Authors: Mainak Dhar
Alice realized that she had no real choice so she asked
Vince what the plan was. Vince pointed towards Max.
‘Yo, Frenchman. What do you want to do?’
Max walked up to them and looked at Alice. ‘A lot of people
are putting themselves in danger for you. I just hope it’s all going to be
‘Do you think it’s worth it?’
Max laughed, though it was a bitter sound, with no humor
‘I was a young English teacher in France. I had a girlfriend
I wanted to marry. I had dreams of traveling around the world. I was in New
Jersey on holiday with Marie when The Rising happened. I saw what Zeus and its
masters did to the world, and I was in a FEMA camp for two years before I
escaped. I’m willing to take my chances on anything that helps get rid of them.
I used to think stories of what you did in the Deadland were fiction, the Exec
Committee used to say that you’re nothing more than a small-time warlord, but
now you’re here, and you’ve got all those Biters lined up. So, there’s some
truth in all the legend. Just do one thing for me, will you?’
He leaned closer, hissing out the rest of his sentence.
‘Kill all the bastards!’
Alice was unable to see what was going on outside but the
voices made it very clear how Max and Mauricio were able to get such access
into the FEMA camps. They passed at least two checkpoints, paying off the
guards with alcohol and in one case, something called DVDs.
Alice was packed inside crates filled with contraband for
the officers running the camp. Every month, Max would pass on stocks of liquor,
clothes, cigarettes, canned food and anything else that the Zeus officers were
willing to take in return for letting Max and Mauricio have free rein over
their routes. What they did not know was that the smugglers also used these
opportunities to pick up intelligence that they passed onto the resistance.
‘I can’t take much more of this.’
Larry had been complaining off and on, and being the biggest
of them all meant that he was also the most uncomfortable stashed inside the
crates. Cynthia asked him to shut up and then Josh told them both to cut it
Vince had chosen them to accompany Alice as they were the
best in close combat. Satish had pleaded to go along, but he had been overruled
as he would easily be caught out as an outsider. As for Alice, her hood was
pulled around her face, and while if she were seen their game would well and
truly be up, her being there was critical if they were to break out of the camp
with Bellman. The local resistance just didn’t have the numbers or firepower to
mount a frontal assault. So Vince and Alice had come up with a plan, one that
would require both a breakout from within and an assault from outside—a plan
that required Alice to be inside. However, there were still many unknowns, and
Alice knew they would largely have to improvise once they actually saw the
inside of the camp and the situation there.
The truck they were in halted and Max whispered, ‘Guys,
we’re in. The guards have gone to call the officers and there’s only one left.
I know the guy well and he has a big weakness for drink. I’m about to sacrifice
my one bottle of Black Label, so you better make this plan work. Now get out
and get into the camp while I take him aside for a drink.’
As Alice and the others scrambled out of the truck, Mauricio
looked at her, and he gave her a thumbs-up sign.
It was still the middle of the day, but the whole place
looked bleak, and it took Alice a moment to understand why that was so.
Everything, the prefabricated tin huts that littered the grounds, the small
tents set off to one side, and the clothes that people wore—everything seemed
filthy and covered with dust. Cynthia crinkled her nose.
‘Man, it stinks in here.’
Josh was looking around warily and answered without turning.
‘What did you expect? Hygiene isn’t exactly the top thing on
people’s minds. They’re here supposedly for their own safety, but they’re
little better than slaves. In my camp, the guards used to treat them like shit,
and that was in the early days, when people still tried talking or fighting
back. Now, they’re just resigned to their fate.’
Alice turned to look at Josh in surprise.
‘You were an inmate?’
‘No, Alice, I was a Zeus guard. After The Rising, a lot of
ex-Forces guys joined up when Zeus appeared on the scene telling us that we
were to help keep law and order and save the people from Biters. I signed up,
but soon saw that these guys were thugs. I bumped into General Konrath and I
left to join the resistance. Too many others enjoyed the power trip and are
still with Zeus.’
