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End Times: Turncoat

The wind chilled Jake to the bone.  He felt his skin prickle as a particularly strong gust nearly blew him off the rampart.  He shook his head and pulled the collar up close to his ears.  The gun strap on his shoulder had begun to cut off circulation to his arm.  Switching arms, he shook his joints a bit and felt the blood swim back down into his limb.  The pin pricks running through his nerves woke him up a bit.  Jake hacked up a thick one and spat a wad of phlegm down on the masses below him.  He heard a satisfactory smack as it hit one of a hundred different moving targets.

“You know, that’s a disgusting habit Lieutenant,” came a stern voice behind him.  He felt his back stiffen as he quickly turned to face the voice and snapped to attention.

“Yes sir, I apologize Sir,” Jake said as he felt his face go red.  It never paid to have the CO catch you fucking off on the job, even if it was the end of the world.

“Report Lieutenant,” Said the gray haired man as he lit a cigar, extinguishing his match between worn and scared finger tips.  The CO held a strange emotionless look on his face that Jake had only seen on a handful of people.  It was mostly reserved for high ranking military, the ones that didn’t lose their shit back in ’09.  The ones that were left were a much stronger, determined stock.  Of course, these officers tended to be a bit more hard-assed as their predecessors.  Jake particularly disliked this one.  Major Zachariah Caanon, or ‘Powder Keg’ as his boys joked behind his back.  It was only a matter of time, they would say, before he finally would blow his cool.  And when that day came, Jake planned on not being anywhere near his line of sight.

“All seems clear so far sir, no additional activity,” He paused for a second as he reached for a clip-board, “No more than a dozen or so stragglers wandered into the perimeter.”  Caanon took the clip-board and let his eyes dance across the figures.  After a moment he looked down at the crowd gathered under the rampart.  The two soliders stood on a parapet nearly thirty feet off the ground level overlooking the first gate and first line of defense to the city.  The gates themselves had not been opened in nearly a month.  No new supplies, no new survivors, and no new visitors.  It was the lack of visitors that disturbed Jake more than anything else.

“No new visitors,” Caanon said more to himself confirming Jake’s thoughts.  The major thumbed through the reports and eyed the distance out towards the hills and shadowy trees beyond.  Gabriel City was lucky compared to the other four hubs.  The wastelands had not spread so badly out here.  Green vegetation was still visible.  Though, it was probably poisonous.  Everything seemed to be poisonous these days, the air, the water, the food.  It was as if nature itself had raised itself against mankind in anger.  “Alright soldier, your relief comes in four hours,” The Major looked back at the horizon again.  Jake saw it in his eyes, but forced the thought out of his head.

If he can have fear in his eyes like that…he quickly struck the thought out of his mind and looked back out at the sea of bodies.  It made him think about that last concert he saw as a kid, god, how long ago was that, ten…fifteen years?  Watching the crowd entranced by the aging black metal head, the one who used to feed off live animals on stage or at least that’s what they said he did, crazy mother…

“Yes sir,” Jake paused for a moment, “Sir, are we expecting company?”  Jake regretted asking the question as soon as the last word had left his lips.  Caanon’s eyes seemed to go from neutral to red-alert in only a moment.  Jake knew he had stumbled on to dangerous territory, possibly something not meant to be known or expected, at least not by someone as lowly as a lieutenant.

“Of course not,” The Major said as he straightened his jacket, “Carry on Lieutenant.” Jake looked back over the crowd of bodies, swaying gently as if caught in a breeze or a weak rip-tide.  He returned the Majors salute and went back over to the command station.  He plopped himself down on the hard stool and cranked up the heat in the small glass shack.

“Fuck this cold!”  He said to no one in particular as he rubbed his hands together, trying to get the full range of motion back into his hands.  He let another rumbling glob of phlegm rise in his throat and let it loose out the window onto the heads of one of the slags below.  He grimaced at the satisfying splat.  Jake looked over at the edge of the forest again and shivered despite the heat emanating from the vents.  There was something sinister about the darkened tree line.  Maybe it was that Gabriel City was the only one of the five hubs that still had a visible tree line.  Maybe it was because it represented the only thing left to fear in the world.

