Online Exclusive: “The Black Watch” by William R.A.D. Funk

“The past and the future are but two sides of a metaphysical coin; interconnected opposites often flipped on a Gambler’s whim.”
Kayla the Uniter, Post-Plague History: 21st Century, The Black Watch Library

“Kaaay…laa!” Lucas taunted, his voice carrying on the city’s winter wind through the hollow brick husks of former homes. It echoed along empty streets and whistled around cars stripped down to their metal bones. Broken shop windows sliced at those words with jagged edges, chewed at them with empty shelves and peeling paint.

Huddled between two large garbage cans, Kayla shivered for reasons other than the city’s bitter cold. Flashes of memory from only minutes ago threatened to buckle her resolve. Memories of what Lucas and his gang had done to her, the seemingly endless stream of unwashed bodies that passed through her, used her. Her defiant screams had been drowned out by a dirty rag stuffed deep into her mouth.

Kayla shook her head violently, trying to rattle those memories from the forefront, but the feeling of her bare back on cement persisted. Its smooth surface sucked the warmth from her body as each member of the Parc-Av Gang took turns stealing much more from her.

No tears!

She repeated the mantra she had used while trapped against the floor of the abandoned convenience store. They would not break her. Even then, as countless hands had held back her struggle, she had reached and clawed and scratched—until her fingers had found hope: a shard of broken glass in a city littered with broken glass, tucked under the cashier’s counter.

The gang’s leader, a wiry man with scraggly black hair and the palest blue eyes, Lucas had stepped up to take another run at her. Fueled by the encouragement of his goons, he had propped himself down between Kayla’s legs as many strong hands held her knees apart.

The dust-caked glass had seemed to shine when it sliced the air. A surprised Lucas had reeled back, his grin permanently stretched wide after the impromptu blade opened both cheeks.

In the chaos, Kayla had snatched her jacket from a pile on the floor, pulled her jeans into place, and bolted.

A wet cough and groan brought her back to the side alley where she was hiding between the rusted dumpsters. Next to her, Dom groaned, his hand caressing a fat swollen cheek. Much of his right eye was hidden behind a puffy, black-and-blue slit as blood dried on his chin and upper lip.

Dom, Kayla’s only friend since the feckin’ plague took most people, crouched with one foot in a pothole, the other on top of a broken pile of asphalt. Captured in Parc-Av territory, Dom had served to amuse the gang as a punching bag while Kayla had been pinned in the convenience store.

No tears!

Instead of grief or trauma, as Kayla had seen in many women after an encounter with one of the gangs, she skipped straight to quiet, seething rage. The gruesome grin she had carved into Lucas’ face didn’t satiate the dark emotions that festered deep down in the center of her chest.

Dom coughed again, this time followed by some blood.

“Kaaaay…laa!” Lucas’ voice, warped through ripped cheeks, sounded closer. She could hear sharp bottles rattling against chain-link fences. Threadbare soles slapped down on the crumbling ruins of Parc’s asphalt. “Co’ out, co’ out, ‘erever you are.” Certain letters—like M and W—were missing from Lucas’ words, but Kayla understood every syllable nevertheless.

Instead of succumbing to the fear that would turn her legs to rubber, Kayla gritted her teeth. She wanted nothing more than to pull those ripped cheeks further apart until Lucas’ head came off altogether. But there were too many of them. Vengeance would have to be patient, or it would never have its chance at all.

“Can you run?” she asked.

Dom shook his head. “No, I think they broke some ribs. It feels as though they’re poking around inside my chest.”

“Oh, Kaaay…laa,” Lucas couldn’t be more than a few blocks away. “I going to arrange so’thing secial for you.” His ruined mouth, unable to bring lips together, might have sounded comical, but it felt ominous. Lucas’ tone carried its own rage—a cruel, sadistic vengeance that Kayla didn’t want to fathom.

Dom’s bloodshot eye quivered. It stared distantly in the direction of Lucas’ voice. “I think I can walk, though, if you help me.”

One of Dom’s arms looped over Kayla’s shoulders. She wrapped her fingers about his belt, and lifted them both to their feet. Under layers of soiled clothing, Kayla could feel Dom’s ravaged muscles shaking under the strain. Her own thighs threatened to dissolve after what Lucas and the others had done, but a lifelong career of survival and her burning rage kept them from buckling.

“I think they’re moving up Parc,” Kayla said, leading them down a side alley parallel to the road that was Parc-Av’s namesake, the backbone of their territory. “We can’t stray too far.” Sandwiched between the Jacobin territory and the Uptown Slingers, they wouldn’t find refuge on either gang’s turf. Only more unwashed bodies for her, and enough stomping to finish Dom for good.

Their alley crossed a series of perpendicular side streets, each winding narrowly into obscurity. Kayla picked one at random, turning right, then left along another alley, where brown brick scaled three-stories-tall on either side in most places.

Someone laughed. Dom froze, then winced as his muscles tightened. Kayla pricked up her ears. A window shattered a couple of blocks away. Metal clattered against brick. The sounds were spread out in a fan throughout the Parc Avenue District. There would be nowhere to hide. Lucas’ goons would search each crack and crevice; they knew the area down to every deserted playground, gutted store, and ransacked home from one end of Parc to the next.

Kayla pushed forward, her attention focused over one shoulder at the sounds around them, and at keeping Dom from collapsing. She slipped, one foot splashing into a water-filled pothole. An icy sensation enveloped her foot before she could pull it free.

“Feck!” she cursed. The night’s cold might finish what Lucas started if she didn’t find a warm place to let her clothes dry.

She glanced down at the rippling puddle. It reflected a pale, angry face. Short, grubby brown hair made her look more like a prepubescent boy than a woman of twenty-seven years. Grime streaked one cheek, a bedbug bite marred the other. But those slate-colored eyes stared with determination, fiery vengeance smoldering behind them, waiting to collect a debt that could never be fully settled.

As she was about to look away, another feature caught Kayla’s attention—a flash of light. Sunlight reflected off metal or glass. She squatted over the puddle to get a closer look.

“What are you doing?” Dom asked, his good eye turned toward their rear, where Lucas and the others would be getting closer by the second. “We have to go.”

There it was again! The flash of light came from the roof of a six-story building where Parc Avenue became Bleury Street, the edge of Lucas’ territory. When the momentary light vanished, the silhouette of a person took its place. Someone watching through binoculars, an item Kayla hadn’t seen in more than a decade. The figure ducked, and was gone, as though aware of being spotted.

Dom grabbed Kayla by the sleeve.

