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Hyler is almost killed, and Jei is nice for a change. ~*~
ighler knew the weight of his gun down to the very last ounce. He knew its model. Its exact structure. Its signature sound as he fired off its rounds. He knew that he knew this, and usually it would calm him down. Make him confident. But fear was clouding everything now. He couldn’t tell the difference between the spidery cobwebs ruining his den to the sweat dribbling down his temples. He couldn’t think straight. Fighting had never been his forte. He couldn’t aim. He couldn’t kill. He was useless on the field. Any kind of combat had always been the others’ shtick; never his. He fought in his own way. With technology. With technology and intelligence, he kept them all safe. But perhaps not for much longer. He might die soon. Hyler ran his fingers over his forehead, brushing aside a few cowlicks that had fallen into his eyes. He was trying—and failing miserably—to keep his breathing even and his
dark blue eyes to his computer monitor. He was shaking. The temperature in the room was unbearably hot, and he was impossibly aware of the exact force his heartbeat was exerting. Emaciated hands struck the outside of his stronghold. Dark, writhing figures rubbed against the beams and cement and glass keeping them away. Long, unkempt hair tore itself from the scalps of the monsters, poisoning the soil underneath their clawed feet. Clear red eyes, large and forlorn, watered and wavered endlessly. Their clothing—sad, sad remnants of their humanity—hung loosely from their impossibly thin frames and were sometimes abandoned altogether. Stenchies—named because of their overwhelmingly rotted odor—were pitiful. They were malevolent. And they smelled fear. These creatures were once human. Some were once animals. Now, they were all demons. Insane, sick, impossibly wretched demons. There was a trapdoor here. If Hyler could salvage the teams’ profiles, documents, signa-
tures and scopes, he would be able to escape through the steel network of tunnels crisscrossing their way underneath the city and not lose a single bit of important data. But right now the team was in combat. If he disconnected the server, that would mean disconnecting all contact between them and the mainframe. If someone was seriously hurt, he would not know. They would be on their own. There would be no way to send backup, and they would hardly have a way to navigate back home. They were only kids. But without him, what were they going to do? It wasn’t guaranteed the Stenchies would break in and, even then, they were hopelessly stupid. It might not be so difficult for any member of the team, even the Little Ones, to overpower them, but Hyler was a different story altogether. He had no combat experience. He only knew computers. The group had found him taking refuge in one of Google’s abandoned offices and offered him a job. He’d been working here ever since, far enough away from the compound so he can reach the signals being projected from other parts of the country. He was too vital to die. But he didn’t have much longer to make such a critical decision. Without warning, a blast of fire incinerated the Stenchies attacking his stronghold. Hyler saw through the glass the flash of red and the already acrid stench of the monsters intensified. He retched, but he only tasted acid; he hadn’t had a bite to eat in ages.
“Hyler!” The familiar voice made him breathe a sigh of relief. Hyler clambered away from his makeshift office at the corner of the room, and made his way over to the barred up windows situated about two meters above the floor. A young man, probably eighteen or nineteen, crouched beside the window, looking in. Kené’s face was slick with sweat. Shoulderlength locks of red hair fell to his shoulders, and he had a look on his face that only meant he was extremely disgusted, proud, and pissed. “Storm led them right to you!” he accused. Hyler briefly sought out Storm, immediately wanting to diffuse the inevitable fight that would break out between the two, but Kené was blocking much of his view. “Come on,” the redhead griped. “We have a situation up here.” Hyler rolled his eyes. “Just a minute.” The man went over to the ladder he kept propped on the other side of the room and braced it against another trapdoor that opened the ceiling of the stronghold— Stenchies did not pull. When he opened the door, the body of a burned Stenchie rolled away, and the smell finally hit him full-force. A quartet of young men rushed to his base. Kené was covered in blood. Seph and one other boy, injured, were shoulder-toshoulder. Nathan had gone over to the side of the building and had started to vomit. The youngest boys shimmied down Hyler’s ladder. Seph and Kené went in at a more plac-
id rate—Seph because, at twenty-five, he was far older and more patient than the hoodlums, and Kené because he seemed to be hellbent on letting the world know he wasn’t a happy camper. Hyler could have fainted with relief. He descended back down into the base, being sure to secure the door above him. Nathan leaned against the wall. “Oh God. I’m never going to get used to that smell.” His dirty blonde hair, cut close to the scalp, was caked with mud. He shakily got to his feet, and rested his concerned brown eyes on a figure on the other side of the room. A boy with dark hair and intense blue eyes—the one they called “Storm”—was almost unconscious. He was losing blood. And fast. Seph seemed to have used his signature scarf to bound the boy’s leg wound, but it was clear Storm still needed medical attention. Kené still had no problem ranting and raving about Storm’s poor tactical skills despite the kid’s ineptitude, however. “Of all the strongholds you could have ran off to, you chose this guy’s? He’s a mechanic! You’re bleeding. You led the Stenchies right to the most vulnerable person of our sect!” Hyler almost rounded on Kené, offended, but it was true that he was the most vulnerable. His stronghold was practically a bungalow, a base point for all the machinery he operated. Moving to a larger compound would be too obvious. Risky. Seph shot Kené a look that was so cold that it shut the redhead up. He then went down the other trapdoor, into the metallic glow that was the tunnel that led to the main base.
