53


11:47 AM

AMY


            The room swirls around me with groans of shock and sick horror.
            “He’s gone. He’s gone. He’s gone,” Jesse keeps repeating, hunched over on the floor with the wall against his back, his hands clenched into trembling fists at his temples.
            “How could this happen…?” I say in a frail whisper.
            “You. You let it happen,” Jesse says without looking up.
            “Jesse, please don’t blame me for this, I can’t–”
            “What, like you blamed those others for leaving your husband behind? It’s the same thing, isn’t it?”
            “I lost Walter too, Jesse. I’ve lost everyone. I’m hurting, too,” I say, pleading.
            You. It’s always about you. Do you ever stop to think about anyone else?”
            “That’s not fair, Jesse. I didn’t ask to be–”
            “No, it isn’t fair! After all my parents did for you, after all they sacrificed!” Jesse is yelling now, jabbing an accusing finger in my face.
            After all your parents did for me? And what about you? You abandoned them years ago! Didn’t even bother contacting them until the very end when you were out of options. You call me selfish! What makes you think you even deserve a spot on this ship?” I hiss.
            We glance up, alarmed at the size of the crowd surrounding us, a circle of disturbed and anxious faces wondering whether to intervene. No one speaks. Jesse backs away from me, tumbling through the crowd and disappearing in the mass of bodies.
            There’s a rumbling bellow as the ship’s foghorn lets out a double cry. The stragglers from the last truckload of evacuees clamber aboard as the lights dim by a fraction and our vessel begins to move. I turn to the window as the harbor slips quietly away, almost peacefully, but for the ghostly black cloud mushrooming in the distance where the explosion occurred.
Below us, spindly gangplanks retract and disappear into the sides of the ship. I stare numbly at the docks, where an angry mob rushes from a break in the fence, jeering and screaming at us with wild abandon. Some throw rocks and bottles. A few plunge into the water to give unthinking chase. Rabid animals in a dark place beyond sanity’s reach.
            The humidity spikes as the coast fades behind us beyond the wake. The seas are choppier out here, though we can barely feel the swells in a ship this large. White bundles of foam spill like cotton from the wavetips as the wind howls by. Looming clouds blacken and swirl.
            “Brothers and sisters,” says a somber, tired voice over the PA system. “Welcome aboard the Cornelia. We’re glad you’ve made it here safely.” A long pause, a search for words. “We know you’ve all made tremendous sacrifices, but it will be worth it, in the end. Continue to stand firm… According to our weather data, we’ll be skirting around a tropical storm early this afternoon. The seas will be rough. Keep movement around the ship to a minimum to prevent injuries…”
            The voice drones on for a few minutes but my mind is elsewhere, somewhere back on shore with Walter and the other unfortunate souls at the facility. Or with Luke, wherever he is.
            I inch my wheelchair closer to the glass window and lean my cheek against it, feeling its coolness and the vibration of rain droplets as they pummel the other side. The engines hum a low frequency into my head and it’s something like comfort.
I close my eyes and try to think of calmer times. Before the tribulation began, perhaps. Back when Luke and I were still together, when he was inching his way towards a promotion. But even then, all I could envision at night during those long graveyard patrol shifts was the dreaded call from Captain Pryce or one of Luke’s buddies at the station. Hello Mrs. Harding. Are you sitting down? We have some bad news. You see, there was an armed robbery… Would you be able to come down to the morgue…?
            And of course there was Luke’s first real brush with death. That kid that he killed at the pharmacy. Just a bottle of Oxycotins. That’s what he’d died–and almost killed–for. Then the subsequent nightmares. Luke flailing in bed, his side of the sheets drenched with cold sweat as he relived the horror, waking up, swearing he could still feel the bullet lodged in his shoulder, stumbling around our apartment, rooting through drawers for a pocket knife to inspect the wound… Horrors upon horrors.
            Was there ever a time when things were right? When life was peaceful and perfect? As far back as my mind goes, all I can remember is gloom. The light at the end of the tunnel only appeared after I met Chelsea and Walter, and now they’re both gone…
            “Amy Harding?” asks a voice. I turn to see a man in a wet raincoat, hair damp and plastered to the sides of his face, deep wrinkles creasing his features into a permanent frown.
            “Yes?”
            “Can you come with me, please?”
            “Ok. Is something wrong?”
            “We’re not sure. But there’s someone on the radio, and he’s asking to talk with you.”
            “He? Who?”
            “He says he’s your husband.”

