The three figures stood in a triangle on the high stone wall, staring each other down. The zombies were strong. Max could sense an overwhelming number of E’Clei in each of them as they stood eyeing each other up. The two zombies stood upright, hands straight down. Their faces were expressionless as they studied their prey.
Steve spoke to Max, as he’d been doing for the last twelve years. “They’re primes, Max. Councilmen, most likely. They’re the queen’s top advisers, and among the most powerful on the planet.”
“How do I beat them, Steve?”
“We cannot. Not two of them at once. And now that they’ve seen you, the others will be here in seconds. You must run. They will follow but your family will be safe here.”
“How can you know that for sure? This is my home, Steve. This is where we make the last stand,” replied Max.
“The last stand isn’t today, Max. Wait for your father. Wait for Marshall and Renee and Kris and John. They’ll be here soon. Now, run, and don’t stop.”
His father had taught him how to track teleporters; the two of them had spent years perfecting the techniques to track others and to avoid being followed. The tracker had to stand in the exact spot where the prey disappeared, and empty their mind. An image would form; a residual of the previous jump. The hunter then fixed that image in their own mind, and then appeared right behind the prey. Max knew these two would be able to follow him.
The clever boy picked a destination, a place he and his father had spent several days with heavy equipment the summer before. “Hey, you fuckers wanna dance? Let’s go somewhere more private. Follow me, if you can,” said Max as he disappeared.
He reappeared in the woods high up in the mountains in North Carolina, and drew his hatchet as he backed up three steps. Hanging suspended from three trees above the circle where he appeared was an old school bus. Sharpened angle iron was welded the length of the bottom of the bus. A single line ran down the tree trunk and was tied off low to the ground.
“Three, two, one,” said Max, cutting the rope with his hatchet. Branches snapped. The rope zinged as it ripped through dozens of steel pulleys. To his left, a huge pile of logs that had been the counterweight to the bus hit the ground with a thunderous crash. Limbs snapped and wood creaked as massive trees straightened after months of being under load. Less than a second later, the two supers appeared just as the bright yellow school bus crashed down on them, followed by a sprinkling of green leaves ripped from the limbs high above. The weight of the bus broke the lumber the two zombies were standing on, carefully placed there by Victor and Max to conceal a large pit underneath. The two councilmen were pushed downward into a cavernous hole filled with sharpened wood and metal stakes.
‘Yeah!” yelled Max as he jumped in the air and fist pumped. “Take that, bitches!”
“Take what, Max?” The two intoned from directly behind him. One of the two councilmen lunged for him. Stunned Max barely had time to react, bringing the hatchet up to block the attack. The zombie grabbed his hand and twisted viciously. Max kicked the creature in the knee, but it felt like his foot hit a brick wall.
“Run, Max. Keep running.”
“I can’t run if they’re holding on to me, Steve. I’m open to constructive ideas. And don’t tell me how much my dad is going to yell at me for blowing the bus trap. It should have worked.”
“We need to lose them. You can’t go farther than them, but you are faster. Every time you stop, they have to take a second to see where you went. I would suggest hiding your trail of jumps.”
Max solidified his aura in a spot to the left of his face, allowing it to absorb a left hook from the zombie in front of him. Even shielded, the blow knocked Max back to the ground and jarred his neck. The boy disappeared before his persuers had a chance to follow up.
His first stop was a mile up in the air, directly above the bus trap. He let himself fall for almost half a minute before he teleported again, to the ocean off the North Carolina coast. The water was frigid, but Max swam down as hard as he could. Max thought quickly about his next destination, and remembered he and his father taking a trip to Chile a few years ago when his class was discussing volcanoes. He was nearly forty feet down when he teleported again. He saw the first councilman splash into the ocean above him just before he disappeared.
Smoke and ash surrounded Max as he fell, choking him and making it hard to judge distance. He hardened his aura and fell as long as he could stand the heat. The soles of his shoes started to melt as he rocketed downward into the crater of an active volcano. Glowing orange liquid magma bubbled and sputtered at the bottom. Max disappeared just inches away from the bubbling surface.
Pleased with himself, Max bounced around several more places from pictures he’d seen in books. After dozens of stops, he paused in the woods long enough to try and contact his father. “Dad, where are you? I’m being chased by a couple of betas. I could use a hand.”
He took off at a dead run through the woods, running down the side of a mountain somewhere in Washington. They couldn’t still be following. Somewhere along the way they had to have slipped up. The tar pits, the alligators in the swamp, the volcano, the sharks off the coast of South Africa, something had to have gotten them.
“Uncle Marshall, where are you?” Max ran along a small game path somewhere high in the smokey mountains. The path opened out along a ridge, his footfalls sent stones skittering down the side of a near vertical cliff. He cartwheeled his arms to keep his balance, his feet criss-crossing on the narrow path.
“Renee and I are helping with the zombies at home. Where are you? We’ve been worried sick about you. Someone said they saw you fighting a couple of supers on the wall.” Marshall’s thoughts were slow, the mental equivalent of being out of breath.
“I’m running from them, but I’m not sure if I lost them. I can’t come home, in case they’re still following, but I can’t find Dad anywhere,” Max said, starting a series of giant leaps down a steep rocky slope. With each step he sent tons of rock sliding down the mountain. “Stupid, Max. They’ll hear this from miles away,” he chided himself as he tried to stay ahead of the landslide.
“He’s out cold, Max. John says your dad has been running non-stop, and he needs to rest. Vic took a couple steps after he dropped John, his family, and Kris off at the barn and then passed out. He’s sleeping now.” As Marshall spoke, Max got flashes of the scene at the farm. Marshall was indeed tiring, if his thoughts were getting that disorganized. And if Marshall was tired, things were bad.
