James stood knee deep in a pile of garbage that was slowly rotting into compost. In one hand, he held a pistol taken from a Black Dawn soldier just moments before, and in the other, he grasped a medical injector. Beside him, a half-dressed Katie Fox leaned against her father. Chris had his arms around his daughter.
They all stared up at the shadows above them. Bright light illuminated the figures from behind, obscuring their faces. Both were male, but he knew one of the voices. Ringo was there to rescue him. Well no, I did the rescuing. He’s just here to back me up, James thought with a grin. Luke Skywalker indeed.
“Hey!” he called up. “That you, Ringo?”
“Yeah. C’mon on buddy, I’ll give you a hand.” One of the figures knelt and reached his arm down. James took it and pulled himself towards the light.
“James no!” It was Bubbles’s voice in the distance. He just had time to register that when Ringo pulled him free of the compost heap and onto solid ground. James was about to thank him when he finally saw who waited for him.
His father stood there, along with four other soldiers. They all had guns aimed at him. Ringo let go of him once he’d pulled him free of the hole.
“Sorry buddy,” Ringo said but when James looked him in the eye, he didn’t see an ounce of sorrow in them. He felt his insides twist and shudder and fall away. Ringo, his friend, had sold him out. After all the help he’d given James, helped him get into the bunker even…
“We thought you might be trouble early on,” Gideon Fitzpatrick said, his voice flat and emotionless. “I had to have someone you’d trust so I could find out if I could trust you. This lack of loyalty pains me, son. It pains me deeply.”
James looked away from Ringo and his father. Beyond them, Bubbles was being held by two of the soldiers. He thought he knew the two of them from somewhere, but he couldn’t find their names. It didn’t matter. Bubbles looked close to crying. She had a mass of bruises on her cheek and around her eye. James felt his frown deepen, his hands clench into fists.
Gideon turned to look at her too, then back at James. He shook his head, very slowly and sighed, a long exhale of breath that misted in the cool air.
“Lieutenant Henderson was supposed to distract you, but it seems she’s turned on me too. I don’t like traitors son. Not now. Not when salvation is at hand.”
James watched in horror as his father pulled his sidearm and raised it, aiming the weapon towards Bubbles. The two men holding her pulled away and moved behind him, towards the hole. She backed away, locking her gaze on James, her eyes wide and scared.
“No!” James said but the shot struck her in the chest. She collapsed, her face contorted in pain. He tried to run to her but Ringo caught him, then another had to restrain him as he fought. Her blood darkened the snow around her, turning it a shade of brilliant scarlet. For a moment, she was Elena, dying in the cold because he couldn’t protect her. He didn’t even know where she died.
“Janine!” he shouted over and over and over.
They forced him to his knees and soon he heard Katie and her dad being pulled up from the hole as well. He heard them shouting and then someone screamed. There was the sound of a fist slamming into someone’s face and another shout.
James barely noticed the struggle. His eyes were locked on Janine’s as she bled out. When he felt the zip tie go around his wrist, he knew this was the end of everything. No matter what, things ended here.
He surged forward, managing to pull his hands free of the zip tie and his captors. Rolling away, he snapped to his feet and turned just as the first man pulled his pistol on him.
“Stop!” Gideon barked but James was already moving. He stepped forward, inside the man’s reach and grabbed his outstretched arm. With a quick downward thrust, he broke it and pulled the gun away. Elbowing the man in the side of the head, James broke away and raised the gun at Ringo, who held up his hands.
James had never killed anyone, not face to face. He knew that when he dropped those bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan that they killed people… but they were not faces. He couldn’t see the moment of terror in their eyes before it happened. He saw it now in is former friend’s eyes.
Chris Fox was moving too. He’d rolled hard into his captor and knocked him down. James saw the two of them wrestle for a gun out of the corner of his eye and turned to help when another gunshot ripped through the air from his father’s gun.
Blood burst from Chris’s back. A second shot and then a third did the same. Katie screamed. James looked for her, wanting to run to her, but she was already free. Her movements were so fast, so strong that he didn’t think it was possible. Wasn’t she barely standing a few minutes ago?
Another gunshot but this time it wasn’t from Gideon. Katie’s face was twisted into a snarl, her grip on the pistol better than most trained men. She pulled the trigger again and again. James watched them all strike his father. The first took him in the leg, stumbling him to knees but the others were far deadlier.
Gideon Fitzpatrick collapsed into the snow.
“General!” Ringo said and ran to him. Other men were arriving now, guns drawn. Katie was crying out for her father. James felt dizzy, like the world was spinning around him. Black Dawn soldiers were stumbling out of the barracks and hangars. Major Richards, the doctor, was suddenly there as well.
His father was not responding to Ringo at all, nor Major Richards as she dropped to her knees at his side. James looked to where Chris Fox lay, now on his side, one hand on his daughter’s face. They were saying words he couldn’t hear. He stood for a moment longer before turning and walking to where Bubbles lay motionless.
“Jan?” he said, ignoring the commands of the soldiers to stay where he was and drop his weapon. They could shoot him, he didn’t care, but he couldn’t abandon her to die alone. Not like Elena. Not ever like that.
Her eyes fluttered open but they were unfocused. He drew her into his arms and held her. She coughed blood into his lap and he buried his face into her hair.
“It’s going to be okay,” he whispered. “It’s going to be okay.”
“Jimmy…?” she said and he felt her fingers tighten, gripping the fabric of his jacket. “It’s too hot. It’s too hot.”
“Shh,” he said and turned his head. “Medic! Doc! Please!”
“It’s like a star…”
“Doc!” he screamed again. Soldiers were surrounding him now, guns pointed at him, but they didn’t seem to know what to do.
“Wap… wap… wap… goes the pretty star…” Bubbles words were barely audible and James would never know how he heard them. She pointed now, into the sky. When he turned, he saw it. A helicopter was coming, its floodlight shining bright.
“Stay, Jan,” he said, looking back at her. “Stay with me, yeah? I’ll stay with you.”
“It’s so bright…”
Her hand reached out, her fingers spreading as if she might pull the helicopter right out of the sky. Then her breathing turned into a rasping, wet sigh and her arm fell listlessly into the snow. Her eyes remained fixed on the spot–shining, wet, and still.
James screamed, wordless and without thought. Soon, he wasn’t alone. Katie’s scream of pain joined his as the helicopter touched down.