12:07 PM

LUKE


            Luke, is that you?” a voice bursts through the crackle of static like a sunray through rainclouds.
            “Amy?” I say, not ready to believe, not ready to expend too much hope.
            “Oh Luke, where are you! What happened! Are you safe?” she asks, voice shaking on the line. I hesitate as a sheet of paper slides across the table in front of me. Meade’s finger taps the words silently, his look stony. FISHING BOAT. CAROLINA COAST.
            “I… I’m on a fishing boat. Off the Carolina Coast…”
            “A fishing boat! But how? Marc said you were shot and captured by soldiers, and–”
            “Marc? Marc and Ashley? Are they there with you now? Are they safe?” I ask, straying from the script as Meade and Admiral Hawkins exchange unsteady glances.
            “…Yeah, they’re all here. We’re safe, Luke. How did you find me?” More words pointed out on paper.
            “It’s a long story, babe, but… I was able to escape. Again.”
            “But you were shot? How serious is it? Are you ok? Baby, I miss you so much, I…” the words come quickly. She’s sobbing now, and it’s impossible to hold my tears back. I can visualize Amy cradling the microphone as we talk, her voice warm and full of love despite the static interference from the storm and the coldness of electronic communication.
            “I’m ok, babe. I’m ok. I miss you too. What about Walter and Chelsea? Are they with you? Are they all ok?”
            “Chelsea’s here with me, but… Walter… he’s gone. There was an explosion. It was an attack…”
            “I’m so sorry, babe,” I say, feeling the anger and the hate swell again in my chest. The hate for being so helpless and so far away, for not being able to hold Amy in this crucial moment. Anger at knowing that Walter has been taken. He never deserved this. He’s a casualty in a twisted war waged by criminals in uniform with endless resources and no one but God to check their hands.
I glance up at the faces of my captors, both clearly unsurprised by news of the attack. Almost smug, I think. Smug and callous. Meade leans forward and slides the paper closer. Coordinates are written in large blocks letters at the bottom of the page. It’s the last part of my message, the most crucial.
            They’re lying, of course. There will be no capture of suspects for interrogation. They plan to sink the ship, maybe while my wife is still on board. My message to them, these coordinates, is just to get the target where they want it. I’m no expert on naval vessels, but I can guess by the Admiral’s total lack of concern for the building fury of the storm outside that this ship is enormous–perhaps a destroyer, maybe even an aircraft carrier. They’re armed to the teeth and in no way interested in taking hostages. They’ll shoot without question. And I am their trigger.
            “I need you to listen carefully, Amy. Do you have a pen?” A pause. Noises in the background, the shuffling of faraway things.
            “Ok. What is it, Luke? Is everything all right?”
            “Just fine, babe. I’m going to give you some coordinates, as in latitude and longitude. Got it?”
            “Uh, ok, sure. But what for?”
            “Just write it down, ok babe? Make sure you get it right. Latitude: thirty-six point four eight. Longitude: minus seventy-three point five nine. Can you repeat it back to me?” She does. No mistakes.
            “What’s this for? What am I supposed to do–”
            “Just listen, baby. I love you so much. I always have. There’s never been anyone else and there never will be. You understand? I’m sorry for doubting you or your friends. You made the right choice, Amy, and–”
Meade and the Admiral lean another inch in my direction, scowls forming on their faces, their eyes boring into mine. It all comes down to this moment.
            “Luke, slow down, what are you saying?”
            “Please, just listen. I want you to take those coordinates to the captain of the ship you’re on. Can you do that for me?”
            “Uh, ok. I guess. And then what?”
            “Tell him that whatever happens, get as far away from those coordinates as possible. Do you understand Amy? DO NOT GO THERE! THIS MEANS YOUR L–
            The words stick in my throat as a terrific pain explodes from the back of my eye sockets. I crumble to the cold, metallic floor of the radio room, the wires and cables dangling over my head like jungle vines, and everything goes black.

