Archive for Mark McEachran

Hope

To complete the illusion of dropping off the prisoners somewhere near the cauldren they returned in the late evening, and flew in from the west. Night flying was something that Angel generally avoided, but he had managed to coax his onboard radar to life for the short, circuitous flight from the airport to the city.

She was quiet during the flight and just enjoyed the darkness in the air. It was a new experience being up in the machine at night. With no light coming from anywhere it was like floating in nothingness, an almost nonexistence experience. She tried to let the day fall away, to meditate in a way. It was a welcome escape from the conflicting feelings that were to come.

The hum of the engines filled her body and clouded her mind with white noise. She breathed. Bumps and shudders buffeted their journey and served to reset her thoughts when they started to wander. With her desires sated earlier that day, she had nothing but peace on the flight to the city.

* * *

Landing was also tricky without an illuminated pad to drop down on. Once down he festidiously brushed down the booms and checked over his machine as he always did. The new bird had a couple of extra filters and the fluid lines were less stock than his previous machine. He had to borrow a lot of parts to get this one up in the air, so things were odd. It worked fine, and in fact had greater range than his old one. Still, he missed the old bird. It had served him well, as it served everyone in his life now.

Hope, still quiet, went on ahead to the bar. The idea of walking in with Angel gave her a weird sensation that she wasn’t entirely clear about. Side by side with this man, this brother that she just bedded not a few hours ago brought on some sort of guilt or thought of an obviousness that would be apparent to everyone looking on. They wouldn’t know, of course, but did they suspect, had they always? She didn’t know, and didn’t want to enter the room alongside him. They were not together, they shouldn’t be seen as such.

She wondered about him anyway, on the walk to the building. If they were together, would that be normal, could she be normal, was there a point to being normal in the afterworld? She felt as though she was more useful the way she was, a passionate killer. Briefly she was disgusted with herself as she thought about executing the men that day, but that feeling was quickly subdued with the strange, erotic tingle that had accompanied the event. Her thoughts shifted to the sex with Angel and how complete it made her feel.

Making a deal with herself, she decided that she was going to stop killing, stop fucking, just stop. It was just too weird. Celibacy, this, she decided, was her normal. She would work in the garden, or the hospital, training herself to gain pleasure from those things. Maybe it wouldn’t bring her the same joy, but she wouldn’t have to think about being looked at in that way that made her think they knew. She wouldn’t have to live thinking she was a freak who gets off on killing. The message in the sand, that wasn’t just a message to The Dragon. It was something she was trying to tell herself. NO MORE.

* * *

Jim and Cindy were waiting at a table off to the side when Hope entered the bar. She was met with cheers and applaus that she begrudgingly accepted. These people, they didn’t know what happened, they didn’t know she had defied their orders and her mother’s wishes. The accolades only served to bombard her with guilt and she sulked over to the table to get out of the spotlight.

Her hands were shaking a little. Jim settled one of them with his and said, “Hey, thank you for carrying out their sentence. You don’t have to think about it anymore. It’s done.” Jim had no doubt that she had killed the men, but chose his words in an effort to maintain the appearance that she had simply sent them into exile.

Hope now wished she had waited for Angel so that he could deflect some of the attention away from her. The odd sensation of walking in with him would have been miles better than standing alone before her mother with a monumental lie buried deep in the pit of her stomach. Maybe he would have pulled out the asshole version of himself and taken the brunt of the attention that she felt now centered on her from every corner of the bar. Most of the women would have nothing but praise for her having killed those men, but she still felt their stares as if they knew the truth, but were still angry that she betrayed her own mother. It was compounded by the guilt of taking such pleasure in the act. Was she out of control? Did her bloodlust drive her to kill them, or was it enough that it was the logical thing to do. Both sides of her were aligned to do it, but to take such pleasure made the lie all the more horrific.

“Thank you, Jim. I was the logical choice,” she said with a little quiver in her voice. “Do you actually serve drinks here?” She wondered if a real drink would settle her nerves and conflicted emotions.

“Of course!” Jim laughed, and went to the bar to fetch a bottle.

Hope couldn’t bring herself to look at her mother. She stared down at her hands on the table, not knowing what to say, if anything.

Cindy wasn’t sure how to let her daughter off the hook. She knew that her wishes were not carried out, but she also knew that Hope did the right thing, the logical thing, the best thing she could have done for everyone, including her. In a way, Hope was the one who let her mother off the hook. She did her the greatest favor, letting her maintain her principles.

“Daughter,” Cindy said, “you will always be that to me. I will love you no matter what,” and smiled. She placed her hands over Hope’s.

“Mother, I –” Hope couldn’t think of anything to say. Her stomach was full of conflict.

“You don’t have to think about it anymore, like Jim said. It’s all done, they’re gone.”

In her mind Hope went back to flying in the darkened sky to recapture anything of that peace that she could. Her mother’s words hadn’t yet struck her, but the tone was enough to settle her a little. She breathed a deep breath and closed her eyes, nodding as she exhaled having subconciously heard her mother’s intent.

