I’ve toyed with the idea of posting something from the sequel to Year Zero for a couple of weeks now. I have finally decided to just go ahead and do it. I must give you a few warnings though:
- This is in first draft form. I’ve not done any editing yet. Thus there might be too many commas or not enough, both things I am often guilty of.
- THERE ARE SPOILERS FOR MILES. So, if you haven’t read Year Zero yet, which you should. No. Like right now. But if you haven’t and you proceed this excerpt will give away some cool stuff.
And finally, THERE ARE SPOILERS IN THIS EXCERPT
There, you’ve been warned. Now, enjoy. Be kind, and thank you
Julia leans her head against Harlan and takes his hand. He glances up and sees old lady Salazar looking at him.
She smiles. “Familia.”
He doesn’t answer. He doesn’t trust his voice right now. But he knows he’s found something he can believe in. Something he’ll fight for.
And Harlan Grundy holds that something’s little hand for all he’s worth.
As they climb higher into the hills, one by one the others doze off. Soon the smell of his hometown burning dissipates. It’s replaced with the stench of diesel fumes from the half broken down truck’s exhaust. ‘Janimus could’ve at least stolen something in a little better condition,’ Harlan thinks. He knows The Sons of Symes were waaaay behind on maintenance. The Corporation had little interest in an insignificant town like Symes, so they rarely got resupplied. He is forced to admit stealing stuff from the maintenance yard was a smart move, less likely to be noticed until they were far away. Maybe even over the wall. But finding flaws in others was Harlan Grundy’s specialty. Especially when he was nearing feeling something akin to an honest human emotion about them. More so when that emotion threatened to cause him to show anything his father marked as weakness. It also helped him not think about how he’d last seen Janimus; slumped against a concrete barrier, eyes wide but seeing nothing. Harlan didn’t know what exactly had killed Janimus. Certainly, he’d taken a bullet or twelve. But Harlan didn’t have time to check him, find the killing shot. He was a little busy busting people out of the liberty camp. Besides, it didn’t matter if it was one bullet or more that had done him in. Either way, he’d bought Harlan the time he needed to do the only decent thing he’d ever done.
On impulse, Harlan looks around the dim interior of the truck to see if anyone is awake. And if so, if any of them know Janimus’ real name. Because if he’s going to cuss him out for stealing crap trucks to avoid letting the tears which lie close come out, he’d at least like to call him by his real name. His eyes flick from person to person. Each one sound asleep. Finally, his gaze falls on the slight form, resting her head on his lap. Julia.
He’d like to think it was fortunate she was so young, only six, and wouldn’t be able to understand how many people had sacrificed so much for her. But he knows better than that. Living in the Incorporated Precincts of America strips away innocence better than acetone strips paint. Besides, Julia always seemed more aware than the average six-year-old. He knows that when she awakes, the questions will begin. And he’d be incapable of lying to his surrogate sister. When it was all done, she would feel the full weight of what her freedom had cost. What others had done for her sake. But for now, at least, she seemed at peace.
Harlan knows he can’t sleep. He’s still too full of adrenaline, of the thrill of battle to sleep. With nothing else to do, he stares out of the back of the truck. There isn’t much to see but the pitch black of a moonless night, and a blur of stars in the sky. He makes out two faint orbs in the distance, the headlights of one of the three trucks behind them. He doesn’t know the people in those trucks, most of them are Zigs, and there was little time for introductions during their headlong flight towards freedom. Everyone he knew, in even the most passing of ways, is in this truck.
After a while, boredom creeps over him. He gently slips out from under Julia and is about to make his way to the small panel that separates them from the cab to ask Ray if he wanted a break from driving when something in the inky sky catches his eye. Carefully picking his way around sleeping bodies, he moves towards the open back of the truck to get a better look.
His ears are filled with the roar of the engine, the hum of the tires, and the wind whistling as they cut through it. Occasionally a chill gust blows through the flap, and Harlan fights against the instinct to close his eyes. He doesn’t want to lose the objects that caught his eye; three pinpricks of light in the night sky. He watches them for a moment, wondering if they’re just stars, and he’s being a fool. They blink out of the sky for a fraction of a second, and then return. By the time the dots become globes; he knows they’re not stars. Stars don’t get brighter. Stars aren’t red. As they continue to grow, so too does his realization. And Harlan knows they have mere moments until they are upon them. He stumbles more than runs to the panel, stepping on more than a few toes. The sleeping victims of Harlan’s indelicate haste wake and hurl cries of “watch where you’re going,” and other less polite things at him. He doesn’t care. He reaches the panel and practically rips it from its hinges. “Get off the road,” he shouts, startling Ray and Stephanie, who sit in the cab. Ray begins to protest, but Harlan interrupts him. “Shut up and do it. Drones,” he says, as the sound of the distant explosion of a trailing truck drowns out Ray’s shocked reply.