12:10 PM

AMY


            “Luke! Are you there? LUUUUKE!” I scream into the headset, hearing only the whine of static and feedback on the other end. I try for another five minutes without response. Frustrated, I rip the headset away from me and toss it back onto the table.
           “What did he say?” one of the brothers asks. He’s the one with the raincoat, the one who fetched me just minutes ago with news of my husband’s message. Brother Michaels. There are five or six others in the room now, all huddled around me carefully, arms crossed, leaning inwards, waiting. Brother Harris is one of them. Marc is another. I think for a few moments before answering.
            “He said… He said he was on a fishing boat off the coast. He said he was ok. Then he gave me these coordinates, told me to tell the captain to stay far away,” I say, holding up the scrap of paper for them to see.
            “Not far from here. Not far at all,” says one of the men, grey hair swept down over his wide-eyed stare.
            “How far?” someone else asks.
            “Less than a hundred nautical miles north, I’d say. Three, maybe four hours away.”
            “Amy, did Luke tell you why we had to avoid this particular spot?” Marc asks.
            “No, he didn’t have a chance to. Something happened.”
            “Maybe a bad signal. Could be this storm,” Brother Michaels suggests. I give my head a vigorous shake.
            “No, I don’t think so. He sounded scared.”
            “Scared?”
            “I know my husband. It takes a lot to get him that way, but… He was terrified. Not for himself, but for me. For us. I think someone was there with him, telling him what to say. I don’t think he delivered the message he was supposed to. So they cut him off.”
            “Those men who captured him,” Marc says, his voice trailing off. He takes a step back from the circle to look out at the brewing storm. The rain droplets are thick and heavy and rattle against the glass windows.
            “This is when you were boarding the train, right Marc?” Brother Harris asks thoughtfully, his eyes hard and serious.
            “Yeah. He took a bullet in the leg for us. Without him, my wife would’ve never made it out of there alive.”
            “It all adds up, then,” Brother Harris says with a grimace. “We have to assume he’s still their captive. Maybe they let him on the radio thinking he could get us to head right into some kind of trap.”
            “No way he’s on a fishing boat, that’s for sure,” says the brother with the hair in his eyes as he glances out the window behind him. “Not in this storm. It’d be suicide.”
            “Then we avoid those coordinates like he said,” brother Michaels says with a questioning look around the circle of men.
            “What about my husband, then?” I ask feebly. The brothers cast me pitying glances or avoid my stare completely.
            “I’m sorry, Amy, but it’s just too dangerous. Luke risked… who knows what… to send us this message. We have no reason to doubt him. We’d be foolish not to heed his warning.”
            “Your husband could have very well just saved the lives of thousands on this ship,” Marc says, crouching next to me. “Jehovah won’t forget it. Just like I won’t forget all that Luke did for us back at that train.”
            “Jehovah knows how to deliver people, Amy,” Brother Harris says, reaching over to grip my arm. “Keep your faith in him. Our deliverance is near.”

52


11:15 AM

LUKE


            I stare down at the frayed carpet squares as Pryce continues breathing into my ear. Both of us wait for the other to speak, neither of us knowing what comes next.
            “Captain?” I say carefully. “Are you ok? How are–”
            “I’m not your captain anymore,” Pryce interrupts, the words freezing me with their coldness.
            “Sorry? What do you mean?”
            “Don’t play dumb, Harding. I know everything.”
            “What are you talking about?” I ask in earnest.
            “Your involvement with that cult, the investigation, your arrest. All of it. The feds sent me your file.”
“Captain, these men are criminals. Do you even know what they did to me?”
            “Of course I do. Agent Meade was the one who first came to me about you being wrapped up in this conspiracy.”
            “Conspiracy? Captain–”
            “Enough! Give it a rest, Harding. You’re finished. You’ve been caught. They know you were helping the enemy. It’s over.”
            “Helping the enemy? What, are you talking about the Witnesses? You think they’re the enemy? Do you have any idea how much pain and misery–” Meade stops me with a newspaper tossed in my direction. It lands on the table before me and my eyes sop up the headlines.

