Authors: Jaye Wells
he lab looked
like something out of a horror film. Corpses hung from hooks and were laid out on metal slabs. One whole wall bore shelves filled with body parts floating in colorful liquids. Along another wall, a row of dog-sized cages held the meek forms of prisoners too broken from pain to call for help.
Everything in me yearned to help them, but the sounds from the room we’d just fled indicated the guards had finally managed to break through the other door. If we didn’t move quickly, we’d be praying for the luxury of dog kennels.
Carmina barely spared the prisoners a glance as she ran through the lab. She was mad at me, but I found myself struggling to feel guilty. Once we escaped—if we survived, that is—we had one hell of a fight waiting for us. But until that happened, we needed each other to survive, whether she liked it or not.
She reached the door on the far side of the lab and inspected the panel. “This one’s easier,” she said. “Just have to hit this button to open it.”
“Wait,” I whispered. “What if there are more guards out there?”
“You got a better suggestion?”
I pointed over the metal tables. A ventilation shaft hooked down from the ceiling. “That’s got to lead to the top.”
She glanced from the door to the shaft, and given her mood, I expected her to argue. But she must have come to the same conclusion I had about working together because she nodded. “Hurry.” She ran and leapt onto the table. She was just tall enough to knock the vent cover off the tube. Her hair flew behind her as fresh air spilled out. “Give me a hoist, will ya?”
I joined her on the table and all but threw her up into the shaft. She didn’t hesitate to pull me in after her. I pulled the vent cover up with me and and just got it snapped into place before the guards ran into the lab. We sat quietly as they ran to the other door and opened it. As I expected, a trio of guards rushed forward to meet them. As they shouted and argued, Carmina took the explosive Tuck had given us for the job and laid it beside the vent cover. She carefully pushed the button that would activate the timer. In ten minutes, the lab and everyone in it would be destroyed.
That done, we crawled as fast as we could through the tunnels to the outside. As we moved, I prayed that nothing delayed us on the way out or our ashes would spend the rest of eternity mingling with those of the monsters we’d come to kill.
three minutes to reach the ground floor of the building. The vent opened into a washing room. A couple of prisoners looked up from their work of sorting through laundry, but didn’t react to seeing two humans crawl out of a ventilation shaft.
A human guard stood just outside an open door, smoking a cigarette. As we approached, his walkie-talkie let out a gasp of static. A voice shouted to be on the lookout for two prisoners. He turned down the volume and took another drag of his cigarette. It turned out to be his last.
Then we were running across the main plaza in front of the commander’s building. On the large banner, Carmina’s image watched us run for our lives.
On the far side of camp, the train’s whistle shouted into the air. The clock in the center of the plaza showed it was two minutes after six.
“We’re late,” she yelled over her shoulder.
“Train’s taking off late too. We can still make it.”
We dug in and pumped our legs faster. Behind us, the sound of the prison alarm squawked over the loudspeakers. Ahead of us, the sun slipped below the horizon. The vampires in the bunkers below our feet woke from their sleep, and the first thing they’d hear upon rising was that the legendary Dr. Death had been murdered by two prisoners. There would be hell to pay. I just prayed that by the time they mustered themselves for the hunt, we’d be safely on that train.
“Faster,” I shouted. “Faster!”
, faster,” I whispered, urging the train to gallop. We’d pulled from the station so slowly that the guard Bravo had kissed didn’t even have to jog to keep up with our car as he shouted for us to halt. Luckily he didn’t have a gun, nor enough to lose to try to jump onto the car. When he reached the end of the platform he spun and ran to the phone by the office door to call in reinforcements.
“Matri, where are we going?” The question came from the young that Bravo had arrived at the camp with. I looked into his round cheeks and wondered if he’d ever fully realize how lucky he was to have only been in Krovgorod for a couple of days instead of his whole life like the other children.
“Hush now,” I said. “Go sit where I told you. It’s not safe here by the door.”
Cleo joined me once the young had done as I ordered. “We won’t break through the gates without more speed.”
“They’ll manage it somehow, but for now let’s hope the others catch us.”
