Everyone seemed to know at once: we were at war.
All I knew was running. Down darkened alleys, my footfalls echoed away from the smoking screams and shrieks that I knew would never see the light of day.
It wasn't even five o’clock but the sun seemed irrelevant. We were running, that’s all I could think. I wasn't entirely sure what we were really running from anymore.
I heard shots, aimed at my back surely, but too far away for me to be certain.
I heard the clash of riot shields on skulls, even from this distance, and I could feel every body hit the ground, every pounding of so many feet running just like mine,
matching the blood in my ears, in my head, in my heart. I didn't recall stopping, but I woke from my stupor in a crouched position with Val and Nora’s breath coming quickly in the dark.
“We have to keep going,” I heard myself say from far away. My breath came in rags.
“I’m asthmatic,” Nora reminded me, needlessly. Val handed her an inhaler from her bag.
We’d packed the night before. 24 hours ago seemed as far away as 24 years. We thought we were ready.
“Where are we going to go?” I asked. My voice echoed, but I was not conscious why. I didn't care to ask.
“We can go to the barn,” said Val. “I stockpiled a few things there last week, just in case.”
“It’s not enough,” I said, and I hated myself for my shaking voice.
“We’ll find a way,” Nora coughed. “We can ration if we need to.”
“We won’t need to,” I said quickly. I thought of what my mother would say here. “We’ll get along just fine.”
“How much farther is campus?” asked Nora.
“Just another mile. I made sure we stayed on track.” Val pulled out a compass and a flashlight.
“Don’t turn that on!” I hissed, too late.
As soon as Val turned on the flashlight, revealing the bumper of a car, two voices sprang up just feet away, but from behind a wall, judging from their muffled tone.
Val switched it off and pelted somewhere into the darkness.
“Come on, Nora.” I took her hand as she stifled another cough, and I sat her down to hide behind what I could see now was the bed of a truck.
I remembered with a jolt my brother's face, laughing as he taught me how to drive stick down a backroad by our house. I shook my head.
“Where is Val?” asked Nora.
“I think she’s gone to hijack whoever’s following us.”
“Go check on her.”
“What about you?”
“I’ll be fine,” said Nora, and she pulled out her weapons of choice, her thirteen-inch switchblade and her illegal brass knuckles. “I know how to fight.”
That makes one of us, I thought, an icy hand gripping my stomach. I thought about asking Nora for her switchblade, but immediately felt ashamed.
What kind of sick human would leave an asthmatic hard of hearing person alone in the dark without protection?
Maybe the new administration, I thought to myself darkly as I crept out a door I don’t remember going through. But not me.
I heard Val speaking before I saw her. I stepped lightly around the side of what I recognized as Val’s dad’s mechanic and stopped just before the corner.
I took out my handheld mirror and saw in its reflection Val standing in front of two people I don’t recognize.
“What the fuck are you doing here?” I was surprised at her tone, somewhere between fear and apprehensive joy.
“We came to see what the fuck you were doing here.” A gruff voice from the ginger on the left. I shrank into a shadow.
“I’m here to check for any thieves in my dad’s garage,” said Val haughtily, as if offended at an insult they hadn’t yet said.
“We already checked half an hour ago when we was lookin’ for Rebs,” said the blonde, snickering at the slur. "What are you doing so close to home anyway? Aren’t you supposed to be at school?”
“I came up to surprise my mom and dad,” Val lied fluently, “when I saw the protests. I wanted to make sure they had a way out if anything got too hairy.”
“Well why don’t you show us in for dinner? I’m sure your parents would love to meet us—“
“Get off me!”
“STOP!” My voice echoed around the mechanic shop. For a moment, nobody knew where it’s coming from but me. Val turned slowly, keeping her front facing the two boys.
I thought I recognized the blonde for a second, but it fled when I remembered I’m supposed to be intimidating them.
“Leave her alone,” I said. My fists tightened, aware of their emptiness.
“Are you really going to make us?” asked the ginger, looking me up and down and laughing at my small frame. I looked at him and was pleased to see he shrunk back just a little, in his eyes.
Nora once said I had a way of cowering even the tallest man with a single stare. That’s what she said.
“Are you really going to make me make you?” I asked in a low voice. Nobody ever expects someone to be quiet in a tense situation, and it always unnerves them.
I read that in a textbook on resistance. They burned it with the others.
“Who are you anyway?” The ginger shifted uneasily but hid his discomfort by cracking his knuckles.
“I’m with the Fed,” I said. I held up my badge. “I was one of the ones they didn’t fire. Apparently they liked my use of force.”
The blonde squinted. “I never heard of anyone called N—“
At that moment, Val seized his neck and dropped him with one swift twisting motion of her hands. The ginger took one look at his unconscious friend, believed him to be dead, and ran.
Val and I waited a few moments before we spoke.
“Where did you get that badge?” she asked me in a whisper.
“It was my dad's,” I said, only half-believing that it was only a year ago when everything was fine. “Where did you learn to kill someone?”
“I didn’t,” said Val with a wicked grin. “I learned how to make it look like I killed someone. That tactic probably won’t work for much longer.”
“We should train up,” I said. “Do you have anything back at campus we can use?”
“There's the gym,” she said with a shrug. “That should be enough. I'm sure Norwell knows something we can do.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Let’s get back to Nora, she’s probably worried.”
“Probably not, we were only gone a few minutes.”
“Still.” I chafed under Val’s implication that I was being unreasonable. I hated leaving anybody alone in the dark for too long— I'd hated it when it happened to me.
Nora was fully recovered when we found her, and we walked the rest of the way to the barn in silence, afraid of waking any other informants.
I knew we had to get back to the campus before anybody else knew we had gone to the protest. They’d arrest Nolan and Norwell for sure if the Fed found out they were in on it.