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Authors: Harold Bloemer

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BOOK: Highway To Armageddon
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I slip the goggles on and my vision is instantly flooded with green light. I
use the computer chip we all have installed in our brain to telepathically
navigate the Sanctuary’s network. I soon reach a video feed of the holding
room. It’s built to hold up to a thousand people at one time, but there’s only
about 40 people in it at the moment, including four armed guards. I scan all
the faces, but Dorothy and Sally are nowhere to be seen. The sense of
helplessness deepens.

           
I take the goggles off and hand them back to Becky.

           
“Sorry for holding everyone up,” I say gloomily.

           
“It’s okay, Boom Boom,” Becky says. “Sorry I don’t have better news. But I’m
sure your friends are alright.”

           
We both know that’s a lie. Something bad happened to Dorothy and Sally, and
I’ll probably never see them again.

           
Lance pats my thigh, something he always does when I’m in a despairing mood. I
don’t know why, but it makes me feel a little bit better. Maybe it’s just the
human contact from someone who truly cares about me.

           
Lance speeds off into the tunnel. The honks and shouts grow fainter and fainter
until they disappear completely. The silence is music to my battered eardrums.
But that doesn’t come close to compensating for the unease I always feel when
I’m in tight, enclosed spaces. The tunnel is actually pretty wide, but it
reminds me of a giant, underground tomb. I glance up and wince at the sight of
all the nerve gas cannons popping out of the walls. And even though you can’t
tell just by looking at it, it’s common knowledge that the ceiling and walls
are lined with explosives. If an army were ever dumb enough to attempt an
invasion, they would be gassed, then buried alive under tons of rubble. The
logical part of my brain knows I’m being ridiculous for imagining noxious gas
and debris raining down on top of us. But the paranoid part can’t help it. I
clench my eyes shut and take deep breaths in a futile attempt to calm my
nerves.

           
After what feels like forever, someone touches my thigh again.

           
“We’re almost there, Firecracker,” Lance says softly.

           
I crack open my eyes and breathe a sigh of relief as the exit to the tunnel
rushes into view. Lance is driving so fast that we’ve nearly caught up with the
car in front of us.

           
Seconds later we burst free from the tunnel and out onto the Sanctuary streets.
I inhale a deep breath of the fresh air. My nerves instantly settle down.

           
I’ve lived in Sanctuary 7 for the past few years, but I never get tired of its
sights and sounds. The streets are filled with thousands of men, women, and
children enjoying the pleasant evening. The skies are filled with flying cars,
weaving in and out of traffic. Brightly-lit skyscrapers tower over us, basking
the city in a sort of perpetual twilight. Even in the middle of the night the
city streets are brightly lit and filled with activity.

           
Floating holographic billboards broadcast advertisements for restaurants,
casinos, department stores, bars, whorehouses, and opium dens. Some of the
billboards are political advertisements and American propaganda against the
Chinese.

           
One of the billboards shows President Angela Klaxton and Vice President Cindy
LeBeau waving American flags. On the bottom is the tagline
‘Klaxton-LeBeau
2152: Keeping America and the World Safe for 22
Years’
. I shake my
head in mild amusement. I don’t know why President Klaxton and Vice President
LeBeau bother wasting money on all these ads. The election isn’t for another
two years, and Klaxton basically runs a dictatorship anyway. The elections are
just a formality, an attempt to make people believe America is still a
democracy. A surprisingly large number of the American population believes it,
too.

           
Another billboard shows a picture of the Chinese Empress, Dynasty Xing, sitting
on a black throne atop a pile of skulls. It would be a menacing photo if it
weren’t for the fact that the Empress is only 17 years old, with a cute and
innocent looking face. The caption of the billboard reads:
Empress Xing:
Public Enemy Number One
.

