There’s this old saying that you never go to war with what you need, only with what you have. And if you think about it, I have quite a bit. A platoon of professionally trained guards, a cache of ammo, more guns than I can carry, and thirty years of experience dealing with murderers, rapists, and whatever other fiends the Void can cough up and spit out.

But what I need right now is a tank.

What I could use is a .50 caliber M107 to cut through that thing. Hell, even the Browning would do the job against a machine. Pretty much cut it in half in a matter of seconds. But, like the tank, I don’t have those either.

Funny enough, I can’t even get to my weapons. Rebecca has stationed herself in front of the gun chests as she rifles through the supplies inside. The guards are standing on the other side of the guard compartment, clustered together as they discuss strategies amongst themselves. They’ve insisted on sticking with their own weaponry, the guns they’ve trained with and know best. I can appreciate their thought process on that. But when you need a bomb, you don’t light up the firecracker you’ve been saving and hope it’s enough.

“You need the tungsten-cored ammo,” Rebecca instructs me. She pulls out two magazines that’ll fit the M4 and hands them to me. “It’s our best chance at cutting through that thing.”

Tungsten ammo is exceedingly rare, so these two magazines are all we have on the train. Rebecca rummages through the chests some more as I tuck the tungsten mags into my LBV. She chucks several more magazines in my direction. “Use the standard 5.56 when you run out of the tungsten. They’ll work with the M4, too.”

I know these things, and she knows I know these things. I’ve never seen this side of her before. It’s like she knows it’s appropriate to panic in a situation like this, and it’s even more appropriate to try to cover that panic by attempting to take control of the situation. And if I’ve never seen her act this way before, it means I’ve never been in this much danger.

She checks the M4 strapped to my chest even though I’ve already examined it myself. Then, she pulls out another from the gun chests and repeats the same steps.

“I don’t need more than one,” I tell her.

“This one’s mine,” she replies.

I hesitate. “For what, exactly?”

“I have to join you,” she insists.

“You can’t.”

Her eyes go wide, but she lowers her voice so no one else will hear. “You’re going to get slaughtered.”

“And if it takes you out, who’s gonna get this train to Mojave?”

“Miller, you can’t face that thing—”

“We established a protocol,” I remind her.

“Against the raiders,” she counters. “Not this.”

“Nothing’s changed. You need to barricade yourself in the cab with the kids.”

She opens her mouth to protest, but I cut her off.

“If you go up against that thing, your chances are fifty-fifty,” I tell her. “Let us at least damage it as much as we can and give you better odds.”

Her lips press into a tight line and stay that way for several seconds. Then she releases a relenting sigh and looks at me the way the doctors did when they first told me I was sick. They told me not to worry. They even pushed a smile up to their eyes. But they couldn’t hide the truth lurking within their expressions. Doctors know a dead man when they see one, and now so does Rebecca.

My hand is still wrapped around her arm, and she twists so that hers wraps around mine, too. We freeze for a minute, our arms wrapped together like a warrior’s handshake, and she’s looking at me with an emotion I can’t really describe. It’s the way people look at friends going off to war and realizing they might not see them again.

She rotates back to my gun chests and starts emptying them. I sigh. “Rebecca, you can’t fight—”

“If that thing gets through to me,” she begins, slinging M4s and SCARs across her back. “I’m not leaving a treasure chest of weapons it could hack.”

She faces me again, guns slung across her back and chest, revolvers stuffed into her cargo pants pockets with rounds of ammo overflowing in her arms. She looks like a ridiculous overpowered VR character.

Her lips move, and her voice is the softest I’ve ever heard it. “Human beings aren’t the only species on this planet to feel things. They’re just the only one full enough of themselves to think so.”

Then she drops her gaze and disappears into the cab with the children. I don’t really know why, but I stare at the cab’s door long after it’s shut. If I’m being honest, I’d always thought of Rebecca as my best friend. Or my conscience, at least. She was that voice in my head that reminded me to put on my pants before I go running out the door. And I always figured I’d be the one between us to go first, but I never much thought about how that would affect her. She’s right. I am full of myself enough to think she wouldn’t care much at all. That she could care.

Davies nudges me. “How do we fight it?”

“What?” I turn to face him.

“What’s the plan? How do we fight this thing?”

We don’t.

“Just open fire and don’t let up.”

Brooks raises her chin. “What about hand-to-hand combat?”

You won’t have hands left.

