Authors: Jaye Wells
hen I finally burst through
the door into the engine room, I found Wu at the controls and two humans I didn’t recognize shoveling coal into the firebox.
Wu’s greeting left something to be desired. “We’re not going to make it.”
“Yes, we are,” I said. “Bravo and Carmina are moving everyone up so we can dump the other cars.”
“It won’t be enough.” Wu pointed out the front window.
The gates were way closer than I expected. They were metal and looked strong enough to keep out a determined giant—or keep in a train of soul-weary prisoners.
“We should have had Tuck use that dynamite on the gates,” Wu said.
“That would have derailed us,” I said. “Have a little faith, Wu.”
The train surged faster. Bravo and Six must have begun uncoupling the cars as they progressed through the train. From my count, there were five more cars to go. I just hoped we had enough time to get the remaining four unhooked to get the speed we needed. There were only a couple with people, though, so hopefully it would go fast.
A loud explosion sounded far behind us. I ducked my head out to see a plume of smoke rise over the commander’s building. Judging from the fire, it had caused a lot of damage. The bad news, of course, was all the guards it was supposed to kill were currently chasing the train.
Even as I had this thought, a motorcycle pulled even with the engine. I pulled Wu down just in time. A bullet cracked the glass of the train’s front window.
“Damn it,” Wu said. “We’re going to need a miracle to pull this off.”
“I don’t know about you,” I said, “but I lost my faith in the gods a long time ago. We’ll have to pull this off without divine intervention.”
The train sped up again. This time the increase was faster, which I hoped meant they’d gotten two cars unhooked at once. That only left one more.
“I’m going to go check on them.”
“Hey, boy,” Wu said.
I stopped at the door and raised my brows.
He tilted his head toward the looming gate. “When we crash through that thing, you better hold on to your ass.”
I saluted him. “Yes, sir. You just make sure we stay on the tracks.”
I let the engine room door slam behind me. In the gap between it and the next car, the wind whipped through, nearly dislodging me from the narrow platform. When I finally made it into the next car, the lack of wind was a huge relief, but it wasn’t quieter there. Bodies crammed into the car like sardines in a can.
“Carmina! Bravo!” I yelled, but my voice was swallowed by the panicked whine of the children and the cries of men and women. The sound of bullets against the side of the car created a nerve-wracking rhythm, a sensation only heightened by the claustrophobia of all those unwashed bodies in the tight space.
I pushed through the crowd as fast as I was able. Eventually, I made it to the other end only to find the rear door open and even more bodies coming through. A man standing by the opening helped people across the gap between it and the next car.
“Where’s Bravo? Carmina?”
He shrugged. “Don’t know them.” Then he dismissed me because he needed to help a woman carrying a toddler across. I waited for that pair to make it before leaping over to the other car myself.
A handful of people crowded near the next door with Bravo at the front. She grabbed my hand to pull me across. “Where’s Carmina?” I shouted over the rushing wind.
She pointed back over her shoulder.
I leaned in. “We need to hurry. We’re almost at the gates.”
She nodded and pushed me back to get busy. “All right everyone, faster now.”
The people behind her parted to allow me into the car before resuming their exodus.
Carmina leaned against a wall. Her right arm was a bloody mess. She was so pale and weak that she looked like a ghost of herself. I rushed over to her.
“Hey, come on. We need to get you across.”
She shook her head. “They’re almost done anyway.”
“We’re almost at the gate. We need to hurry.” I urged her toward the doorway. Bravo was already helping the last person across.
Carmina allowed me to get her closer to the opening. She leaned heavily on my side.
Bravo leaped over the opening and turned for me to hand Carmina over.
I looked to the side in time to see us pass the guard tower just in front of the gates. On the front, another banner with Meridian Six’s smiling face mocked me. Time was up.
I looked up at Bravo. “Uncouple it.”
She shook her head.
I pushed Carmina across the opening. Bravo was so busy catching her, she couldn’t stop me from swooping down to hit the mechanism to unhook the cars.
A hiss sounded.
The car pulled away from the one where Bravo and Carmina watched with growing horror as I fell behind.
I reached out a hand to wave goodbye.
fter Bravo caught
me and I turned to see Zed messing with the coupling, a spurt of anger and adrenaline transformed me.
As he raised a hand to wave goodbye. I jumped forward and grabbed his wrist.
For a heart-stopping moment, gravity captured me and pulled me toward the blurry ground.
But then hands clamped around my waist and my body went taut from the opposing forces—Bravo and the others pulling me toward the train and Zed’s arm stretching as he fought to dislodge my grip.
“No!” he shouted. “Let me go!”
His eyes widened as he stumbled forward off the retreating car. I fell to the platform at the back of the train and he fell toward the ground.
Bravo and the others hauled us backward. Zed’s eyes went wild from fear as his legs kicked uselessly against the air.
The arms around my waist made breathing difficult. Zed’s wrist slipped a fraction of an inch in my hand. Moving my injured arm was torture, but I needed to give him something to grip. He took a quick look at the wrist I offered him, clenched his jaw, and grabbed on. White fire shot up my arm and the pain made me gag.
