HAVE TO GET AWAY from here. It's too dangerous to stay. If there's one thing I've learned about our piss-weak, cowardly enemy, it's that they always deal their deadliest blows from a distance.
The leaden feet of the woman's corpse are blocking the door and stopping me from getting out. I drag her out of the way, then shift the kid's body, kicking it back across the cluttered floor. The kid's bloodstained projector-screen shroud unrolls, revealing his lifeless face. Jesus, he was one of us. I uncover him fully. His wrists and ankles are bound. Can't see how he died, but he hasn't been dead long, a few days at the most. Probably starved. Another pitiful example of an Unchanged parent refusing to accept their kid's destiny and let go. Did she think she'd be able to tame him or find a "cure" or something? Dumb bitch.
Back out into the corridor. Most people have gone now, but I can still hear a few of them moving about, hunting down the last kills before they move on. I automatically head toward the back of the building, hoping I'll find more cover going out that way. A small kid darts past me, moving so fast that I can't even tell if it's a boy or a girl, then doubles back when it can't get out. I keep moving forward until I reach a T-intersection. There's a fire door to my left, but it's been blocked and I can't get through. I follow three men and a woman the other way into a dank toilet that smells so bad it makes my eyes water. The sudden darkness is disorienting, and the man in front of me takes the full force of a clumsy but unexpected attack from an Unchanged straggler who's hiding in the shadows under a sink. There's hardly room to swing a punch in here, but between the five of us we get rid of him quickly. I smash his face into a cracked mirror with a satisfying thump. He leaves a bloody stain on the glass, just another mark among many.
In a wide, rectangular handicapped cubicle there's a narrow window high on the wall above the dried-up, mustard-brown-stained toilet bowl. One of the men, a small, suntanned, wiry-framed guy, climbs up onto the toilet, then uses the pipework to haul himself up. He opens the window and squeezes out through the gap. We take turns to follow him, impatiently standing in line like we're waiting for a piss. The fighter in front of me has a wide belly and backside, and I can't see him getting through. I'll be damned if I'm going to get stuck in here behind him. I push him to one side and climb past, knowing I'll be long gone before he gets outside, if he gets out at all. I throw my backpack down, then force myself through the narrow window frame and drop down into a flower bed overrun with brambles and weeds. A pile of waste and emaciated corpses cushions my fall. I quickly get up, swing my pack back onto my shoulders, and start to run. Won't be long now before they...
Who the hell was that? My heart sinks when I look back and see Adam hopping after me with his ski-pole walking stick, his useless, misshapen, badly broken left foot swinging. I found this poor bastard trapped in his parents' house a few days back, and I haven't been able to shake him yet. He can hardly walk, so I could leave him if I wanted to, but I stupidly keep letting my conscience get the better of me. I tell myself that if I get him away from here he'll be able to kill again, and anyone who's going to get rid of even one more of the Unchanged has got to be worth saving. I run back, put my arm around his waist, and start dragging him away from the building.
"Thanks, man," he starts to say. "I thought I-"
"Shut the fuck up and move."
"Oh, that's nice. What did I ever-"
"Listen," I tell him, interrupting him midflow. "They're coming back."
I pull him deep into the undergrowth behind the office building. Even over my hurried, rustling footsteps and although the canopy of leaves above us muffles and distorts the sound, I can definitely hear another aircraft approaching. Whatever's coming this time is larger, louder, and no doubt deadlier than the helicopter that was here before.
Adam yelps as his broken ankle thumps against a low tree stump. I ignore him and keep moving. His leg's already fucked; a little more damage won't matter.
"Sounds big," he says through clenched teeth, trying to distract himself from the pain. I don't respond, concentrating instead on putting the maximum possible distance between me and the office. Other people run through the trees on either side of me, illuminated by shafts of sunlight that pour through the odd-shaped gaps between leaves, all of them passing us. The noise is increasing, so loud now that I can feel it through the ground. It must be a jet. Christ, what did I do wrong to end up saddled with a cripple at a time like this? Maybe I should just leave him here and let him take his chances? I look up, and through a gap in the trees I catch the briefest glimpse of the plane streaking across the sky at incredible speed, so fast that the noise it makes seems to lag way behind it.
"Keep moving," I tell him. "Not far enough yet-"
I stop and hit the deck as soon as I hear it: the signature whoosh and roar of missiles being launched. Adam screams in agony as I pull him down, but we'll be safer on the ground. There's a moment of silence-less than a second, but it feels like forever-and then the building behind us is destroyed in an immense blast of heat, light, and noise. A gust of hot wind blows through the trees, and then dust and small chunks of decimated masonry begin to fall from the sky, bouncing off the leaves and branches above us, then hitting the ground like hard rain. The thick canopy of green takes the sting out of the granite hailstones. The shower of debris is over as quickly as it began, and now all I can hear is the plane disappearing into the distance and both Adam's and my own labored breathing. He sits up, struggling with his injuries. Crazy bastard is grinning like an idiot.
"Fuck me," he says, "that was impressive."
"Impressive? I could think of other ways to describe it. If you'd been any slower we'd have had it."
He leans back against a tree, still panting heavily. We should keep moving, but the idea of resting is appealing. The Unchanged won't come back here for a while. Even here in the shade the afternoon heat is stifling, and now that I've stopped, I don't want to start walking again. I give in to temptation and lie back on the ground next to Adam and close my eyes, replaying the memory of today's kills over and over again.