We were well beyond the station and moving along behind the storehouses and a few of the barracks. It wouldn’t be long until we were in open space, where guards could line up their guns and shoot at will. The sun was slipping low and I prayed it would take the guards several precious minutes to organize themselves and get the weapons in line. If not, bullets would turn the cars into Swiss cheese before we even had a chance to make a decent run at those gates.
Our boxcar cleared the cover of the final building. In the distance, two figures ran from the promenade. Behind them, vampire guards swarmed out of the commander’s building. On one hand, the sight was cause for celebration, because it meant Dr. Death was dead. On the other hand, it appeared that Zed and Carmina had managed to kick the hornets’ nest on their way out. In addition to the guards chasing them, several armored cars zoomed out from behind the building, loaded down with vampires and mounted guns.
Even as I prayed they’d reach us in time, I also prayed that the train picked up so much speed they’d never catch us. The latter meant we’d have a better chance of knocking down those gates and Tuck’s explosive surprise would give us a real chance at freedom. I didn’t want Meridian Six or Zed to die, but I wanted to live. Bravo thought me selfish, but she was young yet.
The train suddenly lurched forward, as if they’d tossed a packet of dynamite into the firebox. I scrambled to grab hold of something, but I fell to the floor of the boxcar and bounced. My feet flew outside the car and I only just managed to grab the edge of the opening to avoid falling out completely.
The children’s worried cries couldn’t penetrate the force field of blind panic. My upper body wasn’t strong enough to pull myself back inside. My feet could only hang loose, because if I moved and they tangled in one of the train’s wheels I’d be pulled under.
Cleo grabbed my wrists with her boiled lobster hands. She fell back on her rear end and tried to pull me back inside the train. The train rocked roughly. Cleo grunted and pulled, but couldn’t get leverage. “Children, help!”
I felt like I was being stretched on Dr. Death’s infamous torture rack. My shoulder sockets screamed and my legs burned from trying to keep them away from the train’s wheels.
Small hands grabbed onto Cleo’s shoulders and high cries punctuated the train’s chugging progress. My chest scraped over the sharp edge. The pain was welcome because it meant I was moving in the right direction.
“Pull harder,” Cleo shouted.
Another inch’s progress.
Before I could feel too relieved, a loud
sounded nearby. Three more followed close behind it.
“They’re shooting,” Cleo shouted. “Faster, children.” She lurched back to try to pull me in further.
Bullets peppered the train. Wood shards and shrapnel bit into the skin of my legs and back. No part of me didn’t hurt, and it was only a matter of time until those bullets found my flesh.
I closed my eyes and stopped grabbing onto Cleo’s wrists. Either she’d lose her grip or I’d just slip out, eventually.
The first bullet ripped through my left calf. The hard pinch burst into a throbbing nebula of pain.
I don’t know how long I just hung there, wracked with pain and waiting for the end. But suddenly the pressure on my wrists shifted and strengthened. “Damn it, hold on!”
When I opened my eyes, I saw Bravo looming over me. She squatted at the edge of the car, and had Cleo wrapped around her waist. “Just let me go,” I begged.
Her eyes burned with the sort of conviction I’d lost years ago. “Don’t you dare give up. Not now. Not after everything you’ve done to survive.”
The weight of all of those decisions pulled me down. I’d convinced myself for years that I’d been trying to save the children as much as I’d been saving myself. But the truth simmered deep inside me. I stood by while the Troika hurt those kids because I knew that standing up to them would mean my immediate death. “Get the children away from the door and drop me, damn it!”
“You’ll do no one any good as a martyr.” She threw her weight back. My body jerked and my hips scraped over the threshold. As I slammed onto the floor, another bullet burrowed into my left thigh.
I screamed and my vision went spotty. Bravo wrapped her arms around me and we rolled. “Close the door,” she screamed at Cleo.
As the door slammed home, cutting out all the light, I went limp from the pain. My left leg would be all but useless if I managed to survive the blood loss. “You should have let me die.”
She whispered, “Too many have already been left behind.”
I swallowed hard. Cold sweat covered my skin despite the fire in my leg. “Where’d you come from, anyway? Who’s driving the train?”