“It won’t be like fighting a human,” I say. “It’ll just keep pressing forward. So, even if you see it struggling, just keep pounding on it. Understand?”

They all nod and start bouncing on the balls of their feet and inhaling short, deep breaths. They’re pumping themselves up, and that emotion weaves its way through the group, feeding off each one to rev up the others even more. Except for me.

I’ve seen enough old war-timey movies to know most soldiers have two opposing psyches as they head into battle. It has little to do with bravery or the size of their balls. It depends on how much they know about their enemy going in and how likely they are to survive. Either they’re pumped up, flying high on adrenaline and testosterone, believing without a doubt that they’ll be victorious or at least die gloriously protecting their country. Or they’re trembling with fear and puking into their boots because they know the enemy they’re about to face has them outgunned in every way possible. The guards are acting like the former, but what they should be doing right now is upchucking everything they’re consumed in the last six hours.

In this moment, it’s not just the kids that are making me question everything. Being a bull means you’re essentially alone out here. I’ve never been in command of others before, except when I make tactical decisions that include Rebecca. Do I tell them this is probably a suicide mission? They might be guards, but I’ve got the feeling if I tell them the truth, they’ll shit their pants. I can’t have them bailing out or jumping off the train to save themselves. So, as much as it churns my gut, I keep them in the dark because that’s where I need them to be.

We leave the guard’s compartment and mount the roof. This thing will have to board our train before it attacks, and chances are it’ll jump from roof to roof to board. We back up to the head of the guard’s compartment to give us plenty of distance and opportunity to fire at this thing when it makes itself visible. Davies and Peyton stand at the back, rifles at the ready, while Anderson and Brooks kneel in front. I plant myself in the middle between them all. I’m probably its primary target, and I’m hoping it’ll go for me first, and they might get some damage in before it takes them out, too.

A black smudge appears along the horizon and rapidly approaches until I can make out the outline of the train. Rebecca was right. It’s just a single cab without any cars behind it. As it careens over the tracks, a single, piercing note cuts through the silence of the desert and even above the chugging of our own train. It sounds the way old air raid sirens used to sound, and it grows exponentially louder as the cab closes in.

The cab rams the back of our train. The car rattles beneath our feet, and I have to brace a hand against the roof to keep from faceplanting. Where the trains meet, metal grinds against metal and sparks fly.

The android climbs out of the cab and mounts the roof. It locks eyes with me. Just like Rebecca, they’re silver-rimmed. This thing is definitely a machine. It looks male, and its skin is deeply tanned—though machines don’t tan. It isn’t armed, but that doesn’t matter much. Why give this thing a gun when it can cause more horror with its bare hands?

Despite the sweltering heat around me, cold sweat sticks to my skin. There have been plenty of times when I’ve stared at certain death. Guns pointed at my head. Raiders nearly dragging me off the train. Then, the long face from the doc. Every time, my reaction is a bit different. Sometimes it’s a sudden burst of fear that propels you out of a blade’s arcing path. Others, it’s a calm voice that says not today. Right now? It’s a sick, heavy, cold feeling in my arms and gut, like an anchor is dragging me down to the bottom of the sea. I’m going to drown out here, and the ocean is this fucking machine.

The guards all lock on target with their weapons, and I raise my M4 along with them.

“Fire,” I shout.

A hail of bullets eats into its skin and starts clinging off the metal beneath. The android backs up and bolts toward us.

It jumps.

Dozens of rounds slam into it, following the arc of its leap as it soars near twenty feet through the air. It lands only feet away and lunges for me. My gun slips from my hands as it hoists me up by the neck and tosses me backward through the group like a bowling ball knocking down pins. I slam into everyone and send them spiraling. Bullets spray everywhere, whizzing past my head and pinging into the train’s roof before ricocheting off.

I’m still rolling when the screams start.

There’s a nasty snap and a howl that sounds more animalistic than human. I land on my back and immediately turn to the group. That thing has Brooks hoisted up by the neck, and her arm is missing. Blood squirts from the missing limb and paints the roof red.

I retrieve my M4 and pour tungsten rounds into the fucking thing. Bullet after bullet digs into the android, but it ignores them all and tosses Brooks around like a doll. A rod snaps in its left arm and then in its right leg, and it contorts like an old marionette but stays upright.

It grabs her remaining arm and twists. Mangled yelps escape her lips in a way that sounds like a puppy being tortured. It pulls, and her screams reach a crescendo as her arm rips away, and then descend into aching sobs, the kind you know someone is in so much pain they just want to die.

