Authors: Jacob Gowans
Listen to Al.
Get a grip on yourself.
Hitting the Thirteen sent a wave of bliss through
Sammy. Nothing else mattered. He had no sense of self. No responsibility. No
worries. Nothing. Just the euphoria of the violence. He hit the Thirteen a
And a third.
And a fourth.
Someone moaned Sammy’s name, but he ignored the
sound. His fists flew into the Thirteen’s jaw and skull, feeling bones break
and shatter. Some of them might have been his. It didn’t matter. Blood flew and
splattered with each blow Sammy delivered. The Thirteen had stopped struggling,
but this didn’t matter either.
Someone groaned Sammy’s name again, but he didn’t
let it stop him. All the hatred and rage locked inside of him—in the
darker side—poured out through his arms. It turned him into a machine,
cold and powerful, capable of perpetual motion. He would go on forever, so long
as he had something to strike, a target for his darkness.
A gun fired. It struck the Thirteen, but startled
Sammy enough that he jerked back and looked around to find the source of the
disturbance. Whoever did it would die. All he saw was Brickert slumped over on
his knees in front of the chair. His face was unrecognizable from the swelling
and bleeding. His chest rising and falling in rapid, shallow gasps. A gun
dangled from his hand. Sammy charged his friend, ready to kill. He grabbed
Brickert by the shirt, cocked his fist back, and let it fly. A bone broke
beneath the blow. Then he punched again. He pulled back to do it a final time,
to mash the face into a pulp.
a voice told
Brickert’s eyes fluttered, but only one could open.
The eye was unfocused, roving around the room until it finally fixed itself on
“H—h—h—” Brickert struggled to
speak. Each breath brought with it a wheezing sound, hollow and light. “Who …
are … you?”
Sammy nearly dropped his best friend. The fog of
darkness lifted from his mind. As the haze diminished, the pain grew. His
hands, legs, ribs, and arms ached. His thumbs throbbed and seared with pain.
He tried to pick up Brickert, but his arm didn’t
work properly. Blood soaked his shirt. He touched the center of it carefully.
Pain radiated outward. Horrible pain. His mesh armor was in tatters.
I was shot and didn’t even notice.
of how Sammy felt, it was nothing compared to how Brickert looked. Large purple
and black bruises colored whatever wasn’t covered in blood. His left arm hung
at a weird angle. Sammy had never seen anyone so beaten.
“Come on, Brick,” he said as he knelt down to lift
his friend. “We can do this.”
The shooting agony brought tears to Sammy’s eyes as
he pulled his friend up and over his shoulder. He breathed through his nose in
sharp, forceful draws. His first three steps were staggers as he stumbled
toward the doorway. When he reached the hall, the building shook again. Needles
stabbed his legs with each step he took toward the elevator. Sammy’s eyes
stayed locked on his target, allowing himself to see nothing else.
Another quake under his feet nearly sent him to his
“Leave me,” Brickert whispered behind him. “You
can’t … save … us both.”
“Yes, I can,” Sammy grunted back. “Now shut up and
Bracing himself on the filthy walls, Sammy lurched
step after step until he slammed against the elevator doors. Holding Brickert
with one hand, he reached out and pressed the call button to go up.
“Hold on,” he whispered. “Just … hold on … buddy.”
He counted the seconds silently until the elevator
arrived. When he reached nine, he heard a soft
The doors closed behind Sammy, and the elevator
began its ascent to the lobby. Sammy eased Brickert off his shoulder and
lowered him to the floor. “You still with me?” he asked Brickert.
Brickert gave no response.
“Brickert?” Sammy gave him a gentle shake, but still
Brickert didn’t answer. Sammy checked Brickert’s wrist and found no pulse. His
trembling hands moved to Brickert’s neck.
The elevator stopped. They hadn’t reached the ground
floor. Sammy jammed the button again, but the elevator didn’t budge. He slammed
his fist against the panel. A robotic operator’s voice came over the intercom:
“Due to building instability, elevator use is suspended until further notice.
Please use the stairs. Please do not attack or damage the elevator as it will
not improve your situation.”
Sammy spoke into his com. “Al, can you hear me?”
“Barely. Where are you?”
“I’m stuck in the elevator! I need help.”
“You’re cutting in and out. What do you need?”
“HELP! I need your help!”
“Okay. What can I do?”
“Are you still in the building?”
“No one’s in the building, Sammy. It’s coming down
soon. You have to get out!”
I’m trying to
” Sammy screamed. “I need you to open the elevator doors on the
ground floor. Can you do that?”
“Open the ground door?”
Sammy repeated his request, barely keeping his cool.
“Yes—yes, I can do that, but you have to
Sammy blasted open the top escape hatch of the
elevator car. It was too dark to see how far up the doors were.
Doesn’t matter. I have to make this right.