“I don’t know what to do, Uncle Marshall,” thought Max, taking one step up onto a fallen log, leaping high into the air. The boy grabbed a branch and propelled himself over a small stream, landing high up on the opposite bank without missing a stride.
“Middle of the west wall in two minutes, Max. We’ll be ready.”
Max ran on, trying to make as little noise as possible, listening behind him, but there were no sounds of pursuit. He covered another ten miles on foot, in the two minutes before heading back to the wall. Max was almost as fast as his father on foot, but he was tired, and fear was starting to creep in to his consciousness.
“Coming now. I don’t know if they’re behind me or not.”
Max appeared on the wall, stepped a foot to the left and drew his gun. He pointed it at nothing, holding it head high where the zombies would appear, if they were still following him. Then he waited. From this height, the battlefield was a scene of complete carnage. Marshall’s arms were dripping blood, which pooled on the stones at his feet and streamed off towards the gutter system carved into the back side of the wall. This was exactly why water collected from the wall was used for irrigation, not drinking.
Seconds passed. A full minute, then two.
“Maybe you lost them,” said Renee, who was holding a long gore covered spear in the exact spot Max in which Max had appeared. If the zombies followed him, they would impale themselves on it.
“They are very powerful,” said Max, still breathing heavily. His wrist was on fire, he had a bruise on his cheek, and his feet were going to blister from the heat of the volcano and then all the running. Steve had been to busy shielding Max’s whereabouts and trying to throw off their attackers to heal him.
Max felt the pain in his wrist subside first. “Feet first, Steve, in case I have to run again,” thought Max.
“Wrist first, in case you have to fight,” replied Steve. “Then feet. The damage to your face is going to take a few minutes.”
Reggie peeked his head above the wall, then stepped up the last rung of the ladder and wiped his blood smeared palms on his handkerchief. “Master Tookes, I’m so glad you escaped your pursuers.” As he spoke, Reggie re-folded the bloody rag and stuffed it in his back pocket.
Marshall and Renee spun around to look at Reggie, then looked at each other and shrugged. Each was thinking the same thing; where does Reggie always come from?
“Hi Reggie. That’s still up for debate though.” Max’s eyes never moved from the spot. His gun was starting to waiver a bit as his arm tired.
Reggie thought for a moment as he tottered over to Max’s side. “My father always said the trouble with hunting the Bubal Hartebeest was not that they were faster than the Gahiji, but that they ran so far the hunter would collapse before they gave up.”
“What’s a Gahiji?” asked Max, watching the spot carefully.
“It means hunter in my father’s language,” said Reggie.
The four of them stood there for another five minutes, intently staring at an empty spot in space. It was becoming more an more apparent that the two chasing Max weren’t going to follow him here.
Marshall spoke first, turning his back and walking towards the ladder. “Lets get off this wall. If they show back up we’ll deal with them then. There is still a lot to do.”
Two thousand miles west in the penthouse suite on the top floor of the Bellagio Casino, Charlie was not happy. “What do you mean you lost him. He’s just a fucking boy. How could you lose him? There were eight of you!”
A man in a shredded suit stood in front of Charlie. He was missing an arm. A steady stream of blood ran out of his shoulder, dripping off a bit of flesh into a priceless oriental rug. “He teleported from the wall when he saw us. He had traps set, and he is crafty. The ones known as Roberts and Jamison were crushed by a bus and then impaled in a pit of spikes below. We joined in after the boy dropped three of us into a volcano. The child is completely fearless, he is beyond reckless. His trail ended just eight inches above the magma, There was no time to follow his vortex.” The councilman showed no emotion, but it was obvious that he was puzzled by this boy. “We were damaged on the next stop above a watery pit filled with beasts made entirely of teeth.” The councilman paused, accessing the memories of his host. “Alligators. One of the beasts removed my arm with one bite. The ones in Rohrer and McCaskil were ended by these alligators.”
Charlie flew into a rage, lashing out at the one armed councilman. He struck him in the forehead, knocking him prone, then knelt on his chest. “One boy,” said Charlie placing his thumb to the councilman’s temple. “One boy killed eight of you, who were stupid enough to chase him.” Charlie commanded all of the councilman’s E’Clei out of their host and into his own body. The former councilman’s head rolled to the side, dead again.
“Someone clean this fucking mess up,” Charlie commanded before he disappeared.
Bookbinder appeared in the same spot overlooking the farm he’d been several hours earlier. It was pitch black, low clouds hung over the farm. A few lights and a couple of fires made pinpricks of light around the settlement from this distance. The smell of wood smoke and burning flesh from one particularly large fire drifted to his nose. They were already cleaning up and burning the bodies of his wasted soldiers.
Had things gone so badly? It was true that his forces in Atlanta and Virginia were wiped out. The overseas offensives had gone well, and preliminary reports said John was dead out in the desert. The Gander Acres attack went perfectly, except somehow all of his soldiers were dead too. At least the last report he’d gotten was that Fuller had killed Kris and Alicia.
The day was a success, if not a complete one. Half of Tookes crew being dead would make him an emotional wreck. Victor never thought clearly when he was in that state, he would make mistakes now, and Charlie would be there to capitalize on them. He knew the boy was inside those walls. Charlie could feel him. Max was shrouding their property once again. Charlie knew the vague compulsion he felt to walk away was Max. In his soldiers, it was overwhelming. “What is it about that boy,” he said out loud.