Excerpt for The Resilient: Out of the Forbidden by , available in its entirety at Smashwords




Adam K. Ogden

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and events contained therein are a product of the author’s imagination. Any similarities to any events, places, or persons, living or dead, is strictly coincidental.


© 2017 by Adam K. Ogden


All rights reserved. In accordance with the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this book may be reproduced, including the scanning, uploading, and electronic sharing of any part of this book without the permission of the publisher. Such is unlawful piracy and theft of the author’s intellectual property. Prior written permission must be obtained.


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© 2017 by Adam K. Ogden


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Be careful who you trust, for wolves lie in sheep’s clothing, and lions are but little lambs…

1

It was cold that night. The fire was no more than an ember, and the supply of firewood was growing slim. More will need to be cut in the morning, Michael thought. He pulled his jacket a little tighter around him. His clothes were tattered and had almost worn thin from taking care of his quaint home. He took it as his responsibility to make sure the day to day things ran as they should. Not that the others were counting on him to do so, he just enjoyed the work.

Michael never considered himself much of a leader, but he was willing to take care of the others with him. There were eight of them together in a small three-room shack they called home. It had once been a grand house, but the years were against it and most of the rooms had collapsed. He and his wife Rebecca had naturally emerged as the caretakers of the band of refugees hidden away within its walls.

Michael always looked up to his wife. Although he was intelligent by others’ standards, his wife always seemed to have wisdom and insight into every situation. She was also the best cook of anyone he knew. He considered himself lucky to be living through these times with someone who was once a professional chef. The thought of food and all the meals she had cooked took his focus off the fire and onto the growing rumble from his stomach.

“Dear? How’s dinner coming?” he called out to the kitchen through the rubble of what once was the dining room. The cool draft seeping through the boards nipped against his face.

“It’ll still be a little while, sweetie,” she replied.

“What are we having?”

“The usual. Mexican beans and beetles.”

“Sounds delicious, just in mine can you hold the beans and hold the beetles?”

The thought of such meal genuinely repulsed him, but in these times, there was no use in being picky. Food choices were limited to what could be grown or killed, and supply for both was dwindling down to almost nothing. When he was younger, he had never dreamed his life would turn out this way. He had always seen himself living the city life. He could still remember glimpses of it looking out through the window of his classroom. He had always been serious about his job. As a chemistry professor, it was his duty to help the bright minds grow so that they may do something that would change the world. In all honesty, he wanted to be one of those, but it never seemed that he had the opportunity.

Although it wasn’t the life he had planned, he did feel like he had a better sense of accomplishment. It wasn’t the accomplishment of a goal like he had dreamed, but a fulfillment of purpose, nevertheless. His focus was on his survival and the care-taking of the others. It had also brought him a lot closer to Rebecca.

Back then he had spent so much time working, she had taken a backseat in his life. Now they were working together to take care of her mother and all their friends. He was no longer tied to the day to day grind of trying to push ahead. At this point, he was happy just to wake up to another day.

Even though his childhood dreams seemed to be further out of reach, his newfound purpose had allowed him to still be thankful. He was thankful for Rebecca for staying with him after all these years. He was thankful for the children they had together, wherever they may be. He was thankful that he was still alive and even had a place to call home. Most of all, he was thankful God had always been with him and held him even through his darkest times.

Rebecca would be proud of him for thinking that way. She was always the spiritual one of them. She would spend hours every day praying for him and those in their care. Humble and selfless were the two best ways to describe her. Her prayers were directed toward lifting him up and helping them find the guidance they needed. Even when times were trying and tore at her, those times that would cause even an old-time pastor to lose his hope and faith, she would stand firm and trust God. Michael admired her for that. Her faith stood as a rock of encouragement to him.

Such faith was a rare gem in these days, and it helped Michael to always keep hope. That in itself was rare. Michael wanted to believe that there was something out there that had a hand on his life. That somehow, in the end, everything worked out. When the government had outlawed everything to do with religion, hope seemed to have died with it.

Despite the law of the land, Michael knew God. He knew His power first hand, but even so, his faith wasn’t comparable to that of his wife’s. Maybe the reason was, although he had seen God’s power, he had also seen the power of the enemy. The power of everything his entire existence seemed to be against. The power that could control even his own hands once. He began to shudder and pushed such thoughts and memories away from his mind as far as he could.

“You okay, Mike?”

The sudden voice invaded his thoughts. He looked around and saw Wesley staring at him from the corner of the room. He considered Wesley to be one of the closest friends he had. He and his wife had been with Michael and Rebecca for almost six years. He once was a police officer before the war that changed the world. He always carried with him a sense of strength and determination. Although it had been years since he had given up his profession, he still looked as if he could take someone down if needed. His muscles stretched tight the fabric of his shirt as he leaned over the small table in front of him. Michael noticed that he and several others had huddled together and started up a card game.

“I can’t say I’m looking forward to beans and beetles either, but that wife of yours is one heck of a cook. She fixed some delicious squirrel skins earlier,” Wesley said. He placed one hand on his stomach and his mouth moved as if he could still taste it.

“Oh no, it’s not that. I was just thinking.”

