Anna pulled the trigger and the hammer clicked on an empty chamber. Just like she knew it would. The weight of the gun had been wrong, but more importantly she’d been able to verify that it wasn’t loaded in the brief interval when the Brotherhood brought the young boy who stood before her into the room.
She made a show of checking the weapon as though it might have misfired, but everyone in the room knew it hadn’t. The Brotherhood hadn’t trusted her and the last thing you want to give to someone you don’t trust is a loaded firearm.
Once Anna had proven that the firearm was in working order, she held out her hand for a replacement, being careful to appear visibly unhappy with the trick they’d attempted to pull on her.
No one wanted to give her their own gun of course. Even those who were rapidly coming to believe her story found Anna’s demeanor intimidating.
Anna shrugged and reached into her pocket. That was too much for one of the jumpier members of the Brotherhood. Driven by a frothing panic, he drew his own firearm and stepped within a few feet of her, demanding that she drop the gun she was obviously reaching for.
Instead, she finished withdrawing her hand from her pocket, along with the buzzing smart phone she’d reached for.
The Brotherhood member was not pacified by site of a phone in place of the pistol he’d assumed she was reaching for. From his reaction to it, the phone was even more threatening of a weapon than a gun would have been.
Flecks of spittle flew from his mouth as he demanded to know who was on the other end of the line. He would shoot her if she didn’t tell him. He would shoot her right there, right in the head.
The flecks of spittle were shortly joined by a spray of blood.
In his panic and rage, he’d walked within Anna’s arm’s reach.
There are many methods of disarming someone. Anna chose one that would produce an audible snap as the bones in the man’s wrist shattered. Before the pistol could hit the floor, she scooped it up in the hand which had broken the man’s wrist, and then, before the other Brotherhood members could react, she used the pistol to smash the man in the face, breaking his nose and shattering his jaw.
The time for pretense was done, she had a large room of people to deal with, and she needed to make sure that the most trigger happy one among them wasn’t going to be a problem later.
Shooting him would have been the most efficient option to ensure he didn’t become a problem again, but she held back. Broken bones could heal, bruises would mend, but if she ended his life, that ended too many other things. Gone would be the slim chance that he would turn around and repudiate the man he’d devolved into, and gone would be the very real possibility of seeing justice done for the crimes he had been party to.
No one in the room was going to die.
That didn’t mean everyone would be leaving under their own power however. Or fully intact.
The primary myth of the gun is that bearing one is a path to safety. People see the power offered by a firearm as a means of guaranteeing their safety. When danger threatens they imagine that their gun will allow them to fight back, to shoot the other guy before they get shot themselves.
The reality however is that danger doesn’t arrive when you’re ready and prepared for it. It strikes at unforeseen moments, and usually has the initiative on even the most well prepared of people.
The Brotherhood had brought Anna into the control center questioning whether they were going to trust her or bury her in some forgotten acre of the forest. Anna, by contrast, had entered the control room knowing she was going to take down every last person inside it.
The numbers were against her, but she knew the general plan of what she would do before she stepped into the building. The specifics came to her in the moment, with some degree of improvisation (no plan survives exposure to reality), but overall she moved without pause or delay.
From the man with the broken wrist and face, she turned to the next most dangerous person in the room.
He started reaching for his gun the moment she turned her eyes on him, but her reflexes were already executing her plan while his were still figuring out exactly what he wanted to do.
She shot him in the hand. Hands aren’t critical body parts, but they are composed of highly delicate bones. Even after a number of surgeries, he wouldn’t regain full use of it, though he would learn, in time, to sketch portraits quite well with his diminished manual dexterity.
The next man to draw his weapon received the firearm Anna was holding as a projectile to his throat. He went down gagging and choking, in far too much pain to think about the rifle Anna took from his unresponsive fingers.
Of the rest of the men, the whole group had been sure that when they were in a life threatening situation they would instantly react just as their favorite action stars did, dropping one-liners and responding with clear headed speed and precision.
Precisely none of them managed that however.
For all their practice and training, none of them had envisioned the situation they were in turning violent. In the first few precious moments they each scrambled to first understand what was occurring, then evaluate the area around themselves, then form a proper response. Even something as simple as “draw gun, aim, and fire” was complicated by the fact that Anna didn’t stand still like a target dummy, or pop out in a static set of locations like their practice range targets.
The room held nine men, plus Anna, plus the child named Gabriel. Ann put the first two men down before any of the rest registered that a conflict had even begun. The other seven couldn’t manage to get out of each other’s line of fire long enough to get a shot off. They scrambled to find an avenue of attack and Anna broke them one by one.