Sammy grabbed Brickert and lifted him up high.
He yelled at the top of his lungs as stabs of pain
ripped through his arm and burned thumb. He shot blasts from his feet until he
was high enough off the ground that he could push Brickert up through the
hatch. Fresh tears blinded him, but he continued to heft his friend’s weight
until Brickert rested on top of the elevator. Then Sammy climbed out, sat next
to Brickert, and wiped his eyes with his better arm.
“Hold on, buddy.” He placed his hand on Brickert’s
head. “I’m going to take care of you. Just hold on.”
“Sammy, I’m in the building,” Al reported. “It’s
bad. We gotta be fast. Be ready to move as soon as I pop open these doors.”
Sammy used the elevator cables to pull himself back
to a standing position, ignoring his body’s protests. Then he picked Brickert
up again and trained his eyes on the darkness above him. In those few seconds,
he noticed how it never ended, the blackness. It was limitless and consuming.
“Don’t die, Brickert.” His words tasted hot and
bitter, filled with guilt.
A shaft of light appeared almost thirty meters above
them. After turning on his own com light, Sammy wasted no time jump blasting
toward it. Carrying Brickert severely reduced the height of his blast jumps,
forcing Sammy to adjust in midair. He bounced from wall to wall, gradually
scaling the distance to the elevator doors on the ground floor. The space
between the doors widened, and more light filled the shaft. The better Sammy
could see, the more confident he felt in his blasts.
“Hurry!” Al shouted from above.
Sammy could not go any faster. The tremors in the
building grew worse. The pain in Sammy’s limbs grew worse. The quaking in his
arms grew worse. At one point, Sammy’s body nearly gave up and he barely hung
onto Brickert. It was too much. He could hardly summon the strength to blast.
He thought of everyone who had helped him, sacrificed for him, enabled him to
be where he was. He called on their strength and reached the elevator doors.
Al was there to help him. The moment Al reached
Brickert to take him from Sammy, a ghastly haunted noise rang through the
walls, reverberating so powerfully that it deafened Sammy. The sound surrounded
and filled him with its high-pitched groans as steel folded on steel and the
structure collapsed on itself.
Debris fell from above as Sammy, still carrying his
best friend, ran behind Al toward the doors. Before they could reach them, a
massive chunk of the ceiling crashed onto the floor, blocking their path.
“This way!” Al yelled.
Sammy huffed and stumbled after his friend. He tried
to ask Al to take Brickert for him, but couldn’t find the breath to speak. A
tremendous roar came from the building followed by a monstrous tremor that did
not stop. Al sprinted toward the nearest bay window and shot at it several
times until the glass shattered. With his blasts, he blew away any remaining
shards. “Go, Sammy! GO!”
Sammy hurried forward and jumped through the window.
Al followed behind. They didn’t stop once they hit the street, but kept running
until they reached the stealth cruisers parked in the road. Behind them, the
Joswang Tower began to crumble.
Ice filled Sammy’s gut.
How many people did we estimate could be in the building during these
“God help us,” he said. “What have I done?”
Friday, May 9, 2087
SAMMY SAT NEXT to Brickert’s bed with a book balanced by the cast on
his left arm. His friend lay still on his left side with his eyes closed; a
breathing tube snaked down his mouth and throat while I.V. catheters went into
his arms. Other than Sammy’s voice, the only other sounds were the reports from
the monitors connected to Brickert, speaking in their monotonous, repetitive
language of beeps.
“‘There was something strange in my sensations,
something indescribably new and, from its very novelty, incredibly sweet. I felt
younger, lighter, happier in body; within I was conscious of a heady
recklessness, a current of—’”
Sammy sighed and paused to set the book down on his
cast so he could rub his eyes with his good hand. Somehow this made his vision
worse and everything in the room was a blur. So he rubbed harder, his skin
making a wet sucking sound. Fortunately his burned thumb was almost completely
healed and only dully ached. The effort left him so exhausted that he had to
rest a moment before going back to the book.
He hadn’t slept well before Detroit, but since
returning sleep had become impossible. Every time he closed his eyes he saw
Brickert beaten, bloody, bruised, and barely clinging to life. Half the time,
in his dreams, Sammy tried unsuccessfully to resuscitate his best friend. The
other half, he wrapped his own bleeding hands around Brickert’s neck and choked
the life out of him.
Not a night had passed that he didn’t wake up
crying, sweating, aching, or apologizing.
, he thought now as he looked at his friend.
“Hmmnn,” Brickert moaned.
Sammy leaned toward his friend, his book fell to the
floor. “Brickert? Hey can you hear me?” He reached over and pressed the call
button next to Brickert’s bed. “Brick? You awake?”
