Secondary Protocols

Everything that will happen in the next fifteen minutes, and this is the moment she will dream about over and over.

They are sitting in the middle of the factory floor, in the area they have built into a living room, of sorts. It’s just some old chairs around a fire pit, but it’s the closest thing to home she’s ever known. The wood is burning, and she’s sitting a little too close. The heat is making her blush. She’s on the ground because she prefers it. Katya is sitting on her right side. Dillon on her left. Across the flames are Teek and Lisbon. The sparks and smoke from the fire rise up into the air, eventually lost to the darkness. The smell is in her clothes, her hair, and that’s better than the smell of the city so she doesn’t care. Teek has just told a joke. It’s not a good joke, but for whatever reason Dillon thinks it’s the funniest thing in the world. His laughter, deep and booming, is billowing out in shockwaves, making others in the barren factory turn to look. She is looking at a woman she does not know, with a child asleep in her arms. The woman looks up at Dillon’s rolling laughter and begins to smile.

There is an explosion on the other side of the factory followed only by the reverb. The smile is gone from the woman’s face and she is clutching her son. Dillon isn’t laughing anymore. They are all waiting.

Another explosion.

Gunfire.

“THEY FOUND US.”

Over. And over. And over.

That’s when they began to run. At first, Simone couldn’t. It felt like she was in a dream, one where the air had become thick and every motion was too slow and weak. Just standing up took all of the power in her legs and back.

Another explosion just on the other side of the big room knocked her out of her dream. This is real. This is happening.

Teek was the only one with any kind of head on her shoulders. She stood up but didn’t begin running, staring down the problem like she could make it go away through sheer force of will. Her stillness calmed the others, made them wait even as their legs and feet twitched like rabbits.

“Just like we practiced,” Teek said, her voice level. “The tunnels. Let’s go.”

That’s when they started running, Teek included. She was yelling about the tunnels, turning from side to side to make sure everyone knew where to go, but she was still running. Teek saw Simone watching her as they ran, and gave her a wink. It shouldn’t have helped, but it did. Teek wasn’t scared. And if Teek wasn’t scared, then Simone wasn’t scared either.

Much.

The tunnel entrances were in the back, hidden behind metal gratings. They were a major part of the factory, bringing bricks to the stacks to be baked, but no one knew about that part of the factory anymore. Or should have.

Simone could see the tunnels. Other refugees had already reached them and had shoved the grating to the side. Dark, drafty holes that would deliver them to freedom, allow them to regroup. They had been found out before, and while this was definitely the closest they had ever come, they would not-

“GO BACK.”

The sound of gunfire exploded out of the tunnel entrances, so distorted and warped by bouncing around the close walls it was only identifiable by the muzzle flash. The rebels and refugees at the mouth of the tunnel start turning around, trying to run in a new direction. Simone and the others who had been around the fire – had that really only been a couple minutes ago? – skid to a halt. Simone looked to Teek for the next step and ice dripped down her back.

Teek looked scared.

“What do we do?” Dillon asked.

“They shouldn’t have known about that,” Teek mutters. Simone could barely hear it over the yelling and the guns.

“Teek!” Dillon barks.

Teek rubbed her face, and then swallowed so hard Simone could see it in her throat.

“Secondary Protocols.” Her voice shook, and she must have heard it. She rose up to full height and looked at Dillon. “Secondary Protocols.”

Dillon nodded, and then screamed a single word above the din.

Scatter.”

It didn’t matter, because that’s what most people were doing anyway. Anyone who still had enough brains about them to wait for the official word started moving faster, ushering people along to any exit. Scatter and regroup. It was all that was left.

Dillon and Teek began running for the north side of the factory. Simone didn’t hesitate to follow. Glancing over her shoulder she found Katya and Lisbon on her heels. Lifting her eyes from Lisbon’s flushed cheeks, she saw something else for the first time.

Black suits.

She turned back and focused on running, knowing if she looked too long her knees would turn to jelly.

They were headed for the garage doors, and as they passed one of the pillars Dillon paused just long enough to slam on the button. Gunfire went off behind them and Katya screamed, tripping over her shoes. Dillon didn’t even slow down as he picked her up, carrying her like a football until she could get on her feet again.

