moment of peace before the rebels that have been silently watching and disapproving have surrounded us and begun to sling their frustration at Tina. How quickly they turn on her. The barrage of questions is coming from so many sources and they’re so rapid fire, that it’s hard to tell who’s asking what.
Somewhere during the course of this mess I lose Tina’s hand and I can’t seem to get her back. I can only watch as the vampyrs around us spew venomous accusations at her feet and she does nothing. I can feel each word, each accusation, like a physical blow as she absorbs them with deference. She isn’t fighting. She isn’t arguing. It’s like she’s in this place of peace where nothing can touch her, as if she knows something the rest of us do not. The shouting and discord continues and my heart drops into my stomach, my head swims, and I can’t catch my breath.
Even losing it, I find the will to shout above the din. “ENOUGH!”
The call was so desperate and demanding that all eyes focus on me and afford me the ability to find Tina and put some distance between them and us. I’m not entirely certain of what I’m saying, but the need to defend Tina is staggering. “There was no other choice. You heard him, keeping her would have meant war. At least this way we have a chance at avoiding it.”
They disagree. Of course they disagree, but this time as the anger comes down I’m able to hold onto Tina. I feel helpless in this situation. I don’t understand them, and I don’t understand Tina, so how can I possibly reason with anyone?
This time, it’s Duffy who steps in. “IT’S DONE!”
She looks to Tina with hard, artic eyes and I put myself in the line of her vision, feeling an innate need to protect Tina, though I’m not sure why. We’re on the same side here, aren’t we? I take in Duffy’s features; the deeply set, smooth angles of her face make her appear almost menacing, especially against the unnatural blue of her eyes, but I can still say that she doesn’t seem to want to hurt Tina and not feel like I’m lying.
That doesn’t change the fact that something more is definitely going on here. But Tina’s mind is blank… too blank, as if she’s forcibly holding back, and I feel like all of my questions are just piling up out of control.
The crowd is mostly silent as they look to Duffy for direction, and I can’t help but wonder when exactly it was that Tina lost that respect. Duffy doesn’t back down but she’s not malicious. She just assumes authority. “For now, we need to regroup, feed, and collect ourselves. The council will meet about this later when everyone’s had a chance to rest.”
The crowd mumbles again and Duffy finally shuts them down. “You heard me; that’s enough for now!”
She looks to Shane. “You need to get a team together as well. Find any remaining humans, heal them, and get them someplace secure.”
Shane lets out a weary breath but does as she’s told, calling to several of the crowd to go with her.
They disperse and Duffy looks to Tasha and Jamie. “Get a team together and round up the remaining loyalists. We’ll figure out what to do with them later. Until then, make sure that they’re incapacitated.”
Tasha and Jamie leave to do as they’re told and I glance over at Tina. I don’t understand this power struggle, and the last thing that we need is civil unrest. She smiles at me, lifting a hand to stroke the side of my face, and in that small action I realize that whatever it is, she’s not upset by it. This was her dream and it’s falling apart at the seams, but she doesn’t seem to care. I have no idea what to do with this information. Something’s wrong, so very wrong.
Duffy addresses Dana and Alice. “Find a place to set up camp and gather supplies.”
Dana – how I appreciate her incredible friendship. She heard Duffy, but she’s making a choice now for all to see. She looks to Tina for confirmation of this order and Tina gives it. “It’s okay. You can find us later.”
Dana moves to leave but Alice stops her to bring up the one thing that I don’t want to think about right now. “Anna and Liam? We shouldn’t just leave them there… like that…”
Duffy sighs. “I’ll get a group together to gather the dead and we’ll have a funeral pyre later.”
Duffy glances at Tina one more time while Dana and Alice start to grab stragglers and amble away, and the thoughts in Tina’s mind whir so quickly that I can’t get a grip on anything.
Duffy finally leaves and I’m left bereft, holding Tina’s hand and more confused than ever.
Tina looks after her dejectedly and I move to pull her away. I need to be alone with her. There are so many questions and while I didn’t care before, I do now. She looks up to me, her lips drawn into a thin line as she quirks a smile that’s meant to reassure me but only unsettles me further.
My thoughts are pleading as I seek out those answers. ‘T, wh-‘
Tasha and Jamie come running up to us, anxiousness in their eyes and urgency in their voices. “Where’s Duffy?”
Tina frowns. “She went to help collect the dead.”
Tasha grabs Jamie’s hand, seemingly set on finding Duffy, but Tina grabs her arm to stop her. “Tasha, what’s going on?”
