This is chapter/part/installment two of a collaboration with the soon-to-be-renowned author J.R. Wagner . His parts, found below mine (his idea, I think, I may have the instructions wrong), can also be found at the link. More on his forthcoming book Exiled, book one of The Never Chronicles, can be found here. My parts are going to be mostly raw and unedited, unless I find a little extra time. Enjoy:
Why on my watch? I thought as I hurried along the passageways through the rubble, trails I had traversed since I could walk, trails and paths designed to look as if monsters travelled them nightly; this was how we kept both sides out: fear.
Why me? No one was going to believe me, no outsider had ever scaled the barricades, no outsider would want to, we leaked too many stories of the horrors within the city, some real, many imagined, all designed with our safety in mind.
I quickened my pace, any female with wits as this one, might see through the disguises we used. Then again, it was almost dark, and perhaps, wits or not, those horrors that were real, would take care of the problem for me. Maybe I didn’t have to report the breach.
But I had to, it was law. All breaches of the perimeter must be reported at once; a breach was the only reason a sentinel could leave his post. These words had been repeated so many times during his life, from his fifth year when he was assigned third level sentinel duty, then again at 11 when he earned (two years early) second level sentinel duty, and again, every other morning, for the past 7 years, as he suited up and headed out to the real perimeter, with the razor wire, the concrete, and the smell of death.
Why me? Early now, I am going to be challenged by the second level, and if none of the cameras or sensors picked up the intruder, I was going to have to fight my way in. Sun at my back, sun at my back, sun at my back; let the other guy get blinded.
“Hey, Grant, why so early,” came the call from somewhere to my right.
“A breach,” I hastily called back, veering slightly left to try to skirt his position.
“Nothing showed,” was the answer, closer now, and I wasn’t yet in position.
“She came right over after kicking some big guy in the jewels,” I called, slowing, turning toward where I thought the other sentinel was lurking.
There was a snicker to my left, and the same voice to my right, much closer than expected, possibly inside the burned out shell of one of the thousands of cars that still lined the streets of the city, repeated, “nothing showed.”
I caught movement out of the corner of my left eye, turned my head in that direction, and understood an instant too late my mistake. The snicker was a recording, and the movement was only a shadow of the man who landed the debilitating blow to my head. Thankfully he didn’t kill me, a breach of protocol to be sure, but one I will be repaying for years, if not decades (if we live that long).
I came to in the office of the second sentinel commander, a seasoned soul of 32 years, not the oldest man inside, but one of the top ten we all guessed. 25 was considered a long life inside, we all knew that the outsiders lived much longer, but they didn’t come back when they died.
The city had been abandoned for years. Neither side sent men within the outer limits for fear of the horror that dwelt beneath the concrete and steel shells that once housed millions. I cannot say what drew me into the emptiness even now. I suppose reflection is jaded with emotion and therefore a fruitless effort.
My body ached from the beating it took the day before. I can generally hold my own in a fight but this man was out of the ordinary. My only solace is that toward the end, I managed to cut him with my knife. It wasn't deep. A mere scrape across his ribs -but it bled like a sonofabitch. Just enough to distract him as I punted his crotch up into his stomach. You'd think a man would learn to protect his jacobs by now. Clearly his over-confidence saw to his undoing.
He shouldn't have messed with me anyway. Who picks a fight with a woman on the edge of the outer limits? He was just asking for an ass kicking and I was happy to oblige. Did I kill him? Did I kill him as he lay there like a baby in the street cupping his manhood while tears and snot and blood ran together on the side of his face. I didn't. I couldn't.
I had more important business to attend to. Plus, he had earned my respect. If I hadn't pulled out my knife it would have ended differently. He was nothing to look at. Average height, average build -even a bit on the small side. My god was he fast though. He had my respect as I walked away. I walked on, beckoned by something more powerful than survival.
One thing was for sure, I was headed where no man would follow. No woman either. Even now, as I said, I'm not sure why I listened to that voice that called to me but I did. I climbed over the concrete barriers stacked ten-high marking the beginning of the outer limits. I climbed over the fifteen foot fence topped with razor wire mounted at the peak of the barrier pyramid that encircled the city.
The sun was setting to my right then left as I thew my legs over the razor-wire topping and began the climb down. Blazing orange light threw long shadows when interrupted by what remained of the buildings, long abandoned. No rubble from the destruction littered the streets making the scene even stranger. We all knew why that was -the thought of it sent a chill through my body.
As my feet touched the pavement, the sounds from outside the wall immediately silenced. The hum of the generators, the buzz of the trucks patrolling the districts. Even the wind silenced when I dropped off the second tier of the old traffic barriers. The sound of my boots hitting the ground echoed between the buildings towering above me. I froze. Waited. Looking. Scanning the streets from left to right then the buildings now windowless and open for any sign of movement. Nothing.
Every molecule in my body wanted to turn around and retreat over that wall yet something more powerful pulled me onward toward the center of the city. Toward the heart of the madness.
I had never traveled inside the wall. I don't know anyone who has. Why then, was I being called? Why now? My body began to move. It was all I could do to slow my pace, quiet my footfalls and stay in the shadows as I continued on. It was my body...but I was not in control -and that frightened me even more than what lies ahead.