It had been twelve days since the disastrous attack
on the Joswang building in Detroit. Brickert had been unconscious all dozen of
them. Sammy, Strawberry, Jeffie, and others had taken turns sitting with him
for two or three hours at a time, mostly reading aloud in hopes that he could
hear. After going through several books, Sammy was now reading
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
A minute after he pressed the button, Dr. Maad
Rosmir entered with an assistant. “What happened? Is he awake?”
Dr. Rosmir pried open Brickert’s eyes and examined
them. “That’s good news.” He shook Brickert gently. “Brickert, this is Dr.
Rosmir. Can you hear me?” After getting no response, the doctor began
manipulating various points on Brickert’s body, checking reflexes and automated
responses with great care.
Sammy looked over his friend. Heavy bruising was
still evident on Brickert’s face and arms from trauma and the subsequent
surgeries to repair the damage done by the Thirteens. Seventeen broken bones
fixed (eight ribs), five teeth implanted for regeneration, and repair of both
“You saved him, Sammy,” Rosmir had told him after
the tower fell.
I all but killed
Sammy had wanted to reply.
As for the rest of Brickert’s team, Strawberry had
been treated for minor injuries, while Natalia’s wounds had been far more
serious. It was Strawberry who saved Natalia. After the Thirteens dragged
Brickert from the room, Strawberry fought the one who remained and killed him,
then rushed to unbury Natalia and staunched her bleeding.
Strawberry had cried in her room for days, unable to
get past having killed another human being. Sammy wanted to tell her that
Thirteens were hardly even human, but knew it wouldn’t help. He had spoken to
her briefly in Brickert’s room at the infirmary, but neither he nor she had
kind words for each other. Yet their brief conversation still stuck with Sammy.
“After this is all over,” she had said, “I’m done
being a Psion.”
Sammy didn’t believe her. “What would you do,
Strawberry? Walk away from your fellow Psions?”
“Fashion. I was given a scholarship, you know. A
school in Lyon. I’m going to call them and see if I can still accept their
offer. I just—I’m done.”
“Fashion.” He’d spat the word back out at her. “Why
would you give up such an important life for something so shallow and
Strawberry’s eyes turned cold and her expression
stony. “Ask Hefani.”
Hefani’s body now rested in a graveyard outside
Glasgow, a crude tombstone marked the spot. Hefani’s death had hit Sammy hard,
mostly because despite being acquainted with him for almost a year, Sammy had
never actually taken the time to really get to know Hefani.
Strawberry had known him best. They’d arrived at
Beta headquarters at the same time. During his funeral ceremony, she spoke
about how he had liked quiet and solitude and that he preferred to keep things
about himself private, much like Sammy. From her description, Sammy decided he
would have liked Hefani if he’d made the effort to talk to him. Now it was too
Dr. Rosmir finished his examination of Brickert.
“His condition is improving. I’m going to have Janna take him in for testing.
Have you met Janna? She’ll be here in a—”
The faint sounds of two people yelling came through
the wall: one male voice and one female.
“She’ll be here in a minute or two.” Dr. Rosmir
acted as though he didn’t hear the shouting, but his eyes glanced at the wall
through which the sound came.
When one of the voices grew louder, Sammy asked, “Is
“It’s not our business,” Rosmir said.
It’s Al and Marie
The noise continued until Sammy was certain he was
right. Then a door slammed shut and the voices stopped. A moment later a
pancake thin nurse entered wearing a strained smile, her face red and sweaty.
The small bump in her midsection told Sammy that she was likely expecting.
Dr. Rosmir saw her and asked, “Is everything all
The nurse glanced at Sammy and nodded. “Hi, Sammy.
I’m Janna Scoble.” She tried to give him a better smile, and was mildly
“Janna’s a nurse. Recently joined us from … where
“Star Valley.” Her smile turned sad.
“Yes,” Rosmir said, “wherever that is. You hungry,
Again Sammy shook his head even though his stomach
gurgled in protest. His thoughts were on Al and Marie. He knew their marriage
had been struggling since Marie had revealed her pregnancy to her husband. He
knew Al felt betrayed that she’d intentionally let herself conceive to prevent
them from being selected to go on missions. But what he’d just overheard was a
major row. Marie was due soon to deliver their baby, and apparently its
impending birth hadn’t fixed their problems.
“Okay,” Dr. Rosmir said. “Well, Commander Byron’s
been looking for you. He wants you to meet him in the cafeteria. Or do you plan
to continue avoiding him?”
“I haven’t been avoiding him,” Sammy lied.
“He said you pretended to be asleep every time he
visited you in the infirmary.”
Sammy couldn’t hide his reddening face. “I—I
didn’t feel like talking to him.”
Dr. Rosmir put a hand on Sammy’s shoulder. “When
have you known him to have anything but your best interest—”
“I know he does. I also know what he wants to talk
to me about, and I don’t need to hear it. Between the leadership committee and
Brickert and—and … everything else, I have a lot on my mind. Getting lectured
isn’t a priority at the moment.”