“Well snap out of it. Come join us and play a little rummy. We’ve only got thirty-eight cards, so it’s kind of a challenge. We’ll even be nice and tell you a few of the ones that we’re missing.”

Michael thought about it but decided against it. “I think I’ll go check on the ladies in the kitchen. I hate for Becca and Allie to be all alone in there. Besides, I am hungry.”

He stood up and shuffled through the small passageway in the rubble of what once was the elaborate dining room. In its day, the house was rather exquisite. It had a grand living room with a fireplace, a dining room that could seat twenty people, and several other rooms. The house had belonged to Michael’s parents. It was the house he had grown up in. His parents spent a lot of time there, throwing parties for various guests. They were well known throughout their community. When he was younger, he always hated having so many people in and out of his house. He would have never thought that its remnant would become a shelter to so many.

As he went into the kitchen, the sight surprised him. Instead of seeing his wife and daughter finishing up dinner, he saw Allie cleaning up the soup which had spread across the floor in all directions. Rebecca was nowhere to be found.

“Allie, what happened? Where’s your mother?”

“Mommy’s fine. That new lady was asking her a bunch of questions. She got really mad and ran down the stairs,” she said, pointing to the stairway leading into the bedroom.

To his six-year-old daughter, she may have seemed fine, but Michael was concerned. It was unlike Rebecca to get mad at anyone, much less mad enough to waste the food that was so scarce to come by.

Without a second wasted, he ran across the kitchen. The bedroom was connected to the kitchen but had been built much lower than the rest of the house. A small stairwell ran along the wall down to it. Michael stepped through the doorway and saw Rebecca crying on the makeshift bed. Before he could take another step or even call to her, the other woman, Amanda, was in his face.

She was much older than he and Rebecca. The brown in her short, curly hair had almost been replaced by white. She looked as if she could be as old as his mother. Amanda had come to them two days ago. She had told them that she was in need of a place to stay for a few days and then she would be moving on. Rebecca had decided to make it a rule that anyone who came to them would always be welcomed and treated with kindness. Michael was uneasy about letting strangers in, but Rebecca reminded him that they were all strangers once. She had such a heart for people, regardless of what may happen. Her insistence persuaded Michael, and so he let Amanda join them. At that moment, he regretted that decision.

“You killed my son!” Amanda screamed at him, loud enough he was sure that everyone could hear.

“What are you talking about? I barely know you,” Michael said out of sheer confusion.

“You were the reason my son died. You killed him.”

“Ma’am I have no idea what you are talking about. I only met you days ago, when you came to us for refuge. I don’t even know who your son is.” He was sure he had never met this woman before in his life. He searched the lines of her face for any sign of familiarity but found none.

“I have searched this world over to try and find you. You will pay for what you did to him. Don’t pretend to be so ignorant. You killed Cade.”

At the mention of that name, the memories flooded over Michael. He did know Cade. He knew him well. His death, however, was a distant memory. He couldn’t remember it vividly. It was as if his mind was clouded. Michael searched for answers and told Amanda the only thing that seemed logical.

“Ma’am, I didn’t kill your son. It had to have been an accident.”

“First you say you don’t know him, now you’re trying to cop out and say he died in an accident. I know what happened, and I know you are lying. You can’t even keep your story straight.”

Amanda’s anger toward him was apparent. She was very defensive and seemed to have her mind made up on Michael’s guilt without hearing anything he had to say.

Michael tried to get through to her regardless. He concentrated as hard as he could on the memory. He remembered Cade had sent for him. He was supposed to meet him somewhere. The train station.

“I didn’t know who your son was until you told me his name, and I am telling the truth. He died at the train station. It was an accident.” Michael tried to remain calm to help defuse the situation, but the memory of that day made it difficult. Even more so because of its haziness.

Cade had been Michael’s closest friend. He was a biology professor at the same university Michael worked at. He also joined the war with him, fighting alongside him. In all that time, he and Michael had gotten very close. Although his memory of Cade’s death was spotty at best, he was sure it was an accident. There was no way he could have killed his friend.

“No. I know the truth. I received a letter from Metro Underground Security detailing everything.”

“I don’t know what that letter said, but I worked with Cade and served with him. Why would I want to kill him? Besides, that day at the train station was the first time I had seen him since the war. He had wanted to tell me something. I can’t remember what it was, but I do know that it wasn’t long after he just collapsed onto the tracks.”

As painful as it was to relive the horror of that moment, he had to try to ease the tension between them. He thought he was getting through to her. She had begun looking down while he was talking. As his own memory was working its way back, he began to feel a little more confident in himself. The supposed letter concerned him, though.

Amanda was digging through a surprisingly pristine purse as he attempted to talk to her. His hopes of ending the argument dissipated when her eyes locked onto his. Up sprung her hand holding a letter with some photos.

“I have the proof,” she exclaimed.

Michael grabbed the so-called “proof” from her hand and began to look at the pictures. They were fuzzy but were clearly taken the day Cade died. He saw himself walking up to Cade next to the track at the station. The next one showed him with his finger pointed at Cade in anger, while he made a questioning gesture. Then one photo where both of his hands were at Cade’s collar pulling him in toward him.

