I skipped Chapter 4 because I am only posting highlights from the story, not the whole book. Enjoy. :)
Though it was hot and stuffy outside, he drew the faded green jacket tighter around himself. It was all he had left of home. That was good too, because after what he'd said on the phone, he knew his brother would hate him.
Jake Grey stumbled in a new crack in the asphalt road, which used to be the freeway of Las Vegas, the access road for all business into and out of the bustling city. And now, it was desecrated, the city still and silent.
If you didn't count the wailing and the crumbling walls and sirens, at least.
He had been wandering along the old freeway for hours, since at least one in the morning, after the earthquake had stopped. Who could go back to sleep after something like that?
After his parents had driven off around eleven, the quake had started, jerking Jake out of bed. Not that he'd been asleep though; the fight in the kitchen had been too loud for even someone like Ethan –who slept through a fire alarm once- to ignore. And Jake wasn't even a heavy sleeper.
Ethan had left. He still couldn't believe it. He wasn't sorry for being angry with him on the phone yesterday, but he knew Ethan wouldn't want to see him after what he'd said.
"This is goodbye, brother. I hope whatever you're doing, wherever you are, it's better than when you were at home, where at least you had me."
Jake winced. Yeah, Ethan sure wouldn't want to see him.
But that didn't change the fact that he had to find him. He had nothing, no one left. In his mind, he imagined finding Ethan, making him see he was sorry and admitting Ethan was right –as usual- and then being forgiven and allowed to travel wherever he was going.
Maybe Ethan had the right idea, Jake was realizing now. Maybe Ethan was right and their parents did suck because what kind of people would have a screaming battle half the night, then go drinking to make up for it? They'd left him alone in the middle of the quake. Not that he hadn't ever dealt with an earthquake before, but this one seemed a lot worse than the others he'd gone through. He wondered what its magnitude had been, and if any other cities had been affected.
Jake's eyes were itchy and caked with salt from crying as he did all last night. He knew Ethan would have popped him in the head if he saw that (because Ethan hated it when people cried and thought they should toughen up) but he didn't care. He had been and still was scared, scared of being alone, of Ethan being hurt, of his parents abandoning him. The injured, crying people had scared him too, until he finally ran out of town. And sometime in the night, in the hour before the cloud-shrouded sun rose, he had decided he'd cried enough, he had to think and focus and be strong to find his brother. That was all there was to it.
Regardless, he was still edgy, fear sitting like a brick in his stomach and in his throat, ready to incapacitate him. And he was hungry. Really, really hungry. His stomach growled to remind him of that point, pangs like forks shooting across his chest.
(Now what? He needs to get food. Maybe he'll steal stuff from the ruined gas station Ethan had found. Then the Resistance can…..no, here's an idea. Jake gets picked up by some NWO members, who have formed a branch similar to the Red Cross; they are disaster-relief. They want to take him to their nearest medicinal outpost (not their creepy bunkers with the labs and experiments..) Wait, or they can get mad at him for stealing. He tries to run but they catch him. They're not too mean about it; if he's THAT hungry, they'd just take him into custody and bring him to their outpost. Then the Resistance comes and finds them, ambushing the truck (they had received word of NWO disaster aid swarming all over, and were planning to jump some convoys.)
So when the man and woman in the truck pull out their weapons (shocking Jake; he thought they were totally extinct) in self-defense, the Resistance shoots them down which also shocks Jake, because he hadn't thought they were too bad. He's furious, and the Resistance doesn't shoot him (they don't shoot unless the other person is armed) but take him captive as a spy. )
(Starting from his gas station heist…)
Jake stuffed two packages of plastic-wrapped chocolate cupcakes into his pocket. He'd busted into the cash register by smashing it repeatedly with a boulder until there was a hole large enough for him to scoop out what money he could. He ignored the voice telling him it was wrong, because this was an earthquake and no one would need it. He also ignored the voice of reason that said that because it was an earthquake, there would be no one fit to be open for business, and the money would be useless. The only thing it would do woul be to get him mugged. But he took it anyway.
With ravenous hands, he ripped into a coldcut sandwich he'd salvaged from the smashed freezers. His hands were all cut up and bleeding from digging through the glass to get whatever he could eat, and from bashing into the cash register. He sat on the ground, sprawled by the station, stuffing his face. There could be another earthquake for all he cared; he was not leaving until he'd eaten his fill.
Jake blinked, not comprehending what he was seeing when a white van slowed to a stop in front of him.
Trouble…this cannot be good, he told himself, starting to rise to his feet.
On the side of the van were the words, "Disaster Relief" (get a better name) in dark blue print.