“From what I hear you can’t even be bothered to go
to your committee meetings.”
Sammy fixed Rosmir with a cold stare. “The commander
should worry more about Al and Marie than me.”
“I’m just asking, Sammy. Just asking.”
Sammy had no response for Rosmir. He knew Commander
Byron wanted to discuss how Sammy had managed to save Brickert. He knew Byron
had suspicions … and rightfully so. After a long pause, he sighed and gave Dr.
Rosmir half a smile.
“Whatever. I’ll go find him.”
“I’ll let you know what Brickert’s tests show soon.
“Yeah. Sure.” Sammy stood up slowly and limped
toward the door.
Sammy paused but did not look back. “What?”
“You need to rest. You look like—well, like
Biting back a rude retort, Sammy left the infirmary.
His com beeped, informing him that he had a message from Jeffie. That made a
total of twenty-two she had sent him, all of which remained unread. He turned
off his com in case she tried to call again. In his mind it was easier to
justify ignoring her calls if he never heard the com ring.
Everybody on the Detroit mission had seen what Sammy
did in the Thirteen den to the enemy. It’d been broadcast to every com on the
network. They’d seen his brutality and efficiency. Fortunately the camera had
been bumped before Sammy turned on Brickert, or they would have seen that too.
Since returning to Glasgow, he’d ignored the
resistance’s leadership committee members and their summons, he ignored his
friends, and he ignored Commander Byron. Sammy woke up, spent time with
Brickert, and went home. Most of his friends and colleagues had given up trying
to talk to him when he was at the infirmary. And when they did, Sammy refused
I’m a killer. A
murderer of hundreds. And they all know it.
During the first week after Detroit, Sammy had
locked himself in his room and studied the mission plans and detonation
schematics until he figured out what went wrong. The part involving Brickert’s
team was easy enough to unravel. Hefani had messed up the code, and Strawberry
took her eyes off the screens watching the lobby at the same moment the
Thirteens chose to strike the security offices. A dumb decision combined with
As for the errant destruction of the Joswang Tower,
that was a different matter entirely. Sammy and fellow Tensai, Justice
Juraschek, along with three resistance members with experience in demolition,
had planned the placement of the explosive devices using building schematics
stolen from the Hive five months ago.
Sammy, being one of the highest ranking members of
the leadership committee, had overruled Justice, Lorenzo Winters, and Dave
Hudec’s advice regarding placement of the bombs. Sammy and Duncan, Dave’s
brother, had both believed a more aggressive strategy was well within the realm
It was Sammy’s error that had caused the tower to
Even now, as he drove through the underground
tunnels that connected the buildings of the resistance, Sammy couldn’t shake
the thought. It was a stake driven deep into his brain, ever present. He’d once
fantasized of being thought of as a hero, someone who history would look
favorably upon for his role in the Silent War. Instead he had become a villain.
A mass murderer.
When Sammy reached the old high school, he parked
his car and went inside. Since the destruction of Psion Beta and Alpha
headquarters and the start of the war, Sammy and his friends had lived in
Glasgow. Eight months. It felt like eight years. Over those eight months,
constant renovations had turned the decrepit school into something resembling a
bustling community center. It now boasted a functional exercise facility,
dozens of classrooms, and a large mess hall—all of which made it a place
for the community to gather.
Holo-visions in the mess hall blared the news, which
the resistance had been watching non-stop since the Joswang Tower toppled. Even
now, whenever they showed the footage of the building collapsing, Sammy
couldn’t look away. Every night came the same nightmare of the building, steel
screaming like a dying animal. And when the dust cleared, Sammy stood alone,
bodies piled around him. All of them bore the same face.
My idea, my
strategy, my team. My fault. My mistake. My pride.
Each time he saw the footage of the tower crumbling,
a heavy, lumpy sickness filled his stomach and his heart turned into lead.
“… breaking news coming in as we speak,” one news
reporter said to a politician being interviewed, “Two weeks since the
catastrophic attack in Detroit, and we finally have a name to the man behind
the attacks. Reports show that the mastermind is Samuel Harris Berhane Jr., a
NWG terrorist encamped with a group of insurgents calling themselves only ‘the
An image of Sammy showed on the screen. It had been
enhanced to make him appear about ten years older. It also gave him long dirty
facial hair and a buzzed haircut.
. Sammy gripped his stomach and looked for the nearest garbage can.
He spotted one next to a water fountain. As he vomited, tears leaked from his
eyes. Head in his hands, he sat on the floor and listened to the reporter
“Joining me now is President Newberry’s Chief of
Staff, Julia Navarre. Ms. Navarre, how are terrorists like this allowed to roam
free? How are NWG terrorists arming and aiding insurgents?”