“Don’t touch me!” she barked, startled by her own reaction.

Dom stared at her, dumbfounded. She rarely snapped at him. His short stature and doughy features made him a disarming character.

She swallowed, unwilling to admit to herself why she acted the way she did. “Sorry.” The softness in her voice sounded artificial.

“Forget about it.” Dom shrugged, then winced.

If only I could forget about it, she thought.

Dom continued, “Where are we going to go?”

“I saw something over there.” Kayla pointed to the tall brick building where she had seen the figure.

Dom didn’t waste time asking why. He put his arm around Kayla’s shoulders, and hobbled along with her.

After a series of twists and turns, Kayla could see the building and its surroundings in far greater detail. A faded billboard marked its ancient purpose: a painted picture of a cup and coffee beans reminded Kayla of the beverage she once had as a child, a sip from her father’s cup. It tasted like liquid chalk, and she had cringed, but the exhilaration afterward etched itself into her brain. Now, like a great many things since the feckin’ plague, coffee would exist only in memory. Her father, a man of quiet reflection, seemed as distant to her as that liquid chalk taste.

Aside from nostalgia, the tall, slender building was unimpressive: a few decrepit levels of apartments toward the top, a grocery at the bottom, and the ancient coffee shop at its corner. It was the larger, squatter structure at its side that held her attention. Solid gray stone and two pointed towers faced Parc in the front, while a wide base of red bricks and barred windows covered the rest.

“If we can get in there,” Kayla whispered to Dom, “I think we can keep them away until they lose interest.”

Dom tried to raise a dubious brow, then instantly regretted it with a painful cringe. “If we can get in, Kayla, then what makes you think Lucas can’t?”

The binoculars, she thought, knowing if the Parc-Av Gang owned something as rare as a pair of binoculars, it would be hanging around Lucas’ neck, not with one of his goons. And if someone had managed to survive untouched in Parc-Av territory, they might be able to keep Lucas out.

“Kaaay…laa!” Lucas called, his voice closer to them than it had been since they began their escape. “Co’ out, co’ out, ‘erever you are.”

A glass bottle skittered across asphalt on their other side.

Dom snapped his head in its direction. “They circled around us!”

Lucas was a distraction, Kayla realized. His taunts kept her attention on Parc while his goons snuck up behind, getting closer than Lucas’ voice allowed them to believe.

“Let’s try the back,” Dom said.

Kayla shook her head. “No time. They’re closer on that side. We have to try the front.”

“On Parc?” Dom’s question sounded shrill in her ears. “We’ll be exposed.”

Kayla nodded. “It’s try the front door, or get cornered in a back alley.”

When Dom hesitated, Kayla pulled him forward. They were out in the open a few seconds later.

“There they are!” someone shouted a couple of blocks away.

Kayla didn’t look to see how many there were. She glanced up above the four large wooden doors standing between her and safety. THE BLACK WATCH  rose from the stone in dark faded letters. ROYAL HIGHLAND REGIMENT marked the next line, while the letters beyond had long since fallen and disappeared.

There wasn’t enough time to discern its meaning. Kayla rushed with her friend limping by her side. At the door, she pulled one handle, but it wouldn’t budge. She tried the other three with the same luck.

“I want her alive,” roared Lucas, within stone’s throw of the Black Watch’s shadow.

~ 2 ~

“The City always stank of decay: graffiti littered walls, dying store fronts, shoddy construction, and the corruption, always the corruption. But from decay the seeds of new life can feed, their fresh new start reaching for the sun rising on a new day.”
– Captain Antoine Bourrassa, The Black Watch Journals

“Open the feck up!” Someone banged at the thick wooden panels of Captain Antoine Bourrassa’s fortress door.

The Captain didn’t need to watch through his binoculars at the scene developing on his front step. From his perch on the six-story building that shared a wall with the Black Watch’s two-story structure, he could clearly see a small mob forming a half-circle around two young men. Or was one a woman? The voice was tenor, but the short hair and padded jacket left him uncertain.

He scratched at the graying stubble that had crept up on him since early morning. His other hand rested on the handle of his sidearm, holstered on a belt strapped to his thigh. His uniform, like every day, stood in stark contrast with the rags worn by those around him. Its unfaded black polyester, hand-washed with hot-ironed creases, represented the Black Watch in every detail.

“Let us in!” the person cried again.

Definitely a woman, the Captain decided. But what to do about it?  That question, he found, wasn’t so easily answered.

The crowd of thirty-odd men forming a ragged perimeter around the couple made their intentions clear; jeers and lurid threats were thrown like live grenades, and were equally as frightening to the two below. The less vocal of the duo, obviously a man though a bit chubby, cradled arms about his chest and slumped against the Black Watch doors as his partner beat relentlessly against the wood.

One man stepped forward from the crowd. Antoine flinched at the sight of cheeks flapping around bloodied gums. Uneven teeth bared under a grotesque grin, a rabid dog frothing at the sight of fresh meat.

Enough of the face remained for Antoine to recognize Lucas, the leader of the Parc-Av Gang, a group of fifty in control of the area surrounding the Black Watch. There had been some tense situations on the occasional supply run, but after several failed attempts to breach Antoine’s perimeter, the gang had settled on an unofficial truce, where they left the Black Watch alone and the Captain didn’t meddle in their affairs.

Antoine wondered at the amount of pain produced by the wound in Lucas’ face, and found his answer a moment later when the mob leader raised a bottle high. Liquid Amber poured down his throat, spilling out the sides of his torn gullet to soil the front of a dirty jacket.

Dulls the pain, Antoine noted. Liquid Amber was something the gangs brewed in place of alcohol or any of the other street drugs that faded away after the plague wiped out those who knew how to make them. And it’ll drive you mad. Antoine projected the mental warning down to the figure below.

“You’ll ‘ish you’d laid still ‘ack there ’en I get through ‘ith ya,” said the man with a mangled face, his words sounding odd on a tongue that wagged freely in the mouth.

The woman stopped pounding on the door, whirled to face the crowd, and brandished a red-stained shard of glass. “Get back, Lucas, or I’ll cut more than your ugly face.”

Antoine squinted at the weapon she wielded. Had she cut the man?

“Ee’ll see ah-out that,” Lucas said. He waved a few men forward. Each walked up with confidence, a hungry look on their faces.

The Black Watch boasted a concrete landing in front of the doors. A few feet above street level, it carried a metal railing on the side parallel to the street. A ramp sloped out for several feet up one end, and at the other were a few stair-steps. This funneled Lucas’ men into two specific directions as they approached.