            RELIGIOUS EXTREMISTS COORDINATE WORLDWIDE ATTACK
            New York City, N.Y.–Just three months after congress’s groundbreaking legislation to limit the practice of radicalized religion, the United Nations Security Council today reiterated its dedication to the eradication of religious separatism, specifically singling out the Jehovah’s Witnesses sect. According to reports from Reuters, the BBC, China Daily, CNN, and numerous other reputable news organizations, the Witnesses have been secretly coordinating worldwide attacks on government buildings and personnel.
            The attacks, which have been organized primarily on illegal encrypted messaging services and private networks, reveal a level of sophistication previously seen only in terrorist organizations, such as the now-defunct ISIS. Regarding the ultimate goal of these assaults, intelligence analyst Ryan Carthwright comments…

            “You were like a son to me,” Pryce says, his voice nearly cracking. “You swore to me that we were on the same side.”
            “These are all lies, Dale,” I say, my voice trembling in fear and anger.
            Christ! How can you treat me like this!” Pryce screams. “You’d rather let your country burn to the ground than turn these people in!”
            “Captain, listen to me! This country is burning to the ground because the people and their governments are out of control! It has nothing to do with the Witnesses!”
            I can feel Pryce seething on the other end. He’s angrier and in more pain than I’ve ever known him before. The phone receiver burns in my hand. More than anything, I want him to know the truth, but there’s nothing left to say.
            “I don’t know how they brainwashed you. You’re not the officer I knew months ago. Whatever happens to you next, you brought it on your own head. You’re dead to me, Luke. Your secret is out, and I hope I never hear your name again.” And with that, Pryce hangs up and the line goes dead.
            I’m slumped over in my chair, feeling cold and hollow, the pleasure of a hot meal now a long forgotten memory. Agent Meade and the admiral whisper something inaudibly to one other and shuffle papers on their desk. My table and chair, along with the telephone, are hauled away and I’m summoned to my feet.
The windows darken as grey clouds float above the white-tipped sea outside. Thin droplets of water drum against the glass. A far-off thunderhead glows sporadically with coughs of lightning.
            “Not exactly a sweet reunion,” Meade finally says with mock sympathy.
            “I’m sure it unfolded just as you’d planned,” I say weakly, head still staring into the floor.
            “Luke, this world is not against you, as you seem to imagine. There is no conspiracy here. You simply chose the wrong side. You gambled, you lost. Fact is, this could’ve all been avoided, if you’d only cooperated. Will you cooperate now?
            “What you could possibly want from me?”
            “It’s simple, really. We just need you to send a message,” says the admiral.
            “A message? To who?”
            “To Amy.”