Jim returned with a bottle of bourbon and four shot glasses. “I assume the other kid is showing up soon,” he said.

“He was polishing his bird when I left him,” Hope blushed, not intending to make a euphemism wiht her attempt to lighten her own mood. Her body warmed rapidly as her thoughts reached back to the hangar and she feared that her mother could somehow read her mind. Her heart sank.

She tried to grin it off to her mother and Jim and just when she had the sense of her regained composure, the man himself walked through the door. Cheers and applause greeted him, just as they had greeted her. He gave a modest nod toward the crowd of women gathered around the bar and made his way directly to the table.

“What did I miss?” He asked.

“Nothing yet,” Jim said, not really wanting to rehash any of the conversation to that point. Hope was grateful for that.

He poured out four glasses of unmodified Louisville bourbon, grabbed one and raised it into the air just below eye level. Taking a deep breath, he paused to search for the words.

“You three,” he stopped again and choked up.

Hope was grateful that the attention was off of her, however, she could see that Jim was really struck by something he was trying to say. She grabbed her glass and raised it up to meet his. Angel and Cindy did the same.

Jim’s eyes welled up with tears.

Cindy stepped in to finish Jim’s thought for him, “To family.”

* * *

The End

Cindy

She was religous about her oath to do no harm. And even though in her heart she knew that the four prisoners should be killed, she couldn’t bring herself to say it, to cast a vote to make it happen. It was, perhaps, the greatest conflict of her life. She wished she didn’t feel compelled to be on the panel. No vote would need come from her to condemn the four killers. Her heart might have been able to rest easier. She could have condemned the ones who passed judgement on them.

Jim knew she wouldn’t do it. The rest of them, the 10 women, had clarity. Some had a bit of training in medicine, none went to school for it, none had the ethics drilled into their head year after year, nor had any of them sought out the sort of spiritual guidance that would lead them to a place of compassion for the prisoners. In their eyes these men were unsalvagable, unsaveable, and undesirable. There was nothing redeeming about them. Their deaths would be a great favor to humanity.

Each man was brought in an interrogated. Everyone surprised at how cooperative they were, giving consistent details of The Dragon location, numbers, organizational structure, practices and strategy. Gasps stretched across the row of 12 seats upon hearing about the efficient cannibalism they practiced, about the celebrations of first kills, of the torture that took place on their journey across the desert. How could such creatures live alongside each other, and commit such acts to those around them. The culture of killing was astounding. They had pride in it as they spoke, which made the lie of their reform obvious. Not even Cindy allowed herself to be fooled by their attempt at deception. They are efficient killers, but terrible liars.

It was after the interviews that many women on the panel expressed an appreciation for Hope. Her killing spree greatly simplified the situation, giving them only four prisoners to deal with, instead of 11. They thought it a shame that she wasn’t allowed to finish the job, but then they thought she might take care of it with a unanimous vote comdemning the men.

That vote never came. Had Cindy stood alone in her counter opinion she might have been even more hated than Hope had been. They would talk in whispers about her, and shoot daggers from their eyes when they caught her in glances. But she wasn’t alone in her dissent. Jim joined her, and not because he felt as she did. He joined her to figuratively stand by her side and champion her cause, and make sure that he could bear the brunt of any hatred. Jim was, after all, the grandfather of their salvation. That, coupled with his boisterous nature and Santa-like belly laugh made him a very hard man to hate. He would absorb and difuse their anger, allowing Cindy to stay true to her philosophy without suffering undue punishment.

* * *

With Hope chosen to ensure that the prisoners were transported safely, Cindy was on edge. She rationalized her agitation by blaming an unfounded fear for Hope’s well-being, guiding her imagination to play out scenarios where the men somehow get free in the helicopter and kill her adopted daughter. This was a lie. She knew that Hope could be trusted to do what was right for the safety and well-being of everyone, and that was to kill these men. Without a doubt, Cindy knew their fate was sealed, but she couldn’t bring herself to think about it. Hope was going to serve the greater good, and Cindy knew she was doing the right thing, but she couldn’t accept that it was being done. She couldn’t bring herself to agree with it when the day came anymore than she could agree with it when she was on the panel. She bit her tongue and let it happen, doing whatever it took to bury her certainty.

Jim pretended to be oblivious, but he knew better too. He visited Cindy on the hospital floor as Angel and Hope were lifting off. They watched the flying machine head west with the sun at its back, each knowing full-well that once it was out of sight the four prisoners inside were as good as dead. He held her hand, as a husband would that of his wife, watching their children head out into the world to become adults, make adult decions, and defy their parents.

She didn’t cry, and she wasn’t disappointed. It was the right thing, but a thing she couldn’t be part of. She closed her eyes and leaned her head against Jim’s arm as the tiny spec of the helicopter finally vanished into the bleak sky.

Angel

This was probably the middle of his journy. It contrasted Jim’s, which was likely ending soon. Even thought he was physically able, he couldn’t defeat the years forever. Angel figured Jim had a few more years left before some critical part of his body gave out, whether it be his heart, liver or, god forbid, his mind. Jim already had some crazy, wild-assed ideas, Angel couldn’t imagine what kind of shit a legitimately crazy Jim would throw out.