The fourth photo was the one she was considering proof. He saw Cade falling helplessly onto the tracks as the oncoming train approached inches away. He saw himself with both arms outstretched toward him. From looking at the photo, it appeared as if Michael had pushed Cade into the oncoming train.

He was in shock. He could see why Amanda made the assumptions she had. If only he could remember it in more detail. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t seem to break through the fog. He began to read the letter in an attempt to jog his memory.


Ms. Amanda Simon,


My name is Ben Rogers. I work for the Metro Underground Station as captain of the security guard. I am writing this letter to you today with information about your son’s death. We have been working closely with the Federal Police on the investigation. The day in question, I was monitoring the activity near the tracks. I witnessed two men arguing, one of which has been identified as your son Cade Simon. When I noticed the argument, I began to go toward them to resolve the issue. As I got close, the argument became very heated. Then the assailant pushed Mr. Simon in front of the oncoming train before fleeing the scene. The photos I have sent with this letter are stills from the security camera that filmed the incident. We have recently identified the assailant as Michael Anderton, a known terrorist at large. Despite reports to the contrary, we have yet to apprehend him. He managed to evade us, and the man we arrested that day was simply part of an elaborate plan of Anderton’s. We know that he has prior history with Mr. Simon. We believe this is the reason for the altercation. It is our hope that if he has contacted you, you will aid us in bringing justice to your son.



Thank you,


Ben Rogers

Captain, Metropolian Underground Station



After reading the letter and seeing the photos, Michael’s head was spinning. He was being accused of murder, and now there was evidence and a witness set against him. He knew the truth, or at least he thought he did. What he didn’t know, was why a security guard captain would make such an accusation.

He didn’t push Cade. He was sure of it. But the photos and the letter made him doubt himself. He was certain that he didn’t remember pushing him into the train, but he also couldn’t remember how he fell. That part was still blank to him. His head kept spinning, and he began to feel dizzy. He pushed passed Amanda and went down the stairs next to his wife. Rebecca looked up at him. Her eyes were red and swollen from crying.

“I know you, Michael. I’ve known you for a long time, before any of this even started. Before the suffering. Before the war. I’ve known you. I can’t believe any of this. When she came to me trying to get me to incriminate you, I fought her. I fought her with all that I had. Then she showed me the letter and the pictures. Now I don’t know what I know. I didn’t think you had even gone to see him that day. I’ve sat here and prayed continuously seeking an answer, but none has come.”

Her words cut deep. Not only had his own faith in himself been shaken, but also the faith of his wife. If she couldn’t believe in him then what hope was there for him? He couldn’t even believe in himself.

He was beginning to settle in his mind to just accept the punishment. Perhaps Amanda did know the truth. She had physical proof, and he couldn’t even rely on his own memory of the incident. He feared what that meant for him. If she turned him over to Federal Police, with the heinous crime of murder, they would sentence him to death. To even think that he had murdered his best friend in cold blood, though, was death itself. As he began to speak, to admit his guilt to the accusations, Rebecca spoke up again.

“I may not have an answer yet, but when I do, we’ll make sense of this. I know how close you and Cade were, so I know there has to be a better explanation. I may not understand what’s going on, but I believe this will work out. God knows the truth as to what happened that day, and that is good enough for me.”

There was the Rebecca he knew. There was her surety. There was her faith. Amanda couldn’t shake it, even with physical evidence. Rebecca knew the truth, regardless of what anyone tried to say. Even if it were her own hopes that were saying it.

“Thanks for still trusting me,” he said.

“Michael,” she said. “I know this may be painful, but could you tell us what you remember about that day?”

Amanda scoffed at the idea. Her mind was made up. There was no use trying to change it, but Michael obliged to Rebecca’s request, if nothing else, for his own peace of mind. He closed his eyes to concentrate. He was determined. He wanted to remember. Of all the horrible things he had done, he couldn’t believe he had murdered Cade. He was sure he didn’t, but he couldn’t remember.

He remembered going to the train station. He remembered greeting Cade at the platform. He remembered him dying. Everything in between and everything after was blank. He cleared his mind and thought about what the letter had said. The pictures he had seen entered his mind. Then there was the answer as the images flooded in.

2

Hey Mike,” Cade mumbled as Michael approached. His nervousness was apparent. He was twitching, wringing his hands, and glancing in every direction. Michael had grown accustomed to his tension. He had been that way since the war. He was one of the unlucky few who never seemed to be able to return home from it. Michael had hoped this time it would have been different. He was hoping to see his old friend again. It was the first time he had seen him since the end of the war. Although Michael had gotten used to it, Cade’s diligence to find him and his behavior made him feel uneasy.

“I’m so glad Trent gave you my message. There’s something you’ve got to know, and it won’t be easy to believe…” Cade took a breath, running both hands through his hair. He leaned in close and began whispering. “Everything you know, everything you believe…it’s all a lie. None of it is real.”

There it was—the same paranoid story he had heard a thousand times. Cade was no better now than he had been. Anger shot through Michael. Both hands snatched Cade’s shirt. He didn’t mean to be so angry at his friend, but there seemed to be no other way to get through to him. Michael was frustrated. He wanted nothing more than to have his friend back. He wanted to help him break through the paranoia he carried with him. It was this paranoia that had caused them to drift apart. Michael thought that he would be better over time. That he would be cured. He was obviously wrong.