11:23 AM

AMY


           A young woman who looks to be about my age is the first to squeeze through the barricade. Her hair is matted and greasy, her face smeared in soot and ash. She tumbles onto our side of the wall and instinctively covers her head, bracing for an attack. Instead, the brothers back away, spreading their arms to keep her contained.
            “How have you all survived this long?” the woman hisses with incredulity as she rises to her feet, drawing a sharp sliver of wood from inside her coat and holding it like a dagger in one hand.
            Their pack’s leader comes through next, cutting his shoulder on the sharp edge of sheet metal as he slides through. He curses loudly and presses his fingers for a moment against the wound.
            “Amazing,” he scoffs. “Not one of you is armed.”
            “We don’t need weapons,” one of our brothers says calmly. The man gives him a malevolent grin before reaching behind his back and drawing a handgun.
            It’s at this very moment that we seem to be surrounded by the baying and howling of wolves. We see them seconds later, their stained coats flicking through the trees, hair on their backs standing on end. We quickly realize these are no wolves, but ordinary dogs–house pets, no doubt–gone feral.
A dirty German shepherd with a tail of singed hair lunges at the woman with the stick, clenching her arm in its jaws and thrashing its head mercilessly. She falls screaming and writhing on the ground. The man with the gun turns to fire at the dog, but the bullet misses. The sharp explosion of gunpowder sends the animals into a momentary mode of retreat, but they quickly turn to its source, ears back, teeth barred, growling and snapping. The man is buried moments later in a pile of tearing canines.
            Go! Go! Go!” yell the brothers. We turn to run, but before we do, I spot two of the larger dogs squeezing back through the hole in the barricade, hungry for more, their muzzles rimmed with red foam. The mob on the opposite side screams as it flees. Some make it; others are caught in the wave of dogs.
            We move quickly to the harbor where an enormous ship waits. A dozen gangplanks crammed with passengers jut from the hull like the branches of some large, fallen tree. The friends move in silence, few carrying any sort of luggage. Hundreds more peer towards the harbor from the porthole windows, the multistoried decks, and the bridge. It is, I am quite sure, the most somber departure this ship has ever seen.
            When we board, I find that the vast halls below decks have been divvied and partitioned by state, city, and congregation, just like back at the hangar. We squeeze through the crowds until we finally see familiar faces. Jesse’s voice is the first I hear.
            “Where’s my dad?” he asks.
            “He’s back at the shipping facility,” I say, shaking my head.
            “Why? How did you get here?” Jesse asks accusingly.
            “I came with the others from our container. Your dad stayed because there were some engine problems with one of the trucks. He said he could help.”
            “He shouldn’t have split off on his own like that,” Jesse says, biting a fingernail. “Why didn’t you talk him out of it?”
            “I tried! He wouldn’t let me stay. He said he’d be right behind us.”
            “He’d better be. Storm’s coming,” he says, jabbing a finger towards the window. I wheel myself a bit closer to the large plate glass, watching the smoldering town below us. From up here, framed in this rectangle of glass, it looks like it could all be happening in some disaster movie. It can’t be real.
            “I’m sure he’ll get here soon,” I say softly, more to myself than to Jesse.
            The sky illuminates for an instant as a brilliant cloud of orange flame erupts from the ground. The sound comes a second later, a deep rumbling from the pit of the earth. People line up at the window beside us, mouthing pointless questions, staring stupidly for answers.
            What was that?
            Did you see anything?
            Was it a bomb?
            Are we under attack?
            My eyes hone in on the plume of fire, then circle outwards, looking for the source of the explosion. As the smoke clears, I can see in the distance the shipping facility engulfed in flames.

11:41 AM

LUKE


            SHE’S ALIVE SHE’S ALIVE SHE’S ALIVE!
My head spins with the news. But how? Was she rescued from the hospital, like Marc had suggested? Did she and Walter escape together to the hangar? What about the highways? How did they manage? The possibility that our paths nearly crossed is both scintillating and maddening. Still, she got out, that’s the important thing. Though my leg throbs from the bullet wound, I can’t help the smile forming on my face.
            Distant thunder rolls over us as heavy rainclouds sweep in. They’re darker than anything I’ve seen before, an unearthly, purplish grey, like a murky sea swirling with giant electric jellyfish.
            “Luke, the admiral asked you a question,” Meade snaps. I turn my attention from the window to see Admiral Hawkins standing a few feet away, hands clasped behind him.
            “You want me to send my wife a message. I heard,” I say, struggling to conceal my joy. If only they knew the strength they’ve given me.
            “That’s correct. You’ll do it through our radio.”
            “What’s the message?”
            “We want their vessel to travel to a set of coordinates we’ll provide to you.”
            “And then?”
            “Then, when we rendezvous, we’ll extract Amy. The rest will be detained for questioning.”
            “You expect me to just get them all to turn themselves in? Really?”
            “We don’t want a confrontation, Luke. We’re counting on them being rational. We don’t know if their passengers are armed.”
            “Armed? Are you kidding me? You both are clueless. I spent the last three days with these people, not to mention the last year with my wife. They are about as violent as a litter of kittens. They don’t use weapons, not even handguns.”
            “Good, then we can expect a speedy surrender,” the admiral says.
            “I doubt that, but good luck anyway.”
            “Oh? And why is that? Do you know something, Luke?” asks Meade.
            “Neither of you see it, do you? How do you think they were able to outsmart and outmaneuver you all this time? How is it that they’ve been able to communicate with each other around the country and organize these massive evacuations? How is it that time and time again, when I was with them, we were able to squeeze out of situations that could’ve–should’ve–killed us? Something else was working in our favor. And that something is what both of you are pitting yourselves against now. This government and its army is powerful, but not powerful enough.”
            “What, exactly, are you referring to, Harding?” Meade asks, hovering over me with his hands in his pockets.
            “What do you think? I’m talking about something greater than you and I, greater than some stockpile of weapons.”
            God?” Meade asks, the corners of his lips curling in devilish amusement. “Your captain was right. You’ve gone and drunk the Kool-Aid.”
            “Time will tell,” I say simply, eyes studying the floor.
            “You’ll send the message?” the Admiral presses.
            “Take me to the radio.”