One Hour Earlier
Robert Wilson, Director of Media Services, nods at the bartender as he claims his tumbler of scotch with his right hand. He swishes it around a little and listens to the sound of the ice colliding against the glass. He’s always found it strangely satisfying. He smiles and concludes his ritual by switching the glass to his left hand. Most people would avoid using it, regarding it as a useless limb. Three of the fingers on the hand, or rather what remained of them, were disabled beyond usability. The arm to which the hand was attached possessed limited movement. But Robert Wilson wasn’t most people. His insistence, indeed, adeptness in its use was his act of defiance against the rebels who had caused the wound.
It was during the early days after the coup. He rarely uttered that word aloud, as it was against the law. A law of his own devising. But while he was content to lie to anyone in earshot and call it whatever pleasant patriotic sounding euphemism they wanted, in his head and heart, he knew it was a coup. After all, he’d been one of its chief architects. Hell, he’d practically financed the whole thing himself. Mallory hadn’t the means as he’d recently suffered his fifth bankruptcy. This time it was beef he marketed under the unfortunate name MalloryMeat. And as for Carrington, he was too stingy with the purse strings, and too weak to do the work that needed doing. Besides, every national crisis needs its victim. And every police state its excuse.
When it was done, Wilson knew his role was so large there were those who felt he should be CEO, because they weren’t shy about telling him so. And while flattered, he preferred someone else do it. Someone like the pliable and not too bright, Bobby Mallory. Then, if it all came crashing down, it wouldn’t be him blowing his brains out in a bunker.
At that time, he was known as General Wilson, and it was his job to stamp out the last desperate cadre of resisters. And they all followed one man, John Lee. Lee wasn’t unknown to him. Or anyone. He, his wife Louise, and their daughter Kyra had frequently made the news with their antigovernment stunts even before The Corporation had taken over. Well, maybe not Kyra. She was a kid barely out of diapers and was just along for the ride with mommy and daddy. Nevertheless, Lee had more than a few followers across the country, and they would have made an excellent complement to the Sons of Liberty.
It hadn’t taken Robert long to know it would not work out. It wasn’t Lee’s burgeoning racism, which would fit fine with The Corporations goals, that had sunk their alliance. Nor his hatred of ‘snowflakes’ as he called them. It was his staunch individualism (“I’m the king of this here Castle,” he’d said), and delusions of grandeur (see previous) that caused their almost instant rift. Well, that and Lee had said, “I’m not your errand boy. So why don’t you just kiss my lily-white ass.” Robert knew he could have smoothed things over. Told the man the lies he wanted to hear. But he didn’t want to. Even now, Lee’s insult still burned bright and clear within him. Robert Wilson wasn’t a man who forgave easily, or ever. Instead, he calmly gathered his things and showed himself out.
A few months later, Lee and his rebels were making a hell of a last stand. Not that anyone who wasn’t there knew. The Corporation already had a stranglehold on the media and the internet. Sure, a stray message here or there got out, but as far as most people knew, they were knocking the crap out of the rebels.
Except they weren’t. All he could do was stare at Lee’s compound through binoculars and dodge the occasional stray round. A couple even grazed his cheek. When he looked again, he saw it was the kid, except her diaper days were long behind her. She was still a kid in his book, even if she was practically a grown woman now. But kid or woman, she was one hell of a fighter. He’d just begun imagining what he could accomplish with her at his side when a distant explosion caused him to scramble before he was even aware he’d heard the launch of the RPG.
“The show is starting,” a bright, faintly British voice calls, startling him from his trance.
He watches as groups of finely dressed people file towards the cavernous television room. He heads in the opposite direction, looking for a place to sit, and finish his drink in peace. Besides he hated that red velvet and gold encrusted monstrosity. Mallory called it ‘classy’ but as far as Robert was concerned, if you used that word, it probably wasn’t.
Not having much luck inside, he heads for the veranda. The night is clear, a little crisp, and he makes himself comfortable in a chair which would afford him a view a magnificent view of the valley below if he cared to look, but he doesn’t care to. He’s just settled in when the voice comes again. This time closer.