They were all unarmed, so that even if they were caught,
they could claim to be refugees. As a Zeus guard walked past, Alice
unconsciously slunk back into the corner. Larry steadied her with a giant hand.
‘Easy, girl, easy. With your hood around your face, you’re
just another kid in the camp. Remember our story—you’re down with the pox so
your face is covered and I’m your dad.’
‘That guard was not wearing the black Zeus uniform.’
Josh spat on the ground.
‘Bastards call themselves Marines and wear the old uniform.
It gives them more legitimacy in the eyes of the inmates. Just as they call
these FEMA camps. Now come on, we need to find Max’s man.’
They entered deeper into the camp, and people all around her
were busy with chores. A long line of women at work were on sewing machines,
making uniforms for Zeus soldiers. Another group of men was busy with
woodworking, and when Larry asked, one of them said that they were building a
new guard tower. Several children ran around, most wearing old, tattered
clothes. Compared to this place, the settlement Alice had grown up in had been
luxury, and once more she was thankful for all her father and his companions
had done to create a safe haven for them.
A voice boomed out over speakers set up on top of
lamp-posts. ‘All residents are to gather for the afternoon video show. Please
proceed to the main ground now.’
Alice and the others followed the inmates, and as everyone
gathered in a large ground in the middle of the camp, Alice saw that there were
many thousands of people in this one camp alone. A large screen had been set up
in a corner and it came alive as a video began showing on it. A blonde woman
‘Good afternoon to everyone in the Homeland. This is
Daniella Henretta with the daily news. Three insurgents were killed in Montana
today in a drone strike and four more killed in a firefight near FEMA camps at
two locations in Florida. Mr. Sam King, the President of Homeland Operations,
told us that our forces are slowly but surely winning the war on terror and the
day is not far when our Homeland can once again be free of fear. In other
reports, Biters attacked and killed more than a hundred civilians who had
rejected offers of sanctuary at a FEMA camp. Mr. King reiterated that till the
menace posed by Biters and insurgents is contained, all citizens are strongly
encouraged to report to the nearest FEMA camp. Now, stay tuned for a special
Alice watched open-mouthed as her face appeared on the
screen, and a man with a deep voice spoke in the background.
‘The evil dictator who imposed her reign of terror over the
Indian Deadland is now missing, reported deposed by her own people. The people
of the Deadland are asking us to help, and as always, we will step forward to
further the cause of freedom everywhere. People of the Homeland, here is an
opportunity of a lifetime for you. The Deadland has huge farmlands but not
enough people to harvest them. We are putting together an Expeditionary Force.
Every volunteer will get a plot of land to call his or her own. You can start
afresh, create a better life for yourself and your family. Join in the
pioneering traditions of our founding fathers and sign up today to help create
this new world.’
‘What the hell was that about?’
Alice looked at Cynthia.
‘That means they are confident they have a way of destroying
my people and of occupying our lands. We must move fast.’
‘I was told I could find Edward John Hayes here.’
The old man who looked up at Larry was ancient, and seemed
to not have any teeth left. Yet when he stood up, his back was ramrod straight
and his eyes were bright and full of intelligence.
‘Boy, which Edward John Hayes do you want?’
‘Someone younger than you, I suppose.’
The old man guffawed and pulled a five-year-old boy from the
tent next to him. ‘Will he do?’
Larry was about to lose his cool when a younger man stepped
‘Forgive my daddy. He’s got a messed up sense of humor. The
thing is we’re all Edward John Hayes. He’s the First, I’m the Second, and this
here is Edward John Hayes the Third. Now, how can I help you? People in the
camp don’t exactly go around making social calls.’
‘Max told us you could help us find someone called Bellman.’
Edward looked at Alice, trying to peer through her hood.
‘You come asking difficult questions without even showing your face. That’s not
really fair, is it? For all I know, you’re Zeus spies.’
Alice pulled her hood back.
‘I may be many things, but I’m most certainly not a Zeus
‘Mary, mother of God.’
