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Pandora’s Box

My first instinct, when I saw the shattered petri dishes was to run for cover but something stopped me. I pushed Matthew’s arms off of me and dove to the floor, narrowly missing a bullet that buzzed past my ear. A small, clear box containing a handful of white pills that looked like antacids was on the floor. I recognized the pills from one of my earlier premonitions, one was being placed in a shower head. I grabbed the box, jamming it inside of my coat pocket.

I turned back toward the door and leaped head first outside, a hail of gunfire burst all around me. Hiding behind a dumpster in an alley, I waited for any sign of Matthews to come. Voices argued from inside the building, their volume growing louder with every syllable. My heart raced. It was times like this I wished I had more control over my visions. I didn’t know how this was going to end or where to go next. A loud blast ended the arguing. Matthews stumbled out of the alley, looking dazed. He looked in my direction, making a gurgling sound in his throat. Blood trickled out of his mouth seconds before he collapsed on the ground. A pool of blood soaked through the back of his jacket.

I wanted to run over and check on him, but I couldn’t. There wasn’t time. I ran out of the alley, away from the building, turning left and right – the direction didn’t matter. 

Serena and Bee were dead. Chase and Lucas were double agents, working for the Division and against the Collective. Matthews was dead. Dr. Kenter was dead. I continued running toward the subway, hoping I wouldn’t see anything too specific. The harder it was for Roberts to track me down, the more time I had to figure out how to destroy this virus.


The humming of the train was soothing and helped me focus on the problem. The virus was embedded in a tablet that worked like an antacid. If it gets wet, it will dissolve, releasing the virus and making millions of people sick. Was there anything out there that could deactivate it? Was there a way of destroying these tablets without releasing the virus? There had to be something – some kind of a fail safe Dr. Kentner designed in addition to the vaccine. I pulled the box out of my pocket, holding it in my hands. A jolt of electricity sent me into another vision.

Dr. Kentner was dressed in a blue space suit with a mask over his entire head. A spiral tube of some kind was attached to the back of the suit. The other end was connected to an oxygen tank. He stood in front of a row of test tubes, pouring something from a beaker into each test tube, in varying amounts. When he was finished, he set the beaker down and pressed a button on a small tape recorder, sitting on the table. “Make note. There are limitations to this virus. While one tablet has enough power to wipe an entire state, it also has weaknesses and can be destroyed, rendering the virus harmless, if it is combined with….

A searing pain spread over the side of my face. Shaking my head back into the present, I grabbed the right side of my face, rubbing it. Chase stood in front of me, with a gun pointed at me. It figured he’d show up right when the solution was about to make itself known.

“Enough, Scout! It’s over. This epidemic is going to happen one way or another.”

“Why?” My mouth trembled as I tried to fight back the tears. “Why are you doing this? What purpose does killing millions of innocent people do?”

He sat down next to me, the gun still aimed at my head. It never ceased to amaze me how oblivious people could be. Here I was, sitting on a crowded train with a gun at my head and not one person noticed. “You don’t understand at all. This is about saving this country from the people currently destroying it.”

“Currently destroying it?” Is he serious? “Like you’re about to do when you release the virus?”

He shook his head. “No, no.  I’m – we’re – saving it. Like in the Bible. This is the Division’s version of the flood. And while everyone else is drowning, we’ll be rising above the flood waters in an ark.”

“I can’t believe I slept with you.” I rolled my eyes. “You’re out of your mind. Flipped your lid. Lost your marbles. One screw short. You name it; that’s what you are.”

Chase pulled me close to him, pressing his lips against my ear. His hot breath made me cringe. “I may be nuts,” he whispered. “But I’m also the one with the upper hand and as for us.” He licked my ear and then continued. “Don’t act like you didn’t enjoy it.”

I pulled away, wiping my ear. “Gross.”

“Now,” Chase said, “We can do this the easy way or we can do this the hard way. What’s it going to be?”

I looked around the train, hoping someone – anyone – would help me. But there was no one. This damsel in distress was going to have to save herself.  And just when I thought that wasn’t possible, I found my way out.

I reached out to Chase, pulling him in for a kiss. As our lips locked I reached with my free hand over to the red lever that was to my left. I looked at Chase and smiled. “I’ll take the easy way.” I yanked on the lever has hard as I could. The train screeched, swerving on the tracks in reaction to the emergency brake I released. Chase fell off his seat, landing in the aisle. I jumped over him and ran to the end of the car, opening the door at the far end. Grabbing on to the railing that connected the two cars, I braced as the train finally came to an abrupt stop.  I climbed down and ran through the tunnel, hoping someone from the Division would find me. After all, if people like Robert’s work for the Collective, can’t someone else like that work for the Division?

On the Lamb

“Where are we going?”