“Aren’t you coming to watch the Extravaganza, Robert darling?” it asks.
He turns in his chair, and she’s there a few feet behind him. It takes him a moment to recognize Polly Lafontaine. She looks different tonight. Her hair falls in waves of chocolate to bronzed shoulders which peak from the top of her shimmering azure ballgown. Fixed on her face is a genuine smile, not that half smile she uses for announcements. It’s almost enough to make him want to go with her. Almost.
“Waste of time, Polly. I know how it’s going to end. I designed it that way,” he replies before he takes a sip from his glass.
Polly laughs in that way she has which makes him think in another life, another place, another time, he would have happily pursued the idea of her becoming Mrs. Polly Wilson further than events conspired to allow.
As though she senses his thoughts turning towards those distant, fleeting encounters she says, “Isn’t Emily auditing Precinct Twenty-eight?”
At the mention of his wife’s name the could haves and should haves blow away like smoke upon the wind. He’d made his choice. It was the only one to make at the time in those first few months. Bobby Mallory was in a purging mood. And Emily Mallory was in a marrying one. Sure, she could be a lot of fun in the right circumstances. But the rest of the time, she was cold, devious, and calculating. Everything her simple blustering father was not. She had her eyes on one thing, beating her brothers to the seat of power. Still better an unhappy marriage than an unhappier execution.
“Yes. I believe the plan was to begin the audit after the show,” he says.
Polly looks about to speak but is interrupted by a commotion from inside. They hurry towards the direction of the sound and enter the T.V. room. They make their way to the front of the crowded room in time to see the Manhunt security detail firing wildly in all directions.
“What the hell is going on?” Robert asks no one in particular. He doesn’t have time to get an answer because his phone is ringing. Without looking to see who it is, he stabs the button and says “Wilson.”
“Wilson, get this crap off the air now,” the panicked voice of CEO Bobby Mallory shrieks.
“Yes, Sir,” he stammers.
“I mean, we don’t want people to get ideas, do we? How could Hayes let this happen? How could you?”
Robert thought about telling the truth for a second. No one had heard from Hayes since he left The Shining City. But no one had thought anything of it. Hayes always did things his own way. Him not checking in or offering any word before his final report wasn’t unheard of. It would surprise most people if he called at any time before then. But this was not what Mallory wanted to hear.
“I’m sorry, sir. I’ll get to the bottom of it,” he says, though he’d prefer to tell the fool to shut up. Mallory was taking his press far too seriously. Even worse though, some of his inner circle was. Treating him like he really ran things. Robert knows he should have dealt with it sooner, but he’d been busy chasing down a lead on Lee.
Mallory begins cussing him out. Stringing together expletive in ways which don’t even make sense. Robert doesn’t hear much because something on the T.V. catches his eye and he hangs up the phone. The camera is focused on the steeple of a church, and he sees a silhouette he’d recognize anywhere. It is unmistakably Lee. Not Kyra, the Lee he was looking for. But the one he thought perished in the bunker over a year ago, John. He hardly has time to register the figure when the steeple disintegrates. A second later the picture changes, and he sees a tank rolling down the street firing with purpose. Atop it sits a woman, oblivious to the danger she is in. Emily. He feels a pair of hands grip his arm and he glances. It’s Polly, her usually attractive face stretched into a grimace of fear.
His phone rings again, and he’s surprised it’s not Mallory. Instead, it’s his aide whom he’d given the night off.
“Director Wilson, Sir. We’re getting a report from a local Son, Kyle Taylor, that a group of citizens and zigs are using the chaos to make a run at escaping over the wall,” he says.
He doesn’t have time to respond because Polly is pointing at the screen. On it, the Hunters are attacking the Tank. Emily is there, beating them back. A second later, she is gone.
“Oh, Robert,” Polly moans.
But he doesn’t feel anything.
Anything but a deep, vengeful anger.
It’s not because Emily is gone. He kind of hates her most of the time. But just because he hates her, doesn’t mean he’s about to let anyone get away with murdering her. Not without orders to do so from him.
He untangles Polly’s fingers from his arm.
“I have to go,” he says.
She simply nods.
He kisses her cheek and snaps the phone back to his ear.
“Call central. Tell them to cut the feed, and if any of the hunters are still alive by morning, I’ll disappear the whole department. Send out some drones. Find those zigs. And get my plane ready. I want to be on my way to Precinct Twenty-eight within the hour,” he says as he cuts his way through the jabbering crowd.