Funny, I would have thought it would be the Red Cross…there aren't any other disaster relief organizations around here…
Jake stiffened as he watched a man and woman get out of the car. They'd already started walking towards him; it was too late to run.
"Hey there, kid. Where are your parents?" It was the woman who spoke. She had caramel-colored hair that was pulled back into a tight ponytail and kind eyes.
It was the first human voice he'd heard since his parent's fight, (What about Ethan's call? I think the timing there is messed up.) he realized. Maybe it was that thought that made him ignore the feeling that he should just bolt while he still could.
"Gone," he croaked. He wished he could add something smart and tough-sounding, like "And I don't give a damn, because they suck!" But he couldn't. His throat was too tight.
"Killed in the quake?" Her voice was gentle.
"I don't know."
And he realized he really didn't know, he wasn't lying. His parents could be dead for all he knew.
"How about you come with us? We're taking kids like you somewhere safe. There's food and other people your age, and you can stay there until your parents are found."
Jake backed up a step. "Um, no thanks. I'm not really a kid. I'm seventeen, and I'll be eighteen next month." As if in a contradiction, his voice cracked. He was furious with himself; now they'd probably think he was lying or something. "I'm okay."
"I still think you should come with us." The woman stepped closer. Jake noticed that even though she sounded firm, she was still smiling a little; it disarmed him. What's the harm? He found himself thinking. He could smell hair shampoo, faintly, like it was all that remained of the sanity of the previous night, where a shower wasn't impossible like it was now.
"Shower," he muttered. Like an imbicile.
"I…" You idiot. "A shower. Do they have showers there?"
The woman blinked. "Ah…well, yes. The facility has electricity-producing generators, so yes, you could have a shower, if you want." She exchanged a glance with the man at her side, and Jake just knew they thought he'd officially lost it.
And then he felt himself nod, and his knees unlocked. He followed them to their van in silence.
The woman smiled, but didn't say anything until they'd all gotten in the van. Jake sat in the back. The woman was driving, and she twisted around after she'd started the van. She shook Jake's hand. "I never introduced myself. I'm Karen."
"Jake," he felt obliged to say.
The man in the front seat also shook Jake's hand and introduced himself as Miles.
They pulled out onto the main road, pitted with cracks that Karen somehow managed to avoid.
"So Jake, can I ask you something?"
"That food you were eating…er, may I assume that it came from the gas station you were sitting in?"
Jake hesitated. What's the harm? "Yes."
Karen and Miles exchanged looks again. "And the money in your pocket. It came from there too?"
Jake stiffened and inhaled sharply.
"Sorry for snooping," Karen amended, shrugging. "It was just that I happened to notice some of it sticking out of your pocket while we were talking."
"It's not like anybody's gonna come back for it in this mess," Jake defended himself.
She let it rest at that.
They'd managed to get out of Vegas by then (Karen was a pretty fast driver…), and now that they were out, the damage seemed less horrific, though there were still large gaps in the road and crevices in the desert. Out here, Jake could look towards the mountains looming before them and imagine nothing had happened. If he tried hard enough, he could pretend it was his mom and dad driving, and Ethan was back at home goofing off with June.
Jake sighed and closed his eyes, leaning his head against the seat. A nice long nap was just what he needed.
Loud shots ricocheted off the mountains and pierced the sides of the van with enough force to be felt within it.
"What the hell?" Miles cursed. A second later, he added, "Oh dammit, not now. Karen, floor it!"
Jake jerked bolt upright and stared out the window.
"Get down!" Karen snapped when she saw him looking. But not before he'd caught a glimpse of three small trucks strung out across the road, and at least a dozen people closing in on foot on both sides.
"Who the heck are they?" Jake yelped, ducking as he heard the report of a gun ringing across the desert. And where did they get guns? They've been outlawed for years!
Neither Karen nor Miles answered. Karen tried to swerve around the barricade across their path, but then Miles sputtered an incoherent warning. "No!" He managed to shout. "Watch it! They're going to blow your frickin' head off if you try it!"
She pulled back into the road. They were getting closer towards the trucks across it.
"Well then, what do you want me to do?" Her voice was high pitched and terrified.
"This damn resistance!" Miles spat. "Damn 'em to hell!" He took a deep breath. "Look, we're going to have to pull over. Look there," he pointed, and Jake strained to see what he was talking about.
"See those huge cracks? They're coming around them, and the trucks are right after. We can't swerve onto the playa because the van will just get stuck down there. So let's just act calm. And Karen." He waited until she looked at him before saying, "G-024."
A look of calm seemed to cross her white face, and she nodded.