He’d grown to trust Jim, and to make the building, and the bar, part of what he considered home. This place wasn’t an outpost where he traded goods for other goods, this was where he set down to relax when he wasn’t flying, this was a place worth flying for.

It was tricky for Angel to trade in water with other outposts. Keeping his source a secret was paramount so he never routed his runs the same. He wanted people to think he was just picking up water for other goods along the way. At the same time, per Jim’s intentions, he wanted to get the water out there to people that needed it. Jim envisioned that someday one of the nearby wells would fill up again and that would signal to everyone that the world was recovering a little bit. The idea would be that the masses, or what was left of them, wouldn’t experience the sense of desperation. They’d be less likely to ransack any one source of available water because other nearby sources would be easier, safer to attain. Once water was at least regionally everywhere the people would grow powerful again, eventually becoming strong enough to take on The Dragon, and certainly strong enough to dissuade their recruits.

Of course, defeating The Dragon was not paramount. There have always been, and will always be those who yearn for the end times, for civilation to fall completely and for humanity to become extinct. They think the world would be better off without the silly, little species with the big brains. To them, humans were not doing their job of tending the garden that was mother earth. Instead they raped it, and spread across the planet like a scourge, a tenacious animal that kills and eats and destroys everything it touches. Humans knew they were doing this and were powerless to stop themselves. Like an addict they made up games to justify their destructive habit, making money being the best of them. With money the humans amplified their devouring by enrolling more humans in the process. They either paid humans to devour, or collected money from humans to make the devouring more efficient. If there was one thing that humans loved to praise themselves for, it was devouring at scale. They even had competitions to see which group of them could devour more, faster.

The Dragon was born of the antithesis of the devouring. They survived, thrived in scarcity, and destroyed the wasted humans too blind to see the ill of their ways. On Tynon had put enough thought into their purpose to fully understand it, but he conveyed enough to his subordinates to enroll them in the mission. Even Tynon’s predecessors didn’t quite see it. They came close. With Tynon at the healm there was the definitive purpose of the beast that devoured men for the sake of the planet.

Angel never quite bought into Tynon’s bullshit completely, and Tynon knew it. He saw the skeptic in the pilot and stopped trying to sway him over. Why he never killed him was simply a practical matter – no one else had a helicopter and those things can come in handy from time to time. Tynon saw a future opporutnity where the flying machine could further his agenda in some large, magnificient way. Unfortunately for him, he never got to follow through on that vision. Exiling the women was as much service as he saw from Angel, and even that ended poorly in part. Even in its failing, however, Tynon managed to figure out a way to have it serve him. It brought his men together around a common enemy, one who had killed fellow members. In a way, it actaully ended perfectly for Tynon because all the doubters, the critics, the ones who liked the old way of The Dragon were now silent. They couldn’t speak against Tynon or the mission for fear of being called a traitor to their fallen comrades.

For the Dragon a living Angel was probably more useful than a dead one. He was always out there, driving the hunt, pushing them to go further, kill more, take down more of humanity. If anyone doubted the mission to end humanity, they could lean on the secondary mission to find Angel instead. It was more straight forward and would, given the nature of the way The Dragon do business, accomplish the primary mission anyway.

Of course, they would try to catch him, and they would definitely kill him when they did. It’s quite a miracle that he didn’t die that night after the crash. Had Hope and Cindy been with them, altogehter they would have died at once. If Tynon needed a living Angel, he could just suppress the information until he found a new enemy to keep himself in power and keep The Dragon on task. Angel, Hope and Cindy were just filling that role for him and there was nothing they could do about it save for destroying The Dragon completely, or perhaps just killing Tynon.

* * *

Hope and Angel finally realized that they were very likeminded. Both had dealt with The Dragon, rather than trying to confront them head on. Hope maneuvered herself to become a concubine with the leader at the time. It was the path of least discomfort in the state of captivity shared by every other woman who had been taken by them. In a similar way, Angel had cut a deal with The Dragon to be left alone in exchange for providing occassional courier services. They didn’t kill him, or break his stuff. He knew what they did, but had not the power to stop it. The best he could do was to cut a deal that kept him flying and alive.

Together they were survivors and with Jacko’s attack they watched each other survive in dramatic fashion. Their bitterness toward each other turned into a mutual respect and trust, and something more. With their simple, basic desires well understood they began to anticipate each others’ thoughts and actions. They didn’t even need to exchange winks and nods. It was truly unspoken.

So when the day came to exile the four prisoners, their orders were to take them as far west as possible, to the edge of the cauldron if they could find an outpost that far out. The plains between Chicago and the cauldren were barren and, by all accounts impossible to cross — unless you have a helicopter. Angel was to have loaded up with extra fuel to make the journey. With the bird fully loaded with the four prisoners and Hope in the copilot seat he set an initial course to the west. Once they lost sight of all but the sliver of light carving into the sky, the laser light’s plasma shield, he rerouted eastward, toward Buffalo. Hope said nothing, she knew the plan already, even without talking about it in advance.

