End of Days Page 63

A woman drops her pile of blankets. She turns, her face crumpling, and walks away, stooped and shuffling like a broken person.

A man gently puts down an injured woman on the main building steps. He turns and walks dazedly away from the battle scene.

A boy my age pulls his water back from an injured man propped against a building wall. He screws on the top of his water bottle while looking thoughtfully at the next injured man beside the first. He walks away as the second man reaches out to him.

As soon as the first few stop helping, the others stop doing their own work and begin leaving too. Some are crying, others look scared and lonely as they walk off the school campus.

The camp is unraveling.

I remember something Obi said to me when I first met him. He said that attacking the angels wasn’t about beating them. It was about winning the hearts and spirits of the people. It was about letting them know there’s still hope.

Now that he’s gone, it’s as if the hope went with him.

52

It doesn’t make me feel any better to have to tell them to evacuate. I had assumed I could just tell Obi and he would tell them. But now it’s on my shoulders.

I gather everyone into the school yard with the help of a few people. For the first time, I don’t worry about being out in the open or making noise, because I know the hunt won’t start until sundown. Despite the number of people who left camp, we cover most of the yard. We catch a lot of people as they’re preparing to leave.

I could just tell a few people and let the word spread, but I don’t want to risk a mass panic full of confusion about what’s happening. It seems worthwhile to take twenty minutes to have a final, civilized meeting and let them know what’s going on.

I climb slowly onto a lunch table, even though I know we should be in a huge rush. There’s something about telling people that they’re about to die that stiffens my muscles. Half, maybe most, of the people here won’t be alive by morning.

It makes things worse that there are still dead bodies in the yard. But I don’t expect this to take long, and it’s pointless pretending that a bunch of people didn’t get killed.

I clear my throat, trying to figure out what to say.

Before I can begin, a new group of people walk toward us from the parking lot. It’s Dee, Dum, and about a dozen freedom fighters, all streaked in soot and looking around at the bodies spread on the ground.

‘What’s going on?’ asks Dee. His forehead creases. ‘What happened? Where’s Obi? We need to see him.’

No one says anything. I guess everyone expects me to answer.

‘The camp was attacked while you guys were gone.’ I try to figure out how to tell him about Obi. I lick my lips. ‘Obi . . .’ My throat dries up.

‘What about him?’ Dum sounds suspicious, like he knows what I’m about to say.

‘He didn’t make it,’ I say.

‘What?’ asks Dee.

The fighters look around as if asking for confirmation from the crowd.

Dee shakes his head slowly in denial.

‘No,’ says another fighter. He backs away. ‘No.’

‘Not Obi,’ says another fighter covering his face with soot-smeared hands. ‘Not him.’

They look dazed and overwhelmed.

‘He was going to get us out of this mess,’ says the first fighter. ‘That bastard can’t die.’ He sounds angry, but his face crumples like a little boy’s. ‘He just can’t.’

Their reactions shake me.

‘Calm down,’ I say. ‘You can’t help anybody if—’

‘That’s just it,’ he says. ‘We can’t help anybody, not even ourselves. We’re not enough to lead humanity. Without Obi, it’s over.’

He’s repeating the words I’ve been saying to myself in my head. It makes me angry to hear the defeat in his voice.

‘We have a chain of command,’ says Martin. ‘Whoever’s below Obi takes over.’

‘Obi said Penryn should lead,’ says a woman who helped carry the injured with me. ‘I heard him. He said it with his last breath.’

‘But the second in command—’

‘We don’t have time for this,’ I say. ‘The angels are coming. At sunset tonight, they’ll hold a hunt that’s a contest for the largest number of human kills.’

I wait for a response, but no one seems surprised. They’ve been beaten, abused, and traumatized. They stand there in their rags, skinny and malnourished, dirty and beaten, looking to me to give them information and a direction.

They’re in stark contrast to my memories of the perfect bodies and the gold and glitter of the angel gatherings. Many people in the audience are injured, bandaged, limping, and scarred. Their wide eyes are a window into their desperation.

A wave of anger hits me. The perfect angels with their perfect place in the universe. Why can’t they leave us alone? Just because they’re better looking and have better hearing, better eyesight, better everything than us doesn’t make them worth more than us overall.

‘A hunt?’ asks Dee. He looks at his soot-streaked brother. ‘So that’s why they did it.’

‘Did what?’ I ask.

‘They set a line of fire to the south end of the peninsula. The only way out is across the bay or by air.’

‘We saw it through the surveillance cameras,’ says Dum. ‘We went down to try to fight the fire, but we spent half our time avoiding angels. It’s completely out of control now. We were coming back to tell Obi.’

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