“Jess Carmichael?” came the breathy, surprised words. My finger stopped moving, but remained firm on the trigger.
I lowered the gun, but snapped up again as the soldier stubbled forward, a foot catching on a raised root.
“Hold it right there,” came Ryan’s voice, his form becoming visible as the soldier collapsed to the ground. Ryan lowered his rifle first, his eyes catching mine for a second before we both ran in, meeting over the slumped body, our hands twisting him around, covering his blackened half, rolling so I could push two fingers to the pink skin at his throat. I lifted my head. Ryan looked on hopeful as I looked past him, my tips seeking his veins and the momentary bulge I couldn’t find.
Looking upward and with a shake of my head, I stood. Ryan remained on his knees, peering down to the body as it relaxing, the body’s pained expression draining, chest lowering with each moment.
“Come on,” I said. Ryan looked up.
“Did you know him?” he said, confusion written across his features. I looked down, held on his face for a moment, the pink of his skin, its colour darkening as my eyes followed to the char I was thankful for being mostly hidden. I shook my head. “But he knew your name?”
Watching his face, my eyebrows raised. I waited for his head to catch up, but when it didn’t and he turned back down to the man, his hands at his side, looking lost, I spoke.
“You know my name. Half the country knows my name.”
He raised his eyebrows as he looked back, then sank as his thoughts caught up.
“We need to go,” I said, turning when he hadn’t followed my pace, listening to the whine of the alarms fading in and out of the background. “What are you waiting for?”
“Shouldn’t we,” he said not finishing his words. “Shouldn’t we,” he repeated. “Isn’t he going to rise again? Won’t he join them?” he said pointing his arm toward the crowds of dead still ambling between whichever car made the most noise. I looked at the crowd walking away, but turned as I watched, as the closest car’s alarm rose from its silence. “Shouldn’t we put him out of his misery?” he said in a voice I barely heard.
My eyes fixed on the soldier’s face, looking down to the ball chain necklace I knew would lead to two circular discs and the tags used to identify him when all this was over, when his body decomposed beyond recognition, here or wherever he finally fell to his rest. One more of their ranks would be no different in the grand scheme, but would I rather have a knife through my temple, through my eye socket, than wonder around with a squatter driving my empty body. Too right I would. Ryan was right. I nodded, closing my eyes, shutting out the view as Ryan stood, dipping his head in a shallow salute.
The world began a slow spin, fatigue calming my breathing, a blanket of calm surrounding me. I felt myself about to stumble and my eyes shot open to see I hadn’t moved, but caught on Ryan, his head bowed, the rifles on the floor behind him and a knife held out in both hands like he was about to sacrifice a virgin on an alter. A tear dripped down from his face, darkening a patch of the green fatigues. His head shook slow from side to side and he looked up, pulling in a great breath. I kept my expression calm, held my hand out for the knife and he gave it over taking a step back.
Dropping to my knees I pushed the fingers of my left hand to his throat. Slowing my breath, closing my eyes as I pushed all concentration to the tips of my fingers. I had to be sure. I had to be sure again. There was nothing. Still nothing. My fingers tightened around the hilt of the knife in my right until a bump of sensation rippled across the fingers pushed into the side of his throat.
I looked up to Ryan, eyes wide, but he’d turned. Snapping down to the soldier’s face, but there he lay, eyes closed, chest still, no matter how long I lingered. Breath drained from my own as I relaxed, closing my eyes, my fingers held in place.
The sensation must have been a something else, a need for there to be a reason to turn away my course. But no. I had to be brave. Had to do the right thing and pulling my fingers away I moved the knife, but my eyes sprang wide as the scorched hand clamped around my throat, cutting off my scream as his milky whites stared back.
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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.
Not read Season One? Here it is.