He looked back over his shoulder in towards the city itself.  Hidden behind reinforced steel walls over twenty feet high, with guards stationed every hundred yards around the perimeter, and a full infantry just in case, Gabriel City was far from defenseless.  The city itself had stood for countless years, the old rusted highway signs could still be seen here and there half buried or nearly forgotten.  Funny, how ten years could have such a profound effect on people’s memories.   The wall was only a few years old, a technological wonder when all of society was so nearly wiped off the face of the earth.

Even though Jake was told that Gabriel City offered the most state of the art protection of any of the five great Hubs, he still had a gnawing feeling that it would be a fair trade to be shipped off to any of the others tonight.  Something about the somber and quiet attitude of the slags below, or the chill in the air, or the ominous presence in the tree line, was chewing at the back of his mind.  Something was wrong here, something was going to go wrong tonight.

You aren’t psychic you dipshit.  He thought to himself as he took a step out of the booth and returned to his station on the rampart.  The lieutenant shook his head and took out a cigarette.  The slags below seemed to react to the flare of the match.  Their soulless eyes turned up to the spark; their jaws slack, and hungry.  Jake watched the smoke tendrils dance in the air as he looked back at the treeline before glancing down at his watch.

Four more hours, just four more hours…

The early hints of dawn on a dead world began to make their appearances.  The perpetual gray sky loomed over head with a twinge of purple, not the color of healthy skies, but the taint of bruised flesh, rotten, and diseased.  Jake, feeling his lucidness slipping shook himself awake.  He took another glance at his watch and noticed that an hour remained in his shift.  His relief would be here shortly, a stocky man named Blemmings.  Jake grimaced at the thought.  The man was always half an hour early every morning with that shit eating grin on his face acting as if the world hadn’t moved on ten years ago, as if undead walking across the land was something to be expected by a rational man.

He looked at the control panel in his booth and moved his hands towards a set of cylinders.  He grabbed the black one and poured himself another cup of cold coffee.  He could feel the acidic liquid tear into his intestines setting him on fire from the inside.  His throat quivered as it received the stimulant, forcing his lips to curl at the bitterness.  As he put the small cup back onto the desktop, he thought back to the Major.  Rumors had spread throughout the city, rumors about a traitor, about someone working for the Outsiders.  He smiled a bit to himself.  The Major could be a hard ass; that was for sure, but a traitor?  No, he told himself.  That simply wasn’t possible.  How even a handful of men could believe such crap astounded him.

Yet the threat of a traitor inside the city was a real concern.  Communications had tracked an encrypted message a week or so ago.  A signal sent on a known Outsider channel.  Jake remembered the conversation he had with Blemmings the day news leaked out of the tracked information exchange.

“You would have to be an idiot to use such a common channel, this guy has to be a civie.  No way would a uniform make such a stupid mistake,” The portly guard had said between bites of a stale bagel.

“What makes you so sure,” Jake had said while looking over the mass of slags below them, “I mean, what if he just wanted to make it look like he was a civie, get some flack off his back.”  Blemmings looked at Jake, and for a moment Jake could have sworn there was a bit of suspicion in his eyes.  Then, a moment later it was gone, replaced with that stupid shit eating grin again.

“Yeah, right, and maybe it really was the Major like everyone else is saying.” Blemmings said spitting out a small chunk of half chewed bagel as he let out a short shrill laugh.

As the memory of the past conversation passed, the cool dawn air washed over him.  He stepped out onto the ramparts and let his eyes return to the tree line.  He could almost convince himself that he could hear a slight humming sound somewhere in the distance.  He felt the rutger on his hip and traced his fingers over the sharp metal ridges.  With his eyes squinting, he looked out past the tree line looking for any disturbance.

