The End of the Old Order
Avir believes everything Salen says. I don’t think Salen is intentionally misleading us, but I doubt she appreciates the complexities of the situation. The King, Layton, and Block are master manipulators. Facts are fungible to men like these and I’m just not sure Salen has fully grasped this. And not to belittle Ayesha, who is trained to uncover the truth, but she too is a young woman—one who just so happened to wander into a den of tyrants. These men are coldhearted killers. Professional liars. They are men who readily absolve themselves of any and all wrongdoing. Salen and Ayesha are in over their heads.
Salen, however, begs to differ.
“There isn’t a more committed or talented journalist in the world,” Salen boasts. “Ayesha was doing a piece about Mother Suri and the refugee crisis. I warned her to be careful, but she was dead set on meeting Mother Suri. Only, it’s impossible to meet someone if they don’t exist. Ayesha started to suspect this. She interviewed hundreds of people, including the most senior master hackers in the RNTM. None had ever met Mother Suri. Even more curious, none had ever had a conversation with her, even by mobile.”
I notice a man in the distance buying water from a vendor. Salen gives me a funny look because I’m no longer paying attention to her. “Ayesha started to get close to a number of the hackers, in particular a master hacker who goes by the alias Caracal. He’s considered one of the most brilliant hackers in the RNTM. Working with him, Ayesha started to piece together the connections between Mother Suri and Prescient Labs’ encrypted quantum servers. She soon figured out that Mother Suri was fake and that The War Show was completely Block’s doing.”
I notice that the man with water puts his bottle down and begins talking to a second man. These men look out of place. They’re nervous. They now have my attention. “Caracal was irate that his life’s work was a sham. He worked around the clock to destroy The War Show and Block’s ability to air it. That’s why the show never aired. Ayesha then discovered that Block was working with the King and Prime Minister to—”
Warm metal whizzes through the air. I’m hit. The sound follows. Three cracks. Three shots. One catches me in the gut. One bounces off the bench. One is a straight shot through Salen’s eye. Blood spurts from her face as she collapses to the ground.
Four more quick shots—each a miss. I then see the two men run behind a cluster of trees. I pull Trina down behind the bench and Avir dives onto the ground. I grab Avir’s arm and pull her behind the bench too. I then reach for Salen’s leg and drag her to me. Salen is quickly losing consciousness and she assumes, correctly, that it’s the end for her. She reaches for her mobile and I take it. She struggles to say that Ayesha’s location is in the mobile. “Find … Ayesha … mobile.” She gasps for breath, but air isn’t what she needs. Her face is covered in blood and there’s no escaping death. She’s fading quickly, but she tries to get out her final words. “Ayesha … I … love—.” Her heart stops.
Avir reaches for Salen’s hand. But it’s too late. Salen’s dead.
I need to move fast. I’m bleeding out and there are two gunmen in the distance intent on killing me. They’re not great shots—probably not pros. But even amateurs hit their targets sometimes.
I hate to do it, but I have to leave Trina and Avir behind. Five more shots are fired from behind the trees. All but one miss wildly. One catches the top of the bench and shears off a hunk of wood. I quickly take off my shirt and tie it as tightly as I can around my midsection. But there is just so much I can do to slow the flow of blood. My wound is deep and time’s running out. Before I take off, I dial a number into Salen’s mobile—an unsecured distress call to my most trusted troops. I have no choice but to let them, and anyone else monitoring Salen, know my location. I’m dying.
About thirty meters to my left is the security station. The guard is no longer out front. He probably heard the shots and went into hiding. To the right are the turbines. I grab some rocks from behind the bench and throw them at the base of the turbines. They make a series of loud clanks, and the two men follow the sound with their weapons. As soon as I see their heads and weapons turn towards the turbines, I run in the opposite direction. Their guns snap back towards me, but I am able to outrun their repositioning. One shot grazes my calf, but it’s nothing. I run through the door of the security station. As I suspected, the guard is hiding under his desk. I reach down and take his weapon. He doesn’t even pretend to put up a fight.
