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    Chapter One

    He tapped the bottom of the magazine to ensure it was fully seated in the well of the rifle; the last thing he wanted was an equipment failure during the engagement. He pulled the charging handle partially back and peered into the receiver at the chambered round. He was extremely anxious; he could not keep himself from going through the continuous cycle of equipment checks. He always got this way just before a strike. He focused on his breathing to help him remain calm, but it did little to alleviate his anxiety. As soon as he got out of the Humvee, he would be fine; as soon as he got out of the Humvee, he would be an instrument of death.

    They had been pursuing the mark for nearly seven years. Their mark had waged a war of attrition against them by sabotaging their equipment, and maiming and mutilating good men. Dead soldiers were a tragedy, but gravely wounded men tied up resources and marred morale. The only victories they had achieved were utterly pyrrhic in nature. They were slowly being bled by a repulsive group of dissidents, until tonight; finally, he would have his pound of flesh.

    The rains were torrential and unyielding; the extent of their vision was reduced to merely several feet beyond the end of the vehicle’s broad hood. The raindrops pattered rhythmically on the roof as the men nervously crept into the perilous ward. He felt claustrophobic as the walls of the narrow alley surrounded them; it appeared as if the side-view mirrors would scrape along the ancient, dry-stone walls and alert the entire district to their trespasses.

    If the decision were his, he would burn the entire ward to the ground and ventilate everyone that tried to escape. Every day that the buildings towered over the narrow, cobblestone lanes, every day that the ancient tunnels connected the basements, under-buildings and subterranean nether-structures, and every day that the large, arched sewers ran from junction to junction was a day that one of his comrades lost their limb or life.

    Scorched earth won battles and wars, not hearts and minds, they told him. But he did not subscribe to their watered-down policies and doctrines; he knew the people of this ward intimately. As long as their hearts and minds were in their chests and heads, they would resist; they were irrationally radical and dogmatically dissident, it was the nature of their existence. That’s why nights like these were so very fulfilling; these were the nights where they would defy the Party’s war doctrine under the veil of darkness and fight the war the way it ought to be fought. One day, he reasoned, statues would be erected of him in remembrance of all that he did for the Party.

    He knew how to break the backs of a resistance; it took more than sheer force of will and arms. No matter how much current they ran through a partisan, he would not falter; he knew his fate either way, there was no incentive. Scalpels and pliers would not work either; neither would any amount of deprivation of any stripe. The key was in the others.

    The others were the citizen soldiers, the support system. The others were the smiling, crippled, old men that hobbled down the sidewalks and acted as their spies. The others were the beautiful, young women that winked at his comrades and appropriated their secrets. The others were the laughing children who played marbles and knucklebones in the street and then slipped away to deliver the messages and reports to their brothers and fathers. The others were everyone and everywhere.

    So he snatched them from the outdoor tables of their cafes and shaded, concrete benches in their parks. Sometimes, he would simply kick down their doors and drag them away by the napes of their necks. They would resurface several days later on a street corner or in an alley, but they would not be the same; other times, they would not resurface at all. And it worked; oh, did it ever work. They were here this very night because it worked.

    They stopped several blocks south of the sprawling, brownstone complex; it was composed of numerous rows of apartments, cafes, shops and villas – all interconnected through closet hallways and hidden, makeshift staircases. It was a wandering network of ambush and death, but he finally had the key.

    They slipped out of the vehicles like specters, invisible under the starless sky and in the relentless downpour. In a world of green hues, they slipped through the shadows and along the walls. His carbine was shouldered, and the center of his ACOG was illuminated by the phosphorescent contained therein. Silently, in their orchestrated manner, they divided up and fanned out along several side streets as they worked their way to the rally point.

    As the final team arrived at the back of the complex, he approached the dumpster; it looked like any other dumpster at any other loading dock in the city, but he knew it was different. He nodded to his comrade to open the hinged lid on top of it; it squeaked loudly as it was pushed up and then back, but the sound was muffled by the continuous, low rumble of the approaching thunder. He nodded again, and the man scowled but obeyed the order; one by one, they removed the bulging, black bags of rotting food and refuse from the large, metal bin. The smell of the waste was nearly unbearable, as if it had been fermenting in the dumpster for ages.

    Stinking, black, ankle-deep leachate was all that remained in the dumpster, besides the tiny, hinged, steel door. Several of his comrades climbed into the dumpster and slowly opened the hidden door; they ducked low and crawled through the hatch, and into some arcane back room of the brownstone complex. After several tense moments of silence, a hand appeared from within the pitch-black interior and beckoned the men inside. One by one, they crawled through the portal.

    The room was small, musty and full of empty crates and boxes. An old, claw-foot bathtub lay broken in the center of the room, its hull cracked and two of its feet missing. On the far side of the room, a makeshift staircase was constructed of scrap lumber and reclaimed nails; the staircase ascended several feet to a rusted but functional steel door. He stood several feet from the small, steel hatch and watched as his comrades crept into the room and towards the rickety stairs.

    He saw it before it happened, but it was too late; the left foot of the lead man tripped over a tiny, steel strand of wire that had been pulled taut across the room. Instead of shouting, he turned and dove away while covering his face, to protect it from the blast. He hit the ground near the portal and furiously scrambled to make it out of the room before it happened; he had just thrust his head through the small opening, when the explosion engulfed the room with its intense heat and deafening roar. The flames were all around him, burning and blistering his body; he shrieked in pain and pulled himself out through the portal door and into the dumpster beyond.