hen Storm opened his eyes, he knew he was home. The smell of food and antiseptic greeted his nose. He was unbearably cold, despite the thick blanket dredged up halfway over his face and the warm layers of fabric over his body. When his eyes focused and everything was not so blurry anymore, Storm saw Jei. “Rise n’ shine,” the younger boy said dryly. “And stuff your face. We got you some food.” Jei’s long, gray hair was pulled high into his usual topknot. A few strands fell into his face. His pale green eyes were still as cold as usual. Jei was younger than Storm by exactly three years, but often Storm found himself completely forgetting that the kid was only thirteen years old. Jei, like him, was a mutant too, just not in the way the Stenchies were. The Stenchies were that way because of the Virus. Storm, Kené, Jei, and all the others were the way they were because of the Vaccine. “How long was I out?” said Storm. “Two days,” Jei replied. He had pulled out a magazine and was thumbing through the pages. A few strands of his hair stuck to his face, and then Storm realized he was sweating. “How hot is it in here?” he asked. Jei glared at the magazine. “You are not in the condition to be asking so many questions.”
“But Doctor, I’m going to drive myself insane with wonder.” Storm shot the boy a plaintive look. “Eighty-five degrees,” Jei acquiesced. “And I’m not your doctor. You had a considerable amount of head trauma. Easily fixed.” He made a gesture with his fingers around the crown of his skull, replicating the movement he did whenever he healed. “The enormous gash on your stomach, however, was not easy to heal. You lost a lot of blood. I can’t help that. A lot of other things happened, but I highly doubt you can muster up the brain cells to understand the rest.” Storm’s lips pinched together. “Right.” “I believe Kené wants to duel you.” “What else is different?” Jei was quiet for a moment. “This isn’t your fault,” he muttered, “no matter what Kené says.” Storm guffawed. “Who are you and what have you done with Jei?!” “I’m serious.” “So am I. And in case you haven’t been paying attention, it is my fault.” “No, it’s not.” “Then whose fault is it? No matter what you say, it was me who ended up getting slashed. It was me who ran like an idiot to the only stronghold I remembered, Hyler’s, the stronghold with the technician. I’m stupid.” Jei stood. He padded over to the flat screen television on the wall, ignoring Storm almost
entirely. “Yes, you are stupid, but can we really blame anybody?” His voice was soft as he spoke: “If it weren’t for The Plague, none of the zombies would be here in the first place. If it weren’t for LOTUS, we wouldn’t be fighting them. If not for the blockade, we wouldn’t be trapped with them. And if it weren’t for your stupidity, you would never have been trapped here in the first place. Yet it was the very same stupidity that saved Marianne’s life. What do you have to say to that?” Storm was sick of Jei. He was sick of Kené. Of the war—of everything. “I don’t know.” “No one died. Remember that.” “Not yet.” “There you go, Captain Positive.” “I want to go home.” Jei sighed. He turned to television on, found the News, saw the blockade, watched the footage of the Stenchies, and turned the TV back off. “Storm,” he said, voice tight. “I’m afraid it’s too late for that.”