Tasha obviously doesn’t to want to answer Tina, but the situation seems to be dire to wait. “We were chasing a loyalist and followed him to the edge of the city, but the humans… the city’s been locked down. We’re trapped.”
Tina tightens her grip on Tasha’s arm. “Was Masters out there?”
Tasha clenches her jaw and nods.
Tina releases Tasha, her voice cracking as she demands, “Show me.”
Tasha tells Jamie to find Duffy and beckons us to follow her. She sprints off again and we follow, dodging and jumping over wreckage. We push as fast as we can and it only takes a few minutes to reach the edge of the city where a mass of vampyrs are gathered and shouting. It’s absolute chaos.
Tasha pushes through the throng and we follow, the angry shouts deafening as we’re jostled. My grip on Tina’s hand tightens as we continue through until Tasha puts out and arm and stops us abruptly.
She points to several spots of fresh gore a few feet ahead. On further inspection, I find that they’re bodies, chopped into precise two inch cubes, even the clothes and shoes are neatly dissected with the flesh and bone as they scatter forward as if a human ice-tray has been dropped. They look like macabre glass boxes of human anatomy, each of the organs within on vividly detailed display. Even more disturbing is that there’s no blood. The wounds were cauterized on contact.
Tasha points to something else and I see several piles of scattered, red sand. Even further past those are the craters of what appear to be scorched earth. But as my eyes continue into the destroyed distance, it’s the furthest element that makes me tighten my hold on Tina’s hand.
The military presence is vast. Snipers and gunmen are strategically located along what appears to be a perimeter, though there is no wall. There are even boats along the water, holding the city in a tight grasp.
My mind is overwrought and I’m struck dumb at what I’m seeing, but Tasha is quick to point to the electricity poles on either side of the street. “Infrared barriers.”
She points to other objects along the street, and while I have to strain to see over the angry mob surrounding us, I realize that anywhere electricity is available, so is imminent death. They could cut through this mob at any moment if they so choose. But they don’t, and that’s even more terrifying.
Tasha points again to a recently dismembered vampyr. “He was the one we were chasing. As soon as he hit this point, he just fell to pieces… literally.”
She points again at the piles of dust. “Once we realized that we were trapped, some leapt over the sensors, and those snipers…” She gestures to the military presence in the distance. “…took them out quickly. Those that the snipers didn’t get…” She motions to the scorched depressions. “…were taken out by satellite, I think. It was literally a beam of death from above…”
She looks at Tina, a silently accusing anger in her eyes, but I can’t wonder at its meaning as I take in our surroundings. The mob is getting worse, their shouts louder as they huddle at the border and scream at the soldiers beyond. I watch as a rebel tries to jump the perimeter, but doesn’t quite clear the pole-line. She’s chopped in half, neatly cauterized, and her upper half left screaming on the other side.
I move to help her but Tina stops me before I can become a pile of puzzle pieces, and I watch in horror as the red dot aimed at the screaming woman’s chest pulls away. I track the beam to the sniper who has lifted his weapon to purposefully leave her in agony. This is a message, and it’s been received loud and clear. There was never going to be any peace. They’ve intended this from the start of the invasion. But instead of killing us, they wanted to trap us and they wanted Lilith. But for what?
Tina’s thoughts follow my own, but there is a writhing sadness taking up residence inside of her. I can tell that she’s choking back tears. This was her dream, to see us all live together as equals, and it’s been thoroughly destroyed. Lilith was right. Even in death, she managed to decimate what Tina wanted most.
Duffy comes pushing through behind us with Jamie in tow and she takes in the mess around her. I watch as she absorbs each of the terrifying tableaus as well as the cacophony around her with eerily sharp eyes. Her expression is a mask of cold collectedness, but I can tell that she’s overflowing with pique as she glares at Tina with the same accusing features.
I expect her to raise her voice, but she doesn’t, and that’s perhaps more unsettling than if she had. “Do you see what you’ve done, Tina? Do you see why we should have waited to attack in Canada? Do you see why we shouldn’t have aligned ourselves with the military so hastily?”
Tina doesn’t say anything and I’m left gaping at her. ‘T, what’s going on?’
She looks up at me, defeat in her eyes but still… complete peace. It’s unsettling. I see the adoration in the hazel orbs and wonder at this information that she obviously refuses to answer.
“QUIET!” I turn back to see that Duffy has hauled herself up on some of the debris. “I SAID, QUIET!”