“You need to snap out of it Cade. There is no conspiracy. There is no big puppeteer in the sky pulling at the strings. Whatever the heck you believe is going on isn’t being caused by anyone. That’s not real. That’s the only thing not real. I know the war was hard on you. I know we did things…terrible things, and maybe this is just your way of dealing with it. When Trent told me that you had spent the last few months in a hospital, I had hoped your stay had changed things. I had hoped they made you better.”

“Hospital?” Cade snapped. “That was no hospital. That was a science experiment. I can prove it.”

Michael threw Cade back and shoved his finger in his face.

“You need to get your head on straight. There are still people who care about you. Listen, I’m sorry you feel that way about it. I’m sure after these last two years, it may seem like it was far worse than it was. I’m sorry too that I haven’t been able to see you in all this time. If I had known, I would have been there.”

“Mike listen to me. I’m telling you the truth. Come with me and let me show you.”

Michael hesitated.

“Why can’t you believe me?”

“Because the last time I saw you, you were on a self-destructive rampage. You were going on and on about how someone was using the war for their own personal gain. How everything that happened was being controlled by someone higher up. But the truth is, there is no conspiracy. What happened during the war happened because there was no choice. It was the only way to survive. You let the enemy into your head and apparently they’ve never left.”

“Mike, I need you to trust me. I’m not crazy and I never was. Just get on the train with me. I can prove it you.”

“No Cade. I don’t have time to chase your wild fantasies. I’ve tried to go on living after the war. Me and Becca have a baby on the way.”

“Mike, please. Just come with me. You, Rebecca…everybody… are all in danger. What we did is coming back to haunt…”

His words were cut off by a sound—a small gentle sound as if a small insect had caught a gust of wind. There it was, the source of it. A tiny dart, no more than a half an inch long, was lodged in the side of Cade’s neck. Its effects were almost immediately noticeable. His eyes rolled back, and his mouth drooped.

“Cade? What about what we did?”

Cade stumbled backward. One step. Two steps. He couldn’t catch his balance. The train was approaching faster than usual. The whistle blew. Cade collapsed at the edge of the platform toward the tracks. Glass sprayed into the train as his lifeless body bounced upward against the sloped front of it and into the window.

“Cade!” Michael screamed at the top of his lungs.

He was running. He was reaching for his friend, trying to get there in time. He was too late.

Michael collapsed to his knees, sobbing. Cade was his closest friend. Closer than even his own brother had ever been. He couldn’t believe he was gone. Michael’s greatest hope was that one day he would get to come home from the war. One day get to be the Cade he had known.

To make it worse, Cade possibly had information about something important, and Michael was too stubborn to listen. Michael sat there trying to grasp the situation. Did Cade know something or was it all a part of his paranoia? Was he even that paranoid? He saw the dart with his own eyes. There had to be some kind of explanation. He couldn’t fathom the thought of someone being deliberately out to attack Cade. The most probable solution was that some kind of insect coincidentally landed on him right before he fell. Even that didn’t explain his collapse.

Michael glanced back over his shoulder. If someone had attacked his friend, he wanted to know who. There was no one there. They were alone on the platform. He went over every scenario in his mind trying to find an answer to what had happened. Michael had always feared that what they had done in the war would come back to haunt them. The memory still haunted his dreams.

The more he thought about it, the more he wanted to believe Cade. He seemed so sure of what he was saying. He didn’t speak like he was crazy, but more so of a man determined to be heard. Michael wished he would have given him a chance. Whatever it was that he had wanted him to see was somewhere along the way of the train. If he would have let Cade speak, he would know what was coming and understand what he meant by everything being a lie.

Before he could think about it further, sirens resonated through the air. The sirens were so loud they felt as if they were coming from his own mind. Their screams rang out louder than his thoughts. The sirens forced him up from the floor. As he stood, he noticed he was no longer alone on the platform. He was unaware that such a large crowd had formed around him, many out of curiosity as to what had happened. Some were throwing out accusations that Michael had pushed him. He saw station security taking statements from different witnesses. Some were trying to clear out people for the medical staff attending to passengers on the train. He saw Cade being closed up in a black bag. The horrid sight made his whole body shudder. Except for the few instigators dealing their accusations toward him, no one seemed to acknowledge his presence. Then he felt the hand on his shoulder.

“Sir, I’m Captain Rogers of Metro Underground Security. If you would, follow me to my office. I think it would be much better for you in there.”

Michael turned his head back and noticed the short, balding gentleman behind him. He was wearing the standard green uniform of Metro Security, with his captain’s pin proudly displayed on it. Michael nodded at the request and followed him through the crowd to a small office on the other side of the station. They sat down across from each other at a small table the captain had for a desk.

“Make yourself comfortable, son. If there’s anything I can get for you—water, food, anything—just let me know. Despite what a lot of the hoodlums out there are saying about you, I know you didn’t push that man. I saw him fall with my own eyes. Everyone’s so riddled with fear these days, they’re quick to blame anybody. I would just like to take a few minutes of your time to find out the truth about what happened.”