Matthews stopped, took a bandana from his pocket and tied it over my eyes. “We are going back to the north side. Back to your apartment. But on the way we have to avoid major intersections and main streets due to security cameras. We don’t want to be seen.”

“Why the blindfold?” I tried to fight his hands and pull off my mask.

“Roberts is a mind reader and he’s tapped into you. I want you to imagine, no, picture vividly in your mind, the back streets of your neighborhood. I want you to mentally identify the L trains as we go near the tracks. I want you to name the restaurants you smell.”

“Why my apartment?”

“We’ll be safe there and we can let our guard down.”

I willingly followed Matthews. He led me by the arm and we walk-ran quickly. I could smell dumpsters and heard the off-street sounds so I knew we were in alleyways and behind shops and bistros. I heard the train, the red line, and all the while I could smell Chang’s and Humble Pie. I began craving pizza and lo mien.

We walked for what seemed like an hour. Stopping, pausing, doubling back. But I was sure we were close to home. And the closer I got to my home, the more I could smell pizza. Mmm… a nice deep dish. But that’s what started all this shit, so maybe I should switch to NY style.

Matthews yanked off the blindfold. I squinted in the light and smoothed my hair. “Hey this isn’t…”

“STOP! Don’t think. This is your place. Isn’t it comforting to be home? Don’t you just want to take a nice hot shower and sit? What a relief to just flop on your sofa.”

I finally understood what he wanted. He took my arm and lead me through a small Italian restaurant and into the kitchen. I kept my thoughts on eating pizza on my sofa in front of the TV.

One cook looked in our direction and gave Matthews a small nod. We continued into the walk-in refrigerator and then out another door into a small lab. Inside reminded me of a high school laboratory – tables, a few Bunson burners, carafes, tubes – and some geeky people wandering around wearing safety glasses making notes and taking temperatures of steaming beakers.

Matthews said, “I needed you to believe one thing while we did another. Roberts, Chase, and Lucas no doubt have been following your thoughts and are probably arriving at your apartment right now. We don’t have much time.”

“Matthews!” Kentner greeted and the two man-hugged each other.

“Doc, this is Scout. Scout, Dr. Kentner.”

The man stretched out his hand and I took it as a hand-shake when I was electrocuted with another vision.

Serena shot in the chest. Doctor Kentner in a pool of blood. Blood from every orifice – eyeballs, ears, nose, mouth – gray. Gray people everywhere. Stumbling over other gray bleeding people. Stench, dismembered parts. Missing vials, smashed glass, two words written in blood.

I pulled away gasping for air.

“Are you alright?” Kentner asked

“What did you see?” Matthews pressed.

I stared at the man. “You have a daughter?”

“Yes,” he beamed. “Serena. About your age. Beautiful and smart. She works with the government. Why?”

“What did you see, Scout? We don’t have much time.”

“Dr. Kentner, Serena is dead. I saw her get shot yesterday, or maybe the day before. And the antidote, doesn’t work. The virus will kill you, kill everyone.”

“No, no, no. That’s not right!” Kentner shouted. “She can’t be dead! She was working with me on this project. She told me she had to tell me something important. It had to be told in person, not over the phone. She’s coming here tonight.”

Matthews put an arm around his friend’s shoulders. “It’s true, Max. I got word this morning that she was dead. Nothing can be done for her now. But what of the rest of it? Is it possible the antidote doesn’t work?”

The scientist aged in front of my eyes. All the life he had in him evaporated and he seemed to shrink. “I’ve been working on it. Chase took it. Said he and Serena were testing it on the monkeys.”

“Did they tell you the results?”

“Chase is an attorney. Why would he be working on lab tests?” I asked although nothing at this point would surprise me.

Kentner covered his face with his hands and wiped away tears. “Chase said it was fine and we could begin inoculations soon. Serena seemed more upset.”

“The antidote doesn’t work. I saw it in my vision. I know it. I’m not crazy and you know it or you wouldn’t have brought me here.” I don’t know if I was trying to convince myself or Kentner or Matthews.

A red light flashed above the door we came in through. Everyone stopped what they were doing and headed for the rear of the room.

“They’re here. We have to go,” Matthews pointed me toward the exit door. “Come on, Max.”

“I have to destroy the virus. If the vaccine doesn’t work, we can’t loose the virus.”

Kentner grabbed a small case about the size of a shoe box from a locked cabinet. The door flung open and I saw Kentner jerk with impact of the bullet to his chest. The case flew through the air, broke open when it hit the floor. Dry ice and petri dishes shattered, skittering across the floor.

“Go! Now!” Matthews shouted as he shoved me out.

And We’re Off!

My decision to confide in Matthews paid off. No sooner had I finished telling him about Chase, Lucas and Bee than he whisked me away through a secret door that was out of view of any cameras.

