By: M.A. Thompson
Jason could feel their looks of surprise on the back of his neck as he moved to intercept the two visitors. They hobbled through the gate with no less than four guns trained on them the entire time. Jason signaled two guards to separate and search them on the spot, and the gate slammed shut behind them.
“Keep a vigilant watch, double shifts through the night,” Jason gave the order to his second in command who nodded and began relaying orders into his radio.
Jason positioned himself between the two outsiders and the command center. They stood legs spread, hands held fast to the top of their heads with assault rifles aimed squarely at their backs. Jason studied them in the flickering torchlight.
The man would have been considered a big guy, if he’d had any meat on his bones, but as he stood trembling there on the pavement he looked to Jason like he hadn’t eaten a solid meal in weeks. The boy wasn’t much different. Emaciated, and way too skinny for a boy his age, which looked to be on par with Jim. Their clothes, what was left of them, hung from their skeleton frames in tattered shards. The boy wore the remains of a brown t-shirt and jean shorts, the man in an orange long sleeve turtleneck and what used to be a pair of khakis. Both were covered in dried mud and blood and filth that seemed to stain them down to the bone. The man was still bleeding. A small slow drip fell into a growing puddle beneath him as he stood there on shaking legs.
“You’re injured,” Jason half asked, half stated.
“Ye… yes,” the man gasped. Jason could hear the dryness in his throat, and fought back the urge to offer him water.
“How?” Jason demanded.
“We were attacked…”
“I don’t know, but they were…” The man was shaking violently, falling apart with each word.
“Insane,” the boy said, with a coldness that surprised Jason. “They were insane. They killed my mother, and my two sisters.”
Jason focused his attention on the boy now.
“Why didn’t they kill you?”
“Would have,” the boy replied, “If Pa here didn’t break loose and save us.”
“How’d you manage that?” asked Jason.
The man slowly lowered his arms and pulled up his sleeve revealing a savage laceration on his wrist. His thumb was nearly hanging off, and it was clear to Jason why the man seemed to be in a state of shock.
“They had me handcuffed,” he said quietly, “but I managed to get free.”
“Then what?” Jason asked.
“Then we came here,” the boy said, with a trace of frustration in his voice.
“Easy Sam,” the man said, “He’s right to be suspicious.”
If the man was hoping to dissuade Jason of his uneasiness, it wasn’t working. Still, the pair didn’t seem to pose an immediate threat, and they could have valuable information about the attackers.
“Why were they holding you?”
“I… I don’t know, they just, ambushed us as we, my family and I…” the man paused to choke down his tears, “we were on the road for a while, and came across the Big Mart about ten miles west of here. We thought there might be some supplies, or at least shelter for the night… that’s when they got us… when we were sleeping.” The man couldn’t hold back anymore and his words gave way to muffled sobs.”
Jason’s blood went cold at the mention of the box store. It must have been their packs that Jim had found in the back room. Then another thought chilled him even deeper.
“Were you followed?” he asked.
“No,” cried the man, “I, I don’t think so anyway.”
“How did you get away?”
“I killed one of them,” said the boy, “Dad cut us loose and we waited for him to return. When he came near me I rammed a shard of metal into his throat.”
Jason eyed the boy. There was anger in him. Hatred. Like the hate that was in Jim’s eyes after he’d shot the man who’d attacked his mother. He almost turned them away for that reason alone. Still, if they had information on the people responsible for what he saw at Big Mart, he wanted it.
“I killed that man,” the boy continued, “and then we lit out of there yesterday night, ran like hell down the road with only the rifle we grabbed from the dead one.”
“It took you that long to get here?” Jason asked.
“I slowed us down,” the man interjected, “I tried to get my boy to leave me behind, but he wouldn’t.”
“They didn’t pursue?”
“I don’t believe so,” the man said.
“How many of them?”
“One less now,” said the boy.
“I don’t know exactly,” the man said, four of five I think, they kept us blindfolded for days, I, think I made out four or five different voices.”
Jason studied them carefully, trying to decide what to do. Finally, he turned to his second in command and gave an order.
“Search them, then take them to a holding cell, get them food, tend that man’s wound and post two guards on them.”
The man looked as if he wanted to protest, but thought better of it.
“Blindfold them as well,” Jason added. It was dark by then, but he didn’t want the two of them to have any more view of their camp then they already had. The tension relaxed in the man’s body, but the boy remained rigid. He didn’t like the idea of being blindfolded, but Jason thought that more a symptom of youth than espionage.
The man and the boy were escorted by two guards along the path towards the center. Jason leaned against the sandbags of the forward post and sighed.
“Sir?” it was Erickson, the officer who’d been relaying Jason’s orders.
“What about the standing order?”
Erickson was a good man. An army reserve captain, he had served on active duty twice, earned the Purple Heart and a few other accolades that proved he was worthwhile soldier. He took his family to the camp when he saw the presence of the military, making the mistake of trusting them out of habit. Why shouldn’t he have, Jason thought when he’d first heard the story. It was unthinkable what the government had done, but all that was behind them. He was a good soldier and at the heart of the rebellion that ultimately helped make the camp free. His question was valid, and since Jason had given the standing order of no outsiders himself, he understood his officer’s confusion. He just didn’t know how to answer it.
“We found something,” Jason began, “at the Big Mart. The other day when Jim and Tony and I went out on a run.”
“What was it?”
“I can’t exactly say for sure, some kind of symbol, or effigy or some shit,” Jason tried to explain, “it was covered in blood. Whatever it was, it wasn’t good. It wasn’t… it wasn’t right. Whoever was responsible for it, well let’s just say, they aren’t’ the kind of people we want to deal with.”
“You think it’s the same people who attacked those two?”
“Or maybe they’re part of it.”
“That thought crossed my mind as well.”
“If they are, they could be here to gather information, to find our weaknesses and report back.”
“I’m aware of that Erickson,” Jason sighed, “but whatever they are or aren’t, we’re going to find out.”
“If you don’t mind me saying so sir, I’ve got a pretty bad feeling about it. First, Gerald and his son get killed, then these two show up bloodied and talking about marauders or whatever. This is how things go tits up in a hurry in situations like this.”
“You’re not wrong,” Jason agreed, “But I’m confident in what we’ve built here. As long as we stick to the EEFI rules, we should be able to get what we need out of those two without much spillage.”
“I hope you’re right, sir.”