Michael was still in shock after witnessing what happened to Cade, but he was relieved when the captain said he knew he didn’t push him. He was glad that security guards didn’t take heed to the accusations of the bystanders. Though he didn’t have to try to talk his way to innocence, he wasn’t sure how he was supposed to answer the captain’s questions. What was he supposed to say? Should he tell him about the dart that may or may not have been there? Was he even sure what happened?

“Um, sir…I mean Captain…I…”

“Please call me Bill. Captain sounds too official in times like this. Just relax and tell me what happened.”

“Well, Captain…Bill, sir, my friend Cade, the man who…well…” Michael took a deep breath, trying to collect his thoughts. He tried to form a sentence the best he could with the facts he was sure of. “Cade wanted to meet with me to tell me something. Before he could, he fainted and fell in front of the train.”

“So, he just fainted?” Bill puzzled, writing something down in his notebook. “So, no groaning, no signs of a heart attack or a stroke, nothing? Just fainted?”

“Yes, sir. To the best of my knowledge.”

It truly was the best of his knowledge. He wasn’t sure what he had seen. It had looked like a dart, but he wasn’t certain. None of the medical staff had mentioned it, though, when they tended to Cade’s body. Michael convinced himself that he was only imagining it. He must have found himself so encapsulated by Cade’s story, his mind made it real to help him believe his friend.

“So, it had nothing to do with the little argument you two were having right before?”

Although the captain said he knew Michael didn’t push him, the question still made him feel uncomfortable. He didn’t want to try to explain Cade’s paranoia, and what they were arguing about.

“The argument is a long story, but it was really about two old friends who had drifted apart over the years. We were about to board the train together. There was something he wanted to show me. It had something to do with whatever he had to say.”

“You know, son, after talking to you, you seem like a pretty nice fellow. I know this has to be hard for you. My theory is that the argument caused him to overexert himself enough that he had a heart attack and collapsed. That’s what I’m putting in my report at least. I’m sure the medical examiner will have the same conclusion.”

Michael squirmed at the idea that it may have actually been his fault. Bill seemed to have noticed and continued on.

“But don’t think it’s your fault. I’m not trying to blame you for any of this. I’m just thinking out loud. The problem is, Federal Police called and they’re stepping in to investigate. I’ll give them the tape and you just tell them what you told me. Everything should be fine.”

Before Michael could ask any questions, Bill walked out of the room. He could see through the frosted glass window three figures meet him outside. They spent several minutes discussing something. The accident and his role in it, Michael assumed. He hoped Bill had shared his theory with them. While Michael wasn’t fond of the idea that his anger could have contributed to Cade’s death, it was the only answer that made sense to him. To ease his guilt, he reminded himself there was no way he could have known Cade had heart problems. He had always been in good physical shape. The heart attack also didn’t explain the appearance of the black dart like object.

Michael looked back at the window and saw two of the men walk away with Bill. The other one turned and came through the door. He wore the standard black tactical uniform of the Federal Police. His shoulders were well decorated, letting Michael know he was a high-ranking officer and the man in charge of the investigation.

“Mr. Anderton, it seems we may have a problem.” the officer said in a dry, creaky voice. The mere sound of it irked Michael. It was as if the man wrote every word he said with his nails on an antique chalkboard.

“Yes sir, we do have a problem. My best friend just died,” Michael said, sounding snider than he had intended. For some reason, the arrogance the officer portrayed on his face unnerved him. He didn’t have the same warm and comforting personality as Bill did.

“Yes, about this friend, what can you tell me about him?”

“His name is Cade. He was my best friend. We used to work together, and then during the war, we even served together.”

“So, you two were very close.”

“Yes, sir. Until recent years. Cade had difficulty after the war. He suffered from post-traumatic stress and has been hospitalized for the last couple of months. He was just recently released.”

“You’re saying this man, Cade Simon, told you he was released from the hospital?”

“Not explicitly, but I assumed.”

“Mr. Anderton, the truth is, your friend escaped. Violently. Two nurses and a security guard were shot. So, my real question for you is not what happened to cause today’s accident, but how were you involved in his escape?”

“Involved? Escape?” Michael’s blood boiled. Why didn’t Cade mention any of this to him? Was he really on the run and trying to use Michael’s friendship as a means to escape? Michael doubted it. He seemed genuine in what he had told him, regardless of how illogical it seemed. “Listen, I don’t know what you are talking about, but I haven’t seen Cade in two years. More importantly, I know him. He may have had his problems, but I know he couldn’t have done what you are accusing him of.”

“You are very right, Mr. Anderton. He couldn’t have done it. He had to have had help. You were a skilled sniper when you served, were you not?”

“Listen, you cannot pin this on me. I served my country proudly and when the job ended I haven’t picked up a firearm since.”

