The post-apocalyptic saga continues with the launch of books 3 and 4 this past week! Even if you haven’t read the first two books yet, you can still enjoy these adventures as Ben and Ricco face their own unique struggles in this harsh world.
The overcast night was dark except for the glow of the New Republic’s border lights, several blocks away. Ben glided from cover to cover down the city street, the echoing of Security patrollers’ boots creating a map of movement in his mind. Up ahead, he spotted the low apartment building he’d been making for, a pool of yellow light marking the torch by the front door.
Ben crept alongside the building, and crouched near a basement window. He could hear a sentry pacing and clearing his throat by the front door.
Inside, the Afflicted workers would be fast asleep in their dormitories, while the few guards watching them would be grouped together playing dice. The medical supplies – the Afflicted’s daily injection – they kept in one of the side rooms.
That much had been easy to learn, especially with the help of Daisy, the girl who lived across from his apartment. She’d been more than willing to show a new immigrant around the New Republic, and had never asked questions about Ben’s eagerness to learn. She did odd jobs and made deliveries for the black market, so her “live and let live” mindset made sense.
Slipping a screw driver out of his pocket, Ben eased it behind the plywood sheet that blocked the ground-level window beside him. It took several moments before it worked free and he leaned it against the wall.
Behind the plywood, two-by-fours spanned the space horizontally. Ben pursed his lips a moment, then rocked back on his hands, gripping the lowest board with his feet.
With a soft crunch, the board yielded. Ben balanced it on his leg for a moment, and pulled it through with his hands, setting it beside the plywood.
For an instant, he thought he detected the thumps of quiet feet on the edge of hearing. It wasn’t the first time tonight, but once again when he scanned his surroundings, he couldn’t pick up any unnatural movement.
Dismissing the sound, Ben rolled onto his stomach and snaked backward. His feet went through the window into the dark space beyond — then his legs, hips, and torso wormed after.
Ben dropped through the opening and crouched against the interior wall, waiting for his eyes to adjust.
He was in the Afflicted barracks – a place his friend Tommy had spent much too much time in. But short of passing alert guards, fences, (sometimes) electrified wire, and raiding the central HQ complex itself, this was his best bet for grabbing a sample of the medicine.
Whatever weird experiment the New Republic was doing with z-germ, Dr. Radcliff and White Mesa needed to know.
After Tommy’s mission in the New Republic – and the sorry wreck he’d been upon his return – the security council had ruled further “interference” with the New Republic too risky. But Dr. Radcliff really, really wanted a sample of the Republic’s medicine, Ben and his family had no objections to a covert mission, Ben had gotten a few months’ vacation from the militia (possibly with the help of General Thaxton), and boom – here he was, in the middle of the enemy’s base.
Assessing his surroundings, Ben found himself in a long, narrow room, tables and benches marching down the middle in orderly rows. Perfect for feeding zombies workers, or the guards who baby-sat them.
Ben glided toward a nearby doorway, ears pricked for any sign he’d been noticed. Muttering and clattering came from behind the door. The dice game.
He moved to the other end of the meal room, where a second door opened into a dark hallway. Feeling his way forward, Ben listened some more. Snoring or breathing sounds came from doors on either hand – the zombies.
How like the apartment building where he himself stayed! That had been a cinch to sneak around in, as well.
Halfway down the hall was a door that must be a broom closet of some kind (from the size and position). Pressing his ear to it, Ben could hear no sounds of breathing or shifting in sleep. When he tried the handle, he found it was locked.
Digging in the cargo pocket of his trousers, Ben fished out a long, skinny bit of metal and knelt beside the lock. Mr. Jones had coached him. He closed his eyes to force himself to work by feel. There wasn’t enough light here for his eyes to be any use.
Easy, gentle, twist…click! Ben grinned and tugged at the door, moving slowly to keep the noise down. The door glided open as the whisper of a creak sighed down the hallway.
Ben held his breath, but nothing in the building stirred. Rising, he squeezed himself through the door and blinked around at the new room.