The extra bodies would flesh out parts of the message that, on some level, were a little blurry being spelled out with only 17 dead Dragon. The E in particular benefited greatly from another human figure. That’s where they landed, just off the E. They discussed the details breifly, but then went to work on the first man.

Angel’s soldier’s discipline kicked in the moment he grabbed Zeb’s arm. There was no talking, just doing. He was off the helicopter and into the sand. Angel paused to shut the door. They dragged him away from the bird so as not to have a pile of bodies to drag subsequent men over. Angel removed the gag before the hood, it’s easier to remove the gag when the victim is not tempted to look around. Also, once the hood came off the victim generally would get the sense that they were about to die and start to panic. He only let Zeb look for a few seconds, just long enough to let his eyes adjust and for the terror to set in at the sight of 17 dead Dragon strewn out across the sand. Angel knew Hope wanted to see their faces when she killed them, she wanted it to be intimate. This didn’t bother Angel, in fact by the second man, Badger, he started to get a little charge out of her pleasure.

She was corrupting him, if taking joy out of killing an enemy could be considered a corrupt attribute. He wasn’t doing the stabbing, and the pleasure he got from it was not a direct result of the killing, but rather of her pleasure. No attempts were made to reconcile his feelings on the matter, he didn’t care to analyze it, to see if it was right or wrong. It was bringing some joy and satisfaction and that was something he hadn’t experienced with a woman in many years. There was no romance to accompany the sensation, it was more like — lust, and not necessarily for her, just for her pleasure. Where he became complicite was when he wanted more.

With the next man, Weed, he let him look around a bit longer. His horror intensified Hope’s expression and amplified everything. Angel’s breaths grew heavy and his muscles tensed with each hole she put into Weed’s body. He held him up as long as he could, and she stabbed until he passed out, falling to the sand in a heap.

Clip was to be the perfected execution. He was their new leader and should have felt the greatest terror and horror at what had happened to his men and was about to happen to him. Like Weed, Angel forced him to look around. He did not respond like the other men, though. Instead he seemed to accept his fate. So Angel pointed his head toward his own belly so that he would have to watch Hope let the blood out one hole at a time. He just nodded at her. She hated it, there was no joy in killing this man. He practically wanted to die. Enraged, she gutted him and the sight of his innards exploding out of his belly brought her back to where she wanted to be. She sighed and smiled with satisfaction, and Angel followed suit.

* * *

They were both fully charged when they got the view of their work from the sky. The cockpit was thick with their electricity. With time to kill, figuratively this time, Angel flew them back to his new hanger. Once again without words, they acted on their mutual instincts and were fucking in the back of the bird before the blades had stopped spinning. There was no kissing, there was no romance. They didn’t feel romantic toward each other, in fact they felt as close as siblings, perhaps twins even. The connection was nearly psychic and with every grind and thrust they relived kill after kill. Hope with her stabbing, gutting, pounding of deadening meat, and Angel taking exquisit pleasure in her passion for it.

Her body quivered over and over again as he fulfilled the contract of each of her kills. After she reached her capacity for him, she grabbed him by the throat, pressing his head against the metal floor of his machine, and ground on top of him until she had finished him.

Breathing grew easy with her laying on top of him, their bodies still coupled. They would lay for hours together, holding each other until their limbs grew sore from the stillness. The pleasure fulfilled her bloodlust for the time, and his satisfaction and being a part of her climax squelched any feeling of guilt that might have tried to emerge. They were, in that moment, utterly satisfied and complete.

Jim Doorsman

Jim set out to save the world over a year ago. When he discovered that he could pull the thickness out of the air he had a grand vision of doing it at massive scale. Hundreds, thousands even, of his laser contraption dotted all over the world would do it. Like everything Jim ever did, he started with one. One laser, and then see how that goes. He understood that, the idea of prototyping a thing to make sure it works before he went on and made more of them.

What he didn’t understand was the cost and benefits of making this one thing work. It seemed so simple at the time: build a laser, pull water and carbon out of the air, spit oxygen back, try not to burn yourself. Kill six men, destroy a train, hangar, helicopter, and maybe a young girl’s sanity, these things were not in his plan. They were expensive, almost as expensive as a run to the grocery store for provisions, leaving your family behind.

Six men died, Jim killed them. It’s a high price to pay, even if they were intent on doing him harm. In a more civil society they would have been arrested, tried, put in prison, and maybe even reformed. In a more powerful society – they could have been saved. The world Jim grew up with, the one where he started a family, it had that power. It had its problems as well, but they were the kind of things that could be worked out over time. In a time before the desert, before the cauldron, there was peace, mostly.

Jim wasn’t a soldier, he was an old man, a scientist. Killing, even in self defense, wasn’t in his nature.

Inventing, that’s what he was put on earth to do: solve problems. He built a train out of spare parts and solar panels. It ran a might bit better than the production models as it required no external electrify. He even stripped off the power pad against the third rail. His heart still stung a little at the thought of one of his other inventions cutting a slice clean across his locomotive baby. Then it cut a hole in the ceiling of Angel’s hanger, all for a good cause, of course. What a destructive little device he made, and now it could be more destructive attached to its new home.

