Having never been in the thick of an actual gun battle, Justin later decided the one he witnessed at the

Farm to be something that he’d never want to be anywhere near, ever again. It was extremely loud, for one thing, with shots from rifles and handguns, explosions, and people yelling all seeming to merge into one great, ear-splitting, bone-rattling blare. It was stinky, too; he hadn’t realized that guns produced so much smoke. But it wasn’t the noise or the smell that got to him, it was the mayhem. People screaming in pain, the chaotic, jumpy sort of way the world looked when you were face-down in the dirt with someone trying to take your head off with a spray of large caliber bullets, the brutal waves of adrenaline, the blood, arcing in gentle sprays like a garden sprinkler on a hot summer day, the heat and the dust and the smell of steel and gore and cordite, all mixed together like a scene from an action movie he couldn’t escape. All in all, not something he’d ever want to experience again. They’d arrived at the Farm, carried by an old gas-burning flatbed truck, just in time to take positions before the attack. The Farm itself wasn’t much to look at, just a great big, scummy-looking pond and a few barns and outbuildings, but a defensive perimeter of sandbags and wire and old junked cars had been erected all the way around the place and it was to the far eastern side of this that Justin, Zero, Teresa, and five other people from the House were directed by Vivian, the intense woman they’d met earlier. Unarmed, Justin was assigned a safe place behind a thick piece of sheet metal and told to take care of anybody that got shot. “But…” he stammered at the woman, “but I’m not an Army medic! I don’t even have any bandages, or blood plasma or tri-Morphs, or--” “Here,” Vivian interrupted rudely, tossing him a shoulder bag marked with a red cross. “And don’t lose any of that shit!” And then, trotting off and shouting orders, she was gone. For a moment Justin had considered just dropping the shoulder bag and sneaking off back to the House, but then had decided that would be pretty cowardly and instead opened the bag to see with what medical wonders he’d been blessed. Nano-bandages, pressure and otherwise, good, Morphidrine in ready-to-use syringes, a couple of bags of uni-plasma and the gear needed to administer them, also very good. Now, if he was just an EMT or an ER nurse, he’d be in business. Making a wry face, he’d closed the bag and hoped that he’d have no need of it. For a long time, it seemed like, once everyone had been placed at the perimeter with their guns and extra bullets, nothing happened. The wind blew warm and dry, stirring up little clouds of dust, and the sun beat down intensely on the yellow-brown earth. Way up in the cloudless sky, a single big bird, probably a vulture, circled this way and that, never once finding need to flap its wings. Down in front of him, on the actual firing line, his compatriots checked their weapons, over and over again, and nervously jittered in place. Then there came a hoarse scream, an animalistic bellow like a dozen enraged bears, and suddenly the ground out in front of the line seemed to erupt with heavily armed human beings. Obviously the enemy had been creeping up for some time, using the many arroyos and folds in the ground to hide their approach. Now, at about fifty yards, they all leapt up and attacked, some dropping to one knee to fire at the defenders, others using the cover to rush ahead. Suddenly the air was thick with

gunfire and what sounded like bees or something, zipping past his ears. That’s odd, he thought; what could that be? And then he hit the dirt as the answer came: They weren’t bees, for God’s sake, they were bullets! For the next while, maybe a few minutes, he simply cowered behind the sheet metal, covered his ears, and hoped very much that the shield between him and the bullets was good and thick. Finally the firing slackened somewhat, from a roar to a din, and he chanced a look past the rusted shield. There was smoke everywhere, people running and yelling and firing their weapons, a sort of general hubbub with guns, and then he noticed the wounded man. Lying immobile on his face behind some sandbags, a pool of blood slowly growing beneath him, one of the defenders, someone he’d never met, had obviously been shot. “Damn!” swore Justin, rating his chances of surviving actually going out into the open. It didn’t look terribly promising; in fact, it looked downright suicidal. “Damn, damn, damn!” And then he was up and running, before he’d really even decided to do so, sure that he was about to be shot and/or killed, right into the thick of it.

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