The android hand tightens on her neck. There’s a gurgle and a loud snap, and her body goes limp. The android tosses her from the train.

It pivots and stalks toward Anderson. He stumbles back, cries out as it nears, and voluntarily jumps from the train, hitting the ground in a rolling thud. I was wrong. He’s not the one to rage out first. He’s the one to abandon ship first. Fucking coward.

I rush toward it, emptying the tungsten rounds into its skull. The second I’m in arm’s reach, it slams me back again, and I fly across the train before hitting the roof. The impact drives the air from my lungs, and the world spins, but my hands are beneath me, pushing me up the second I stop rolling.

Peyton closes in, her trigger finger never letting up. It lunges for her and drags her to it. That’s when I realize what it’s been instructed to do. Whenever I get close, it throws me back. Whenever anyone else gets close, it starts killing them.

It’s saving me for last. Whoever programmed this thing has targeted me personally. They’re pissed I haven’t failed the mission yet, and they’re making me pay for it.

As it hoists her up, Peyton flips her rifle around and bashes its head with the stock. Its forehead dents in before it grabs the stock with its free hand and crushes it. Peyton uses what’s left of the weapon and swings it like a bat, knocking the android’s head permanently to the left. It glitches and metal grinds as it struggles to turn its head back. Fuck, she’s strong.

Davies and I are taking shots where we can, strategically placing them around Peyton, where they’ll ricochet away from her. Another rod buckles in its right hip, and it tilts sideways but remains upright. This thing is taking damage now. Much more, and it’ll cave in on itself.


Holy shit.

We’re actually going to beat this thing.

The android calculates this, I think, because it twists Peyton around to face us and holds her up in front of it like a human shield.

It knows we won’t keep shooting now. It’s too fast. It’ll use her as a shield and push her into a bullet’s trajectory before it even reaches them. Even if the bullets pass through her and still hit it, it knows we’ll be down another guard—and we would have killed her ourselves.

Peyton struggles in its grasp.

“Shoot it,” she commands.

We keep our guns raised, but neither of us pulls the trigger. I motion for Davies to stay put, then circle around its side, forcing it to rethink its strategy. It can’t use Peyton as a shield against both of us if we’re coming at it from two different angles. But I forget one important thing: machines don’t think like humans do, and they don’t usually compromise.

It lifts Peyton over its head and slams her body down on its knee. Her back snaps, and her yelp ends in a gurgle and a hard exhale of air. She flops onto the train roof. Her arm twitches, but I don’t know if she’s still alive or if it’s some sort of post-mortem spasm. I’ve seen plenty of people die, even good ones. Even friends and family. But there’s something about her arm twitching, something about a soul that won’t lay still after it’s been silenced that gets to me. I drop to my knees and choke back vomit. Bile burns at the back of my throat. Fuck, Miller. Get it together.

With shaky hands, I raise my gun. Davies mirrors me. We both open fire, and bullets pings off the android’s metal innards. Another rod snaps in its arm, and now it drags from the socket. With its good arm, it lifts Peyton from the roof, tosses her into the air, and delivers a hard kick to her stomach. She flies off the train and hits the desert floor.

As the android teeters near the edge of the train, Davies beelines straight for it, thinking he can knock it from the train.

“No,” I shout. It’s a mangled cry, and it does nothing to slow him down. I lunge for him, but he’s out of reach.

Just as he dives for it, it slips to the side, tangles a foot between his legs, and grabs the back of his head, slamming him into the roof with a thud that reverberates down the train. Davies doesn’t move again. His body skids along the roof and stops near the edge. It’s only a matter of time before the vibrations of the roof and the wind screaming past pull his body off completely.

The android turns for me. Half its skin and clothes are gone, melted away under the heat of the bullets. There’s a gaping hole where its stomach once was, and across its face, parts of its skin flap in the raging wind.

And then that fucker smiles at me and advances.

I back away, keeping the space between us as I retrieve one of the guard’s abandoned rifles and open fire. Bullets ping off its metal innards. A rod gives way in its neck, and its head permanently tilts to the side like a possessed doll.

I retreat until my heel dips off the edge of the roof of the guard’s car. The android closes the space between us and grabs the barrel, and we grapple. Or rather, it swings the gun around, and I go with it. I’m still pulling the trigger, but my shots go sky-high.