G-024? Jake sat huddled in the back, utterly bewildered.
Then there wasn't any more time to think, because the van slowed to a stop at the side of the road, precariously close to the gaping crevices pitting the ground. Karen turned her head a fraction of the way towards Jake. "Listen, be quiet. When those people get up here, me and Miles are going to do something, and you can't let them know it. So don't say anything."
Jake hardly had time to nod, because there was a man who suddenly stood at the drivers side of the van. He sized him up. He wasn't overweight, but he wasn't thin either. He was just big, big and broad, and the way he walked across the ground gave Jake the distinct impression that the man wasn't someone you wanted to mess with. There was a stern, blank expression like a stone on his face as he stared up at Karen.
"End of the road, NWO scum. Get out of the van, and we won't have to do this the hard way."
Right then, Jake noticed Karen's right hand, invisible to the driver, creeping towards the space between her and Mile's seat. He was doing the same.
"Sure, whatever. You got us, you stupid bastards," she said, suddenly plunging her hand beneath the seat and whipping out a pistol almost faster than Jake could comprehend. Miles did the same, and they fired simultaneously, and Jake felt like the noise had blown out his eardrums.
There was a pained shout, a figure shoving into the first man. Jake saw another gun, saw it pointed at them. Karen screamed a curse. The gun went off, once, twice.
"No!" he yelled.
And then he realized it didn't matter anymore and it had probably been a bad idea to open his mouth, because suddenly the gun that had just blown bloody holes in Karen and Miles's heads was pointed at him.
The man who'd gotten shoved out of the way tapped a finger against the gun. "No, Park, you know the rule. Only fire on the armed ones."
Jake was shivering in the back of the van; he felt his teeth clacking together. He wished he'd quit. It was like he was hypothermic or something. All he could think was, Oh god, oh god, this is it, I'm next. Only it won't be quick and easy like them; they'll probably torture me first.
Then he turned and faced Jake, looking him dead in the eye. He had dark eyes that could have been taken for black.
- (start excerpt to read here. Consider cutting Jake and Parker's conversation, only for excerpt. Edit. Bring also edited version of NWO description.)
"So we have a third one. Come on down here so we can get a look."
Jake had to force himself to comply, terror in his throat. His stomach kicked and jerked, like he was about to throw up.
Up close, Jake saw that the man's dark eyes had the sheen of a bucket of black car oil: run its course, but ready to explode into fire when the matches came out. He cursed. "Didn't think they were recruiting so young. How old are you kid? What's your name?"
"I…" Jake cursed his cracked, squeaking voice. "I'm seventeen, and my name is Jake."
"Bret." The introduction was short. "You work for the NWO?"
"The New World Order." Bret spoke slowly, like he was talking to a very unintelligent creature. Which in this case, Jake figured he was.
"I've never heard of anything like that."
"Then why were you traveling with two of them?" Suspicion hardened his voice.
Though he tried not to, Jake's eyes kept darting around, watching the people around him – ten or more – swarming behind him into the van. He heard objects being shuffled loudly around, exclamations and shouting. Bret and two others stood in front of him, one the guy who'd shoved Bret out of the way, bleeding from a shot to the arm. Someone else was tending to it.
"Well?" Bret's voice cracked like a whip, bringing him back to reality.
"No, I don't work for them!" He had no idea why exactly that was such a bad thing, but considering that the two people who did work for the NWO were dead in the van, he figured he should stay safe. "They found me outside a gas station, and told me they were gonna take me to a facility with other kids so I could lay low until my parents turned up! That's it, I swear!"
Bret narrowed his eyes. Jake felt sweat sliding down the back of his neck. Bret shifted his magnetic stare behind Jake when a girl asked, "What do you want us to do with them?"
Jake turned and was almost sick at the sight of the girl casually holding Karen's body by the collar on her jacket. The woman's pretty hair fell haplessly around her ashen, blood-streaked face.
"Leave them there. We'll dump the bodies when we get the chance."
Jake stiffened when Bret returned his focus and said, "You may work for them, you may not. Either way, you were with them, which is grounds enough for us to hold you as a spy."
"A spy?" he exclaimed. "That's insane! You can't hold me as a spy!"
Bret jerked his hand up to his belt and pulled out a black pistol, which he pointed at Jake. "Just because I told Parker not to shoot you unarmed ones, doesn't mean I can't shoot one who could be a spy. After all, if you are and we let you go, you'll go back and tell your buddies about us. We can't have that now, can we?"
Oh god, Jake moaned. I'm so dead. This is crazy town…
Bret must have seen the fear and acceptance in Jake's eyes, because he lowered the gun and put it back in its holster. Jake could have fallen to his knees, he was that relieved.