With that exclamation, Edward ushered them inside the tent.
A figure huddled in the corner, swathed in blankets but shaking uncontrollably.
Edward seemed to be still dealing with Alice’s appearance in the middle of a
FEMA camp, but his father came up to Alice.
‘Max may seem to be just a smuggler, but he’s much more than
that. What he also gets us are medicines for the people here, and that’s saved
hundreds of lives every year. That’s why the guards leave us alone a bit, since
we treat them as well.’
‘You a doctor?’
The older Edward looked at Larry. ‘Nah, I was a rifleman in
the Marines, fought in ’Nam and a dozen other shitholes, and so know how to put
people together again. In a camp like this, there are always fights, and people
need stitching up. My son, though, was a medic in the Marines, and little
Edward there would have also been a Marine had he been born in less fucked-up
He leaned towards Alice.
‘Girl, we’ve all heard stories of you, ranging from you
being an imaginary character to you being a monster. I don’t how you got here,
but what do you want from us?’
Alice explained in brief what they had been up to, and the
younger Edward finally spoke.
‘Then we don’t have much time to lose. Bellman came to us
when she was already feverish and very sick. The Zeus goons were here
yesterday, and despite me telling them that she was not up to it, they
interrogated her. I didn’t see what they did, but they worked on her a bit, and
she was cut and bruised when the bastards left her. I honestly don’t know how
much time she has.’
‘Where is she?’
‘Right there.’ He pointed to the shivering bundle of
blankets in the corner.
As Alice moved the blankets aside, she saw an old woman, her
thin, fair skin crisscrossed with cuts, many with fresh blood seeping from
them. Her forehead was very hot to the touch and she seemed to be trying to say
something, but no words came out.
Cynthia knelt beside Alice. ‘She’s in terrible shape. We
need to get the information from her and then get out of here.’
Edward had joined them. ‘I’ve given her some antibiotics and
she gets lucid once the dose kicks in. She told me her full name was Amy Dias
Bellman, but other than that, she doesn’t say much that I understand.’
Alice considered what he had told her about Zeus having
‘Zeus has clearly got the information they wanted so we
don’t have any time to lose. Tell us as soon as she can speak. In the
meanwhile, we’ll work on our plan to break out.’
‘I hope you have an army or something waiting outside,
otherwise there’s no way you’re breaking out of this place. Believe me, lots of
people have tried, and died for their efforts.’
Alice looked him in the eye.
‘Just get her in a position to speak and we’ll get our plan
She went outside the tent, pulling her hood around her head,
and conferred with her companions.
‘Beaver, what would you say our first move should be?’
Josh had used the last twenty minutes to wander around the
camp and do a recce and he knelt on the floor, drawing on the sand with a
‘We need to neutralize these two gun turrets on the wall.
Butcher and I can do that. I’ll tell Barrister to have his package ready to hit
the wall and Broker will be able to take out any sentries with his sniper
rifle. So creating an exit point will not be tough. What will be tough is for
us to get out, since the moment we strike, every guard here will be hunting
Alice drew a little figure with bunny ears and smiled.
‘Don’t forget, my friends are out there as well and they’ll
come into play. But this Bellman is very sick, and we need to get her out. The
four of us won’t be able to fight our way out through all the guards inside.’
The older Edward had come up behind Alice and had been
‘Bellman’s saying something and my son’s asking you to come
inside. By the way, if you really will help bring these Zeus bastards down,
then I can help raise some hell in the camp to get you some distraction.’
Alice looked at the old man who was smiling a toothless grin
and before she could ask the question that was on her mind, he answered.
‘Kid, my son and I tried to break out many times. They beat
us senseless, but let us live because they needed our medical skills. We
stopped trying when little Edward was born and his mom died giving birth to
him, since we figured a dead granddad and dad wouldn’t help him much. I guess
we were getting used to living like slaves, but seeing you makes me think he’s
got a chance of growing up a free man after all. So, I can help you get out if
you promise to take care of him in case we don’t make it.’