It rips the gun from my grasp, knocks me to the roof, and jams the stock against my solar plexus like a gut punch. I yelp and instantly go fetal as white pain rips through my abdomen. The android flips the gun around, takes aim at my chest, and pulls the trigger.

Davies pounces on its back, and the shot goes wide, ripping through my left arm. I howl. The pain sears and morphs into a pulsing throb, and I cradle the injury for a second before my head clears. All five fingers still flex, but I can see the muscle moving within the torn flesh. My stomach lurches, and I swallow down a sour taste in my mouth.

Behind me, Davies grunts as he struggles against it. The android throws Davies over its shoulder and smashes him into the roof. His back arches. Then it slams both its feet into his gut, and he howls and his entire body jackknifes.

The android yanks him off the roof by the neck and holds his body up for me to see. Davies’ head lolls, and blood seeps out of his mouth along with panting whimpers. He’s probably bleeding internally. I don’t know much about crush injuries, but that android probably delivered a death sentence to his gut. People go into shock from something like that. The kidneys shut down, not to mention whatever other organs it destroyed under its weight.

Davies’ gaze locks with mine, and all I see in his is the life draining out.

I motion at him with my gun, and his eyes widen, then soften almost instantly. I’m asking if he wants to be put out of his misery, and he understands what I’m proposing.

He nods.

I lift my gun to eye level. He winces, and his eyes shut, waiting for the shot.

My finger won’t squeeze. I scream at my hand, and it still shakes too hard to clamp down. What the fuck is wrong with me. Just pull the fucking trigger.

My finger squeezes.

The shot goes wide.


I aim again, and my hands tremble harder. The shot pings off the machine instead. It kneels on the train, rips Davies’ helmet off, and starts pounding his head into the roof. I open fire, spraying bullets, praying that one of them hits the guard. Davies starts wailing as the pounding grows wet and then hard again as it reaches bone.

Something instead me goes dead.

It’s like I was feeling so much emotion that my brain just turned off my ability to feel. My nerves turn cold and calm. I raise the gun and fire tap out three shots. There’s a splat, and blood sprays as Davies’ head explodes. The wailing ceases instantly. The android pauses for a minute, examining the blood, meaty remained of his skull. It calculates what happened, sneers at me, and tosses Davies from the train. His body hits with a thud and rolls through the sand.

The android twists to face me.

I never thought this is how I’d end, from an android sent to kill me, betrayed by my own people. It’s a hard thing to realize that some people you’ve known for years really don’t care if you live or die, especially if they stand to profit from it somehow. I could have lost all faith in humanity right then if it weren’t for the four little souls in the cab below me. They’re all I have now. I hope they’ll know that. I hope they’ll know that right before I died, they gave me a little something to cling to. They gave me a last shred of hope for our species and the world.

There’s suddenly more space between me and the android, and it takes a second before I realize I’m backing away from it. I replace the magazine with a full one and open fire. It charges, wraps its arms around my middle, hoists me off the roof, and contracts me in a death squeeze. A scream rips from my mouth as my body crunches. Any ribs I had are gone now.

It drops me, and I crumble to my knees. Breath wheeze through my lips, and if I didn’t know any better, I’d think air was leaking out through my shattered ribcage.

Android fingers dig into my hair and slam my skull into the roof again and again. Something thick and wet starts matting against my head, and I think it’s blood. Probably mine, but I can’t be sure. I can’t see straight anymore, either.

Whoever sent this thing after me must have instructed it to torture me awhile first. An android could pop my head off or toss me from the train in a second. Instead, it’s drawing this out and making me suffer.

It stops pounding my head into the roof. The whole world is spinning, and sound warps in my ears. I only know I’m still alive because every cell in my body is screaming and I can still count my breaths. When you’re getting the shit kicked out of you, everything is immediate and primal. All that exists is your body and the thing pounding on it.

Silicone fingers grasp my LBV and rips the nylon straps apart like it’s gossamer. Wires snap, and my icy chest turns instantly hot. Fiery heat blasts my face and disappears down my nose. I gasp, and the hot air cooks my lungs. I’ve got minutes before I overheat if this thing doesn’t kill me first.

It grabs the back of my shirt and start dragging me along the roof. I’m punching its legs, but my knuckles crunch against metal and bounce off. It just keeps trudging along at the same pace.

It’s marching to the back of the train.

My feet flail, and breaths become ragged gasps. I’m not even directing my body to do that. I’m just losing control over it now.