“Regardless of what you say, Mr. Anderton, we know the truth. You helped your friend escape. You told him to meet you here. It’s a public place where you can avoid suspicion. From there you were to board the train together, heading south to sneak into the Forbidden Zone, the most war ravished area of the country. You have a childhood home there. We know that’s where you’ve been since you defected from the armed forces. It was the grand escape plan. You knew no one would think to look for him in such a deserted place because no one has yet come looking for you. The plan was quite brilliant, but at the last minute, you had a change of heart. You did not want to live your life as a fugitive. Defecting from the armed forces is a serious crime but aiding and abetting a known murderer is much worse. You secretly wanted to one day get to rejoin the rest of society, so you pushed him into the train. You tried to erase your wrongdoings by making it appear as an accident. But it’s too late for you, Mr. Anderton. You’re in too deep, and it’s time for you to reap the consequences of your actions.”

Before Michael could even think about the accusations, much less speak up to defend himself against them, two guards were behind him. They slammed his face down onto the table and cuffed his hands behind him. He was then gagged, and a black bag was put over his head. They pulled him to his feet and forced him out of the office toward the public area of the train station.

Through the hood, he could make out lights from the various camera crews that had come to film the incident. He could hear crowds cheering at his arrest. Michael knew he was innocent, yet the crowds seemed to mock him and ridicule him as if he were a captured terrorist. He winced at some of their words. Not only did he lose his best friend, but he was also humiliated and belittled on television. His only solace was that at least they gave him the dignity of hiding his face.

The officers pushed their way through the people to some type of vehicle. Blinded by the hood, Michael was unable to tell what type, but the cheap, uncomfortable seats seemed suited just for prisoners. When they had arrived at wherever it was that they had taken him, they led him up to a room. There, they chained him to a chair bolted to the floor.

Once the hood was removed, he could see that it was a very dark room with only a single light. To his right, he could make out the face of the arrogant officer he met at the train station. In front of him sat another man, but the light was too dim to see any details. His silhouette cast in such a soft glow seemed menacing.

The man leaned forward to reveal himself to be an older, slightly overweight man with a very stern gaze. The man had the look of a politician. He even wore the purple velvet robes of one. A small, black onyx ring adorned his little finger. The same ring that was worn by the arrogant officer. Michael could only assume that it was something worn by the elites of the Federal Police.

“Hello, Mr. Anderton. My name is Richard Myers, Secretary of Security of our great nation.”

So, the man is a politician, Michael thought. The Office of the Secretary of Security was a high office to have. His job was to oversee the Federal Police as well as maintain certain levels of security within the country’s borders. The position was created during the war to deal with the reoccurring terror attacks and to promote peace in the country once again. He and his army of Federal Police were key in securing victory against the terrorist groups whose sole purpose seemed to be harbingers of death.

“You’ve already met Colonel Hempton,” he said referring to the arrogant officer. “We’ve brought you here today on grave charges. Multiple accounts of murder, aiding a fugitive, and terrorism.”

“Terrorism?” Michael exclaimed. It seemed the longer the day went, the more charges were being brought against him. What started out as trying to help a friend, had led him several charges that carry out a death sentence.

“Yes, terrorism. It has come to our attention that your partner had planted multiple explosive devices at a medical research facility.”

“Sir, I can explain. Talk to Captain Rogers at the train station. He’s the head of security there. He will tell you that I’ve had nothing to do with any of this. I went to the train station simply to meet with an old friend.”

“We have spoken with Captain Rogers and viewed the security tapes. It seems they agree with what I have said. However, there is a bright side in this, Mr. Anderton. You see, my superiors want this problem handled. You took care of one half of the problem by eliminating Cade Simon. We took care of the other half by televising your arrest over national television. The entire afternoon news has been filled with headlines of how one deranged terrorist turned on his partner right before their escape. That terrorist was then immediately apprehended by the Federal Police. You see how it all works out? The terrorists have been either captured or killed, there were no other casualties, and the Federal Police prove that we are protecting our citizens. Everyone is happy with your arrest. Now, that arrest should then be followed by an execution after this interview, but that’s your bright side. You are too valuable of an asset for that to happen. We are in need of you Mr. Anderton, therefore we have selected another criminal to take the fall for you.”

Michael didn’t know what he meant by being “in need” of him. After the war, he had been living a quiet life. He had left everything behind and was just surviving in the Forbidden Zone. That was his only true crime, other than leaving the army. He wouldn’t have done that if they hadn’t forced him to do such an appalling thing. Somehow, that had to be connected. Cade tried to warn him that it was coming back to haunt him. But still, he didn’t know why they needed him. He had never been a part of the Federal Police and was sure he had never had any contact with any politicians. Before he could ask any questions, Secretary Myers continued.

“Yes, those are all the reasons why this is good for all of us. The best part for you is that by tomorrow you won’t remember any of it.”

Michael felt a sharp pain on the inner side of his elbow, where one of the officers had inserted a syringe. Heat began to fill his arm as if the officer was injecting him with liquid fire. As it spread throughout him, his eyes began to fade until all he could see was darkness. Soon, his whole body burned, and he couldn’t remember why. All he could remember was being at the train station with Cade, and then, there was nothing.

3

Michael screamed. Cade mumbled as Michael approached. His nervousness was apparent. He was twitching, wringing his hands, and glancing in every direction. Michael had grown accustomed to his tension. He had been that way since the war. He was one of the unlucky few who never seemed to be able to return home from it. Michael had hoped this time it would have been different. He was hoping to see his old friend again. It was the first time he had seen him since the end of the war. Although Michael had gotten used to it, Cade’s diligence to find him and his behavior made him feel uneasy.