In front of them, the slow doors were rolling up, revealing the night. They could already hear helicopters. See the spotlights pointed at the ground. How did they know? HOW DID THEY KNOW? There were a few people in front of them. As soon as they were out of the factory they were gunned down, falling into heaps.

Teek skidded to a halt just before the doors, keeping to the shadows. The others instinctively gathered around her, including Simone. Teek had kept them alive for months, now. She would know what to do.

“There’s a truck, on the far side of the lot,” she said, pointing. Simone looked but couldn’t see beyond the roving spotlights. “We have to run for it. But if we stay to the edges of the lot, out of the spotlights, we can make it. They won’t hear the truck with the choppers in the air. We drive it dark until we’re out. Ready?”

No. But Simone was nodding along with the others. Katya looked at her and attempted a smile. They took each other’s hands and got in a good squeeze before they were off.

They kept low to the ground, following Teek in a single file. First they stayed up against the building, hiding in whatever shadows they could find until they found the edge of the pavement. Above the helicopters whirred in circles, the sound of their engines echoing off the factory walls, filling her ears and grating her back.

Teek moved away from the building, crouching so low she was practically crawling. They moved in fits. The spotlights would come and they’d stop, hugging the earth, hoping they wouldn’t shine over them. Then the helicopter would go off in a different direction and they’d move again. Fast but low. Simone’s legs were beginning to cramp. Behind her, she could still hear screams, gunfire, ordered shouts from the black suits. She could see the truck they were heading for. Not one of the ones parked in a row. Another, hidden a few feet away in a hollowed out container. From above, it would just look like a propane tank.

Screaming and gunshots got closer from behind. Simone turned around in time to see other refugees running away from the building, across the grass.

Black suits followed. Armed. Jogging after them, guns up.

Don’t look, don’t look, don’t look.

“Over there!”

Run,” Teek shouted.

Simone didn’t remember going from crouching to running. She just was. Her hair was behind her and the air rushing by was making her ears freeze. Whizzing sounds shot past her, exploding into the ground around her.

Katya grunted and then she wasn’t next to her anymore.

“Katya-”

“Keep moving!” Dillon said, pushing her from behind. He was blocking her view, moving so she couldn’t see anything more than Katya’s outstretched hand. “We’re-”

He didn’t scream or yell. It was more like an exhalation from being punched. Something wet and warm sprinkled over Simone’s face and neck. She didn’t need to wipe at it to know it was blood.

“Keep going,” Dillon said. He pushed her again, but it was weak. Teek and Lisbon were in front of her, she kept her eyes on them. The truck was another thirty yards or so, they could make the truck and maybe Dillon was still behind, still moving.

Another shot whizzed by her and took Teek in the leg. With a scream of frustration she went down. There was no hesitation. From the front pocket of her shirt she pulled the keys and thrust them into Lisbon’s hand.

“Get out of here,” she growled.

“Teek!” Simon said, kneeling next to her. “We can get you up, we can help you.”

“Not enough time. They’re right there. You two need to go.”

“No, Teek, I’m not leaving you-”

“Lis, get her out of here!”

Strong arms wrapped around her stomach and pulled her back. She knew it was Lisbon. She didn’t care. She thrashed and kicked, screamed and reached. Lisbon was so much bigger than her. They didn’t even stagger as they pulled Simone away, practically dragging her the rest of the way to the truck. They held her with one arm as they unlocked it, then unceremoniously shoved her in.

Simone immediately moved to the other door. She wasn’t going to leave all of them. She couldn’t leave all of them.

It was locked. Maybe even broken. The door handle clicked uselessly and she couldn’t find a way to unlock it anywhere on the door.

The engine roared to life and Lisbon punched the accelerator. Simone was thrown back into the window. Like she cared. All she cared about was the scene behind them. Teek surrounded. Katya and Dillon, not moving. All of it getting smaller and smaller, no matter how much she screamed or pounded on the window.

Behind it all, the factory had begun to burn.


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