           
A third billboard shows the notorious General Kang, and that
does
send
shivers down my spine.  General Kang is choking an American soldier with
her right bionic arm while her robotic right eye glows fiery red. Her caption
reads:
Public Enemy Number Two.
She’s one of the world’s most powerful
cyborgs and is responsible for millions of
deaths. The Empress is the
figurehead of the Chinese Empire, but everyone knows General Kang is in charge.
No matter how hard the Chinese Empire tries, they will never convince me that
the teenage Empress is a genocidal lunatic.

           
My attention turns from Kang’s frightening picture to a group of
saxophone-toting teenagers playing jazz in a nearby park. Passerbys stop and
listen, occasionally tossing a few gold coins into the band’s suitcase. Nearby,
a group of elderly men are seated around picnic tables, playing chess. The air
is saturated with the enticing aroma of grilled hot dogs, shish kabobs, lamb
gyros, and other delicious treats being served by nearby street vendors. My
mouth becomes flooded with saliva.

           
“Oh man, I am getting hungry!” Krystal says.

           
“We can go out and eat later,” Lance says, weaving past a group of kids that
run out into the middle of the street, kicking a soccer ball. “I want to get
home and check on the kids.”

           
My lips curl into a smile. No matter how much Lance annoys me at times, I will
always love him for his commitment to his niece and nephew.

           
We drive pass the open-air football stadium, where a game is currently
underway. The deafening jeers from the crowd allude to a score from the
opposing team. I glance at the billboard outside the stadium and see they are
playing the Sanctuary 22 Tasmanian Devils. If I recall correctly, the Devils
are having a good season. I assume this will be another Sanctuary 7 loss.

           
Soon we enter the center of the city. Skyscrapers are everywhere now. The
Sanctuary only inhabits a limited area, and tons of people want to live here,
so they basically cram us all into 1,500-foot tall towers. I’m just glad we
were able to purchase a spacious penthouse condo. My claustrophobia would be in
full affect if I was squeezed into some windowless, one-room apartment in the
basement.

           
We pass a number of casinos, bars, whorehouses, and opium dens as well. I’m
disgusted the government would allow prostitution in the sanctuaries, but at
least the girls are treated much better here than they are outside the walls.
The casinos disturb me for another reason entirely. The country still has a
staggering high poverty rate, even though the Depression started 40 years ago.
One would think people would save what little money they have instead of
throwing it on a roulette table. But the American Dream nowadays seems to be
all about getting rich quick. Everyone wants to live like our wealthy ancestors
in the 20
th
and early 21
st
centuries. Even though the
odds of winning even a minute amount of money via gambling are astronomically
small, that doesn’t stop people from betting everything for that fleeting
dream.

           
Finally, after what seems like forever, we reach our apartment complex. It’s
one of the tallest in the city, a vertigo-inducing 1,700 feet tall. Normally we
just land on the roof and enter our apartment that way, but today we have to
park in the underground garage. Lance drives into the basement and parks in a
rare open spot near the back.

           
Krystal clambers out of the car and says, “Whew, it smells like doody in here.”

           
“Somebody probably did doody in here,” Lance says, holding his nose. “You know
all the homeless drunks like to hang out in underground garages when the
weather gets bad.”

           
Lance’s case is proven correct when I nearly step on a homeless man sleeping
near the elevator, covered with a tattered sheet. My heart breaks at the sight
of him. I would give him some money if I hadn’t given it all to Sally and
Dorothy. He obviously has some money, otherwise he wouldn’t be able to afford
the $5,000 monthly fee just to live behind the Sanctuary walls. But that’s
probably all he can afford, hence the reason he’s sleeping in the garage.

           
Lance sees my eyes beginning to tear up and gently tugs at my arm. He just
doesn’t want me dragging another “stray” into our apartment.

           
“C’mon Firecracker, let’s go see the kids,” he says, leading me to the
elevator.

           
On the long ride up to the top floor, I quietly wonder what could have possibly
happened to Dorothy and Sally. If they took the train like I said, they should
have arrived well ahead of us. Could someone have kidnapped them at the
station? Could Big Daddy have hunted them down? I realize it’s best for me to
stop imagining their fates because I’m only upsetting myself.