The woman waved the glass shard through the air, careful to keep her companion at her back. Armed with broken bottles, knives, and makeshift clubs, the approaching men didn’t seem fazed by the young woman’s ferocity.

Antoine tightened his grip around the sidearm’s handle. He had to remind himself of the mission he had carefully carried out over the last two decades, and it didn’t involve interfering in local turf wars, or the misfortunes of a young woman. And yet, his grip hardened until knuckles turned white.

~ 3 ~

“The feckin’ Plague took most of the adults first, and then worked its way down to the children at random. Much like the tornado, it jumped from house to house, arbitrarily sparing some with a sociopath’s sadistic charm.”
– Kayla the Uniter, Testimonies of Plague Survivors, The Black Watch Library

The glass shard shook in Kayla’s hand. Its razor edges dug into the flesh of her palm. A mixture of fear and the unrequited need for vengeance sent her mind into overdrive. The realization that it was Lucas’ blood on the glass sickened her, as it mixed with the fresh flow from her own hand.

Six men approached, three on each side. Kayla flicked the glass in one direction, then the next, keeping them barely out of arms reach.

“It’s amazing you can still stand,” one of them taunted. Another licked his lips, while a third grabbed a handful of his own crotch and said, “There’s a little more here for ya.”

That brought laughter from the others. Kayla felt her stomach flip and threaten to climb up her throat as memories of that cold cement floor threatened to surface.

“Take her, already,” Lucas commanded. He stood front and center, occasionally raising a bottle overhead to drain more Liquid Amber.

Kayla shuddered. Lucas’ vengeance would be cruel enough, but experience told her a person wasn’t truly sadistic until drunk on Liquid Amber. It locked away a person’s humanity and set loose the monster within. Some never recovered their wits, permanently fused into a homicidal state.

The prospect was frightening enough that Kayla considered turning the blade on herself, and robbing Lucas of his fun. Before she could direct the glass shard, one of the goons lunged for her arm.

She split his hand open. Another reached from the other side. Kayla plunged the blade into his thigh. He screamed.

Unable to retrieve the shard before the next attack, she planted a fist in someone’s eye. Her knee rose to meet tender groin, sending the assailant doubled-up onto the ground.

In the end, their numbers outmatched her ability to dodge. Hands enveloped her from behind. Kayla fought to break free, but merely slowed her descent toward the concrete landing. She managed to get one leg free and cave in an attacker’s jaw with a kick. Replaced by another body, her leg was quickly restrained.

Countless hands clawed at her jacket and pants. Buttons snapped. Zippers tore free.

Not again, she thought. I can’t do this again.

No tears!

The mantra failed to carry the same power it had an hour earlier. Trapped in an endless cycle, and scheduled to be at the receiving end of someone’s Liquid Amber-fueled rage, Kayla couldn’t imagine a future involving anything but pain and violation.

Lucas’ goons had managed to slip the waist of her jeans past her hip, when the first glass bottle broke; it shattered on the sidewalk a few feet from where Kayla lay pinned to the landing. Liquid flame washed out over the cement in the wake of the bottle’s splatter. Another bottle dropped from above and landed several feet from the first.

Frightened shouts rippled through the Parc-Av Gang as more bottles dropped, setting the ground ablaze.

Their attention elsewhere, Kayla managed to slip free from the men holding her., but one of them turned from the chaos and renewed his grasp.

Another bottle dropped closer. It shattered a couple of feet behind the man hovering above her. Fire ran up his leg until it enveloped him completely. Screams. Running. The smell of cooking flesh curled under the nostrils. Kayla hadn’t smelled that since the great body-burnings she witnessed as a child—massive pits filled to the lip with cloth-covered corpses and the pyres of vertical black clouds darkening the skies.

Stunned and uncertain what to make of the sudden shift, Kayla lay still on the concrete landing. She remained frozen as she watched the flames absorb two more of Lucas’ group before they stopped trying to put each other out.

One of the Black Watch’s four wooden doors clicked, and creaked open a few inches.

“Kayla,” Dom called, struggling to his feet. “Come on.” He shambled in first.

After a bewildered shake of her head, Kayla plucked her blade from a dead man’s thigh, then raced on hands and knees through the open door.

“Stoh theh!” Liquid Amber coursing through his veins, Lucas’ voice was thunderous enough to snap a few of his goons from their confusion.

Over her shoulder, Kayla glimpsed them racing up the concrete stairs. Fear of their deranged leader far outweighed the flames sprouting up all around them.

~ 4 ~

“Every defender needs three things to survive a siege: wits, resolve, and the moral high ground. All of which, using the right tactics, can be taken from the enemy.”
– Captain Antoine Bourrassa, The Black Watch Journals

Captain Antoine Bourrassa stood in the Black Watch lobby, hand on holstered weapon. He stared at the two intruders as they rushed to reseal the door he himself had opened. A glance around the room revealed an empty info kiosk to his left, the Wall of Names on his right, and the base of a stairwell near two doors—one at each side. He determined, as his aging training dictated, that the two before him were the only two people who made it into the compound.

A fool move, he thought. Now you grow a conscience? Antoine shook his head in self-reproach. Old age was making him soft.

Natural light angled down from windows high above. The setting sun had turned the light a deep shade of purple-orange, and darkened the mood. Countless fists collided against the Black Watch’s exterior as the gang struggled to breach Antoine’s perimeter. His two guests stared at the wooden doors as if waiting for them to burst open at any moment.

“Reinforced with steel,” Antoine said.

The woman turned at the sound of his voice.

“The wood itself is two inches thick,” he continued. “It would take an hour with an ax and torch to get through that way.”

The woman glanced back at the door, studied it carefully. “Are there any other ways they can get in?”

“Probably.” He smiled. “But that’s not important right now.”

The woman shook her head in obvious bewilderment. “How could that not be important?”

Antoine smiled. “Because for now, they’re too busy trying to get in this way.” He waited for his point to sink in before continuing, “That aside, if you’re carrying any weapons, I need you to put them on the ground.”

The glass shard flicked in his direction. Its point sketched a jagged line in the air as she tried to hold it steady. “I don’t know you, mister, and I have no intention of surrendering to you or anyone else.”

Antoine snorted. What was that word? Spunk? That was it. He smiled again.

“You’re in my house,” Antoine explained. “You can abide by such simple requests as this or”—he jerked his head at the doors—“you can try your luck elsewhere.”

Seconds passed as the woman’s eyes moved slowly from side to side in contemplation. The young man beside her had been on his hands and knees, struggling. Now he collapsed, unconscious.