We climbed what seemed like an endless number of stairs that spiraled up into eternity before stopping in front of a human-sized oil painting. Matthews ran his hand down the side of the gold frame. I heard a latch switch and the canvas separated from its frame, opening into another secret passageway.

“What is this?” I asked. “Clue? Are we looking for the butler? Did he really do it?”

Matthews ushered me into the passageway, ignoring the reference. “It’s not much farther.”

“What is?” I tripped over my shoelace and almost fell head first into his rear. Fortunately, I was able to grab a hold of the wall.

“Our escape. He hurried down the cramped hall.

Up ahead I could see a door with light coming through the cracks. Matthews opened the door and as I passed through it, I saw a black van parked in an empty parking garage. The only functioning light was a small, yellow emergency light hanging over the door. Otherwise the rest of the world outside was pitch black.

Matthews and I hopped into the car, locking our doors.

“Where are we going?” I was relieved to leave The Collective headquarters but also concerned for our safety. How long would it take them to figure out we’re gone?

“The only man we can trust,” he began, “the only man who has the power to prevent the things you’ve seen from coming is Dr. Kentner.”

My heart jumped into my rib cage and landed with a big thump back into place. “Dr. Kentner? Are you insane? You’ll die! I saw it!”

“Sounds to me like I was shot while we were waiting for him,” Matthews said as he pulled out of the parking garage and drove down the street.

The abandoned building that housed The Collective grew smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror.

“In this version of events,” Matthews continued, “he won’t expect us.”

“Who is Dr. Kentner?” My head was already throbbing from information overload….or possibly all the tequila I drank earlier.  It was hard to tell but I had to keep pushing for more information. I had to know what was going on.

“Dr. Kentner created the virus that caused the outbreak you saw in your premonitions. He’s the only one who can stop its release.”

“I don’t understand. Why would anyone create a virus like that?”

Matthews took a deep breath, biting his lip. “He thought he was making it to use over foreign soil in the event of a war.  He thought he was making it to protect the United States. But the people who hired him to make it had something else in mind.”

“What?”

“Purification.”

Purification? “I don’t understand,” I said, shaking my head. “Purification of what?”

“The one percenters hired Dr. Kentner to make the virus along with a vaccine. He was told the vaccine he was making would be issued to American soldiers overseas. He had no idea the real intent.”

My mind spun in circles. All the information I acquired over the last few days, all of the premonitions were starting to unfold into a pattern. The problem was, even though the pattern was there, I couldn’t see it to interpret it.

“The one percenters want to rid the United States of its 99 percenters. They want to purify the nation of the very people they deem unworthy.”

“Are you telling me that the virus was designed to be released here? In America?”

Matthews stopped at a red light and turned toward me. “Yes. And Lucas and Chase are key players in their plan.”

Agent Matthews

I went back to my cell room with the bottle of tequila still in hand. It wasn’t too hard to keep my surface thoughts on the alcohol and pizza while I searched my room for anything that might help me escape. The cameras and the security guards would be my first obstacles. Though we were beneath ground, the ceilings were high enough I couldn’t get to the cameras without making a scene. What I really needed was an ally—someone in the center room to help.

If Chase and Lucas were double agents, I had to assume so was Robert. Mr. Mindreader had been with them for how long without ever catching on? I had my doubts. Matthews though, he was suit if I had ever seen one. He might be swayed, eventually, but I didn’t have time. They would only buy this drunk, sad bit for a while. I needed someone lower in rank, but desperate to contribute to “the cause.” If they recruited people with the same horse shit they served up to me, then all I had to do was regurgitate the same crap about the proletariat and recycling to make friends.

First things first, though, I needed to know who in here I could trust before I left. Because once I was back in the world, clearly I couldn’t trust anyone. I strolled back to the kitchen thinking of nothing other than being so hungry I could chew on my arm, as I scanned the hallways and center room for Matthews. He was the one I needed to see, or more specifically touch. So far he had avoided any skin to skin contact with me, but that was about to change. One way or another I was going to get a reading on him before I left here tonight.

I rummaged through the drawers in the kitchen, pocketing a pack of matches and a somewhat dull steak knife before moving on to the refrigerator. I grabbed another bottle of tequila off the shelf and slapped two more slices of pizza onto a plate and put them in the microwave.

“You’re not fooling me,” Matthews voice came from behind me.

I took a swig of tequila and savored it as it rolled down my throat. “I’m not trying to,” I said, turning in his direction. “But for the record, what am I trying to fool you about.”

He stepped into the room and closed the door behind us before entering a series of numbers into the keypad. The door made an audible click and the glass walls went to full black out.