           
The elevator dings, snapping me out of my thoughts. The elevator door opens,
and we walk out into the hallway. Our condo is at the end of the hall. Lance
rushes ahead of us. He almost has a hop in his steps. He, like me, loves
nothing more than coming home after a death-defying mission.

           
Lance knocks on the door since he doesn’t have his key. (He’s still wearing the
complimentary robe from the motel, since we never bothered to stop and buy him
new clothes.) The door flies open a split-second later, and the two cutest kids
I’ve ever known rush into Lance’s arms.

           
“Lance!!” Blade and Harpoon cry, wrapping their skinny arms around Lance’s
waist.

           
“Hey guys, what’s up?” Lance asks, smothering them in hugs.

           
Blade and Harpoon break free from Lance and run over to me. I throw my arms
around the kids and squeeze them tight. I nestle my nose into Harpoon’s flowing
blonde hair. I love the way it smells: like lavender-scented strawberries.

           
“I’ve missed you guys so much,” I say, not ever wanting to let them go.

           
“What am I, chopped liver?” Krystal asks indignantly, her hands on her hips.

           
“Krystal!” Blade and Harpoon squeal, running over to my bad-ass friend. Krystal
ruins her image as a blood-thirsty lunatic by wrapping the kids in her arms and
swinging them around.

           
“Did you all behave while we were gone?” Krystal shouts, still swinging them
back and forth. I chuckle at the sight of Blade and Harpoon’s scrawny legs
swaying back and forth.

           
“Yes Krystal, now let us down! You’re choking us!” Harpoon screams.

           
A door down the hall swings open and an elderly woman with curlers in her hair
shouts, “Will you damn kids shut up?! I’m trying to watch my stories!”

           
“Er, sorry Mrs. Madison,” I say, ushering the kids inside. Lance and Krystal
follow me and we shut the door.

           
I walk into the living room and immediately feel safe and comfortable. I love
everything about our penthouse apartment: the skylight that looks up at the
stars, the big comfy couch Lance and I always fall asleep on while watching TV,
the holographic TV screen broadcasting the news up on the wall, our cozy
kitchen with an always-filled basket of apples and bananas (I grab one of each
and chow down), our three spacious bedrooms (Lance and I share the same room,
which is great when we’re getting along, but horrible when we fight), and even
our bathroom, which always smells like a flower-filled meadow thanks to the air
fresheners I buy at the store. This is home, the only home I’ve ever known.
This is why my friends and I risk our lives catching crooks, so we can afford
to live in a safe, cozy, luxurious penthouse apartment.

           
I follow Krystal into the room she shares with her elderly grandmother,
Beverly. Beverly is in bed wrapped in a comforter. She lifts her frail face and
asks, in a creaky voice, “Krystal darling, is that you?”

           
“Yes Grandma, we made it back in one piece,” Krystal says, kneeling by her
grandmother’s side. “How are you feeling?”

           
Beverly responds with a series of coughs that seem to wrack her entire body. I
leave Krystal and her grandmother alone and shut the door. We were going to use
our $1 million reward to buy her some stronger medicine, but that plan went out
the window. I can only hope she hangs on until we cash in on another lucrative
bounty, whenever that may be.

           
Blade and Harpoon are still hopping around like they’re on a sugar high,
telling Lance all about what they did while we were gone. Lance, acting like
their caring father, listens eagerly, asking questions when he can get a breath
in. He takes off his robe, and I gasp when I saw how badly scarred and bruised
his half-naked body looks under our fluorescent lights. The kids notice, too,
because they stop talking about their day and ask Lance if he’s okay.

           
“Don’t worry about me, guys,” Lance grunts, gripping his right arm. “I’ll be
okay. I just need some rest.”

BOOK: Highway To Armageddon
6.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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