    He fell headlong into the heavy, black syrup of detritus in the bottom of the dumpster. He retched violently as the sickening liquid filled his nostrils and mouth. Disgusting as it was, the leachate helped to extinguish the flames that danced mockingly on his uniform and skin. He lay in the bottom of the dumpster for several moments, alternating between retching and shaking uncontrollably; finally, he mustered the strength to stand.

    He half climbed, half rolled out of the dumpster and tumbled onto the hard cobblestone below. The abrupt impact expelled the air from his lungs, and he gasped in vain for another breath. As he rolled over onto his back in the street, he could feel his skin beginning to bubble and blister; he looked at his arm, but he did not even recognize its leathery, black texture. Surprisingly, his arm did not seem to hurt.

    He knew that if he remained in the alley, they would find him. Oh, they would love to find him; this would be pleasurable compared to what they would do to him. He surveyed his surroundings as he writhed in pain until he saw the door; it looked to be the side door of a warehouse, perhaps seventy feet away. He began the painful crawl in its direction.

    He tried to stand again, but his legs refused to function, so he continued to drag himself across the flooded lane. He would pull himself a dozen feet and then rest his head on the hard pavement, struggling to muster the strength to continue. After what felt like an eternity, he finally reached the door.

    He pulled himself up to a sitting position by grasping the doorknob. As he rested against the stone wall, he tried the knob with his hand; surprisingly, it turned without argument and creaked open, revealing a large, open, storage room on the other side. He slid back down the wall and onto his stomach, and crawled inside.

    The sound of the rain echoed through the warehouse as it pelted the filthy windows that were evenly spaced along the length of the room. He crawled across the floor to a pile of old tarps and boxes to seek refuge from anyone that may come looking for survivors. Like a dying slug, he left a trail of filth and blood as he struggled across the concrete; only then did he realize his rifle was still slung around his body, as he heard the scraping sound of it being dragged behind him.

    As he reached the stack of boxes, he pulled himself up into a sitting position once again and rested his back against one of the crates. He grabbed a canvas tarp that was draped over several nearby pieces of machinery and pulled it over his body. He breathed a heavy sigh of relief, but as the flow of adrenaline began to subside, the intense pain rushed over him like a chill wind. As the throbbing pain hit him with its full effect, he wanted to scream but could not; his vision began to narrow and the tremors started to return. He battled to remain conscious but it was in vain; darkness engulfed him.

    Chapter Two

    That distant, midsummer’s eve was the end of the People’s Revolution; order had finally been established. The people, or proles as they were commonly referred to by the Party, were liberated from the oppressive system of old; the wealth of the selective would now be the property of the collective, and poverty would be a word relegated to grade-school, history classes.

    The cloudless sky was a deep, beautiful blue; the evening breeze kissed the faces of the raucous proles as they began to filter into the plaza. The crape myrtles and dogwoods were in full bloom; their flowers blew through the park like a fragrant, summer snow. It was as if heaven had opened up and was smiling down on them.

    The smells of carnival foods wafted through the sprawling, public space. Military bands filled the air with the sounds of trumpets and drums as soldiers goose-stepped in perfect formation around and through the plaza. The fuel for the bonfires was stacked and waiting; as soon as dusk was upon them, the fires would blaze and the celebration would be fully underway.

    He stood proudly behind the chancellor’s podium on the high stage and gazed out upon the crowds of loyalists; he had helped usher in a new era of equality for them, and they loved the Party for it. True, it had been tried before but this time it was different. This time their theories were revolutionary, and thus so was their movement.

    The assembly cheered as the chancellor appeared onstage and walked to the podium; the men behind him proudly saluted as he passed. The chancellor raised his arms into the air, and the people’s praise ascended until the entire plaza was a deafening clamor in honor of their supreme leader.

    The chancellor began to speak, but was silenced mid-sentence in his opening words. His face burned hot with fury as he stared past the crowd at the scene beyond; a giant flag had been thrown over the side of the roof of the towering, gothic church on the edge of the plaza and was now unfurling as it tumbled down the face of the stone wall. It was the flag of the old republic, and it now hung proudly over the plaza for all to observe; the proles turned to the source of the commotion and then back to see the chancellor’s reaction.

    The men behind him scrambled off the stage as he roared with rage. His commands were soon muffled by a series of deafening blasts; violent explosions rocked the four corners of the plaza as flames licked the nearby buildings, charring their perfect, white facades.

    Thick, black smoke billowed from the firestorms and drifted out over the crowds. The crowd shrieked in terror as gunfire rained down from the high rooftops onto the soldiers in military dress below; with nowhere to hide, the soldiers were picked off one by one until none remained standing. He could still remember the primitive sounds of the rebels as they taunted their quarry from the rooftops.

    The chancellor had already disappeared from the stage and was being safely evacuated from the plaza by his handlers, leaving the people to fend for themselves. The panicked crowd was in complete chaos; women and children were trampled mercilessly by the stampeding herd. They fled from a foe that had already vanished though; the message already clearly delivered. Today was the last day of the revolution; today was the first day of the resistance.

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