Jim helped Angel mount it to his new bird. It’s on a turret that the either the pilot or copilot controlled. So clever was Jim, he helped his friend build a gun ship. Not since the war has there been a weaponize vehicle in the sky, or anywhere else so far as Jim knew. The little helicopter that could is how he liked to think of it, dammit. His desire to create change led to this, but perhaps the laser-bird was not the most dangerous thing to come out of it.

Hope, poor Hope, what happened to her. What did the whole ordeal bring out of her. Jim wasn’t sure when the seeds of her murderous inclinations were sown, but he remembered the look on her face when she shot that laser through the door, punching a tiny, fatal hole into two of the men on the other side. She almost laughed when she heard them scream, such a big smile she had. He would dedicate a good portion of the rest of his life on the wish to help her. Much of the rest of what he had done since their victory over The Dragon was for her, and for Angel and Cindy too. A stronger, more stable society can reform her, and give them all a better life.

Jim was an old man, who at the end of the day just wished for his family to return. In his effort to save the world, he got a little bit of them back in these three friends. After all they had been through, he thought of them as his family now. They’d never replace those the family that he lost, they could, however, start a new one. He truly wished they would.

Angel and Hope started to get along. He was as surprised as anyone that things didn’t get romantic after the traumatic events that they shared. But they did team up, and they seemed to have some sort of unspoken language between each other, an understanding. Jim wasn’t sure if their like-mindedness was a blessing or something to be feared. Certainly any dangerous people should probably keep their distance from the two. That pair was as dangerous as any two Dragon any day of the week.

Angel, the most eligible bachelor, probably, on the planet, surrounded by tens of women, remains a bachelor. Jim wondered if he couldn’t get past his own mannerisms to connect with a woman, or if the ladies were just afraid of Hope. Perhaps it was the wisdom of the women who kept themselves at bay in the presence of his lethal sister. Maybe, Jim wondered, if one of them decided to pursue the man Hope would come to her senses and find some semblance of peace in a romantic relationship. If only Jim could hit those two birds with a single stone, but then again, that’s Hope’s specialty.

Finally Cindy, she ended, perhaps, where she began: as a director of a medical facility. Now on the sixth floor and a might bit better protected than her last one. Jim loved, loved, loved that she was doing what she loved and that it was making a difference in the world. It was the greatest complement to his efforts. His mind was set on fixing the planet, while her’s was set on saving the people who will inhabit it.

He was too old to get romantic with her, but his heart was willing on more than one occasion. She felt it, but knew better. She became his caretaker, setting his fingers straight, helping his liver, and keeping him from laughing against his ribs. She stopped short of taking his whisky away completely, that would probably break the deal. She did her best to keep him in check and he appreciated every minute of it.

During the trial, or parole board, or whatever their panel of 12 angry judges was to be remembered as, he sided with her, against the 10 others. She couldn’t sentence them to death. He could have bore another four bodies on his soul, but couldn’t see convincing her to do it. So he sided with her, and argued for their exile, not their execution. It was enough. The rules of the panel were set up like a jury. For a death sentence they all had to agree. Anything else was a mistrial or a life sentence or exile, so they decided. The rules of the old world were fuzzy, but they managed to come to a consensus that without a unanimous decision they couldn’t kill the last Dragon they had in their captivity.

After the hearing he watched them fly off in Angel’s new bird, with Hope there to make sure they didn’t get away with anything. He knew there was a risk with those two executing their sentence. His heart knew, and he was okay with it. So long as Cindy didn’t know that their sentence was death, that would be okay. And Jim trusted that Angel and Hope would never speak of it. They didn’t speak much as it was. Certainly Hope would avoid the topic altogether, she was ashamed of her enjoyment in carrying it out.

It is better that they are dead, he thought. We’re safer. He was right, of course. He was glad he didn’t know Cindy better, because anyone who knew Jim well would be able to tell that he knew the truth of the matter.

The day came when their sentence was carried out, and the ladies threw a party once they were gone. Some of them had endured quite a lot of suffering at the hands of the four men, and they represented a mountain of abuse from The Dragon. Having them gone was a bittersweet ending to their refugee status. Even though they didn’t agree with Jim and Cindy’s refusal to call for an execution, they still honored them with a graceful party in Jim’s bar.

He started to see them as his extended family, a boatload of daughters. As he emerged from the undented elevator they all cheered. He was Jim Doorsman, after all, the world’s savior. They were living in his land of promise, and they were in his bar: The Last Bar in America.

The Four Prisoners

Clip recognized the sound of the whipping blades. Without his vision he was struggling to walk in the sand and tripped up frequently. Hands on his upper arms kept him upright and moving forward, but other than that there was no courtesy in the assistance. Often times he felt dragged when his feet couldn’t quite keep up with their intentions. Wheezing through his nose and pushing air around the gag was as close as he could come to breathing which was already made difficult by the thin air.