“You see, I may not be able to read your mind or know whether or not you are lying,” he advanced so close I had to tilt my head back to look at him, “but I have made enough people cry to recognize real tears and real relief.” He placed his hands on the counter on either side of me, trapping me. “Right now, the fear in your eyes is real. Before, that wasn’t. What made you try to leave?”

“You really want to know?”

He nodded only once.

“Give me your hands.” I tilted my chin up, making sure he understood the challenge.

He frowned. “So you can steal more passwords.”

I rolled my eyes. “I don’t need you to do that.” I held out my hands to him.

One by one his much larger hands swallowed mine whole. I closed my eyes and focused. The premonition hit me hard and fast, knocking my head back.

 

I was standing, leaning really, against the icy wind coming off of the lake, waiting for Dr. Kentner.

“Something’s wrong. He’s not coming,” Matthews said, stepping out of the shadows. “I don’t like it.”

“Give him five more minutes.”

A red dot appeared on my chest, but before I could react Matthews tackled me from the side. I hit the ground hard, his weight smashing me into the concrete. I tried to squirm out from beneath him, but he was up and dragging me around the corner. When I was finally on my feet again, we ran. The further we went the slower he got, which wasn’t right. He could run circles around me. I stopped to wait for him as he motioned me to keep going. Even in the dark, I could see the growing circle of red on his shirt.

“You’re hurt.” I ran back to him, catching him as he sagged against me. He’d been shot.

 

 

“What’d you see?” he asked.

I looked into his icy blue eyes and chewed on the inside of my lip. This job was his life. He wasn’t wearing a ring, I doubted he ever left this facility if he could help it, and all that mattered to him was protecting national security. Telling him about Chase and Lucas might mean he would be on my side, but it also meant he would kill himself to protect me, which as comforting as that was, wasn’t a burden I was ready to carry. “Do you have a family?”

He froze whatever miniscule amount of relaxation he had in his features gone. “Did you see one?”

I shook my head.

“I have a daughter. She lives with her mother. What did you see, Scout?”

I took a deep breath. “I saw you getting shot because you were helping me.”

He looked less bothered by the news that he was going to be shot than he was when he thought I might have seen his family, which warmed my faith in humanity just a little. “Helping you do what?”

“I don’t know. We were on the run and trying to find someone named Kentner. Do you know who that is?”

He frowned. “Who were we running from?”

“Chase and Lucas would be my first guess. They’re also working for the Division. That’s why I have to get out of here.”

Matthews folded his arms over his chest and sat in one of the chairs. “Tell me everything.”

I’ll Be Your Huckleberry

My chest clotted with emotion. Hot tears blurred my vision. “Oh, God,” I said, snuffling into a frayed Kleenex. “My whole life now makes sense.” I let out a crazed laugh. I focused all my thought to my parents, to understanding them. Imagined myself as some champion against a bloated, rich evil. “My heart tells me I have gift, but it’s… I just…”

“It’s a lot.” Chase nodded sympathetically.

“Is there some sort of training? Like how to better harness what…what I can do?” I asked, my voice shaking.

Lucas patted my hand. “A lot of this is uncharted territory, but we will take it a step at a time.”

I laugh-cried. “This is all surreal but it feels good, in a way. I’ve spent my entire life believing I was crazy and an outcast and now I know…”

“Know what?” Chase said.

“No, it sounds lame.”

“Try us,” Chase pressed.

“I was just a piece trying to fit in the wrong puzzle. Like a bit of sky trying to be part of a forest, you know?”

“We do,” they said in unison.

I stared at the bourbon I’d yet to sip. A vivid memory. Huddled over the toilet, clinging, trying to keep my hair out of my own puke. Shivering, I said, “Thanks, but I gave up bourbon. Got sick on it. Can’t touch the stuff. Can I have tequila? Like five shots?” I rose to my feet leaving the glass and the guys bristled. “What? I’m just going to kitchen for a drink. Human lie-detector there knows I’m telling the truth.” I pointed at Lucas who shrugged. “And Mr. Mind-Reader here.” Robert said nothing.

“I’m sure you have more important things to do. Unless anyone cares to come get shit-faced with me? I’m headed to the kitchen.”

“Found the liquor stash?” A smile tugged at the corner of Chase’s mouth.

“Oh yeah. And I assume you guys are picking up the tab. Too many nightmares. Robert? Chase?” I suggested.

No one accepted. “Okay, drinking alone, then. Fine with me.”

They let me leave and wend my way to the luxurious kitchen. I patted around the cabinets until I found the Cuervo Platinum. Even had coarse salt and shot glasses. Sweet. At least they stocked the good stuff.

I opened the fridge and discovered it was loaded with food. Even pizza. Selecting a cheerful green lime, I hunted for a cutting board and knife and sliced the fruit into nice wedges, rubbed the lime around the shot glass and salted it then poured.

