June 13th, 2061. San Francisco Bay, Fireblue territory, North American Province, 21.55 local time
Louise’s eyes quickly adjusted to the harsh light flooding the room. She looked down. A man lay crumpled on the floor. His arm was stretched out in an uncomfortable looking position above his head.
“Out cold,” Louise thought. “Or worse.”
“Don’t know this one,” Hobbs said, pushing himself up with a groan. “You search him. I’ll check the hallway.”
He grabbed his side as he made his way to the door. There was a gun in his other hand. He must have taken it from the guard, Louise assumed. She shook herself out of her stupor and hurried across the room.
She squatted down next to the man. He was wearing a heavy coat over his dark uniform. She held two fingers against his neck, checking for a pulse. She purposely avoided looking at his head, though.
The guard’s pulse was weak. Louise doubted he would make it. Hobbs had probably crushed his skull. There was nothing she could do for the man. She padded the pockets of his pants, then zipped open his coat.
Louise felt something in the inside pocket. She struggled to pull it out.
“Hurry!” Hobbs said. “Hallway is clear. I’m going to check the next door.”
“Yeah, right behind you,” Louise replied.
She waited for Hobbs to leave before she pulled the object out of the guard’s pocket. His arms and legs twitched, startling Louise. She almost toppled over.
She put her hand down to keep her balance and sucked in air when she felt the warm, thick liquid around her fingers. “Oh fuck,” she cursed and shot up to her feet. Blood was pooling around the man’s head.
She looked down at her hand and struggled not to retch. She wanted the blood off of her hand now. Louise bent over, compressing her lips and wiped her fingers on the man’s pants. She felt horrible about it but didn’t know what else to do.
Once she was done, she hurried to the door. Before she followed Hobbs into the hallway, Louise took a look at the object she had pulled from the guard’s pocket. It was a badge. An old-school medallion of the Fireblue Republic emblem in a leather holder.
Louise studied the hummingbird in the center of it and sighed. The blue bird had its wings stretched out. Behind it, flames shot up. Left and right of the bird’s tail, two words were engraved into the metal. “Choose Courage.”
Louise frowned. She had seen the Fireblue motto before, of course, but she had never let it sink in. She had rarely chosen courage in her life, she had to admit. She clenched her jaw, tucked the badge in her back pocket and stepped into the hallway.
Hobbs had his ear pressed against a door. He glanced over. “Found anything?”
“No,” Louise lied. Her spidey sense told her to.
He raised the gun. “Let’s find our gear.”
Louise pointed at his ribs. “Are you going to be okay?”
His nostrils flared. “Yeah, I’m fine.” Louise thought he looked pale but they didn’t have time to argue.
She joined Hobbs by the door. He took a step back so she could open it. He would then walk through first, gun in hand. Louise met his gaze, training kicking in. She mouthed “3….2…..”
Louise swung open the door. The brutally cold air hit her in the face. Hobbs stepped around the corner, aiming the weapon.
“Clear,” he said after a few moments. He had to raise his voice because of the noise.
Louise followed him into the dark night, instantly regretting she hadn’t taken the guard’s coat. Then she remembered the pool of blood and decided she would be fine without it.
The sky was clouded tonight and she couldn’t see the moon nor any stars. A bright light, protected by a metal lamp guard, was mounted onto the wall, though. It gave her just enough vision to see the dark mass of water below.
Hobbs was already moving again, his back pressed against the side of the boat. Louise pushed herself against the wall too and shuffled after him. She tried to remember the layout of the ferry.
They were moving towards the front of the boat. Hobbs was about to step onto the deck. He would be visible to anyone on the bridge, she realized. “Hobbs!” she hissed. He didn’t hear her. “Hobbs!” she repeated, louder this time.
But it was too late. He had already swung onto the front deck. Louise stayed hidden behind the corner and waited for the dreaded sound of gunshots. But apart from the water and the wind, she didn’t hear a thing.
Louise crouched and counted down. 3, 2, 1. She peered around the corner for a split second, holding her breath. A giant spotlight illuminated the area in front of the ferry but it was hard to see what was happening.
She blew out a breath, wincing at the burning sensation in her lungs. She still hadn’t heard anything alarming, so she took a closer look at the deck. Hobbs was standing in the middle, holding one hand above his eyes, his gun lowered.
Louise glanced over her shoulder to make sure no one had followed them outside. Then, she stood up and walked over to him. She wrapped her arms around herself. The wind was even worse here. Her teeth started to chatter.
“I think there’s no one left but us,” Hobbs yelled over the din.
Louise gestured at the opposite side of the ferry. He nodded, lifted the gun again and walked away. She followed and noticed that there was a lifeboat dock mounted on this side of the ship.
Hobbs was already waiting next to another door and motioned for her to hurry up. She moved past him.
“3….2…..” she mouthed.
Louise opened the door and he stepped through with the gun raised. Louise could see his shoulders were tense. Probably from the pain. He wouldn’t last much longer, she knew.
She took a moment to look back at the lifeboat. She thought she saw some objects lying inside it. That was odd. Her gut told her to check it out but she had to follow Hobbs inside.