“Dom?” the woman cried. She dropped the blade, and hovered over his body.

From outside, a distorted voice rose above the din. “General!”

Antoine sighed. He hated the Parc-Av Gang’s nickname for him.

“She’s ‘ine!” Lucas was no longer that of the small-time gang leader that Antoine had encountered from time to time. Liquid Amber had begun its transformation. The voice, shrill and unrestrained, had lost the subtle intonation of sanity; tangled inflections betrayed the homicidal rage that uttered them. “’ring her out! I ‘ant her! I ’ant her now!”

What did you step into, Antoine? he asked himself. There had been countless atrocities within view of his perch high above Black Watch. He’d always resisted the urge to intervene. Why ruin a perfect streak now?

“You have a gun,” said the woman, still hovered over her friend. “Can’t you put a bullet in him and end this?”

Antoine relaxed his grip on the sidearm. “I probably would…if I had any left.”

The woman’s jaw dropped.

Antoine shrugged. “We’ll make do.” At that, he sprang into action. From behind the information kiosk, he grabbed a car battery.

“What are you doing?” the woman asked.

“Welcoming our friend, Lucas.” It had been a long time since he had the chance to put his skills and knowledge to proper use. He set the large, block-shaped battery on the ground next to the door, and felt the strange surge of energy coursing through him.

“How is that supposed to help?” the woman asked.

Antoine set another battery next to the first, wired them in parallel, and then wired the final connection to the door knob. “I’m taking their will to fight, little by little.” He raised his voice to the door. “Lucas!”

The pounding of fists petered out.

“You calling ‘e, General?” Lucas’ voice grated in his ears.

Antoine nodded out of reflex, though Lucas couldn’t see it. “That’s right. I don’t want any trouble. You can have the girl.”

“What?” The woman’s shrill whisper carried more anger than fear.

Antoine patted the air to keep her calm.

“Send her out,” Lucas instructed.

“Can’t do that,” Antoine replied. “She’s injured, unable to walk. Someone will have to come in and get her.”

Through the door, Lucas’ orders were barely above a whisper, “‘arcus. Jerone. Get in there, ’ring her out, no need to ‘e gentle.”

Blocked behind thick doors, the sound and smell of the batteries’ effects were unmistakable. A quick, subtle fizz and pop told Antoine a connection was made. The loud thud of something dropping to the concrete confirmed it. Soon the faint odor of cooking meat waffled inside from under the door.

First there were gasps. Then came the frightened questions. And then, inevitably, anger followed.

“You’ll ‘ay ’or that, General.” A long pause. “Just re-eh-er who started this.” The voice changed direction. “Go to the stash. I ‘ant axes. I ’ant ‘uel to start a ’ire. I ‘ant the guns, and as ’uch ah-unition as you can carry.”

“You want to use the ammo on this guy?” another male voice asked.

There was a slap, followed by a pained yelp.

Lucas said, “Do it!”

“You got it, boss,” whimpered the other man.

Dom groaned from several feet away. Eyes closed, he shifted in his unconscious state.

“Come on,” Antoine said. “We have a little time before your friends outside are in a position to give us trouble. Let’s see to your man here.”

Antoine scanned the prone body curled up on the tiles. Trained fingers probed his chest and abdomen as he watched Dom’s face for a reaction. Cold, clammy skin, paler than winter—all signs of blood loss. Yet there wasn’t much blood on his face and clothes.

Internal bleeding, Antoine noted. He’d seen more than his fair share of it when the plague struck—a disease that caused organs to rupture one at a time, and leak into the body. Nasty business, the plague.

“Is he going to be all right?” the woman asked. “You can help him?” That last sounded more like a declaration than a question.

“I’ll get a stretcher,” Antoine said. “We’ll put him in a bed upstairs, and I’ll see what I can do.” His nondescript answer seemed to calm the woman’s fears somewhat.

If I could only convince myself, Antoine thought, trying not to let the grim prognosis show on his face.

~ 5 ~

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
-Arthur C. Clarke, Hazards of Prophecy: The Failure of Imagination, The Black Watch Library

“What the feck are you doing?” Kayla asked, gripped by fear over her injured friend.

Introductions made, she had learned the name of their strange benefactor. The Captain—apparently some form of defunct military designation—had started to wrap bandages around Dom’s bare torso. Now partially conscious, her friend winced at each pull of the gauze.

The Captain sighed before answering, “He has three bruised ribs, and I think one more that’s cracked. The wrap is to keep his innards from moving around unnecessarily.”

Kayla stood silently. She had never seen anyone use bandages in such a way. It didn’t make sense to squeeze an area that was already purple with swelling.

She glanced around the sparse room the Captain had provided for Dom. Mostly a cement box, the small room had only the thin cot on which Dom lay; a single desk on thin, wooden legs in the far corner; and a simple metal chair. On this chair, the Captain sat working on his patient.

“One of the bones in his forearm is broken,” the Captain continued to explain. “I can make a splint to reduce movement, but I’ll need your friend awake before I can attempt to reset it.”

“Why?” Kayla stood in the open doorway, ready to bolt at any moment. “He won’t feel the pain if he’s out.”

The Captain nodded. “That’s the problem. I need to know exactly what he feels in order to set it right. I’m not a doctor; my training is limited. I’ll need your friend’s reactions to help guide me.”

Doctor? There was another term she hadn’t heard since the plague finished sweeping the country more than two decades ago. The title was a faint whisper from her childhood.

“If you want to help him,” the Captain offered, “you can keep this on the swelling around his eye.” He lifted a rubbery sack. “Every twenty minutes, you take it off. Twenty minutes later, you put it back on for twenty.” He stood up and set the sack on his chair.

“Where are you going?” she asked when he made for the door.

The Captain smiled. “I’m going to prepare for our company.”

Company?

“Why do you talk so feckin’ strange?” she asked, stepping out of his path. It took Kayla a slow couple of seconds to spot the grey in the Captain’s beard, and the streak of white at his temple. Creases formed around his eyes when he smiled, and at his forehead when he raised a brow.

He’s old, Kayla realized. No one talks like that because no one that old is left.

The Captain chuckled. “You’ve quite a mouth on you.” When Kayla said nothing, he continued, “Use the bag to reduce the swelling. He’ll be able to use that eye again in a while.”

Kayla picked up the rubber sack from the chair’s seat and felt its cold seep into her hand. She squeezed, and the solid chunks inside clacked together.

“This is ice,” she said, unable to contain her awe.

The Captain shrugged. “All you need is a couple of clay pots, some sand and water. Thermodynamics does the rest.”