By the time the fifth one was writhing on the floor the remaining four’s morale broke and they tried to flee instead of engage. That wasn’t an option Anna could allow them though. Tam was supposed to have rescued the children in the bus but if she was delayed, Anna needed to buy her as much time as possible.
One man tried to take Gabriel hostage.
That was a mistake.
Anna broke his back.
The last to fall was beyond panic and could barely articulate his threat as he waved a detonator switch in the air.
He was threatening the children in the bus. They were all wearing explosive leggings, and he was more than willing to blow them all up if Anna didn’t let him go.
There was a long moment when it looked like they would be stuck in a deadly standoff, but then Anna’s phone dinged with the arrival of a new message from Tam.
She glanced at the phone and then at the last Brotherhood member still standing. The calm delight on her face was too unnerving. The man released the detonator and blew up…not the children but the large stockpile of weapons the Brotherhood had collected on the base.
“How did you get the kids out of there?” Val asked. “I thought you said removing their leg bombs was going to take too long?”
She was relaxing in the inground hot tub adjacent to the main pool at the Anderson Water and Amusement Park. Charlene had rented out the entire park for the weekend and after trekking through the wilderness for hours evading the Brotherhood hunters who hadn’t gotten the memo that they were beaten, a long relaxing soak was exactly what the doctor ordered.
“That turned out to be pretty easy,” Tam said. “A couple of the kids knew sign, so I explained how to take the ankle bracelets off to them with my really poor signing skills and then let them watch me unlock one. They helped show the other kids how to do it and we cut the job down to fraction of the time.”
“But the bus still blew up?” Anna asked. She was less sore than Val, but the warm water still felt good on shoulders. She didn’t like violence, and especially didn’t like the degree of it she’d had to inflict, but life didn’t always arrange itself according to one’s preferences.
“I wasn’t sure how long we had before the SWAT teams showed up, so once the kids were off I put a rock on the bus’s accelerator pedal and sent it into the nearest building I could see,” Tam said. She was sipping from a fruit filled adult beverage whose silly name she hadn’t bothered to ask. Just so long as it had an umbrella and a straw she was happy.
“Yeah, what happened with the SWAT guys? I thought they were supposed to be rallying to follow us as fast as they could?” Val asked.
“The first story was that there was a mix up in the lines of communication,” Anna said.
“But then we recovered the data from the sniffer Anna brought into their communications hub and we found out that one of the local SWAT commanders and a few of the on duty officers were members of the Brotherhood,” Tam said.
“So Charlene was right to have JB do an end run around them. Huh, color me not at all shocked,” Val said.
“It does make some sense, right? The Brotherhood chose the location they did because they had the local police on their side,” Tam said. “Any investigation that lead to the Brotherhood’s doorstep would go through the office of some of its senior members.”
“Speaking of that, how did we do with identifying the people behind the organization?” Val asked.
“Well, we got their full member roster,” Tam said. “So those guys will all be doing time in separate federal prisons fairly soon I imagine.”
“We also found a number of their financial backers,” Anna said. “Jimmy B is already tracing the connections between them to see if we can catch any who might not have shown up on the ledgers we copied.”
A young boy went running past the hot tub, chased by two girls and another boy. One after the other they cannonballed into the pool and swam to the other side, leaping out of the pool as quick as they’d entered it to race up the stairs that led to the top of the Twisty Turns Fun Slide.
“Gabriel seems to have come out his ordeal ok,” Tam said, nodding at the boy in the lead.
“This weekend will be good for him, and good for all the children, but the scars of their abduction will linger too,” Anna said.
“I was talking with some of their parents,” Val said. “A lot of them are considering moving, but none of them know where they could go.”
“I don’t think there are any good answers for that,” Anna said. “We want so much to protect the ones closest to us, but safety isn’t something we buy for any amount of coin.”
“Charlene asked me to work on that,” Tam said. “Not perfect safety,” she amended. “But something that will make staying as a part of their community easier.”
“What are you going to put together?” Val asked.
“There was a lot of support offered online to the families who were affected,” Tam said. “It may help a little that people in other states or other countries were reaching out, but a fair bit of the support came from people in the community the kids and their families are a part of. Jimmy B’s and I are helping some organizers there put together events to show that the people they live with are going to stand with them, and protect them.”
“I like that,” Val said.
“It’s the only answer that works,” Anna said. “We can give them a second chance, but only when people come together can they truly make the world a better place.”