This air had a little bit of moisture in it, not like the rest of the desert, more like the cell, or whatever prision he was being kept in. The windows had been replaced by thick boards. He remembered it not being up very high when they put him in there because the elevator wasn’t moving for very long, but the garbled announcement from the little box didn’t offer him any more clues. Moist air wasn’t an immediate benefit, it was a few weeks before things started to change.

First it was the air, it changed from one day to the next, desert dry for weeks, and then one morning it was damp like it was in the garden before he burned it. Then water in wasteful amounts. It was another four weeks or so, Clip struggled to keep track of the days of their imprisonment so he couldn’t be sure. It came out of the faucet, like when he was a child, and went down the drain as if they didn’t need the rest. Someone had to show them how to use the toilet, which was even more wasteful. Why would you put your shit and piss in a bowl of water? Clip thought at the time. They aren’t thirsty.

Threats from the woman were needed to get them to use the toilet instead of their bucket. Their keepers grew tired of dumping the bucket, he imagined. He told them they could simply let him go outside to do his business and they wouldn’t have any bucket issues, but they, rightfully, didn’t trust him. Clip wouldn’t have trusted himself either. He would have made a run for it at his first opportunity.

Into the little pond then for his poop and pee, and the others as well, flushing after every poop so they don’t clog the toilet. With this much water, water to waste on such things as feces, these people must be the richest in the world. They could buy anything with it, anything that was left anyway. This old Bob must be swimming in it, and all the riches it comes with.

Clip made sure that the others, Badger, Weed and Zeb, didn’t get drunk on water. They were weak minded and could be seduced by it. Not like Clip, he was strong because he had to be, because he was now the leader of the team. He didn’t like it, he wished Jacko was still around. What has his tenure in the role been like? Jacko is killed fighting with that girl, and then Clip is suddenly in charge. Right away he and his men are taken prisoner, and there they were day after day, just prisoners. How much leading can a man do from prison? he thought.

“Don’t get drunk on water,” he would say. “Only take what you need. Stay thirsty. Thirst makes us strong.”

They were fed once a day. At first it was just enough to keep them alive, but then the meals became more elaborate, more varied. By the end of their tenure they would have been able to feast, if Clip had let them. “Just enough,” he said. “No more than you need to sustain yourself.”

He was a true soldier of The Dragon. Now he was being shuttled off somewhere with the rest of his team. They said “released,” as if he were in some sort of prison from the before-world. He continued to trip in the sand. The canvas hood over his head blocked out the view, only letting the light in through tiny pinholes. In the darkness of the hood the light was blinding when his eyes caught it. At least the hood kept the sand out of his face as it was blown up from the downdraft of the helicopter. He was right up on it, so the sound told him. The engine noise grew distinct from the whipping blades and, sure enough, he heard a door open.

The helping hands that gripped him now pulled his head down and pushed his body up into the flying machine. He had never been up in a flying machine before. As he sat, as his legs were being bound and his body bound to the chair, he wondered what it would feel like to be up in the air. Without seeing it, would he know if he was up or not? He hoped they would take off his hood, but they didn’t. They bound him to the chair and then moved on to the next man. All four of them were bound. Clip could hear his commrades grumble as they were being shoved up into the machine and strapped in. Had they ever been up in the air in one of these machines, or a plane, or anything that flew?

The noise made all other sounds like whispers in the wind. He could hear that there were people talking in front of him, perhaps in the piloting area of the machine, but he couldn’t make out a word of what they were saying. He imagined it was talk of where they were going, how fast to go there, how high to fly. He had fooled them, he thought. They were going to set he and his men free. They thought they’d broken them, or convinced them to keep their mouths shut in exchange for their lives, and their freedom.

It was around the seventh or eigth week of captivity that they started asking Clip what should be done with he and his men. He remembered the doctor woman asking first. She was so gullible. Clip told Badger, Weed and Zeb to agree with them, to agree to keep their mouths shut and never go back east to tell the rest of The Dragon about any of it. Sure enough, the doctor lady brought up others to talk to Clip and his men. They all stuck to the same story, they all agreed to never tell anyone about the city, the building, the water, the women, none of it.

Eventually things got formal. They, the survivors, set up a new room on the floor with a row of chairs on one side, and a single chair on the other. Clip was escorted in by the dangerous lady, the one who killed Jacko. He wanted to hurt her so bad, and he sensed that she wanted to do the same to him. She was rough with him. She didn’t need to be, he wasn’t putting up any fight, but she seemed to need to be mean to him. Nothing was said as they moved into the makeshift parole board. She simply pushed him down in the little chair opposite the panel of people.

“What’s your name?” the old man asked. He was at the center of the panel, along with the doctor lady.

The rest of the panel was all women, of whome Clip recognized two or three, one he had bedded, at least from his perspective that’s what happened. There were twelve of them up there. Absenst was the fierce fighter and the pilot.

He gave his name, and answered all their questions truthfully. It didn’t matter to him that he was giving up the details of The Dragon, where they are, where they might be going, which he didn’t know. His goal was to convince them that he wasn’t a threat, that he would be just fine if they let him out along with his team. If it’s just one lie among many truthes he thought they might buy it.