“Ther-moh-die-nam…” The word felt bulky on Kayla’s tongue. “You don’t have to wait for the middle of winter for ice?”

“I don’t like to wait for anything…unless it’s to my advantage.” The Captain’s lopsided grin said more than his words.

What makes him so cocky? Kayla found arrogance to be a short-lived characteristic, likely to get a person killed. Then again, none of the cocky people she’d met knew how to make ice or charge a battery.

“Oh,” the Captain added, “be careful while you’re here. You don’t want to find yourself on the receiving end of my little surprises. I’ve left marks on the ceiling to warn where they are. You can’t miss them—if you’re looking for them.”

“Surprises?” Kayla muttered.

The Captain turned in the doorway. “And remember: twenty minutes on, then twenty minutes off.”

Kayla snorted. “Sure. No problem. I’ll time it on the watch I don’t have.”

There was that sly smile again. “Or you could always use the clock on the wall.” He pointed at the plain, white clock above the desk. Kayla had ignored its two slender black arms. The city had many clocks. None of them worked without electricity, but there were plenty to be found lying around.

Now Kayla focused on the clock. A needle thin stick—she remembered it from childhood as “the second hand”—shifted. With a life of its own, the second hand ticked from one mark to the next.

“It works?” Kayla asked, whirling about to confront the Captain.

He wasn’t there.

Gone to prepare for company, she remembered.

Kayla walked to the open door and glanced down both ends of the corridor. Banners and symbols adorned the walls, but the Captain was gone.

She looked over her shoulder at Dom. He shifted in his sleep; the wrinkles above his brow told her he was in pain even while unconscious.

“Twenty minutes on,” she said aloud, repeating the Captain’s instructions. She put action to words by placing the rubbery sack gently against the swelling on Dom’s face.

Dom sighed. His brow relaxed and his movement eased.

It felt strange to measure time by the movement of the clock’s arms. For most of her years, Kayla had used the sun’s light—and its absence—to indicate time’s passage. Faint childhood memories were her only connection to how the clock translated into seconds and minutes.

When the longer of the two major arms passed twenty of the clock’s tick marks, Kayla removed the cold sack and set it on the metal chair. She would have twenty minutes of idleness if she followed the Captain’s advice.

Fat chance. There was no trusting the Captain, or anyone else for that matter. Others had offered kindness to Kayla in the past, but their true intentions always revealed themselves in the end. Whether it was her body or the scraps she had scavenged, everyone wanted something. Dom remained the only exception to that rule, and she knew it was up to her to secure safety for both of them.

First, I’ll need a weapon, she told herself. The Captain’s claim to a lack of bullets didn’t sit right. No way had a guy like the Captain survived this long in the heart of Parc-Av territory without bullets. He had to be hiding them somewhere in the building. She had to find where, get a loaded gun, and then…then Lucas will pay.

Kayla slipped into the hall and vanished down the corridor.

~ 6 ~

“Edmund Burke said, ‘Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.’ But, Edmund Burke didn’t mention that those who do know history are destined to rewrite it.”
– Dom the Teacher, The Black Watch Journals

Dom listened to wounded groans for several minutes before acknowledging them as his own. There was another sound, louder, and more repetitive—a horn or siren blared, stopped, blared again, and then stopped. Flashing red light pierced his eyelids from all around.

“Kayla?”

No one answered.

Where is she? She had been right next to him when they moved through the side streets. They had ducked in and out around garbage cans and piles of debris. There was the squat two-story building, Dom remembered. Kayla was convinced they could find refuge there. Memories skittered across his mind in short, fleeting bursts: Lucas had found them, cornered them, corralled them. They had bolted toward the building’s entrance—then Dom’s memory failed. Did we get inside?

He drew in a deep, painful breath. Nope, not dead. And no one was kicking him. He and Kayla must have made it inside.

He opened his eyes.

The red flashing light came from a fixed bulb high up on the wall. Encased in red plastic and further guarded by a wire mesh, the light flashed in sync with the blaring horn. The sights and sounds mesmerized him. Light bulbs and speakers? Electricity? Where the feck were they?

More importantly, where was Kayla?

Dom tried to sit up. Pain stabbed deep into his chest, choked the air out of his lungs, and forced him back down onto the padded cot. When his shuddering breath settled, he glanced down. Someone had wrapped gauze about his chest. Did Kayla do that?

Where is Kayla? he asked himself. She hadn’t mentioned what happened when the Parc-Av gang was stomping him in the back alley. She hadn’t had to. Tear streaks had left sinewy lines of pink skin exposed through the grime on her face. Her clothes were disheveled. It didn’t take much imagination to put the pieces together. And what good was I?

Dom punched the wall next to him. He immediately regretted it, and shook his hand until pain receded to a dull ache. The fire in his chest from the sudden exertion took longer to subside.

Idiot. You can’t let her down again.

With that, Dom pushed himself upright, inches at a time. He swung both legs over the side of his bed and nearly doubled over as the weight pulled at his abdomen.

You don’t have to run a mile, he told himself. You just need to find Kayla.

~ 7 ~

“A capacity, and taste, for reading, gives access to whatever has already been discovered by others. It is the key, or one of the keys, to the already solved problems. And not only so. It gives a relish, and facility, for successfully pursuing the (yet) unsolved ones.”
– Abraham Lincoln, The Black Watch Library

Kayla’s heart nearly stopped when the red flashing lights and blaring horn kicked on. At first she assumed the Captain had discovered she was missing from Dom’s room. But the more she thought about it, the more she realized the Captain—alone as he appeared to be—didn’t need an alarm to signal a violation of rules he never gave her anyway.

It’s Lucas and his goons, she decided. It has to be.

Somehow the gang leader had managed to breach the Black Watch. The sudden realization only intensified her need for a fully-loaded firearm.

Then again, she thought, turning the corner on one of the first floor’s many corridors, I’d settle for just one bullet.

A scream froze Kayla in place. It came from behind her, down the maze of corridors. A sharp popping sound preceded a yelp and a series of startled shouts followed shortly after.

Kayla knew what was happening. The Captain had warned her to look up. Tiny x’s, carved into the white gypsum of the false ceiling tiles, marked the traps he had set for his guests. In her rush, Kayla had nearly missed the thin wire stretching across the corridor at shin height, and the little x that marked it. She’d encountered several similar contraptions during her brief search of the Black Watch, and didn’t want to imagine what would have happened if she hadn’t been warned.

“I think I see her,” someone shouted from behind.

Kayla carefully stepped over the wire, then rushed down the corridor. At the corner, she stopped to watch, hidden around the bend.