Chase and Lucas peeked in the door and I winked. “To us.” I toasted and grinned.  The fiery liquid burned all the way down as I poured another. All I wanted with every pore of my being was to get completely and totally bladdered. “You two joining?”

“No, it’s too early. Not even lunchtime,” Chase said, frowning.

I slammed back the second shot. “Well, not like there are windows or clocks in this place. So it’s five o’clock always. Come on. Join me.”

They shook their heads, amused. “In a while. Slow down and leave some for the rest of us.”

“There’s all kinds of food,” I said dramatically, a bit of a slur making my words tumble over each other. “Oh wow, I’m a lightweight.” I giggled, embarrassed. “Empty stomach. Want some pizza? Someone left Giordano’s. Almost a whole deep-dish.” All I could think of was pepperoni and cheese and more tequila. The warmth of alcohol washing over me like an incoming tide and carrying my worries out to sea.

“Have at it,” Lucas said. “Some of us have been here longer. Enjoy this now. No booze or pizza once you start training.”

I downed a third shot. “I’ll be your Huckleberry,” I said in my best Doc Holliday voice and flashed my most dazzling smile. Turning away, I rummaged in the fridge for pizza, all my thoughts on eating. By the time the microwave dinged, they were gone. I held the scalding slice on a paper towel and edged to the door and peered out.

Gone.

I blew on the cheese and wandered back into the kitchen. They couldn’t believe I was that big of a fucking idiot. I was almost insulted. No, I was insulted. Cartoon characters? Mother friggin’ Earth? The “Save Gaia” speech and the class warfare horseshit? I’d have at least appreciated some effort, some originality.

I’d just had a vision of a major act of bioterrorism at the very least. People didn’t give a flying shit about haves and have nots, air pollution or raising the minimum wage when civilization was burning down around them. Disease and death were the great equalizers. Humans didn’t give a rat’s ass about saving trees when their lives were in jeopardy. They wanted to save their own skins and that included me.

I knew Lucas and Robert would be poking around my head just like in the meeting. The thing I’d learned is that bad liars suck because they don’t believe what they’re saying. The great liars? They inhale the lie. Absorb it until it’s truth. That’s why all those dumbasses got were images of me feeling bad about my parents, wanting to power-drink, and mesmerized by mozzarella.

I knew Lucas and Chase would keep sniffing to see if I knew about their secret conversation. Double agents. I had to get out of here, but it would require finesse. A plan.

Downing more tequila, I heated another slice then tottered out into the hall, weaving to and fro like a proper drunk should. Funny thing about twenty years of benzodiazepines as a major tier in my food pyramid? Alcohol was a cake-walk. It took half a bottle to even get a decent buzz.

I stumbled down hallways waving cheerily and hugging everyone unfortunate enough to get in range, ignoring how they pulled back from my drunken stench and overfriendly pawing. I opened every door that would open, slurring invitations to come have a drink. Rest. Take off early. Booze is on me.

I palmed the keycards and badges I’d pickpocketed on my tour. As I made my way through the facility, I made a mental note of any obvious cameras, security, possible exits, and memorized everything I saw, including how many steps it took to get from point to point.

Would come in handy when the lights went out.

The Backstory

Chase pulled his chair up to face Scout, but all were listening. When Chase spoke, everyone listened.

“This is how it all started,” he began, “and will blow your mind.”

“There was a comic strip once by Walt Kelly, and he had a message. It’s funny to think that all of where we are today started with a comic strip in the newspaper. It was called POGO. Pogo was a possum—all the characters were swamp creatures… an alligator, an owl, a skunk, a hound dog, a porcupine and a few others thrown in from time to time. Kelly’s swamp was their world… and it was being torn apart by greed, pollution, waste, selfishness and stupidity. The characters were reflections of human nature. Pogo was the center… the one that pulled them all together in a ‘save the earth’ way.

“Pogo last appeared in the ‘70s but it was Kelly who woke everyone up. He wrote what he felt… and he wrote what out parents believed. Our parents were among the first ‘tree huggers,’ you know.

“In Kelly’s last comic strip, as Pogo and Porcupine are walking through their swamp, now overflowing with junked cars, litter and waste, Pogo looks around sadly and says to Porcupine, ‘We have met the enemy and he is us.’ ”

“That was the rallying cry.

“Humanity was dividing itself into two polarized groups, The Collective and The Division—good and evil.

“But,” Scout interrupted, “I still don’t see how that got us here.”

“Let me continue,” Chase said. “Today, 99-percent of the wealth goes to the top half of our population. The richest one percent—ONE PERCENT—have a whopping 40-percent of all the money. They are the ‘super rich.” Today, 18-percent of us are living below the poverty line.