Total darkness filled the internal space. Wishing he had a flashlight from White Mesa, Ben eased the door almost closed and pulled out a legacy lighter that he’d bought from a black marketer at great expense. The expense was because it had several drips of fuel in it still, perhaps scavenged from some abandoned house on the outskirts of the city, or some sealed apartment that had not yet been cracked by raiders.
With a flick of his thumb, light flashed in the room. Fire danced from the end of the lighter, then vanished as Ben let go of the button.
A table stood against the opposite wall. Two steps brought Ben to it. He had seen cabinets underneath it, but he groped on top for a black bag. Holding the lighter in his off hand, he clicked on his light again and poked in the bag, finding several needles, a few damp clothes – and several screw-top glass jars.
Ben grabbed one of these and held it up in his sputtering light. Tommy had described the substance as clear, and this was clear. He didn’t see any other samples of drugs around, and at the very least he could deliver it to a White Mesa scavenge team and come back to the Republic pending further instructions. The militia officers hadn’t sanctioned his mission, but the teams still stopped by at R6 in case he’d left a message or something.
Shoving his light back into his pocket, and securing the vial of drug, Ben slipped back out the door, pausing to lock it again before continuing down the corridor.
The sounds of the night had not changed. The snores and sighs behind the doors in the hallway continued undisturbed. As Ben pulled himself up through the window he’d entered by and slid the plywood back over it, he smiled.
A presence disturbed his senses. His instincts tingling, he whipped around, his back to the wall. A dark shape lunged at him out of the darkness.
Ben blocked, throwing off the attacker’s grab. Having felt roughly where his opponent’s head should be, Ben threw a punch. A loud thump against the pavement assured him he’d connected.
Footsteps surrounded him. Ben abruptly bent over to drop his profile and made a dash down the road toward the fence-line.
He rammed into someone with his shoulder, and someone else grabbed him around the neck. As he was throwing the second person against the wall of the building, the light of lanterns burst around a nearby corner.
Ben staggered and blinked, struggling to focus as dark figures darted around in front of the bright flames. Men – wearing the blue uniforms of the Security – surrounded him, most hefting the unloaded legacy rifles that served them as clubs and symbols of authority.
“You’re under arrest!”
As Ben was just getting his bearings again, one of the Securitymen threw his arms around him, trying to knock him to the ground.
Ben threw him off, only to trip over another guard and fall to his knees. Someone held a lamp up in his face, forcing him to squint and blink. Four or five others pounced on him, forcing him to the ground and dragging his arms behind him to bind his wrists.
“Ow! What gives?” Ben cried. Since force wasn’t an option anymore, he’d go for bluffing.
“Don’t you know you’re breaking curfew?” demanded a guard from above his head.
“I couldn’t sleep.”
“Just what were you doing climbing into that building?”
“That one,” answered a Securityman with a captain’s badge. “That we saw you climbing through the window of.”
“Oh, that.” It was time for the cover story, apparently. Tommy and Dr. Radcliff had made sure it was deep enough to be convincing.
“Well, I guess the patrols around here are heavier than I figured,” he chuckled.
“Actually,” muttered one of the guards, “We got a tip.”
A tip? From whom? And about what?
“Hey,” cried one of the Security as they pulled Ben to his feet. “What’s this?”
He unbuttoned the front pocket on Ben’s jacket and pulled out the glass bottle of drug Ben had collected.
The captain’s glare turned ugly. “We’ll see what you have to say about this,” he growled. “Back to HQ.”
The HQ, eh? The infamous inner compound, where – according to Tommy – the Alderman of Security did his mysterious experiments with ferals. What was waiting for Ben now? And how would he get the vial back?
Ben watched the guard hand it to the captain, who pocketed it. Dr. Radcliff needed that sample to find out exactly what the New Republic was doing with their drone program, and what it meant for the number of ferals in the waste.
With Security surrounding him on all sides, they headed toward the middle of the New Republic, and the main government compound. Ben reviewed in his mind what he was to say – Tommy had helped write the cover explanation, so it must be good.
Besides, even if it didn’t work, White Mesa could come get him, as it had come for Tommy. Mr. Grimthorpe and the security council would have conniptions, but whatever. His one worry was what would happen to the drug sample. He needed that, or his mission would be a waste.