51


8:15 AM

AMY


            Last night’s sleep was riddled with nightmares. In one, I was being pushed in my wheelchair along a dark, damp corridor far underground. On either side were endless rows of prison bars, and in one of the cells, I saw briefly the sallow, hopeless face of my husband. He looked like one of those starved souls from a concentration camp, eyes deep set, like pinpoints of light in dark tunnels. I tried to call out, but my mouth was stuck shut. I tried to reach out, but we moved too quickly. Luke raised a shriveled hand in my direction and was gone forever.
            I wake up shivering. My head is pounding and my stomach growls insistently. Walter’s in about the same state, and so he rolls me out to the makeshift mess tent where we scarf down a few slices of toast and two cups of powdered coffee. I try to shake the nightmare from my memory, but it lingers like swamp fog in my mind.
            I spot a few familiar faces here, including the brother, Eddie, and his two daughters whom Walter and I accompanied for most of the journey yesterday. I also see brother Odelawe, the Nigerian brother from back at the hanger. Though it’s only been days since leaving our homes and our belongings, it feels like months.
            Walter wheels me around the premises for some fresh air as the next breakfast crowd moves in. The shipping facility’s property is surrounded on all sides by a high chain link fence lined with coils of barbed wire. On one side, a large gate opens to a loading dock and an old railway. I presume it’s the same railroad we arrived on last night, but everything looks different in the morning light. I glance up at the crane, where two guards peer over the endless trees through binoculars. At least that hasn’t changed.
            A small crowd of people in the yellow lanyards sweeps by as we pass, opening the gate wide and fanning out along the loading dock. Within five minutes an old train labors up the tracks, steam erupting with a tired hiss as it comes to rest before us. The doors slide open to reveal a new batch of arrivals. The friends pile out as instructions are relayed to them, just like yesterday.
Dollies and handcarts are unloaded to transport supplies from the train’s cargo holds to the shipping facility. Giant water jugs, ice coolers, protein bars, stacks of MREs, and hundreds of cans of food are among the items. It looks like enough to feed an army, all piled up like that, but the reality is that with over a thousand housed here in the containers it’ll probably be enough for only a day or two.
            The containers gradually empty, and as the last of the passengers files past, I hear Walter’s surprised gasp. I turn my head to follow his gaze and instantly spot the familiar faces of Marc and Ashley and their little boy, Matthew. They run, overwhelmed, into Walter’s arms and nearly collapse. Matthew’s face lights up just a little when he sees me, but he hasn’t the strength to leave his father’s arms. Marc and Ashley are smiling, but there’s a distance in their expressions that unsettles me.
            “Amy…” Ashley says shakily, kneeling at my side. I wait for more, but her lips tremble without words and she appears ready to faint. Walter reaches out a hand to steady her.
            “Let’s get a warm meal in you,” he says, propping Ashley against his side as he leads the way back to the mess tent. Marc nods, and our small band follows the rest of the crowd back to camp. We exchange introductions with Andrew, a brother who crossed paths with Marc and Ashley somewhere along the way. He says they only met a couple of days ago, and I sense there’s much being left unsaid. Whatever’s transpired, they’ve been through a lot together. That much is clear.