“But it doesn’t stop there. The gap between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ is widening. Don’t you get it? We are destroying ourselves! Our parents saw that—maybe fanatically it may seem, but they knew. They saw class warfare as violent as you see in your dreams, Scout. And there would be no one to stop it before we destroyed ourselves. That’s why we have ‘our chips.’ We were destined to become saviors.”

“Then my dreams will happen.”

“No Scout—but WOULD happen if we don’t stop it.”

“What, or who is The Division?

“ The Division is made up of a number of the rich and powerful who see that it is their right and their destiny to get richer and more powerful…at any expense. The poor don’t matter. The environment…Who gives a damn. The world…Screw it! Morals… what are those? These people have momentum. If you don’t believe that, just look at today’s news.

“They are business moguls, politicians–including some in Congress right now–men and women in high places… The individual names would astound you. The fight for power and control is real and deadly. They have the money, and we,” Chase said, looking individually at every one of them for emphasis, “… and have the brains. That’s why our parents did what they did… for the good of humanity.

“You know the Golden Rule… ‘Treat your neighbor as yourself.’ The Division sees it differently. It believes those that have the gold, rule.”

“Who… who are they?”

“Later on that. Not important now, it would be a distraction. Next few days we’ll cover lots more and focus where we go from here. Tomorrow we’ll talk about our role and how this whole thing will fit together.

“Scout, Robert, Lucas… this is deadly serious. We are going to war but this one will not be fought with bullets.”

United We Stand….

I ran at top speed, wanting to taste the cold outside air. Then I tripped over one of the boxes we stepped around on the way in. I scraped up my knees and the heels of my hands pretty good, landing in something wet – I didn’t want to think about what. I didn’t have time to think about it, or even get up before Burly the flashlight guy was there lifting me up by the scruff of my neck.

“Where did you think you were going?” He shined the light in my face.

“Ha ha. Aren’t you clever with the rhetorical questions.” I wanted to kick him, kick Chase, kick Lucas, Kick Robert, kick Matthews, and kick my mother for allowing this to happen to me. Bitch. How could she betray me? I was an infant and her job was to protect me. Her job was to love me. Instead she let these people implant something in my brain and then told me all my life that I was unbalanced. She let them medicate me, tranquilize me, and commit me. The tears started rolling uncontrollably down my cheeks. For the first time in what I guess was years, I sobbed. I felt so alone. I buried my face in my scraped hands and just sat, sobbing in the puddle of God knows what.

“Scout.” Chase laid a gentle hand on my shoulder. When he had come I don’t know but there he was, sitting next to me in the wet. “I know how overwhelming this is.”

“Why? Why me? Why didn’t my mother love me enough to protect me? Why wasn’t I told this all along instead of being told I was crazy? Why didn’t Lucas tell me? Or you? Why did you kill Bee? Why have me put away?”

Chase nodded. “You’re right, Scout. It’s time you knew. Let’s go downstairs, get you cleaned up and get you a drink.”

I sat on an exam table while a lab tech sprayed my wounds and bandaged them. Chase, and Lucas were there waiting for Roberts to join us.

“I believe you drink bourbon,” Roberts said handing me a glass of amber liquid. “Now, let’s clear the air. First, Scout, your parents were part of The Collective. The decision to have the chip implanted in you, and Chase, and Lucas, did not come easy to your parents or theirs. But after genetic testing and IQ testing you three were deemed the best candidates for passing along the mission and having it be a success. I had myself implanted so when the time came, I could be with you, all of you, and there to help you. We didn’t know what gifts the chips might bestow on you, just an idea. Scout, we thought and hoped that your chip would give you dreams that you could later explain. And it does, in a way. Only your dreams are premonitions and happen at random times, not just while you’re sleeping. In order to protect you from those who would be looking for you, we – and your parents – had to go along with a mental disability explanation.

“I am good at puzzles so my parents put me in private schools and then into law school,” Chase said.

“And I can tell when people are lying so my parents home schooled me so I’d quit telling my teachers they were full of shit,” Lucas said.

“My mom tried to warn me away from both of you.”

“You weren’t ready to know yet,” Robert continued. “But, situations don’t always wait for good timing. Bee figured things out before she should have and so we had to expedite things. And find a way to protect you.”

The lab tech patted my knee. “You are all fixed up.” To my surprise it was Perky from North 3.

“Okay. So what is The Collective and what is The Division and more important, what do they have to do with us?”

“There’s a war out there, Scout,” said Matthews leaning on the door jamb. “The Collective, us, is trying to keep humanity, well, humane. Focused on the ‘Greater Good’ that we can achieve universally. United we stand, so to speak. The Division is trying to divide humanity. Set people against people, race against race, ideologies against ideologies. By keeping the people at odds, they will eventually take control.”

“Divided we fall.”

“Yes, Scout. And divided we fall.”