“I’m so glad Trent gave you my message. There’s something you’ve got to know, and it won’t be easy to believe…” Cade took a breath, running both hands through his hair. He leaned in close and began whispering. “Everything you know, everything you believe…it’s all a lie. None of it is real.”

There it was—the same paranoid story he had heard a thousand times. Cade was no better now than he had been. Anger shot through Michael. Both hands snatched Cade’s shirt. He didn’t mean to be so angry at his friend, but there seemed to be no other way to get through to him. Michael was frustrated. He wanted nothing more than to have his friend back. He wanted to help him break through the paranoia he carried with him. It was this paranoia that had caused them to drift apart. Michael thought that he would be better over time. That he would be cured. He was obviously wrong.

“You need to snap out of it Cade. There is no conspiracy. There is no big puppeteer in the sky pulling at the strings. Whatever the heck you believe is going on isn’t being caused by anyone. That’s not real. That’s the only thing not real. I know the war was hard on you. I know we did things…terrible things, and maybe this is just your way of dealing with it. When Trent told me that you had spent the last few months in a hospital, I had hoped your stay had changed things. I had hoped they made you better.”

“Hospital?” Cade snapped. “That was no hospital. That was a science experiment. I can prove it.”

Michael threw Cade back and shoved his finger in his face.

“You need to get your head on straight. There are still people who care about you. Listen, I’m sorry you feel that way about it. I’m sure after these last two years, it may seem like it was far worse than it was. I’m sorry too that I haven’t been able to see you in all this time. If I had known, I would have been there.”

“Mike listen to me. I’m telling you the truth. Come with me and let me show you.”

Michael hesitated.

“Why can’t you believe me?”

“Because the last time I saw you, you were on a self-destructive rampage. You were going on and on about how someone was using the war for their own personal gain. How everything that happened was being controlled by someone higher up. But the truth is, there is no conspiracy. What happened during the war happened because there was no choice. It was the only way to survive. You let the enemy into your head and apparently they’ve never left.”

“Mike, I need you to trust me. I’m not crazy and I never was. Just get on the train with me. I can prove it you.”

“No Cade. I don’t have time to chase your wild fantasies. I’ve tried to go on living after the war. Me and Becca have a baby on the way.”

“Mike, please. Just come with me. You, Rebecca…everybody… are all in danger. What we did is coming back to haunt…”

His words were cut off by a sound—a small gentle sound as if a small insect had caught a gust of wind. There it was, the source of it. A tiny dart, no more than a half an inch long, was lodged in the side of Cade’s neck. Its effects were almost immediately noticeable. His eyes rolled back, and his mouth drooped.

“Cade? What about what we did?”

Cade stumbled backward. One step. Two steps. He couldn’t catch his balance. The train was approaching faster than usual. The whistle blew. Cade collapsed at the edge of the platform toward the tracks. Glass sprayed into the train as his lifeless body bounced upward against the sloped front of it and into the window.

“Cade!” Michael screamed at the top of his lungs.

He was running. He was reaching for his friend, trying to get there in time. He was too late.

Michael collapsed to his knees, sobbing. Cade was his closest friend. Closer than even his own brother had ever been. He couldn’t believe he was gone. Michael’s greatest hope was that one day he would get to come home from the war. One day get to be the Cade he had known.

To make it worse, Cade possibly had information about something important, and Michael was too stubborn to listen. Michael sat there trying to grasp the situation. Did Cade know something or was it all a part of his paranoia? Was he even that paranoid? He saw the dart with his own eyes. There had to be some kind of explanation. He couldn’t fathom the thought of someone being deliberately out to attack Cade. The most probable solution was that some kind of insect coincidentally landed on him right before he fell. Even that didn’t explain his collapse.

Michael glanced back over his shoulder. If someone had attacked his friend, he wanted to know who. There was no one there. They were alone on the platform. He went over every scenario in his mind trying to find an answer to what had happened. Michael had always feared that what they had done in the war would come back to haunt them. The memory still haunted his dreams.

The more he thought about it, the more he wanted to believe Cade. He seemed so sure of what he was saying. He didn’t speak like he was crazy, but more so of a man determined to be heard. Michael wished he would have given him a chance. Whatever it was that he had wanted him to see was somewhere along the way of the train. If he would have let Cade speak, he would know what was coming and understand what he meant by everything being a lie.

Before he could think about it further, sirens resonated through the air. The sirens were so loud they felt as if they were coming from his own mind. Their screams rang out louder than his thoughts. The sirens forced him up from the floor. As he stood, he noticed he was no longer alone on the platform. He was unaware that such a large crowd had formed around him, many out of curiosity as to what had happened. Some were throwing out accusations that Michael had pushed him. He saw station security taking statements from different witnesses. Some were trying to clear out people for the medical staff attending to passengers on the train. He saw Cade being closed up in a black bag. The horrid sight made his whole body shudder. Except for the few instigators dealing their accusations toward him, no one seemed to acknowledge his presence. Then he felt the hand on his shoulder.

“Sir, I’m Captain Rogers of Metro Underground Security. If you would, follow me to my office. I think it would be much better for you in there.”