Ten years ago, if something was coming through that forest, it would be detected miles away as hundreds of birds would take to the air.  Of course, most of the birds were dead now.  Apparently poisoned air hit some creatures harder than others.

His eyes caught a glint.  Nothing more than a short spark of light, like a reflection, like metal against a brief ray of sunlight.    A single bird flew up from the tree line a couple miles away.   Jake clenched his rifle and tensed.  Something was coming.  He walked quickly back over to the booth and picked up the radio and paused.  He held the transmitter to his mouth and held his hand over the button.  He gave his watch a careful glance.  Blemmings would be here in five minutes.  Five minutes and it would be his problem, his paper work.   That excuse could work.  Blemmings was an idiot, if something was coming, he probably wouldn’t notice it until it broke through the tree line and stood on their front porch.  Jake let himself have a cold smile as he put the receiver back down.

The humming had increased in intensity.  Anyone who heard it now would defiantly know something was out there, and getting closer.  Inside the walls, it would be impossible to hear it, but up here, out in the open, the sound was crisp and almost clear.

A few more sparse birds broke into flight, much closer this time.  Whatever was coming would trip the perimeter alarm any time now.  Just as that thought crossed Jake’s mind, a shrill alarm burst through the compound.  He raised an eyebrow as he looked at the controls and noticed that it wasn’t a perimeter alarm after all.  This was an internal alarm.  A moment later vocal commands began to play across military comms.

“Internal alert, section Alpha Prime, breech of security; repeat, section Alpha Prime…”  Jake looked around.  Someone had broken into the highest security rings to get into the most restricted research lab in the city.  Gabriel City would be in full lockdown mode in a matter of seconds now.  Jake looked at his watch again.  Thirty seconds before Blemmings would walk out the door leading up to the Ramparts, thirty seconds before his relief would be here.

Like clockwork, the door burst open and Blemmings walked out, Jake smiled a little.  It was hard not to appreciate such precision in a man as inept as Blemmings.  The smile faded from Jake’s lips as he saw a looming figure come out of the doorway behind Blemmings.  He felt angry eyes glaze over the area and finally land on himself.  Blemmings had an almost apologetic look.  Jake returned the glance and almost felt bad for him.  All in all, Jake liked Blemmings.  Sure, he was an idiot in a uniform, but he was loyal, almost to a fault.  The simple warning apologetic look from Blemmings was enough for Jake.  Major Caanon was here for him.  They thought he was the traitor.

Anger and fear retched from his gut as the Officer approached him, gun drawn, but pointed to the ground.

“Leitenant, I am going to have to ask that you come with me, at once,” The Major said.  There was venom in his throat.  Jake almost laughed at the mental image he imagined. He saw the major’s head replaced by that of a cobra spewing poison at him.

“Major, what is this about?” Jake asked trying to sound as if he had no idea what was going on.  He wasn’t about to implicate himself.  He forced himself not to look out to the tree line.  Blemmings and Caanon had apparently not heard the humming sound change from a slight vibration in the background to a more audible chugging sound, the sound an old engine in desperate need of an oil change makes.

“We have some questions that we need to ask you, immediately,” He could tell the Major wasn’t requesting him to come, this was a direct order if he ever heard one before.  He also knew that in wartime, Officers were known to shoot underlings who disobeyed orders in times of crisis.

He gave a pleading look to Blemmings.  Jake was amazed as the inept guard actually spoke up.  “Sir, I mean no disrespect, but I will need to know what he is being questioned about,” He paused a moment to gauge whether he had crossed the line or not, and quickly amended, “For the security logs of course.”  The Major looked at both men a moment.

“Leitentant Jacob Graves will be taken in for questioning related to the recent security breach in Sector Alpha Prime.”  Jake let out a shocked look.

“Sir, I do not mean to disrespect your security measures, but I feel it is my best interest to inform you that the alarm has just now gone off, and I have been at my post for the entirety of my shift,” Jake said as he took a single, careful step back towards the booth.