I squirm under its grasp, wrenching my body sideways in an attempt to rip my collar out of its grip. My ribs crunch and scream with the motion, and a mangled yelp shoots from my lips.

It crosses between the guard’s car and the supply cabin, dragging me along like a ragdoll. I keep punching, twisting, and screaming as my body protests every move I make.

We reach the edge.

The android grabs the back of my hair and forces me over the edge. There’s about a foot’s dip between my train and the other train’s engine. Where the trains meet, the metal grinds together and sparks fly. The android presses me down to the intersection where the metal has turned red hot and holds me there. It’s hotter than the sun itself, and the skin starts searing off my face. I scream and flail. I’m not telling my body what to do anymore. It’s just bucking on its own now. My skin burns so hot that it’s cold somehow, and I only know I still have eyes because I can see the sparks burst behind my clamped lids.




Something that could work with that.

I fumble for the explosive in my pants pocket. The android presses me farther[MH1] [HJ2]  down. For a second, I think I’ve gone blind because everything is just white. I don’t even know if I’m screaming anymore. My lips are moving, but there’s no sound coming out.

My fingers find the flap of my pocket and close around the explosive. It’s cool against my skin, and it jolts me back to reality. I jam the explosive into the sparks and feel it catch. Then there’s an unmistakable sizzling sound that cuts through the screaming metal and the roar of the trains.

I twist. The android looms over me, its head forever tilted, its eyes deranged, and what’s left of its lips pulled into a too-wide smile. I shove the explosive into its stomach cavity with an open palm strike. The android stumbles back, pulling me with it. It drops me on the roof as it fumbles and claws at its abdomen, desperate to yank the explosive out. It closes its fingers around it.


Something surges through me, whether adrenaline or pure rage, I don’t know. But I’m on my feet, racing toward it. I catapult my body into the air and slam both feet against its chest. It pinwheels back several steps and explodes with a burst of orange smoke. Metal sprays and bits of shrapnel burn into my skin. The android, or what’s left of it, collapses to its knees and crumbles in on itself, tumbling off the train’s roof and hitting the sand with a dull thud.

A metal skeleton joins the graveyard of dead man’s run.

I’m on my back, and my head is ringing. I think the explosion must have slammed me into the train’s roof, but I don’t remember the impact. There are two suns in the sky above me, swirling around each other, locked in an ever-tightening spin. Over the howl of the wind and the rush of the train, someone’s laughing. It can’t be Rebecca or any of the kids, though. It’s too deep for them.

Then I feel it, the shaking in my gut. I’m the one who’s laughing. Ice picks jab into my sides, what I can only imagine are fragments of my bones. But the more it hurts, the harder I laugh.

I’m still here, fuckers.

The raiders built that explosive, scoured through their limited resources to craft it, and planned on using it to disable the train, take out Rebecca, and kill me—and now it just saved my life.

Or however much of it I have left.

The laughter wheezes out of me like a slashed tire. I’m still staring at the sky, but it looks grayer now, somehow, as if the atmosphere itself just darkened a few shades. The pain starts to settle in as the adrenaline wears off, and my entire body throbs like a beating heart that’s bleeding out. Slow, heavy, and weak.

I just lost my backup, the squad of guards who were supposed to help me protect these children the rest of the way to Mojave. Now, I’m right back where I started. Actually, I’m worse off than that. I don’t know the full extent of my injuries, but I’m nowhere near fighting condition anymore. Plus, I know for sure now that the Union’s my enemy now, too, and whoever’s involved must be pretty high up to have sent a train and an android after me.

Footsteps clunk along the train’s metal roof past me to where the two trains still grind against each other. The footsteps leap off, land onto the next train, and after a few minutes, the next train hisses and slows, and the screaming of metal against metal stops. There’s another leap, and the footsteps land back on the roof beside me.

Strong arms loop under mine and wrap something around my arms. There’s a click, and ice floods through my chest and arms. Relief surges through my muscles and brain until I go as soft as mush. A grin creeps across my lips, and I’m not even telling myself to smile. I just coddle myself in that sweet coolness even as the world bakes around me. I’ve had orgasms that weren’t that good. I gasp for air, and it’s still hot, I’m staying cool enough to survive. It’s my last LBV. If I lose this one, I’m dead.

Rebecca hoists me to my feet. My body screams and something halfway between a hiss and a groan leaves my lips. I can’t even tell where the pain is coming from.