Clip might have believed his lie, even made it a truth had he be given other options. He couldn’t grasp such a thing. It would have required him to have been given an opportunity to be a part of some other type of community, a group not bent on the completion of Nature’s mission, some survivors, perhaps. Such a scenario couldn’t have occured to him, he simply had no experience that he could recall that wasn’t something like The Dragon, some group that shit on the little guy in order to raise itself up. Even with Tynon’s seemingly altruistic mission, it still put The Dragon above others, above all those who are trying to survive. They were worthless bags of water and meat. Clip’s only experience with survivors who were just trying to live turned them into prey. He couldn’t and wouldn’t want that for himself. To him, even the panel of 11 women and the old man still looked as though they should be hunted.

Burying those feelings was all he had to do, and convince them otherwise. “I’d like a chance to start over, somewhere else, somewhere where they don’t know me, where I can blend in and just live out a normal life,” he said. His words hung in the air between his lonely chair and the 12 judges. Dripping with filth, each letter of it, he could hardly read the whole phrase without choking on it.

They tucked him in a little room afterward. He was joined, one by one, by each of his men. Then they were finally shuffled back to their original prison with the running water in the sink and the toilet that bathed their poop before wasting a gallon of water to send it to the wherever.

His words, their words worked because now they were being loaded into the helicopter to be whooshed away to a new home, at least until they’re out of view. Then they’ll burn it to the ground, kill everyone in sight, and work their way back to Toronto.

It was a week after their grilling that the doctor lady came to tell them the good news. “You’ll be sent to an outpost far away. It’s a place Angel visits on his trading routes. They have enough supplies to keep you fed. You’ll have to work, and work out what else you can do for them. Eventually you’ll be able to head out on your own if you like. We don’t have any formal agreement with them. We just know they need some help.”

Clip and his men all nodded eagerly, but not too eagerly. The plan was working perfectly. These dopes bought the lies.

She went on with some of the details and why they might have to wait. The helicopter was not quite ready, they hadn’t contacted the outpost yet and so on. But it wouldn’t be too long, just a few weeks, she said.

* * *

Up, up went the flying machine, shoving Clip’s heart into his stomach and pinching his throat. For a brief moment he felt like he had to pee. It was very smooth, and not windy. Even with the doors closed Clip thought it would be a little windy, but the air inside was just air, like that on the ground.

He closed his eyes, feeling the motion of the machine floating through the air. Clip wasn’t nervous at all, even though he had seen the machine, or one just like it, crash out of the sky. He was flying, it was amazing. And he and his team were about to be free again. After all they did, they were still going to be free.

Justice wasn’t going to find him, not that he knew what justice was. It was just another word from the before world. It meant nothing to him.

He could hear the pilots chattering again, but still couldn’t make out what they were saying.

Soon the machine went forward instead of up. He could tell because he got light for a second, and then heavy toward his back, and the sound of the blades changed and the whole machine tilted forward.

I wonder what the ground looks like from up here, he thought. Everything must be so tiny, I could probably crush it beneath my foot. He smiled under his hood, but no one could see it. He decided to close his eyes and let his other senses feel the motion of the machin through the air. Little pockets would bump into the blades and give the machine a slight jostle, or lift it up briefly on one side, or drop it altogether by a few inches. It was so smooth in recovering, he had never felt anything like it, or at least that he can remember.

This is what babies feel, he thought. Their mothers carry them around and they are blind to the world, just like me. Then one day they emerge, and open their eyes, and they’re free, just like I will be.

They flew for hours. Clip didn’t know how fast helicopters could fly, but he imagined they must be more than a hundred miles away from old Bob’s outpost. He didn’t care how long it took. He was loving the feeling of floating through the air. It was calming in a way that nothing else was. He even dozed off a coupld of times, abruptly awakened by a jostle and dip.

Finally he felt the machine dropping from the sky. His stomach climbed into his throat to let him know. More chatter came from the front as the machine finally landed on solid ground. The jostling, the bumps and dips and all the other air feelings stopped. Engine sounds started to taper and someone opened the door. A dragging sound, like a pair of feet on metal, slipped behind his seat. He rightfully guess that one of his men was being taken out of the machine. Then the door closed again and he could hear nothing but his own breathing through the gag.

Excitement overwhelmed him, his freedom was at hand. He started to plot his way back to Toronto, how he’d be careful to avoid Chicago, giving it a wide berth. They would train and practice fighting each day before they set off toward their city. They’d find outposts and not even ask them any questions before killing them. They’d eat more than just the people, they’d find any kinds of fruits or canned food as well, like the stuff they got in prison.

The door opened again, interupting his dream. Another man was scuffled off and the door closed. He wondered why they were being taken one at a time. Maybe they have to untie us carefully, he thought. They don’t want us showing up looking like prisoners, or dangerous people. The Bob at the outpost might not like that we’re being dropped off. That’s probably it. Oh, Bob, you don’t know what’s about to hit you. You poor wasted bastard, I can’t wait to kill you.