            “We need to talk,” Marc tells me with a serious look once they’ve finished their powdered eggs and toast. The breakfast crowd has thinned somewhat, but we’re still surrounded by a sea of people.
            “Ok,” I say.
            “It’s about Luke.” For a second I think I’ve misheard until I look up to see the grave look on his face.
            “My husband? What is it? What do you know?
            “He was… He was with us. For awhile.”
            With you? How? When? Where is he now?”
            “We ran into him while we were still in Georgia. We had to take back roads since the highways were so clogged up. And he was just… there, in the woods. We stopped and picked him up.”
            The words don’t register. None of this makes sense. The woods? The last time I saw Luke, federal agents were hauling him off to prison. How could he have ended up in the woods?
            “Did he say anything about how he got there?” I ask. Marc, Ashley, and their friend, Andrew, exchange uncomfortable glances before I get an answer.
            “He did. At first he said he’d been in a car accident, but later he told us the whole story. Apparently, he’d been in police custody…” Marc pauses here, waiting for my reaction. He’s expecting shock, I guess. My lack of expression seems to relieve him.
            “Apparently he’d been arrested by the FBI. They’d been… interrogating him.” The words are said too gently and I instantly sense how awful it must have been. I feel a churning in my stomach and my pulse quickens.
            “But he got away, right?” I say.
            “He did. He jumped in a river when the truck he was being transported in stopped on an overpass. It’s a wonder he didn’t drown. He was handcuffed at the time, the water was freezing cold,” Ashley says, speaking rapidly, her eyes sorrowful, apologetic.
The next details come in quick succession. They take turns explaining how Luke rode with them for hours until they came to a gas station, where their car was stolen. Then, by chance, they ran into Andrew and continued on their way. Eventually they reached the evacuation hangar, found our trail, and located the railway, where they boarded a train.
Ashley explains, through tears, how my husband went back to save her when she started falling behind. She describes the bright light, the helicopter, Luke falling.
            “They shot him,” Ashley says, burying her face in her hands.
            “And? No one went back for him?” I say incredulously. The three of them look at me blankly. “After my husband risked his neck to save you, no one thought to go back for him?” I repeat, getting angry. Walter pats my arm with his hand but I shake him off, my ire rising.
            “Amy, we would have, if that was possible. But those men were armed. They were soldiers, trained to kill.”
            “And? Didn’t you just say that Luke tried to defend you all from the man with the gun who hijacked you?”
            “Yes, but that wasn’t the right decision. It could’ve made things a lot worse. We have to trust that Jehovah knows–”
            “Don’t make this about Jehovah! This has nothing to do with you trusting in Him! You didn’t have the guts to go back! It’s that simple! You were so concerned with saving your own skins that you abandoned him when he needed you the most!”
            There’s so much more I want to say, the fury building in my chest like stoked coals, but I’m powerless to speak my mind. I feel as if the last bit of hope has drained from my core, and my energy along with it. My chin falls to my chest, tears of anger and frustration cascading down my face and into my soiled lap. Without a word, Walter rises and wheels me away from the table and back to our quarters, away from the others’ guilty silence and the staring eyes of faces that will never understand this pain.