A Private Conversation

I went to bed that night with a migraine from Hell. This was all too much. Visions of people dying are scary enough but now I’m apparently a walk, talking Wes Craven movie in the making. Zombies? Seriously? What I can’t foresee happy things like little kids getting puppies for Christmas or predict rainbows after thunderstorms? I glanced down at the small paper cup Lucas gave me and the two round pills inside – supposedly they would ease my headache and help me sleep. As bad as the throbbing was, I didn’t trust Lucas – or anyone- enough to take them.

I pressed the button on the panel in my glass room and watched as all the windows frosted over. Sometimes technology amazed me; most of the time it scared the crap out of me.

I curled up in my bed, pulling the blanket over the head. I don’t know why but heat always eased my headaches. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before the pain subsided long enough for me to fall asleep.


 

“She knows too much.” Lucas paced around the white kitchen. “Her premonitions are a little too good, don’t you think?”

Chase leaned against the counter next to the sink. “It’s not her fault. She didn’t ask for the implant.”

“You know what I mean!” Lucas pulled open the refrigerator door, glanced inside and then shut it. “It’s only a matter of time before she finds out about us.”

Chase shook his head. “Man, you need to calm down. Go outside. Get some sun. This place is making you crazy.”

Lucas pointed at his chest. “I’m crazy? Really? She knows about The Division?”

Chase washed his hands in the sink. He grabbed a paper towel, drying them off before tossing the crumpled paper towel into the trash. “She doesn’t know anything. All she saw was the name written on a piece of paper. The rest came from Matthews. If you ask me, he’s our real threat.”

Lucas closed his eyes. He took a deep breath, biting his lower lip. “I’m telling you she’s getting too close. Something has to be done.  If she finds out we’re double agents, our lives are over.”

“She won’t find out.”

“Oh yeah?” Lucas chuckled. “That’s what you said about Bee and look what happened. She’s dead – by your hands.”

“Low blow!” Chase’s face was beet red. “You know I didn’t want to kill Bee. I didn’t have a choice. She attacked me.”


 

I lunged out of bed, panting. Tears streamed down my face joining the beads of sweat that were pooling on the neckline of my shirt. “Holy Christ!”  I struggled to regain my breath. Looking around the room, I took comfort that the the windows were still frosted over.

My hands shook as I pulled the covers off of me. I ran into the bathroom, slamming the door shut. This was the only room I felt safe in to have this break down. Assuming I wasn’t lied to, there were no cameras in here – no one to see me freak out because Chase was a murderer and Lucas….I wasn’t sure what or who Lucas was. All I knew for certain was it was time to go. And, since Matthews claimed I wasn’t a prisoner, I felt it was time to test that theory.

I stuffed my feet in my shoes, wiggling them around to force them under the tongue of the shoes. Then, I unlocked the key code and peered out the door.

The bullpen was quiet – almost too quiet. I stepped out the room and looked around. All the other doors like mine were closed.

“Did you need something?”

I jumped three feet in the air and let out a shriek. Turning around I saw a heavily armed security guard standing behind me. The service belt around his waist must have weighed a ton. It carried a large, black flashlight, a two way radio, handcuffs, and a nightstick.

“Sorry, Miss. I didn’t mean to scare you.”

I grabbed my chest, rubbing my hand over my heart. “It’s all right. I’m new here.”

He stared at me for a few seconds before speaking again. “So….did you need something?”

Somehow I didn’t think asking him where the front door was would be a good idea. “Tea.” I mumbled. “Is there a kitchen or something where I can make some tea.”

“Sure.” He nodded in that direction, waving at me to follow him.

My heart raced when I realized we were in the same hallway that led to the elevator that brought Robert and I to this floor. In fact, we walked right past the elevator doors to go to the kitchen.

He stopped in front of a door and pointed. “It’s right through here. You’ll find it well-stocked.”

“Thank you.” I hesitated at first but then found the strength to walk into the kitchen, praying he wouldn’t follow me in and wait for me.

I pretended to look for tea packets and mugs. He wasn’t kidding when he said it was stocked. The first cabinet doors I opened were filled with bottles of every kind of liquor imaginable. After a minute or two, I peeked out the door to see if the hallway was clear. Sure enough, I was alone – for now.

I stared at the elevator and the keypad next to it. Then I closed my eyes, keeping its image in my mind, focusing with all my might.

A series of numbers, 2-3-20-42-68, popped into my head. I walked over to the elevator and typed them in.  The doors slid open and I jumped on, pressing the button that would take me to the surface. From there I had no idea where I would go next. Definitely not the Division.

The elevator jolted to a stop, I squeezed through the doors as they were opening. It was hard to imagine a place like the lab I was in existed in the basement of a dwelling otherwise frequented by the homeless. Even with every window broken out of it, I could still smell urine and feces.