“The alarm was compromised.  It is believed Alpha Prime was breached much earlier than the alarm made us aware of,” the Major’s hand tightened a bit on the handle of his gun, “Now, if you will follow me.”  Jake hesitated for a moment.  He gave his watch a quick glance before the tree line in front of the ramparts crashed apart.  The Major and Blemmings spun around with weapons in hand as the slags below made for the oncoming vehicles only to be plowed under the armored tires and spit back up as shredded flesh.  Jake took another step into the booth and grabbed the red cylinder that stood next to his thermos filled with the wretched bitter coffee.

The vehicle that approached the wall was equipped with a large split plow giving it the look of a small freight train.  What looked like bullet proof metal armor covered every inch of the vehicle.  Another vehicle stood silent in the very edge of the tree line, out of weapons fire range, but close enough to tell it was a fuel transport.  Probably enough gas to power Gabriel city for a month.

“What the holy hell…” The Major tried to say as Jake stepped out of the booth with the red cylinder in one hand and the rutger in the other.  The Major gave him an odd look of twisted hate and confusion.  “So, you are the traitor, you cowardly little bastard!”  Jake expected a bullet to pass through his flesh as the Major raised his weapon.  He tensed as time seemed to slow down.  “Get out of the way you fat fuck!” the Major yelled.

“Sir, you have no proof that Lieutenant Graves is responsible…”  Before Blemmings could utter another word, the Major had shoved him hard out of his way.  Blemmings teetered towards the edge of the ramparts, unable to retain his balance.  His scream as he fell the twenty feet to the cold hard earth below distracted the Major one last moment.  For Jake, that one moment was all he needed.  He raised his gun and blew apart the Major’s hand, spraying a fine mist of blood and flesh.  The Major’s weapon fell to the ground as the major fell to one knee gripping his wrist tightly.

“You piece of shit, what the hell do you think you are doing?” The major yelled, nothing but fury in his eyes now.

“They have the other half of the cure.  With this pathogen,” He held up the red cylinder, “ they can finish the product.  We already know the military won’t deal with “terrorists” as you call them…as you call us,” Jake said, a grimace spreading over his face.  He risked a look down over the edge of the wall.  The vehicle was now just below him, cutting his fall by ten feet.  At least they lined the bed of the truck with something that looked softer than steel.

“The Outsiders deserve this medicine just as much as the sheep inside this little egg you people have created to give you a sense of security,” Jake felt himself sneering now.  Gabriel City represented everything about humanity he despised.  Here they sat, getting fat; pretending the rest of the world simply no longer mattered.

“We will find you, you god damned traitor.”  The major said as more blood poured from his wrist.  Jake raised the gun once more.

“Some might, but you won’t.”  He pulled the trigger and let the Major’s body fall off the side of the ramparts.  Jake gave the city one last condemning look and jumped into the bed of the truck.  Moments later bullets rang down all along the armored hull of the vehicle as they pulled back out towards the forest.

“Was the mission a success?” ask the man in the drivers seat through the sliding window.  Jake returned a smile and pulled out a small metal device with a single button on it.

“Almost,” he said as he pressed down on the button.  A shockwave struck the vehicle almost knocking them into the trees as they drove away from the city walls.  Jake turned around and looked at the large cloud of flame and smoke consumed a good sized section of the ramparts.  As the smoke began to clear a bit, a large breach could be seen, at least a couple dozen meters wide.  Wide enough for quite a few of the slags to slip in before defenses could be brought back online, long enough to let them slip back into the waste lands of earth and away from anyone who might pursue them.

Jake held the canister of pathogen close like a precious child.

“This changes everything, you know that right?”  the driver said.  Jake didn’t turn around, but continued watching the city wall burn.  He smiled a widely and looked down at the canister.

“Yeah…this changes everything.”

RETURN TO SHORT STORIES

 

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