The first to appear was a short blond man. Jerome. Kayla recognized him as one of the men who had held down her right arm at the convenience store. He was closely followed by someone she didn’t recognize—a taller, muscular man with dark hair and even darker eyes.

Neither man paid any attention to the Captain’s ceiling marks. The wire snapped against Jerome’s shin, and a dull pop sounded from behind the wall to his left. Small holes ripped open in the drywall, sending puffs of plaster into the corridor. Black specks spat from the holes they had created and pelted the two men. There was no time to scream: both men were punctured by a dozen nails.

Kayla felt suddenly uneasy. Her desire for vengeance, though red-hot, cowered from the gore in front of her. Was this what she wanted to inflict on others? She scanned the wall where the Captain’s trap had lain in wait. It resembled a cheese grater, with all its sharp holes. Kayla shook her head at the cold brutality of it, filled with a mixture of disquieting joy and a sense of responsibility for having led Lucas’ men into the building.

“Over here,” someone said.

Kayla didn’t wait to see who it was. She ducked farther down the corridor, scanning open doors, watching the ceiling for marks, and checking every few meters to see if there was movement.

At another ceiling indicator, Kayla stopped. One of the floor tiles directly underneath it was loose, its grout chiseled away, almost unnoticeable in the dim red light of the alarm. The third gypsum tile ahead of the x bowed out toward the floor, as if under tremendous pressure.

Back against the wall, Kayla circumvented the loose tile and made sure not to walk beneath the precarious ceiling panel.

Approaching footsteps forced her into the threshold of an open door; desks and chairs sat in the dark behind her, patiently waiting for their occupants to return. Despite two decades of disuse, everything was neatly organized and the air didn’t smell of dust.

The Captain keeps a clean house, she thought. Unusual for a city where no one stayed in one place long enough to tidy up. No one cared enough about their decrepit surroundings to beautify them.

Kayla shook the errant thoughts from her head, annoyed at her lack of focus on the perilous situation in which she found herself.

A man emerged from around the corner. Tall and wiry like Lucas, Tomas’ ruddier features set him apart from his leader. It was Tomas who had first spotted Dom and Kayla in Park-Av territory. Now he was racing for the loose tile.

Kayla opened her mouth, tempted to warn him away from the gruesome result the Captain had in store for him.

Words didn’t come.

Tomas could have let them go earlier that day. He could have kept his mouth shut, while Kayla and Dom snuck through harmlessly. But he hadn’t. Instead he had helped unleash the cruel violation on that cold cement floor.

Kayla closed her mouth and watched as his foot sank down on the tile. It dropped a short distance, and then clicked. Tomas didn’t seem to hear it. He didn’t seem to notice the ceiling tile shift either, as he ran directly beneath it.

First there was the snap as the ceiling tile split in two. Then the thunderous click and clatter as dozens of clay bricks descended, held together by mesh netting. What the bricks did to Tomas’ skull made Kayla bend at the waist and convulse with dry heaves. Pink and gray chunks spattered the tiles in front of Tomas’ corpse, a pool of dark liquid quickly swallowing them up as it spread from the mash at the top of his neck.

I could have prevented that, she thought. Again the memory of the convenience store assaulted her conscience. Feck him!

Farther down the hallway, Kayla bypassed two more traps—one for evisceration, the other some sort of gas contraption. She didn’t wait around to see their effects.

When the corridor straightened out for a long stretch, Kayla found what she was looking for—a door labeled ARMORY. She tested the steel door’s lock. Nothing. No surprise there.

In twenty years, Kayla had made her way into a number of places, and not all of them were easily accessed. A hard life had trained her on how to overcome such obstacles.

She dropped to one knee and peered at the razor-thin gap between door and frame. She wouldn’t be able to use a credit card to open it. The bolt lock above the knob was a Medico; hair pins and paperclips wouldn’t suffice. She rapped a knuckle against the frame. Tang…Tang…Tang. Metal as well. There would be no kicking the door in, either.

Discouraged, Kayla sighed. All that searching and, at the very end, she couldn’t get to what she needed. How many had died gruesomely, chasing her? The image of the cheese-grater wall, where the thin drywall had been reduced to confetti, floated to the surface of her mind.

“Drywall!” she blurted aloud, then rapped a knuckle against the wall around the door’s frame. Konk…Konk…Konk. Hollow with the occasional wooden stud.

Kayla scanned her surroundings until she found something to break through quickly: a fire ax hung in a little red metal box on the wall, a glass pane covering the front. She had to shatter the safety glass to get at it; broken in chunks, not shards, the pieces rolled over her hand and arm instead of cutting her flesh.

Sharp as the day it was made, the ax sliced through the drywall, cutting a narrow hole for Kayla to squeeze through. She had finally reached her destination, and found—nothing.

~ 8 ~

“When the heart of your enemy is shut tight in hatred, there isn’t a force in this city that can pry it open. Better to quarantine the infected and save those left with an open mind.”
-Dom the Teacher, Testimonies of Plague Survivors The Black Watch Library

Dom flattened against the wall, his bruised ribs clawing at his insides. He wanted to cry out but knew what would happen if he did—Lucas and a sizable number of his gang had gathered at the base of the stairs in the Black Watch lobby.

Lucas drained the remaining Liquid Amber from his bottle, then chucked it against the Wall of Names. Glass shattered. His goons chuckled.

Dom stood on the second floor watching them gather, hoping they didn’t choose that moment to ascend. A quick search of the second floor had told him Kayla wasn’t there. But, remembering the Black Watch only had two floors, he could safely assume she would be on the first.

“You ‘or search that ’ay.” His wound slurring four” and “way”, Lucas thrust a gun toward the corridor adjacent the Wall of Names. “You se’en”—he pointed the gun barrel at seven of his men, one at a time; each recoiled from the danger—“Go uh-stairs and search eh-ee-thing.”

Dom turned away from the stairwell. He had to hide before they reached the top of the stairs.

Footsteps grew louder. Heavy breathing approached. Dom bit down against the pain of his frightened cringe.

A loud crash of stone on stone made him freeze. There were no more footsteps; Lucas’ men had also stopped at the sound.

Dom glanced back around the corner. Several steps down, the seven men Lucas had chosen remained still. Everyone had eyes on the corridor abutting the information kiosk.

Lucas turned; the red flashing light caught his face and peeled back the shadow to reveal the grotesque image of what Kayla had done to him. His gaping maw stretched wide, blackened flesh eating at the serrated edges. “Eh-ery-one, that ‘ay. Now!”