“Hey! You! Stop!”

I turned to my right and saw a dark figure holding a flashlight. It was now or never. I turned to my left and ran as fast as I could.

Strike Number One

What had he said? Four horses: the white horse, the red horse, the black horse and the pale horse. They’d been chosen and engineered to be the best terror prevention team the world has ever known. How did we all fit into this picture? Robert could read minds, Chase could solve puzzles, Lucas was a human lie detector, and I, Scout, could see the future.

That meant we should work as a team. Let me make myself clear. The last people I wanted to be on a team with was Chase and Lucas…but Robert? The jury was still out.

I needed someone to brainstorm with. I might not always be one step ahead of everyone, but I had a good gut that had never let me down. It told me when Mickey Collier was cheating on me in high school. It told me when my best friend Allison Kaiser was the ‘ho he was cheating with. It even told me when my mom’s second husband started liking the looks of me more than her…But then again I didn’t see this shit coming, and I should’ve. And for someone who allegedly read minds…well, that was strike number one.

I needed to find Robert.

And since Robert could read minds, then that meant he knew if Chase and Lucas could be trusted. Maybe I was just paranoid. Hell, I didn’t know.

 

The Grey Army

Seconds after the lab technician finished hooking me up, I felt a jolt. Searing pain ripped through my head. It felt like my brain was going to explode. I tried reaching for the electrodes, but I forgot my hands were restrained. Now I knew why Matthews insisted on that. The real question was: Why did I agree to it?

Another flash of pain and I was pulled from my body – somewhere else.

A large group of people, all with grey skin, stumbled around the street.  They walked in a group but not in unison.  Their movements were jumbled and disoriented.  Their eyes were clouded and vacant.

An alley.  A man tore the flesh off of a dismembered arm, growling as he chewed the meat.  His teeth were stained with blood.

An auditorium.  A performance of Mama Mia.  A white mist spreading through the vents in the room. Nobody noticed; their attention was focused on the performers.

An empty zoo.  Animals ran rampant through the park, preying on each other.  

An army of grey men and women.  Every day it grew larger in number.  More grey-skinned people taking over the streets that once bustled with shoppers, tourists, and locals on their way to work.  Now those same streets were lined with buildings that had boarded windows. Broken glass was spread on the sidewalk.  Trash blew around in the street like tumbleweeds.  

The pain stopped.  My entire body felt numb.  A worker in a white lab coat came into the room, removing my restraints and the electrodes.

“Is that it?” I asked.

“Mr. Matthews will be in shortly.”  She entered something into the computer before leaving the room.

I didn’t like her answer, probably because it wasn’t an answer.  I pulled myself off of the examination table, the room spun as I came into a seated position.  I grabbed the edge of the table, bracing myself.  When the room stopped spinning, I opened my eyes.  Beads of sweat formed on my forehead, just below the hairline.

“Are you kidding?” Matthews screamed from behind the door. Four beeps and one shuffled locking sound later, he was standing in front of me, glaring.  “Is this your idea of a joke?”

“A joke?”  What in the hell was he talking about?  Nothing about this was a joke.  I’d give anything to be crazy; to go back to the hospital and pop the happy pills – anything – if meant none of this was real.

“Zombies?” He nodded his head frantically.  “Zombies.  You expect us to believe there’s a biological agent out there that will turn the human race into zombies?”

“Is that what I saw?”  It only now occurred to me I had little recollection of what I saw.  It must be a side effect of using electrodes to extract memories and premonitions.

“This isn’t a joke, Scout! We don’t have time for this nonsense!”

“Give her a break.” Lucas came into the room, pushing his way in between us.  “She doesn’t have control over her premonitions.  If you don’t like that, design a better a chip.”

“I can’t go to the president with zombies, Lucas!  It’s called credibility…and people running around preparing for a zombie apocalypse aren’t viewed as credible.”

“Then don’t tell the president about the zombies.  Go to him with the biological agent. He’ll understand that.”

Another flash and I saw something scratched onto a piece of paper. The ink looked like it was drying up.  Several scribble marks were present as if the writer was forcing ink onto the paper.  In the middle of all of the scribbles I saw a name, at least I think that’s what it was.

I raised my hand. “Excuse me. Can we back up for one second.”

Lucas and Matthews called a temporary cease-fire and turned in my direction.

“I don’t remember the zombies. But I had another premonition just now. What’s the division?”

Lucas and Matthews glanced at each other, appearing confused.

“I give up, Scout,” Matthews began, “what’s the division?”

“No,” I shook my head.  “You don’t understand.  In my vision I saw the division written a piece of paper – in caps – like it was the name of something.”

Matthews jaw dropped to the floor.  “Fuck me!  If they’re involved, we’re all screwed.”

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