For Annie, Brent, Caitlin, Elizabeth, Erin, Jeff, Joe, Kate, Krista, Kurt, Megan, Mike, Nick, Pam, Rob & Steve—thanks for trusting me enough to let me kill you.
It is the late summer of 2050, seventeen years after the end of the Great War, and twenty-five years after A-Day.
Amanda Baker couldn’t run anymore. A few months earlier? Maybe. But not now. Perhaps there’s no such thing as being a little pregnant, but Amanda was heavy with child, as Sister Doris might have said.
And because she couldn’t run, she hid. Locked herself in an interior room of an abandoned building somewhere north of the Heights that smelled of dried urine and dead rats, and there she waited.
Her grandmother had told her that when a storm is coming, you take shelter. You go inside, you lock yourself away, you stay down and you hide. Then you hope the monster doesn’t find you. Now the monster was coming for Amanda Baker, and she didn’t think hiding would do much good. Not anymore.
For nine months she had hid, since she’d let her boyfriend take her to that hospital. She should have been smarter. Never take a chance unless you know how it’s going to turn out. That’s what she had always said. That was what she had lived by. She could have gone to one of the clinics in Southeast. She knew where they were. She knew girls who had been to them. They’d take care of everything. They’d run the tests, tell you right where you stood, and if your baby was Clear, that’s when you went to the hospital. And if it wasn’t? If it was Marked or, God forbid, Reborn? Then you made a choice.
Amanda didn’t have that chance now; nor did she have a choice. She had gone to the General Hospital, just like Paul had wanted. When the tests came back, she saw it in the nurse’s eyes. She knew. That’s when she’d started running. But she hadn’t gone far; DC was the only city she knew.
Yet she ran anyway, away from her boyfriend who would have made her do it, would have made her “do the right thing,” just like he always did. She’d stayed with a family that clung to the old ways, a Catholic couple who had been friends with her parents. They’d put her up, and there she’d tried to figure out what to do and where to go.
For nearly nine months, it had worked out. She had done it. She had kept her head low. But it was foolish to think she could hide forever. The General Hospital had her records. They knew who she was. One of the closed-circuit cameras was sure to make her face, or she would trigger one of the DNA sniffers all over Washington. She was bound to make a mistake.
And today, it had happened. She wasn’t sure what she did, what mistake she had made. All she knew for certain was that when she heard the sirens, they were for her. If you look over your shoulder long enough, her grandmother had once said, eventually you see someone looking back.
So she ran as far as she could, as far as her swollen belly would let her go. And then she had crawled into this corner, trying to make herself as small as possible. Trying to save a life. Not her own, but her child’s.
She jumped at a crash from below her, jarred out of her thoughts. The heavy tramp of booted footsteps followed. Then more explosions of noise as other doors were kicked in. She backed herself against the wall, tried to sink into it, tried to dissolve away where no one could find her. The cry of splintered wood and shattering frames flowed like rolling waves, closer and then farther away, as whoever was below searched every room, looking for her.
Then it wasn’t below anymore.
She heard the crash as the door at the end of the hall was kicked in, and then the boom of every bootfall coming nearer. Another door burst at its seams, and then another, and another, each one louder than the last, pounding in her brain like a gunshot, so close she could feel it in her bones.
A shadow passed in front of the bathroom door. For a moment it lingered. She sat perfectly still, but she knew that whatever hope had been was lost, her prayers amounting to nothing but wasted breath and wasted words. Then the world caved in around her as flying pieces of wood struck her face and stuck in her hair. When she opened her eyes, two men loomed before her.
They were dressed in black—combat fatigues, heavy black boots laced high, black masks and goggles, as if they were hunting the most dangerous thing in the world instead of her. In their hands they held guns. She stared down the muzzle of one of those rifles and wondered if death was coming.
“Check her,” one of them said. She couldn’t even be sure which it was. One man slung his rifle over his shoulder and pulled out a DNA scanner. She tried to will her body not to betray her, but it was no use.
“It’s her,” the man said, slipping the scanner back in his belt. “She’s Clear, but it’s definitely her.”
“Miss Amanda Baker,” the other figure, the leader she guessed, said as he pulled out a card and started to read. “It is my duty under the Rostov Protocol of 26 U.S.C. section 5001 to inform you that you are carrying a Class 1 undesirable which we are required to terminate.” He turned to his partner and nodded.
Amanda’s eyes darted from one to the other. “No, no, no,” she mumbled. “Please no.” Her words went unheard and unheeded.
“Carry on, Sergeant.”
The man who had held the scanner unholstered what could only be a gun, though of a kind she had never seen before. She tried to crawl away even as he took aim. It was no use. The man pulled the trigger.
There was no explosion, no deafening bang; only a high-pitched whistle and a flash of blue light. There wasn’t even pain. But she felt it anyway, as the pulse of energy entered her abdomen. She felt it as something died inside of her, something that was part of her and yet separate all at once. Then she wished she had died, too.
The man in charge lowered his rifle. “You’ll need to go to the hospital tomorrow for extraction. No charges will be filed against you for running, though if you speak about this incident, you will be arrested. I want you to know that it is very unlikely anything like this will happen again. Reoccurrence is almost unheard of. But should it, I suggest you go directly to the authorities and have it dealt with. You can’t run.
“Sergeant Sadosky here will give you a card. When you go to the hospital tomorrow, present it to the Attending and he’ll take care of everything. Understood?”
He didn’t wait for her to respond, gesturing for his companion to finish up so they could leave. Amanda heard his words, but she was no longer listening. She saw the sergeant reholster his weapon and remove a card from his front shirt pocket. He took two steps forward and knelt down, reaching out to hand it to her. And that was the moment she had been waiting for.
She pulled the blade she had hidden from underneath her. Before the man could react, she had sliced open the back of his thigh, exactly as she had been taught. The man screamed as he fell to the ground and rolled wildly, blood pouring out of him in great spurts, painting the floor. Amanda wasn’t thinking very clearly, and she couldn’t focus on much, but one thing she knew was that this man, the one who had killed her baby, would be dead within minutes. To her surprise, the other man started to laugh.
“Well done, Miss Baker. Well done.”
He took aim with his rifle. She didn’t have time to decide whether she should be happy or sad before he pulled the trigger, adding Amanda’s brains to the pool of blood that now spread slowly beneath the quivering body that lay beside her.
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