Rebecca drags me along the train’s roof, and I’m a ragdoll against her. My gaze sweeps around the barren landscape as my head lolls.

“How far out are we?” I ask.

“Halfway there.”

“Halfway dead, you mean?”

She doesn’t reply.

We’re only halfway back to civilization. Halfway back to where shit like this is a nightmare instead of reality. We might as well be a continent away. There’s nothing out here but death. I don’t believe in a god, but I’m starting to believe in the devil. We’re in his playground. There’s nothing good or whole out here.

“We’re not going to make it.”

The words slip through my lips, but I don’t remember wanting to say them. That’s the strange thing about the truth. Sometimes it comes out even when you don’t know it’s there.

Rebecca carries me down the side of the car and sweeps back inside the guard’s compartment. Then she hauls me close to the cab, props me up against the wall, and fetches the med kit. When she pops it open beside me, I force a grin.

“How many fingerprints did I get this time?”

Rebecca glances at me but says nothing. She’s doing that a lot, saying nothing, and I think it’s because she knows I’m right this time and doesn’t want to admit it. She’s more than capable of calculating our chances of making it to Mojave alive with the kids, and that’s why she’s not countering my words. She knows they’re true. We won’t make it.

She grabs the injection gun from the kit and yanks down my shirt collar.

“No,” I protest. “We’ll need it later.”

“You need it now.”

I grapple with her, but even uninjured, she’s a lot stronger than I am. She knocks my hands away and presses the muzzle against my chest just below my collarbone.

Without thought, I wrap my hand around hers, where it grips the gun. “There’s only one dose.”

“Because a second dose will kill you.”

I manage to shake my head without falling over too much. “Not what I mean. We’re not there yet.”

“When are we there?” she protests, sweeping a hand over my broken body.

I cough and taste blood but still refuse. “Save it.”

“Oh, stop being a macho asshole and—”

“Halfway,” I remind her. “We’re only halfway.”

She considers that, her eyes clicking the way they do. Now she’s calculating the chance I’ll be in worse shape the farther into this run we go. She lowers the gun from my chest and places it back in the kit.

Soft footsteps cautiously pad over to me and stop about five feet away. The kids are clustered together, each clutching their mechanical toys to their chins. All four sets of eyes sweep over my wounds, and their little brows furrow like they can’t quite process what happened. It’s the first time they’re not looking at me like I’m a superhero.

Lacey weaves her way to the front of the crowd.

“You can fix him, right?” she asks Rebecca in a tone that’s more of a command than a question. “You’re, like, a doctor?”

Rebecca presses her lips together for a moment. “I have an extensive knowledge base of human anatomy.”

It’s not exactly an answer, and I know why she chose to say it that way. The best machines for fixing humans don’t look human at all. Rebecca’s built to fix the train, not me. She and I trade glances, and something inside me says we’re wondering the same thing. Should they know the truth? How do you know what a kid can handle? And what if they know you’re lying to them anyway?

“Where are the new people?” Ariel asks, surveying the empty train.

Rebecca and I trade looks again, though darker this time.

“They had to leave,” Rebecca tells him, looking over her shoulder. Jace signs something to her and points around the group.

“Yes,” Rebecca tells him. “It’s just us.”

To my surprise, he smiles a little. He likes that it’s just us.

A tiny hand wraps around my bicep. It’s Shae, and her hand isn’t really wrapping around my bicep. Her tiny fingers don’t even stretch halfway across it.

She peers up at me with the smallest face and the biggest eyes. “You look hurt.”

I muster a smile. “I’m fine, darlin’. Just a little tired.”

Her face lights up. “Do you need a nap?”

My smile becomes genuine. “That sounds nice.”

She snuggles under my arm, finding the perfect crook in my side. The rest of the children encircle me and clutch my fingers. Even Lacey. There’s a weight in their eyes, even as they look at me in hope. They know the situation is serious, but I’m not sure if they understand how much. These kids grew up in a lab. Do they know that people die? Do they understand that nothing lasts forever?

I close my fingers around theirs. Their hands are so small compared to mine and yet so heavy at the same time. How the hell can I be responsible for something so incredibly important? If there is a god in the sky or some sort of fate dictating my life, how did it ever decide that I was the right man to look after these little souls?

Rebecca works silently around them, piecing my body back together so I can fight again. So, we can get these kids to safety.

So, I can protect them. It’s the only thing I can do.

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