All ten men piled into the corridor where the crash had come from. Lucas trailed them, his gun dangling at his hip.

When they had enough time to gain distance, Dom limped down the stairs, leaning most of his weight on the wooden rail; its groans matched his own. At the corridor where Lucas and the others had gone, he stopped to scan for movement.

What if it was Kayla?

There was a snap farther down the corridor. Somebody screamed. It sounded like a man, but high-pitched with fear and pain.

Dom shivered at the man’s wails, then jumped as a gunshot cracked. The man was silent.

I have to find Kayla, Dom told himself. He forced his feet onward toward the scream, toward where Lucas and his goons had gone.

Lucas’ hideous grin appeared in every shadowy corner. Dom expected the gang leader to jump out at any moment and finish what he had started in the alley behind the convenience store.

After a few turns, Dom found the first sign of bloodshed—two men shredded by nails—and a damaged wall to his right. Another turn down a corridor revealed a man splayed out on the floor, his head hidden beneath a pile of bricks.

Who was doing this? Dom raised a brow, then winced at the pain spiking in his swollen eye. Kayla couldn’t have set all this up.

The next of Lucas’ men sat against a wall, pinkish-yellow guts in a pile on his lap, a bullet in his forehead. Blank, lifeless eyes stared down at coils of intestines.

Dom heaved, but nothing came up. He turned away. The smell of shit and piss saturated the surrounding air, where the bodies had loosed their bowls upon death.

Another pop echoed from down the hallway. Screams. Coughing. Footsteps raced down the corridor toward him. Gunshots rang out. More screams.

Dom looked around for a hiding place, and found none. Footsteps continued to close the distance toward him. Someone screamed. Something heavy thudded to the ground.

Dom’s tense, frightened muscles squeezed harder against his battered ribs. His breath wheezed in strained hyperventilation.

What do I do? What do I do? Caught in an impotent loop, his thoughts seemed as shrill as screams. I have to do something.

Footsteps raced toward him from around the next bend. One more turn and they would be on him.

~ 9 ~

“By cultivating the beautiful we scatter the seeds of heavenly flowers, as by doing good we cultivate those that belong to humanity.”
-Robert A. Heinlein, The Black Watch Library

Kayla stood dumfounded before the Captain’s stash. The Armory turned out to be nothing more than a basement at the bottom of several concrete stairs. Inside was an unimpressive cube of cement and drywall, where a cyclone fence added another layer of deterrence. The fenced-in space, which couldn’t have fit more than ten parked cars, had been packed full, using every last inch.

She tried to make sense of what she saw, and couldn’t. Why would the Captain be guarding this?

Stacks of books reached the ceiling. Paintings filled the spaces between, wrapped and sealed in transparent plastic. Shapes and objects Kayla didn’t recognize littered the area.

“What the feck is this?” she muttered, more to understand it herself.

“Everything.”

Kayla whirled to face the speaker. It was the Captain. His gun still rested in its holster. Another pistol rested at his hip, gripped tight in his right hand.

“Why do you have books and pictures?” she asked. “An armory should have guns and bullets.”

The Captain nodded. “True. But bullets serve one purpose and it’s a short-lived one at that. What you see here accomplishes much more.” When Kayla continued to stare in silence, he continued, “The plague stole more than billions of lives when it struck. It took our civilization. It took our way of life.”

“I don’t understand.” Kayla glanced back and forth between the Captain and his pile of junk.

The Captain took a step forward. “During the first few winters after the plague, when petrol and propane were all used up, people started to burn whatever they could to stay warm.”

“I remember,” Kayla said. Those first few winters had been frightening. Her parents had died, and she’d sealed them in their bedroom because she’d been too small to dig a hole big enough to bury them. When the cold had come, she’d nearly frozen. Wooden furniture had been the first to go, and it had gone quickly.

The Captain walked up to the cyclone fence, wrapping his fingers through the metal links. He stared at the eclectic body of works. “When there was little else, books, art, and so much more were burned as fuel. Much of the city itself had gone up in flames when some of the fires spread. Museums didn’t last long. Private, rich homes—the main collectors of rare art—were prime targets for looters, and they cared little for what they destroyed in their wake.”

Kayla nodded. Four years after the plague, her entire block had burned down. On the run, she’d met Dom and a few others her age. Like small rodents, they had all been hiding within blocks of each other, but hadn’t dared make contact. When their homes were gone, they had learned to depend on one another. But since the various gangs formed and settled into their turfs, Dom was the last one she had left; the others had been killed, or joined a gang for protection and access to food.

“That’s all in the past,” Kayla said. “Why waste energy on these things”—she thrust a finger toward the fence—“when food, water, and ammunition are the things that keep you alive?”

The Captain patiently nodded.

His calm understanding irritated her, but it was also intriguing. Here was a man with a purpose.

“When everything started falling apart, a few in the military were given a set of rather vague instructions,” the Captain explained, turning to face Kayla, his back to the concrete stairs. “I point out that it was vague because the military rarely gave such an order. Everything was specific, with a clear purpose and an objective to achieve.”

“And you were one of the people given the order?” Kayla asked.

“That’s right,” the Captain confirmed, and added a smile. “My orders were to protect our way of life.”

“And?” Kayla pressed.

The Captain shrugged. “That was it. Of course, there was probably more to the transmission, but it didn’t make it through. All I have is ‘protect our way of life.’”

Annoyed by the idiocy of it all, Kayla asked, “So, you spend your time gathering books and paintings?”

The Captain chuckled. “There are three parts to the continuation of any civilization or way of life: the way people think, the way they feel, and the next —”

A deafening crack cut his explanation short. He grunted, clutched his side, and fell to the floor. The gun landed a few feet away.

Kayla dove for the weapon out of instinct.

Something clicked. “Not so ‘ast!”

Kayla froze, inches from the weapon. Lucas. The realization threatened to knock the wind from her lungs as her muscles clenched tight.

“‘Ello, darlin’,” Lucas said.

Kayla looked up and winced. The cut she had made looked infected. Black tendrils reached up across his face and met under crazed eyes, his pupils dilated by Liquid Amber. There was no doubt—from drug or from pain, he had gone mad.

“Thirty,” Lucas said, his tongue moving visibly between his teeth. “You cost ‘e thirty ’en, Kayla. Thanks to the General here.” He flicked the barrel of his gun in the Captain’s direction.

Kayla could see that the Black Watch guardian was in trouble. The Captain didn’t try to get up, each breath producing a painful wheeze.

“He can ‘atch ’hile I ’ake you ‘ay.” Lucas’ words were barely intelligible.