The crowd reluctantly calms as they focus up at her and I can feel a terrible undercurrent ignite in the pit of my stomach, as if something is about to go terribly wrong.
She waits until she’s certain that she has the mobs undivided attention and comes down off of her hill to approach Tasha at the perimeter. She whispers to Tasha so lowly that even the charged calm doesn’t allow me to hear. Tasha and Jamie look to each other with trepidation at whatever she said before they glance at Tina and rush away.
I watch them leave with a worried countenance before Duffy’s shouts bring my eyes back to the perimeter. “GET MASTERS OUT HERE NOW!”
I watch as a soldier about fifty yards away presses a hand to his ear and speaks something unintelligible. I can tell by the sheen of sweat on his forehead and the slight tremble of his hand that he’s nervous.
Fortunately, Masters appears from one of the larger crafts moments later, his entourage in tow, and makes his way towards Duffy. He’s confident as he strides up to her, knowing that she can’t touch him though it appears that only air separates them.
Duffy is calm and intelligent in her interaction with him. I can almost see how she’s managed to usurp leadership, but where Tina is grace, she’s force, and I don’t see that going over well with humans. They’re too stubborn and proud.
“General, I’m Marybeth Duffy, a member of the vampyr council and a general in my own right. It’s my goal to keep the peace and establish a solid foundation for cohabitation between humanity and vampyrs. Holding us hostage is not going to further that goal. In fact, if you continue on this path, we’ll have no choice but to resist.”
He glances at his entourage and they all chuckle lightly. “Frankly, girl, I don’t care about cohabitation or peace. You’re a threat, and I don’t suffer threats to live. If I had it my way, you’d have been wiped out already and the city cleansed.”
He leans in a little, still cognizant of the barrier, which is disappointing. I’d love to see his skin shorn from his face by his own devices. “Fortunately for you, the president has other plans and I follow orders. I don’t question and I don’t argue. When the president tells me something, I do it. And right now, I’m told to shut this city up tight until such a time that we can negotiate the terms of your surrender, and that’s what I’m gonna’ do.”
Duffy leans in a little too. “If you value life as you know it at all, you’ll try to reason with the President and explain that he’s about to start another war.”
He smirks and stands up straight. “From where I’m standing, you don’t appear to be in any position to make good on that threat. You can fight in here all you like, but you won’t get out and nothing’s coming in. Hell, we don’t even have to kill you. We can just leave you in there until you starve to death.”
About this time Tasha and Jamie return with Shane and several humans in tow, the crowd parting to let them through. Somehow, I don’t believe it coincidental that these specific humans are wearing fatigues.
“General, I’m going to ask you nicely to please remove the blockade. In return, I promise you that no harm will come to any humans and we can begin the process of establishing a solid peace treaty. We will not, however, surrender, nor will we allow you keep us captive. Will you, or will you not, accept those terms?”
The General glances at the men and women in uniform that are now being placed on their knees behind Duffy. Most of them keep their heads down, but there are a few whose eyes alight on their leader with recognition and premature relief.
He doesn’t acknowledge them outwardly, but I can tell that he’s seething as he considers his next words. “I’ll tell you what, girl-”
“Duffy,” she corrects him sternly.
He continues unfazed. “You release those soldiers into my custody, and I’ll speak with the President.”
Duffy shakes her head almost sadly. “I can’t do that, General. But, if you remove the quarantine, I’ll happy return all of the humans in our custody to you. More over, if you don’t, I’ll execute one each day that you hold us here.”
Masters’ jaw clenches and when it releases, I realize that he would have never held up his end of a such a bargain. He had to know that human lives would be lost in the lockdown, and he, and more importantly, the President, knew that when the order was issued. These people, these lives, are expendable.
He says the only thing that he can if he plans to stick to his orders, and of that resolve I have no doubt. “Don’t do anything foolish, girl. Just sit tight, keep the peace, and I’ll have more information on how this is going to play out soon.”
However, why he even tries to stop what he knows is coming, I don’t know. It’s almost as if… no…
Tina releases me rushes up to stop Duffy. “Duffy, no! This is what he wants!”
But Tina’s too late. Duffy has already grabbed one of the soldiers and shoved him at the Masters. The smell of scorched meat permeates the air and the General jumps back startled as one of his own comes raining down on him in heavy chunks. He looks at the mess at his feet before bringing his eyes back to Duffy, a smug expression on his worn face. “So be it.”