“Wu’s driving. I came back to check on you and see if I could help Six and Zed make it aboard.” She released me and stood. “You’re welcome, by the way.”
I squinted up at her through the dim light. She looked like she’d aged five years since we’d first arrived at the station. “Thanks, kid.”
She nodded and ran off without another word. As I watched her throw open the door leading to the caboose, I smiled despite my pain. If we survived this, she’d never let me forget how she’d saved my life, and damn me if I wouldn’t feel grateful to her for giving me a second chance to make up for the things I’d done to survive.
As Cleo put pressure on my wounds, I closed my eyes and offered up whatever time I had left to fighting the good fight.
hey were gaining on us
. No matter how hard Zed and I ran, we’d never be able to outpace a vehicle. Even over the sound of my heart galloping in my ears, I could hear the roaring engines and the mechanical whining of the vampire’s bat drones.
The train chugged down the track and gained speed with each passing second. We’d have to hustle even faster if we were going to make it. The only blessing was that the vampires had decided to aim their guns at it instead of us.
When we finally reached the track, Zed stumbled over one of the rails. I grabbed his arm and dragged him until he could regain his feet. Then we were running side by side toward the caboose. We’d almost reached it when Bravo burst through the rear door. She waved her hands wildly as if to encourage us to pick up speed. I kept my eyes trained on the two steps I had to climb before I’d be safely on the rear platform. The train was hustling, but hadn’t gained full speed. Good news for us, but not so great for the plan to burst through the huge metal gates a bit farther down the track.
Zed fell back to let me go first. I dug in and pushed myself harder. My hand reached for the rail on the side of the metal steps. I got a fingertip on the metal but the train lurched forward out of my grasp. Cursing, I tried again.
This time I got two fingers around the rail. I pushed off the ground with everything I had and leaped onto the bottom step. My foot touched metal. I overcorrected to prevent myself from slamming into the next step. My body started to fall back. Panicked, my heart stumbled. Then a hand wrapped around my wrist and wrenched me forward.
I fell into Bravo but recovered quickly.
Without thanking her, I turned to see if Zed had made it yet. Red-faced and panting, he was almost there. I wrapped a hand around the rail and stood on the top step. I held out my free hand. “Come on!”
He extended his hand, brushing my fingers with his before losing the connection. I leaned forward as far as I could. “Hurry!”
Finally, he grabbed my hand and leapt. I held my breath and pulled as hard as I could.
His body flew toward the bottom step. One foot made it. His expression opened up with hope. I grabbed and pulled before he could fall back.
Bullet sparked off the railing beside my head. That was all the encouragement we needed to scramble off the platform.
Just before I leaped inside the caboose, searing pain exploded in my right arm.
Then Zed was screaming and dragging me, and Bravo was pushing us into the caboose. Over their heads, I saw two motorcycles, each carrying vampires with big guns, gaining on us from the tracks.
I fell across the threshold into the dark car. The pain in my biceps robbed me of breath. Blood, lots of blood.
Zed ripped off his shirt and wrapped it around my arm, pulling it tight to cut off the blood loss. “Can you stand?”
I nodded. Seeing those vampires so close to the train released enough adrenaline to counteract the pain. “Two motorcycles, close,” I gasped. “Need to get moving.”
He looked like he wanted to tell me to sit down and rest, but we both knew we didn’t have that luxury anymore. Instead, he turned to Bravo and took control. “How many people are on the train?”
“Wu’s at the helm with two prisoners shoveling coal. We got fifty adults in the next car and twenty children in the one after. But the other cars I saw are full of supplies. Maybe if we dump some of it…”
Zed shook his head. “It’ll take too long. We need everyone to move into the car closest to the engine. We can uncouple the rest faster than the time it’ll take to dump stuff. I’ll go warn Wu; you two get everyone to move forward. And hurry.”
With that, he squeezed her arm, kissed my forehead, and took off toward the front of the train. In his wake, Bravo and I exchanged a look.
“He always that bossy?”
She laughed. “Hell, yes. You okay?”
I swallowed the nausea. Guess adrenaline couldn’t totally erase the pain of a bullet wound after all. “I’ll be fine. Let’s hurry so we don’t get left behind.”