The dumpster burst behind me, the heat wave close on my back, fiery wings wrapping around me. Chunks of flaming garbage streamed past, falling stars in the black alley.
I gripped the pistol tighter until my fingers stung with pins and needles as I ran. Out of the alleyway, back into the madness. The burning cars and store fronts, blazing cocktails rupturing and spewing glass and flame like urban phoenixes. Riot police and mob yelling, gunfire cracking from all around. Yellow, orange, and red, dancing against swaths of black and gray, angry color scorching the innocent night.
“Hey!” a masked man yelled ahead of me, gesturing with a handgun in my direction.
I didn’t hesitate, raising my own weapon and pressing the trigger twice. He dropped, screaming, pistol slipping from his grasp and clattering on the asphalt.
Handy. I snatched up the gun and sprinted on, past the box truck laying on its side in the middle of the road, cargo strewn out behind it like entrails. Fire leaped from its charred sides, reaching toward anything near it. I tucked the new weapon into my waistband as I dodged a woman grasping for me from a small group of rioters exiting through the broken window of a storefront. Black masks obscured the lower half of their faces, eyes burning with fury, drunk on the chaos and anarchy of the moment.
The mask obscuring my own face was beginning to strangle my breath. I wanted so badly to tear it off, to let myself breathe. But that would have been a terrible idea. I can’t be recognizable. You’re eye color is recognizable enough—don’t put your face out their too.
I kept on, making sure to concentrate on staying light on my feet. Just a little farther, and I’ll be out of this mess. Though suppressed at the moment, fear hid in the back of my mind, whispering that I wouldn’t make it.
I ducked into a side street, darkness hungrily swallowing up the dancing light of a thousand fires burning on the main road. A man lay propped against a brick wall on one side of the narrow road. Blood streamed down the side of his head. His eyes, yellowed and bloodshot, followed me as I dashed past. I didn’t have time to avoid puddles. Water splashed over my shoes, soaking my feet and shins.
Yellow-orange erupted in front of me as I ran from the side street, glass and heat bursting away from where the gasoline-filled jar had shattered. Bullets whizzed past my head, striking the brick wall beside me.
“Get him!” the men called, popping off more rounds in my direction.
I dove and rolled. Hard, warm, gritty ground scraped against my bare arms. Bringing my gun around as rounds cracked by, I fired. Once, twice, three times, five times. Three men dropped, yelling and clutching their wounds. The fourth, armed with a crowbar, ran the opposite direction in terror.
They’re gonna leave without you. Squeezing the thought back into my stomach, I shoved myself to my feet and hurried on. Left, right, left, right, straight for three blocks. Past shattered glass, bodies writhing on the streets and sidewalks. Past flaming vehicles with their waves of heat, roving gangs of degenerate scum, and police lines firing tear gas into mobs a hundred times their number.
There it was, a few hundred yards away. Rising above the smoking city, the burned-out cathedral’s blackened steeple stabbed into the smoky, red-orange sky. Above it hovered Aegis’ APC, blue jets aimed downward, guns firing into the streets beneath. Three drones whizzed from her angular sides as I got closer.
Blood and asphalt sprayed from the bullet’s impact, dropping the man jumping from an alley at me. The drone turned, weapon firing another round at a man, clutching a rifle, rushing down the street at me. Empty shells clattered on the pavement, dropping from the drones as they fired again and again on nearby rioters.
The personnel carrier descended slowly, bullets ricocheting off its armored hide. Her guns barked back, cannons blasting away at buildings, autocannons sweeping the streets.
I was close now, perhaps a hundred yards or so away. But the carrier was drawing an increasing amount of attention from the rioters. Staying close to the ground for much longer was too dangerous.
She dove out of nowhere, tackling me to the pavement. I saw stars when my chin hit the ground, pain shooting up into the top of my skull. My palms scraped against the road as I tried to roll over under her.
The girl couldn’t have been much older than me—maybe eighteen, at the oldest. Fury blazed in her eyes, fists raining down blow after blow at my head and neck.
Barely, I blocked her strikes, searching for a weapon—she was too close to me for the drones to risk a shot. The gun in my hand had been thrown out of reach when I fell, but my second firearm dug into the small of my back.
I punched her square in the face. She screamed and cursed, blood streaming from her nose as she fell backward. The girl returned with an even faster rain of blows, catching me a few times in my face, before I could hit her again. “Die, you golden-eyed freak!” She screamed.