The two shooters are still positioned behind the trees. Their attention is now focused on me instead of Trina and Avir. I stick the weapon in the security guard’s mouth and tell him I’m a colonel in the Anglican military and that I will shoot him dead if he doesn’t follow my instructions. I tell him I want him to run like a madman towards the two gunmen screaming “don’t shoot, don’t shoot!” The security guard is terrified. I open the door, kick him in his behind, and he charges the shooters. I slip out the side door of the security station and angle in on the shooters. The shooters don’t immediately fire at the security guard. They’re confused. But as he gets closer, they take aim. Their first two shots are fired over his head.
I keep running and zero in on them from the side. One of the shooters fires and takes out the security guard’s right knee. As the security guard crumbles to the ground screaming in agony, I run to a grassy area with a direct line to the shooters. I raise my weapon and fire. My first shot goes straight through the head of one of the shooters. The other shooter panics and starts to run away from me. I need him alive, but I don’t have the strength to chase him down. I drop down to my knee and put both hands on my gun. Pain races through the side of my body. I quickly fire a shot and it hits a tree. I tighten my hands around the gun and steady my arm. I fire again. This time it’s a direct hit to his leg. He stumbles and trips on a root. His weapon falls from his hand. I run up ahead and kick his weapon away. I stand over him. I wait a few seconds and then fire another shot into his shoulder. He needs to know that the only thing I bring him is pain and death.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see the security guard lift himself up and hobble away on one foot. The shooter is bleeding, but luckily, I didn’t hit an artery. I need him to live long enough for me to get answers.
My knees are weak, but I won’t give in. Blood trickles from my belly down my leg and pools at my feet. I’m dizzy and nauseous, but I just need to stay conscious for a few more minutes. I gather myself and place my boot on top of the shooter’s open shoulder wound. I press down, gently at first, but then harder. I turn my heel inside his wound and he screams in pain. “It will only get worse,” I say to him. Trina and Avir run over to me.
“I need to get you to a hospital,” Trina says.
“Not yet,” I say. I steady my gun and point it at the shooter’s head. “Who sent you,” I ask as I push my heel deeper into his wound. “The King? Royal Erabian Forces?”
The shooter gives me a strange look.
“Anglican military? The Prime Minister?”
Another strange look.
“Prescient Labs? Rhone Block?”
Once again, he gives me the kind of look that tells me it’s someone else.
“Who then? Who sent you?” My heel is now deep inside his wound. Sweat pours down the shooter’s face. “Tell me now,” I yell.
He slowly raises his hand. He points to Avir. “It was her son. It was her son, Bramir.”
“That’s a lie,” Avir says. “Why would Bramir want Salen dead?”
“He didn’t,” the shooter says quietly. Blood drips from the corner of his mouth. “The colonel was my target. I didn’t mean to kill the girl. God forgive me for killing her.”
“Why would Bramir want to have me killed?”
“He blames you for the death of his father,” the shooter says.
“Another lie,” Avir shouts. “I don’t believe a word of this. Bramir is a boy and he would never do something like this.” The shooter reaches into his pocket and I stop him. “I’m just getting my phone to show you.” The shooter shows me Bramir’s latest post.
Avir rips the phone out of my hand. She tries to defend Bramir, but neither Trina nor I accept what she’s saying. “I’m sorry, Avir,” Trina says. But it does seem like Bramir’s behind this. It doesn’t change how we feel about you and we would never harm Bramir. We will work this out together. We don’t blame Bramir. He’s probably just very confused.”
Trina walks close to Avir to comfort her.
“Don’t you dare come near me,” Avir says. “We’re not friends.” Avir reaches down on the ground and picks up the shooter’s gun. She pulls Trina in front of her and points the gun at Trina’s head. She slowly starts to back away. “I don’t want to hurt anyone,” she says. “But I don’t trust any of you. I don’t know what to believe anymore.” She continues to back away using Trina as a shield. “I just want to leave. I just want to go home.” She takes a few more steps and lets go of Trina. She starts running towards the wind turbines. Within seconds, she’s gone.
I collapse to the ground. As the world around me slowly fades to black, I watch the turbines spin. Round and round, through the increasing darkness, I watch them spin.
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