The bodies behind me pulled all their weight backward. I sobbed freely and screamed my rage.
It wasn’t right.
None of this was right.
Even though I’d grown up in the Troika’s bleak world, I couldn’t believe we’d get this close to freedom only to die at the gates. But I also knew that if we didn’t get Zed inside and brace ourselves, the train’s collision would kill us all.
“Bravo!” I shouted. “On three, we all fall back.”
“Three,” was all she said. Behind me, I heard the word echo down the line.
“One.” I planted my feet on the ground.
Zed tightened his grip.
“Two.” I bent my knees.
He looked up into my eyes, his own hard with determination, and nodded.
“Three!” I flew backward.
Something slammed into my front. Cushion of bodies braced us from behind.
The terrible scream of metal on metal. Bodies flung around. Gravity reversing and then doubling. Pain everywhere.
But then, a miracle. Despite the pain and the echoes of screaming, the train continued to move forward.
I peeled open my eyes to see through the open rear door. The gates, now bent and twisted, grew smaller in the distance. Something solid moved underneath me. I looked down to see Zed’s face, his expression dazed and filled with pain.
“Are we dead?” he groaned.
I lifted a trembling hand to point to the rectangle of light. “Look.”
I rolled off him and we crawled together to look.
He took my hand as we watched the prison’s walls grow smaller behind us. Unfortunately, we also saw vampires crawling over the rubble of the ruined gates to give chase.
“They won’t stop coming,” he said. “Tuck’s dynamite didn’t wor—”
A tidal wave of heat and sound launched us backward. By the time we recovered and pulled ourselves upright, the entire camp had erupted into a series of fireballs.
A cheer rose up in the crowded car.
Zed and I exchanged astonished looks. My entire body felt like a wound, but I’d never felt better in my life. We’d done it.
I don’t know who moved first, but next thing I knew we’d fallen into each other. We sort of just collapsed together, holding up each other’s weight, as we’d held each other up throughout the entire rescue.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered into my ear.
I shook my head against his shoulder. “Don’t worry about it.”
“But killing him was your ticket, right?”
I pulled back to look at him in shock. “How’d you know?”
He looked sheepish. “I told you, I eavesdropped that night.”
“It doesn’t really matter. I was a fool to think Saga would honor any agreement. Now that we’ve managed this victory he’ll only double his efforts to use me as the poster girl for the rebellion.”
“Of course it matters. I saw those posters. You’ve never not been used by someone. First it was the Prime and now it’s Saga and Icarus, right?”
My eyes stung, but it had nothing to do with pain or the smoke from the explosions. “Saga would be a fool not to use me—us, actually—as symbols to encourage other humans to rise up. I get it. I really do. I just wish—Well, what I wish doesn’t matter much, does it? As long as the Troika is in power none of us will ever really be free.”
Zed looked back over all of the people in the car. They were hugging and crying openly. His gaze lingered on Bravo and the kid we’d gone to save.
“We could run away.”
I frowned at him. “What about your youngs?”
“Bravo will look after them. And Matri.” He nodded toward Matri and Bravo, who were hugging. I’d noticed tension between the women when I first met them, but I guess all of that got sorted out sometime between then and almost dying. I glanced at Zed. Funny how almost losing everything realigned one’s priorities.
“We can help dig Tuck and the others out of the mines and then sneak off to make our own way.”
I thought about all of those hopeless faces. The humans who’d been imprisoned in this labor camp. There were others—more camps, more prisoners, more tragedies waiting to happen. How could I run away knowing there was so much work left to be done? I’d spent so much time longing for my own freedom as some sort of payment for the ills I’d suffered, but there were so many others who needed help.
“Thanks for the offer, but running away isn’t my style.” I squeezed his hand. “I don’t think it’s yours, either.” And that was one of the things I liked most about him.
I shook my head. “I don’t love Saga and Icarus’s methods, but that doesn’t mean they’re wrong about needing to overthrow the Troika or the role I need to play in that. Before I came on this mission, I was ready to walk away and never look back. But now?” I looked around the car at each face, once so bleak, barely more than walking corpses. Now, for the first time in years, they were smiling, daring to hope for their future.
I smiled at Zed through tears of my own. “Now, I understand that this is worth fighting for.”
He tilted his head and squeezed my hand.
When he kissed me, it was soft and quick, a promise instead of a demand.
And for the first time in my life, I allowed myself to hope for my own future.
The Uncanny Collection: Tales of Mayhem and Magic
Prospero’s War Series
Fire Water (Novella)
Sabina Kane Series
Mage in Black
Violet Tendencies (Short Story)
Rusted Veins (Novella)
Fool’s Gold (Novella)
Meridian Six Series
Children of Ash
Jaye Wells Writing as Kate Eden
The Hot Scot
aye Wells is
a USA Today-bestselling author of urban fantasy and supernatural crime fiction. Raised by booksellers, she loved reading books from a very young age. That gateway drug eventually led to a full-blown writing addiction. When she’s not chasing the word dragon, she loves to travel, drink good bourbon, and do things that scare her so she can put them in her books. Jaye lives in Texas.