A solid connection with the side of her face sent her sprawling off me, dazed for a second. Rage took over, boiling up inside my chest. These people—no, these animals—had terrorized the country for long enough. They’d burned and looted across the nation, completely disregarding the lives of those around them. These animals didn’t care for anyone but themselves and their selfish, slanted agendas.
In their eyes, we were inferior. We were the animals, carrying a stained bloodline from a race of beings they despised. They were terrified of us, terrified we’d rise up and become their oppressors. Terrified of the power people like me held. Terrified of my golden eyes.
It was them who should have been purged from the face of the earth with extreme prejudice, them who should have been hunted down and killed, them who should have had to live in constant fear. Not me. Not my family. At least most of the nation saw us as just other humans, albeit unique, who still had a life. A life with value—a priceless human life. Not some dark group of sleeper agents for foreign governments or sadistic terrorists. Or telepaths destined to become Nazis bent on extermination and world domination.
I was atop her in an instant, knees pinning her arms to the ground, fists raining down blow after blow. She cried out, dark red liquid streaming from her mouth and nose.
The legislation she and other anarchists protested would bring equality—true equality—and protection under law for telepaths and Peace Keeper descendants alike. It must have been nice for someone like her, who never had to fear being slaughtered with her family in the middle of the night by a gang hunting down telepaths with golden eyes. Must’ve been nice sleeping in peace at night, worried only about your crush not texting you back, or a test at school the next day.
I grit my teeth so hard my jaw hurt. Strike after strike blasted through her week attempts to block them with her arms. Patches of black and purple were already spreading around her eyes and cheeks. Much of her face was no longer visible beneath broken skin and streaming blood.
“Alix, let’s go—leave her!” Taz directed through a loudspeaker attached to one of the drones circling overhead. “We’re getting called back to base, the drones are almost out of ammo, and we’ve gotta pull out—there’s a lot of idiots with heavy weapons headed our way. The carrier’s a sitting duck.”
“Fine.” I stood up, the girl groaning beneath me. My vision blackened for a moment. I swayed on my feet as I tried to move, still dizzy from the hits to my head.
Shouts of “Kill him!” echoed down the narrow street, sending more rioters dashing my direction. Bullets streamed from the drones, empty shell casings dropping onto the ground.
I staggered toward the rescuing carrier, brain finally clearing. Spots still danced in my vision. Definitely have a concussion.
Chink, chink, chink. The last spent cartridge dropped from one drone, then another, and another.
"Alix, run!” Taz commanded. “Go! Come on, man, get to the carrier!”
Retrieving the gun from the small of my back, I pulled back the slide. Golden brass glinted in the flickering light. Perfect.
I turned, weapon raised. Bullets whistled past my face and torso as I returned fire, dropping the leader of the charge. The metal bat he wielded clanged against the asphalt. I fired again and again, dropping four more, all the while stepping quickly backward toward the carrier and the deafening roar of its engines and autocannons.
The last man dropped to his knees, a knife slipping from his hands, blood streaming from two bullet wounds in his chest.
The girl forced herself up onto all fours, spitting blood. A hateful gaze seared into my soul as she struggled to her feet. Crimson streams covered her face and neck, more spattered across her arms and ripped T-shirt.
I let my weapon fall, halting my retreat to the APC. Which of us is more wrong? No, no—they started this.
With a cry of rage, she sprang at me. The battered girl halved the distance between us in a second.
You people will never learn. I raised my gun and pulled the trigger.
Her face paled with shock and pain, screaming mouth agape but silent. Her steps halted. She wobbled, tears streaming down her bloodied face. Panting and coughing up blood, she struggled to reach me.
I fired another round, this time into her leg.
With a scream, she dropped to the red-spattered road. Arms flailing, she scrabbled at the pavement, still trying desperately to reach me.
She’ll live. But did you make her hatred worse? Confrontation like this always makes things worse. Chaos breeds chaos, bloodshed creates bloodshed.
I left her and ran the remaining few yards to the carrier. The APC’s iron side slid open, jets firing to lift her, as I dove inside. Glancing over my shoulder, I watched the girl reach out for me, fury replacing the pain in her cries and curses. Hatred, all the way to the last. Stupid. But are we really that different?