He turns and leaves, issuing orders as he goes, and I realize that we’ve just ended any and all possibility of getting out of this alive. He wanted a war; the president wanted a war, but why the show?
Tina is standing a few feet in front of me, staring at Duffy with tears in her eyes, her accusing words answering my question. “Duffy, what have you done? He wanted you to do that. Humanity will hate us now, and he’s going to use that hate to justify wiping us out. You’ve just condemned us all…”
She turns and looks down on Tina. “I’m sorry, Tina, but you’ve cost us everything with your premature move against Lilith to save Bette. I get it, I truly do. I’d have done anything to save my own family, but not at the expense of a future. It’s time that someone else did something for the right reasons. If we want out of this alive, we’re going to have to fight our way out. He has to know that we’re serious, and now he does.”
Tina backs away from her, shaking her head. “No, this isn’t the way…”
Duffy sighs. “There’s no other choice. You made certain of that. I should have stopped you before it came to this, but it’s too late now, and honestly, I don’t have time for this. We need to prepare and find our way out of here.”
She gets up on the heap of bricks and asphalt again to address the crowd. “This is the reality of our situation. We were already a target, but at least now they know that we’re not a sitting one. You can work with me to get out of here and stop this, or you can do nothing at all like Tina would have you do. I believe in her ideal for peace and I respect the years of support and coordination she’s brought to our struggle against Lilith’s tyranny, but I believe that there is a peace only to be found on the other side of war. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the reality. The humans want war, then we’ll give it to them. Hopefully, when all is said and done, they’ll stop fighting and we can live together in peace. But until that happens, we’re not going to lay down and take this. If you’re not with me, that’s fine, but choose now and if you choose not help, then keep out of my way.”
There is a long moment of silence, and I stop trying to understand what’s happening. It’s too repulsive to even think about. As I look around at the faces in this crowd, it’s evident that we’re outnumbered. More importantly, they’re too angry to consider anything but bloodshed.
I come up behind Tina and take her elbow to pull her away. I need to get her away from this, and away from the hell that is about to rain down on us… somehow.
She’s too shocked and listless to struggle as I pull her out and away. Duffy wastes no time issuing out orders and setting people to work. I can hear the plans she’s issuing. The humans will be housed as food storage while more stragglers are pursued and rounded up, and other teams will be looking for a way to breach the wall. Whatever happens, the president wanted us alive and the enemy. They aren’t going to wipe us out just yet, and honestly, that prospect is even more frightening.
I keep walking, unable to run because Tina’s not snapped out of it yet. The orders Duffy is dishing out are now inaudible as I put as much distance between us and the growing crowd at Duffy’s feet. I’m so focused that I barely hear the, “Bette, wait…,” called from behind.
I stop and turn to see Shane, Alice, Dana, and three others jogging to catch up. One I recognize from Milli Millu. Her name was Carmen, I believe. Then there’s Helena, another commander that I met only briefly, and another woman that I’ve never met before.
This is all that’s left of Tina’s dream, and if I’m not mistaken, I understand at least one piece of the growing puzzle: Tina made a deal with the humans that caused this to happen, and it was all to get to me.
I release a heavy breath, stowing my thoughts until we’re safely ensconced somewhere deep in the city, preferably underground. Allowing these few to join us could turn out to be a liability, but then it could also keep us alive.
Tina looks up at me, still completely unashamed at what she’s done and I realize that she’d make exactly the same choice again. That’s why she’s at peace with it. She loves me that much.
Whatever else has changed in her, her compassion and grace are still there, and I know what she would have us do. I lean in and kiss her tenderly, hoping that she knows that while I wish that she’d have put the safety of the rebellion ahead of me, I understand her. I’d have done nothing less for her.
She smiles. It’s sad, but it’s genuine, and I nod at the others before securing Tina’s hand tightly and continuing on my track. Alice puts her hand on my shoulder and I stop again, turning to look at her questioningly. If she wants to come with, fine, but we need to go now.
She grins at me, “We need a place to hide until we can find a way out, right?”
It’s everything I can do not to roll my eyes at her, choosing instead to try and be polite. “Yes.”
Her grins widens. “Well, I know just the place.”
She tugs on Dana and takes off down the alley at our left, and I glance over at Tina who’s finally starting to get her bearings. She swipes at her tired eyes and takes my hand, and this time it’s me who entwines our fingers. Carmen, Helena, and the wispy brunette follow after Alice and Dana, and with a sigh, Tina and I venture after them.