The door opened again, another man off. I’m next, he thought. In a few moments I’m going to be free and we’ll go back to Toronto and we’ll tell Tynon about Chicago and old Bob and the crazy girl and the doctor and the flying man. He’ll send us back with the whole army and we’ll take Bob’s output and blow up the garden again and break the toilets and the sinks and the train and the helicopter again. We’ll tear it all down so that no one can use it again. Not even old Bob could rebuild it, especially because he’ll be dead.

The door opened one last time and hands untied Clip from the helicopter seat. His hands and feet were still bound and his hood and gag were left strapped to his head. The hands dragged him off. The engine had shut down completely and the only sounds he could hear were his dragging feet in the sand and the footsteps that accompanied them. The wind was still, and the sun instantly warmed the moist air within the hood. Clip was sweating an excited sweat. He was about to be free.

His two captors stood him upright on his monopoded feet, making sure that he could balance on his own before they let go of him. One of them pulled the hood up in the back, just enough to untie the gag and pull it away from his head. Then all at one the hood was removed.

The sun blined him for a few seconds, it was so bright. He had to squint and everything was blurry. Looking around, at first he could only see a person in front of him and one behind him. He blinked the tears out of his eye and they started to adjust to the brightness. The big machine was nearby, not making a sound or a move. Around him on the ground were piles of clothes, no men in clothes. Mostly men, anyway, some of them didn’t look human, more like burned wood. He looked carefully at the few that were nearby. It was Badger, Weed, Zeb and Jacko, all of them dead or dying.

“We were supposed to be free,” he said.

Hands behind him grabbed his head and held it tight. He couldn’t turn around to see who it was, but he knew it was the pilot, the man they called Angel. His hands were strong, they gripped the controls of the machine that could fly, they should be strong.

Clip wondered if he should scream. There was no one worth screaming too in this place. He recognized it, this was their first stop. This was where they killed Bob and Janice and Kevin. He really liked that day. This was Buffalo. There was no one in Buffalo worth screaming to. The outpost keeper, Bob, wouldn’t help them anyway, even if he was alive.

“You are free to die,” she said.

It was her, the crazy killer woman who killed Jacko. Before he could consider what was about to happen to him, it happened. The hands on his head force him to look down at his belly and it was already bleeding. She had punched it full of holes with a knife. Once his eyes were fully locked on the horror she cut a slice across it, letting the guts spill out toward his feet.

Still standing, still breathing, he looked at her, a fellow killer, and the hands on his head let him nod to her. He accepted his fate and he wanted her to know it, and she did. She ended him quickly afterward with a slice across his throat. As his brain lost its life sustaining bloodflow his mind wandered back to the helicopter, back to the peace of the flight, back to the womb.

* * *

Angel and Hope finished dragging Clip’s body into place before heading back to the helicopter to wash their hands. Such wasteful exhuberance with water wouldn’t have been possible before, and they’d have been left to fly home covererd with drying blood and sand. No one wanted to see them come home like that. They were heroes who got rid of the prisoners, they needed to look the part.

After they got into the air they circled the area. It had taken days to collect all the bodies and get them to Buffalo without anyone really asking questions. All that slow, plodding work had finally paid off in what they were looking at from above.

Like the skywriters of old, Hope asked Angel to send a message to The Dragon, should they ever venture down to Buffalo again. She didn’t want to make it a threat, anymore than 21 dead bodies is a threat. It was more of a request written in the fallen soldiers they sent out to find her, like a truce or peace accord. She wasn’t even sure they’d be able to read it from the ground very well. Propping the bodies up didn’t seem practical as they’d probably fall over in the course of time, so on the ground would have to do.

They considered leaving one of them alive to give the warning. It wasn’t practical either as the survivor would have full knowledge of where they were and all manner of tactical details about the building, and the train, and the helicopter and all the things that were keeping them alive, and all the other people that would be put at risk. These men all had to die.

A simple message in the sand would have to suffice, a request. Something that said, nicely, to please not send any killers after us anymore. Leave us be, and we’ll leave you be. Hope didn’t really embrace that last part, but the message was simple enough that it didn’t make any promises like that.

Circling above Buffalo they felt a little pride in their creation, on the ground written in 21 dead and dying men were the words, “NO MORE.” They were oriented south to north so that The Dragon would be able to read it from their approach from the north.

Angel and Hope didn’t know if they’d ever actually get the message. Maybe they’d just give up on their vengence and stay in Toronto, or move on to New York or some eastern city. Even if they did venture south again, the sand might just as well have the bodies all covered up by the time they arrive. Or worse, just the first word would be covered and the message’s intention would be completely misrepresented.

It didn’t matter, really, if they got the message. Hope and Angel both knew that they would do what they wanted to do. They’d spread, and conquer, and kill and try to bring an end to it all. That’s what The Dragon do.

The message was, perhaps, more for them, the two in the helicopter and those back at the bar. They weren’t going to be bullied by The Dragon, or anyone else. They were done being conquered. They were learning to fight back. The next band of evil that makes it way into their presence will meet the same fate as the 21 corpses on the ground. They’d be wise to steer clear of Jim’s bar, and of Angel’s helicopter and especially of Hope.