The Captain coughed up something red. “Leave her alone.”

Lucas fired a shot into the Captain’s leg, snickering when his victim yelped.

“Stop it!” Kayla shrieked. Water welled around her eyes.

No tears!

“You don’t ‘ant hi’ hurt?” Lucas’ deformed smile curved up almost to his ears.

Kayla shook her head. “I don’t want him hurt.”

“Then get on your knees.”

Kayla glanced at the Captain.

Blood pooled around his two wounds. He shook his head. “Don’t do it. He’ll kill both of us either way.”

Kayla balled her fists and clenched her eyes tight. Then, against every fiber of her being, she lowered to her knees.

“Oh, I’ gonna have ‘un ’ith you.” Lucas’ tone dripped with sleaze.

Her teeth pressed together hard enough to shoot pain through her jaw. Her heart punched against her ribcage. Memories of that cement floor in the convenience store bubbled to her consciousness—its cold, hard surface sapping her strength as she had kicked and clawed.

She flinched when a hand touched her head, fingers slipping through hair.

“O’en ‘ide,” Lucas said. His fingers gripped a clump of her hair and pulled back.

Kayla yipped from the pain. A tear threatened to break free.

No tears!

Her lips trembled as she parted them. She wanted to resist. She wanted to claw at Lucas’ face and tear out his eyes. But that would mean torture for the Captain, and for Dom, who had suffered enough already.

Something touched her lower lip. She tried to pull away but Lucas’ hand was firm, driving pain into her scalp where her hair was held taut. The thing touching her lip was cold and unyielding, not at all what she expected.

Her eyes popped open: it was the barrel of Lucas’ gun.

She looked up in time to see the demonic look in his face.

“You’re gonna ‘ish I killed you quick,” he said.

“Let her go!”

Dom? Kayla saw her friend race up behind Lucas with a wooden baseball bat high in one hand. She turned her head, spitting out the barrel of the gun, as Dom landed a blow over Lucas’ shoulder blades.

The gun went off.

Powder seared across her face. An explosion of sound rocked her ears. Kayla fell back onto the seat of her pants, dazed. Bright, confusing light and a dizzying ring left her shocked.

Through blurred vision, she saw Lucas swing an arm at Dom’s hunched figure; Dom went down.

Kayla rose on unsteady legs, not sure what she intended to do until she had mounted Lucas’ shadowy back. Her fingers searched for that demonic grin—loose flaps of skin were easy to grip.

A man’s shrill, distant howl reached her ears and reminded her of where she was. She remembered what Lucas had done, the bodies she had seen piled in the Black Watch’s corridors because of his madness.

Kayla pulled back on the flaps. Her sense of touch more sensitive by a decline in other faculties, she could feel the flesh rend from bone and muscle.

The howling stopped, and the body she had mounted fell limp to the floor beneath her.

She sank to her knees, head in hands, and wept. The tears slipped between fingertips and tapped against the fabric of her jeans.

A hand set down on her shaking shoulders. “It’s okay, Kayla,” Dom’s voice pushed through the ringing in her ears. “It’s over now. The traps took out Lucas’ men. You’re safe now.”

~ 10 ~

“It has been said, ‘time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.”
-Rose Kennedy, The Black Watch Library

Kayla scanned Parc Avenue from Prince Arthur Street to President Kennedy through a pair of binoculars the Captain had given her. Everything looked peaceful from her perch atop the six-story structure where she had first spotted the Captain two months ago.

With the Parc-Av gang’s numbers thinned out, the area surrounding the Black Watch remained in dispute between the bordering gangs, but its resulting violence kept to the streets and away from the gray stone walls she now guarded.

“All clear?” asked the Captain. Roof gravel crackled under his approaching footsteps, a distinct limp to his gait.

Kayla nodded. “The Mohawk Tribe had a skirmish with the Jacobins an hour ago. Both sides scurried back to their holes with minimal losses.”

“All the better,” the Captain said. “As long as they continue to fight each other, they should leave us alone.”

“I saw we have another recruit.” Kayla lowered her binoculars, craning her head to look up at the Captain.

It was his turn to nod. “Looks promising. Another survivor with no interest in gang membership.” He shrugged. “We’ll see if they can stand up to the training.”

“Have they seen the Armory yet?”

The Captain shook his head. “That comes later. When they’re ready.”

A pop in the distance drew Kayla’s attention toward Prince Arthur. Another skirmish that ended as abruptly as it had begun. One man had fired a zip-gun. His one bullet wasted on a shot that went wide, he clashed with another man in rags. After a tussle, they retreated separately north and south.

Kayla saw the brief struggle and was reminded of her final wrestle with Lucas, a thought that rarely left her. She remembered the conversation he had interrupted. “You never told me what the third thing was.”

“Come again?”

“You said there were three things a civilization needed to continue into the future: the way people think, the way people feel, and then the third thing. I’m guessing the books symbolize the way those before us thought; the art signifies the way they felt. But what’s the third?”

The Captain’s lips curled up on one side. “I thought you’d figured that out already.”

Kayla shook her head, curiosity outweighing her need to appear perceptive.

“You and Dom are the third thing. You two and the new recruits.”

Kayla pressed her brows together in confusion.

“The next generation to carry it on into the future. All those books, paintings, and sculptures are useless without context. If the future has no medium to understand these artifacts, they’re as good as burned. You and Dom remember just enough of the old ways to bridge the past with this new world the plague has created. Even now, Dom is teaching some of the new recruits how to read using the books in the Armory. From here, we lay the foundation for the future.”

Kayla lifted the binoculars to her face, uncertain how to respond. She had lived more than twenty years working solely for her own survival. The responsibility the Captain laid on her shoulders was heavy, yet she felt an invigorating surge of energy. To unite the splintered groups surrounding her Black Watch, and build a society from the ashes of the old, was a challenge too enticing to reject.

Wrapped in a black polyester uniform, Kayla could see the future unfold in front of her, as if the binoculars spread her vision much farther than mere distance. She was Black Watch now, and she would protect the way of life of her parents by resurrecting it.


From scaling mountains to backpacking through more than twenty foreign lands, William R.A.D. Funk has sought out the interesting and the inspirational in an attempt to enrich the stories taking shape in his mind. A former civil engineer and police officer, he has dabbled in everything from the manual to the intellectual. Based in Florida, with his wife Andrea, William has been published in a number of online magazines from Penumbra to T. Gene Davis’s Speculative Fiction Blog. His stories range through Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, with a few not quite fitting in any specific genre.

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