Michael turned his head back and noticed the short, balding gentleman behind him. He was wearing the standard green uniform of Metro Security, with his captain’s pin proudly displayed on it. Michael nodded at the request and followed him through the crowd to a small office on the other side of the station. They sat down across from each other at a small table the captain had for a desk.

“Make yourself comfortable, son. If there’s anything I can get for you—water, food, anything—just let me know. Despite what a lot of the hoodlums out there are saying about you, I know you didn’t push that man. I saw him fall with my own eyes. Everyone’s so riddled with fear these days, they’re quick to blame anybody. I would just like to take a few minutes of your time to find out the truth about what happened.”

Michael was still in shock after witnessing what happened to Cade, but he was relieved when the captain said he knew he didn’t push him. He was glad that security guards didn’t take heed to the accusations of the bystanders. Though he didn’t have to try to talk his way to innocence, he wasn’t sure how he was supposed to answer the captain’s questions. What was he supposed to say? Should he tell him about the dart that may or may not have been there? Was he even sure what happened?

“Um, sir…I mean Captain…I…”

“Please call me Bill. Captain sounds too official in times like this. Just relax and tell me what happened.”

“Well, Captain…Bill, sir, my friend Cade, the man who…well…” Michael took a deep breath, trying to collect his thoughts. He tried to form a sentence the best he could with the facts he was sure of. “Cade wanted to meet with me to tell me something. Before he could, he fainted and fell in front of the train.”

“So, he just fainted?” Bill puzzled, writing something down in his notebook. “So, no groaning, no signs of a heart attack or a stroke, nothing? Just fainted?”

“Yes, sir. To the best of my knowledge.”

It truly was the best of his knowledge. He wasn’t sure what he had seen. It had looked like a dart, but he wasn’t certain. None of the medical staff had mentioned it, though, when they tended to Cade’s body. Michael convinced himself that he was only imagining it. He must have found himself so encapsulated by Cade’s story, his mind made it real to help him believe his friend.

“So, it had nothing to do with the little argument you two were having right before?”

Although the captain said he knew Michael didn’t push him, the question still made him feel uncomfortable. He didn’t want to try to explain Cade’s paranoia, and what they were arguing about.

“The argument is a long story, but it was really about two old friends who had drifted apart over the years. We were about to board the train together. There was something he wanted to show me. It had something to do with whatever he had to say.”

“You know, son, after talking to you, you seem like a pretty nice fellow. I know this has to be hard for you. My theory is that the argument caused him to overexert himself enough that he had a heart attack and collapsed. That’s what I’m putting in my report at least. I’m sure the medical examiner will have the same conclusion.”

Michael squirmed at the idea that it may have actually been his fault. Bill seemed to have noticed and continued on.

“But don’t think it’s your fault. I’m not trying to blame you for any of this. I’m just thinking out loud. The problem is, Federal Police called and they’re stepping in to investigate. I’ll give them the tape and you just tell them what you told me. Everything should be fine.”

Before Michael could ask any questions, Bill walked out of the room. He could see through the frosted glass window three figures meet him outside. They spent several minutes discussing something. The accident and his role in it, Michael assumed. He hoped Bill had shared his theory with them. While Michael wasn’t fond of the idea that his anger could have contributed to Cade’s death, it was the only answer that made sense to him. To ease his guilt, he reminded himself there was no way he could have known Cade had heart problems. He had always been in good physical shape. The heart attack also didn’t explain the appearance of the black dart like object.

Michael looked back at the window and saw two of the men walk away with Bill. The other one turned and came through the door. He wore the standard black tactical uniform of the Federal Police. His shoulders were well decorated, letting Michael know he was a high-ranking officer and the man in charge of the investigation.

“Mr. Anderton, it seems we may have a problem.” the officer said in a dry, creaky voice. The mere sound of it irked Michael. It was as if the man wrote every word he said with his nails on an antique chalkboard.

“Yes sir, we do have a problem. My best friend just died,” Michael said, sounding snider than he had intended. For some reason, the arrogance the officer portrayed on his face unnerved him. He didn’t have the same warm and comforting personality as Bill did.

“Yes, about this friend, what can you tell me about him?”

“His name is Cade. He was my best friend. We used to work together, and then during the war, we even served together.”

“So, you two were very close.”

“Yes, sir. Until recent years. Cade had difficulty after the war. He suffered from post-traumatic stress and has been hospitalized for the last couple of months. He was just recently released.”

“You’re saying this man, Cade Simon, told you he was released from the hospital?”

“Not explicitly, but I assumed.”

“Mr. Anderton, the truth is, your friend escaped. Violently. Two nurses and a security guard were shot. So, my real question for you is not what happened to cause today’s accident, but how were you involved in his escape?”

“Involved? Escape?” Michael’s blood boiled. Why didn’t Cade mention any of this to him? Was he really on the run and trying to use Michael’s friendship as a means to escape? Michael doubted it. He seemed genuine in what he had told him, regardless of how illogical it seemed. “Listen, I don’t know what you are talking about, but I haven’t seen Cade in two years. More importantly, I know him. He may have had his problems, but I know he couldn’t have done what you are accusing him of.”


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