Once through the door, she closed it behind her. The wind and the cold were relentless. She was happy to be back inside. They were in the cargo area now, she saw.
Hobbs was walking around, holding his side again. “Fuck,” he croaked, “I don’t see our gear anywhere.”
He made his way to the stairs on the left. “You look around here. Check everything,” he said, “I’m going to search upstairs.”
“Wait!” Louise replied. “What if there are guards up there?”
He shook his head. “They would have come after us by now.” Hobbs took the last step, pushed through the door and disappeared. He didn’t close it behind him. It didn’t fall shut either.
Louise looked around in bewilderment. This is where their car had been parked when they had traveled to Fireblue Territory. There was nothing here now, though. No car. No gear.
She was tempted to follow Hobbs upstairs. She remembered the hallway with the two doors well. One led to the bridge, the other to the bathroom where she had found El crying just a few days ago.
A pang of longing shot through her chest. She tried to stop the images of El flooding her mind. She couldn’t and it pissed her off. El was the one who had sent her away after all. El had even had them drugged to be dumped in the middle of the desert.
The skin on the back of Louise’s neck tingled. This all seemed unusually cruel for the woman Louise had gotten to know as sensitive and somewhat naive. Sending them off with only one guard on the ferry also seemed odd.
How would that guard have managed to get Louise and Hobbs off of the boat by himself? Even if they had been unconscious, it would have been nearly impossible. Louise stared at the door that would take her back outside.
Her spidey sense was making the tips of her ears prickle. “Fuck it,” she thought. “I’m going to follow my gut. I’ve got nothing to lose.” She was back out in the cold before she could think about what the hell she was doing.
She immediately focused on the dock with the lifeboat. She tried to see what was thrown onto the seat but couldn’t tell without some extra light. She found a control panel at the side of the dock and studied its buttons.
The first one caused the mechanism that lowered the boat into the water to jump to life. She quickly hit the button again and the boat stopped moving. She tried another button. A harsh light illuminated the lifeboat and the water underneath.
There was a backpack on the bench. An electronic gun and something that looked like a flashlight lay next to it. On the floor, she saw a crate with some ropes, a tarp and a life vest. Louise tilted her head.
“Huh,” she thought while rubbing her upper arms furiously. “It’s almost like this guy was about to abandon ship.”
Her eyes widened. Had that been the guard’s plan? The stuff in the boat had to be his. But why leave Hobbs and Louise behind on the ferry? Who was supposed to pilot the ferry to its destination then?
Her mind was racing. Her heart was pounding in her chest. Her eyes darted left and right as she thought. She started walking back. She didn’t close the door behind her this time.
“Hobbs?” she yelled.
After a few moments, Hobbs popped his head through the door at the top of the stairs.
“The gear’s not on the bridge,” he shouted back. “No guards either.”
“We need to get off of this boat!” Louise shouted. She hadn’t known what she was going to say until the words had left her mouth.
He looked down at her in utter disbelief. “What?!”
“Something is off. That guard was about to abandon ship.”
He opened his mouth but didn’t speak at first. “No,” he finally yelled. “We won’t survive without our gear. We stay here.”
Louise pointed at the door. “Why would they leave us behind with no one to pilot the ferry?”
“You don’t know if that was the plan,” he yelled back, grabbing the handrail of the stairs. He pressed his lips together.
Louise was getting more and more anxious now. They had to leave. Now. She just knew. “I’m leaving!” she said.
“No fucking way!” He started coming down the stairs one slow step at a time.
Louise hurried outside and hit the button to lower the lifeboat into the water. The engine sprung back to life with a clank. She located the small ladder that would allow her to climb down before Hobbs caught up with her.
“Stop, Thomas! I’m not letting you escape!”
Louise froze, assuming he was pointing the gun at her. She slowly turned around. There was no gun. Had he left it on the bridge? He stood before her, slightly bent over and breathing fast. She couldn’t believe her luck.
“Woodward told me about you and Lucas,” he yelled with difficulty.
Louise’s mouth opened in surprise. Not because of what Hobbs had said but because the mention of Woodward’s name finally made everything fall into place. “Of course,” she thought. “Woodward was always going to kill us.”
Why else had he been so frank to El with Louise still around? Why else had he agreed so quickly to lock them up and bring them to the border? Yes, Louise was sure now. Woodward was about to have them killed.
“We’re going to die!” she screamed at Hobbs and took a step back.
He could jump her at any moment, she knew. But he was weakened by his rib injury and he would be slower than usual.
“Think, Hobbs! Why would he leave us behind?!” Louise continued.
“We took out the guard,” he shouted, taking a step closer. “We can pilot the ferry.”
Louise could now hear the water splashing against the lifeboat below. The engine of the dock had switched off. She placed her hand on the metal rail behind her.
“There is a network of rebel spies within our army! We were set up!” she yelled.
His brows shot up in surprise. “Bullshit! Stay here,” he screamed and tried to grab her. Pain flashed across his face and he doubled over for a second.
It was all Louise needed.
“Choose courage,” she mumbled to herself and spun around.
She pushed herself off and leaped over the side of the ferry.