8:47 AM

LUKE


            When I wake, I find myself in a stuffy grey cell, its metal surfaces covered in a thick, suffocating coat of drab paint, the steel bolts holding it all together reduced to rounded, featureless lumps. On the other side of the bars, segmented pipes snake from the ceiling and floor and run the length of a narrow corridor. I hear them groan and creak as mystery fluids flow their course. The air is tinged with the smell of something like diesel fuel. I glance down the corridor and note the odd tapered corners of the doors, their doorways elevated just inches off the floor, and it hits me. I’m in the bowels of a ship, deep down in what they call the brig.
            As if in confirmation, a powerful foghorn bellows from above deck. A voice comes over the PA system, but the nearest speakers are several compartments over; the words are too muffled for me to make out. It must be a rallying cry; it’s followed by a rousing recording of the national anthem and the rhythmic thud of marching feet somewhere overhead.
            Like my last prison cell, this one brims with cold artificial light, making it impossible to tell the time of day. I recall my capture, being forced to board the helicopter, the masked soldiers. I remember lifting off over the trees, the pain setting into my leg, my relief at knowing we weren’t pursuing the others on the train. But the rest of it is blank and empty. Did I fall asleep? Or did I simply lose so much blood from the wound that I lost consciousness?
            I lift my right pant leg to find a band of pale gauze wrapped tight around my calf. The bandages need changing; a burgundy bloodstain slowly chews its way through the material. I don’t bother to test my weight on the leg. The wound is likely stitched shut and too much exertion could rip it back open.
Anyway, moving is pointless. Escape is beyond question. Whatever happens, happens. I’ve been here before, just days before in the previous cell, but this time feels different. My head’s somewhere else. I’m calmer, cooler. I have hope for the others and hope for my wife. Somehow, I know she’s safe, and that’s all that matters.
            The squeal of metal hinges echoes my way as a hatch opens out of sight. The door is shut and locked. Several pairs of feet near my cell as I wait.
            I’m unsurprised by the grinning face that materializes on the other side of the bars. The slicked black hair, the smell of aftershave, it’s as fresh a memory as the hole in my leg.
            “Hello again,” Agent Meade sneers, feet spread, shoulders squared, hands locked behind his back. Two naval officers with matching scowls flank him. I opt to ignore them, unwilling to give Meade the pleasure of my misery.
He orders me to stand. The officers at his side glare at me as they step threateningly towards the door of the cell, ready for force. In my current state I’m not sure how much abuse my body would be able to handle, so I will myself to my feet. The pain in my right leg is excruciating but I do my best to hide it.
            “You’re lucky the sniper missed the bone,” Meade says, glancing down at the leg with sick amusement.
            “Yeah, real lucky,” I say, wincing. Meade smiles at this, then nods to the two men beside him. They turn and leave, the door clanking shut behind them.
            “You know, we couldn’t have done it without you,” Meade says, still grinning as he leans forward against the bars. I’m silent. “What, not curious?” he teases. “Don’t tell me you haven’t wondered at least a little how we were able to track you down.”
            “I don’t care.”
            “I’m not sure how much you remember from when we still had you in custody. I’ll hand it to you–you held up pretty well under the interrogation. We came close to the limit with the voltage, but you wouldn’t budge.”
            “Because I didn’t know anything,” I say.
            “Yeah, that’s what the experts said, too. Fortunately, you weren’t a total waste,” Meade pauses here, enjoying this immensely. He flashes his wolf smile, grinning hungrily at cornered prey. “You remember George? From Homeland Security? Well, he had the simple but brilliant idea to just tag you and then… let you go.”
            “Tag me?”
            “Sub-dermal implant, no larger than a fingernail, inserted into the skin of your scalp. We could track you, see where you’d lead us. We figured that even if you didn’t know how to find your wife and the others, they might be able to find you. In our wildest dreams, we could’ve never imagined how big this little ploy would pay off.”
            “You wanted me to run. On that bridge.”
            “Actually, no. Our instructions were to take you somewhere else, but with the gridlock we couldn’t get there. We had to take a detour, and that’s when you bolted. Worked out even better that way, with you thinking you’d escaped. All we had to do was sit back and watch. We had a drone watching you get hijacked at that gas station, had satellite imagery of you and your friends on the highways. Getting captured in Maynard. The fat sheriff. The whole bit.
            “Funny thing, it seemed that the longer we let you run free, the more mysteries you helped us solve. You led us to the hangar, for instance. We knew the Witnesses must have had evac points, but weren’t able to come up with specifics. We’re still not sure how they evaded us for so long. Of course, it’s all water under the bridge now.”
            “So that was your helicopter in the woods,” I say.
            “A careless mistake. We had men on the ground at the hangar, had to recon with them.”
            “They bombed it, didn’t they? We heard the blast.”
            Meade nods, smiling proudly. “The Witnesses have evaded us for long enough. But now we’re back on top, we’re calling the shots. And we have you to thank, at least in part.”
            “So why am I here, then? Why kidnap me?” I say without flinching, though my insides are writhing like a pit of snakes.
            “Kidnap? You make us sound like common criminals.”
            “Is there a difference?” I sneer, drawing a scoff from Agent Meade, who shakes his head.
            “You’ve drifted, Luke. You don’t even know who you’re supposed to be serving anymore.”
            “Do you?”
            “My loyalties have always been and always will be to this great country. I’m doing this for the future of America, for the future of my children. This country will rise again, and I’ll be there to witness it. And as for why we brought you into custody, well… We need you for one last thing.”
            “You must be insane if you expect me to cooperate after all this.”
            “We’ll see. In any case, rest up for now. Big day tomorrow.” Meade nods once and leaves, whistling as he disappears down the corridor.