"Besides," Bret added, "your staying with us is like a blood price for them getting a good one on Parker here." He motioned at the guy to his right.
"It's fine. I only got grazed." Parker brushed a dismissive hand Bret's way, then shooed away the woman wrapping his arm to prove his point.
Bret shrugged, like he really wasn't in the business of sympathizing with people. He eyed Jake one more time, like he was silently asserting his authority, telling him it was all settled. Then he brushed past him and climbed in the van, carelessly stepping over the two bodies.
"Anything in here we can use?" Jake heard him ask.
Jake figured now that he'd apparently passed Bret's "inspection," that he could walk over and see what was going on. He walked a little way over to the van (but not too close, because he couldn't stomach the sight of Karen and Miles) so he could hear the response.
"Yeah, plenty of medical supplies. Several gallons of water."
"We'll load it all into the trucks."
Trucks? Jake was still bewildered. Who were these people?
He glanced over his shoulder at Parker, who was staring back, his hands in his baggy pockets. The guy looked nineteen or so, but Jake hadn't ever been good at age-guessing; he was probably more like twenty or so.
He backed up a bit until he stood in front of Parker. Jake had always been kind of short, and self-conscious about it too, but nothing made him more aware of it than when he stood next to tall people, which Parker was. He was wearing worn jeans and a faded teal-blue shirt, and glasses too, which Jake found a little weird for a bunch of rough-necked gunmen.
"So…" he began awkwardly. "You guys have trucks. And guns."
Parker peered at him like he was studying an organism beneath a microscope. "Yup. We wouldn't be much of a resistance force without mobility and weapons…ya' know?"
"A resistance force. Wait…you mean you've never heard of us?" Parker blinked like this was an extremely foreign notion to him. Then he tapped a long, slender index finger against his chin, which was trimmed with the beginnings of a dark, fuzzy beard, which started from his dark hair and sideburns and traced his jawline. "Of course you haven't. Outsiders who aren't with us or the NWO haven't. Otherwise, they'd be either with us, or dead."
Jake almost choked, and covered it up by coughing. "Um…dead?"
"Yeah. I mean, Bret usually has a pretty strict "don't shoot anyone who is unarmed" policy going, but in the middle of a firefight, if someone happens to be in the way, he won't hesitate. Anyway, if you'd refused him when he made you join, you'd probably be shot, despite that code of his."
Crazy town indeed. Though what Parker said surprised him, it wasn't as shocking or unsettling as the way he said it, completely passive and casual, like talking about shootings and spies and innocent bystanders being shot was just the norm for him.
He felt light-headed, like everything was spinning, the ground, the sky, the mountains. Like the earthquake must have started again and he was the only one who could feel it. He felt like he could pass out, but he forced himself to remain upright. Otherwise, Bret would probably have no problem shooting him.
"Firefight," he mumbled. "What the heck is that?"
"Man, you really are kind of dense," Parker observed. "It's just a standard code word for a shootout."
Jake absently watched Bret and three others gathering supplies in their arms and carrying it to the trucks that had been driven out of the road, off to the side. "And the NWO, this New World Order thing…what is that?" It sounded like something out of an H.G. Wells novel to him.
Parker's eyes suddenly darkened behind his glasses, and he shrugged, looking away. "Just…some pretty awful guys."
Jake could tell he wasn't going to get anything else out of the guy, so he let the matter rest.
"Hey look, I'm no spy," he began. "I don't even know who they are, let alone am spying for them."
Parker shrugged again. "Well, they could have wiped your memory."
They can do that? He bit his tongue to keep from asking; he didn't need his valuable information source to clam up again. Forget it, he'd ask later, he told himself.
"In that case, I'd be a pretty useless spy to them if I couldn't even remember being there."
"Yeah, I don't really think you are either. You're not spy-guy material. No offense."
Jake sighed at that.
"Er…don't tell Bret I said that though. That I don't think you're a spy, that is. He'd probably knock me from here into the next lifetime."
Jake was about to ask if Bret was really that bad (he believed he really was), but then Bret came over, his face set in its already-familiar default stony expression. He stopped and addressed him and Parker.
"It's time to go. We'll leave the van and the saps inside it. We're going back to base."
"Base?" Jake asked stupidly. It was probably a lot smarter to keep his trap shut, he figured as Bret swung his smoldering gaze his way. But he was so out of his league, he sensed he needed to learn as much as he could to survive among these people.
"Yes," Bret said, turning and walking towards one of the trucks. Jake thought that was the only explanation he'd get. Then he added over his shoulder, "Your new home."