Chapter 6- Embers of Hope

There are things that set a professional aside from an amateur. A professional knows exactly what they’re doing, and reacts as such. A professional attends to their business with unflinching accuracy and skill, flawlessly carrying out the duty they labored over learning. The gunfight before me was professionalism in its purest form. 

A loud, echoing shot tore through the air. A Guard tumbled to the cobbled ground. And as if a switch was thrown, the crimson-coated unit jumped into action. Three dropped to their knees in formation, firing suppressively. One leapt to the body of the fallen comrade. Two others activated shield casters. Blue plasma tendrils erupted from the arm-mounted devices and drove into the grayish stone ground frantically. The pavement was ripped up by the twirling plasma digits and sculpted into low-lying cover, reinforced by the fingers’ crackling grasp. The final Guard flicked the switch on a portable broadcaster, highlighting the crisis for all of the Meeting to see. All of this happened before I could raise my hand to aim. I stood gaping, frozen, staring in awe. A rebel fell to the ground from the roof above me, splattering blood across the pavement from a tear in his chest. The Guards continued to fire at the scattered group, but these rebels weren’t giving up. The Guard to the right was struck from behind; More rebels had appeared from nowhere, surrounding the intrenched Guards. He had been holding the shield-caster. The liquid energy extremity vaporized in the blink of an eye, and the cover crumbled. No sooner had it, a hidden insurgent appeared on a nearby rooftop, firing a fully automatic rifle. He was hit in the chest by a pistol round and was thrown into the straw insulation from which he came, but his surprise barrage took its toll. The second hand retracted, and the cover reduced to rubble, revealing the bloodied survivors. Now only three Guards remained. They attempted retreat, but without any cover they were torn apart in the street. Gunfire erupted further away; more were coming. A man appeared behind me. He was grizzled and gray, unshaven, very tall and broad. His eyes were brown and dulled. He had seen combat. He grabbed my shoulder.

“Come on.”

He spoke with urgency, and dragged me awake from my hypnotized state. He led me from the alley and took a right, heading back where I had come from. The whole street behind us had become a slaughterhouse, a fight like I had never seen. Civilians were abandoning buildings and running, based on the same observations I had made. This wasn’t the usual clean up the Guard carried out. At least 20 fully armed Guards had arrived, flooding down the street, entrenching, and warfare had proceeded. Rebels were falling like dominoes to the corpse-cluttered ground. Red on gray. But the fight continued. We took another right several blocks away. The sound of combat was still very much at present. He led me into a gray slab of a building, most of it was submerged in the earth; steps lead down into it.

“You’re one lucky sonofabitch you know that?” His voice cut through the empty room. That hardly seemed true.

“I’ve been shot,” I rasped. My throat was very dry. It seemed like I hadn’t had a drink in an eternity. “Can you fix me up?”

“No time for that, we need to get you out of E3.” He spoke factually as if it was a possible feat.

“And how do you intend to do that? Why are you helping me anyways?”

His back was turned. He had been pulling bricks out of the back wall the whole time we spoke.

“Wasn’t my intention.” A doorway had been cleared. “Around 200 of us came through this tunnel today. We had a network of scouts set up in a protective web around this block. Listening, watching, reporting, looking for patrols. 16:00, report of two Guards entering that building,” gesturing towards the rubble of my old home. “There was a muffled commotion. Several minutes passed. You came out, bleeding. A minute passed. Building exploded. Instantly, a squad appeared, intercepting you. They didn’t kill you, and they could have. Easily. They wanted you alive. So, I figure you’re worth something to Them. We can’t let Them be gettin’ what They want now can we?” He grinned. “Besides, you seem tough enough, and you’ve got nothing now, not even your pride; you’re a fugitive. We can use people like you; injured, abandoned, nothing to lose, but a fire all the same. Make your way to F2. This tunnel leads to D2. Find a rebel camp there.” He handed me a chain with a bullet strung on it. “Show them this, and tell them Major Neil sent you. That’s the most advice I can give you. Things are very different in D2, watch your back. And keep that sleevegun handy.”

How did he know about that? I had left it hidden since the initial fight… The gunfire was getting louder.

“Get out of here kid! Good luck! And whatever you do, don’t turn ba-” BOOM! Right outside. He began to put up the bricks in a scramble. As each one fell into its place, the light crawling through the checkered gaps grew dimmer, until the last wisps of luminescence were extinguished. I was left with only my hands to guide me through the pitch darkness in the narrow, circular tunnel. I felt along the smooth walls as I slowly trudged, straining to see in the dark. All to be heard was my shallow breathing, the splash of each foot meeting the rounded, puddled ground. It was just as smooth as the walls. Concrete, solid, and very real, but it did not protect my mind from wandering.

It was hot in the tunnel, and I tried to suppress the growing anxiety gripping my chest. What if it was a trap? What if I was going to walk endlessly down here, until I dehydrated and died? What if all that waited at the other end was a squad of Guards with my death warrant? What if there was no end, only eternal blackness? My feet kept on splashing, keeping me barely sewn to reality, hanging at the stitches. I was very thirsty.


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