Reid woke. His vision was edged with brilliant twinkling lights, and he felt like throwing up all over the place. He was suspended in his seat, dangling sideways. The seatbelt had held, but now it was pinching him. He reached to his hip, undoing the clasp, and barked a shout of surprise as he tumbled down. His shoulder flared with new pain, taking the brunt of the impact.
A hand touched him on the other side, and he turned to see Helena. Her eyes were huge like saucers, and her lips trembled. Her voice entered his head, and even though it was from her, it still felt unnatural and intrusive. I apologize for speaking to you this way, Reid, her voice quavered. I am so afraid to move. I do not wish to die. I wanted to go home, not die here.
He took her hand and squeezed it, not knowing really why other than from what he had seen others do for those in fear. “I will do what I can,” he replied in a whisper, but even to him the promise felt empty. What could he do? He still didn’t understand why the police would want to kill his friends at all, and he wondered if maybe they were mistaken. The Celestials had been on Earth for quite a while, and the police had never wanted to kill them before.
Let me help you up, Helena projected, and he took her hand and allowed himself to be led into the back of the truck.
The provisions he had so meticulously prepared for them were scattered everywhere. It reminded Reid of a video he had once seen of a town that had been ravaged by a tornado. Cassius was kneeling beside Tiberius, who was lying quietly and seemed to be asleep. Magnus was leaned against the back doors, his teeth pulled back from his lips and his orange eyes glowing.
“Is he okay?” Reid asked, gesturing toward Tiberius.
He is unconscious, came the voice of Magnus, sounding rushed and furious. It might make his impending death less painful. We will see, I suppose.
“Why do they want to kill you?” Reid asked.
“YOU IN THE TRUCK!” boomed a voice laced with static. “COME OUT SLOWLY AND WITH YOUR HANDS WHERE WE CAN SEE THEM! THIS DOESN’T HAVE TO BE A BAD MOMENT FOR ANYONE!”
“What do we do?” Helena asked, sounding very timid and small.
Reid felt a moment of inspiration. “They want you, right? To kill you? I don’t know why, but maybe I can talk to them. Maybe they will listen to me, and it might give you time to run.” He smiled despite himself; he felt very intelligent, and those moments for him had so far, been rare. “Maybe they will even let you go.”
Magnus shook his head, but Cassius looked to Reid hopefully. “Maybe Reid candistract them and we can get away. It’s possible.” Magnus looked between the other lucid Celestials and snorted, but didn’t disagree. Cassius looked to Helena and nodded grimly. He reached to Reid and shook his hand. “Thank you, friend. We might have a chance.”
Reid felt awkward, but he moved toward the front of the truck, stepping awkwardly. It felt strange having to pull himself up to get out of the vehicle, and he began to wonder what Mr. Landers would do when he finally was able to return the truck. He was pretty sure that it wouldn’t be a very fun conversation, and he felt a little nervous just thinking about it.
He had to push up on the door and shoulder his way up and through. By the time he emerged from the hole, he was red-faced and panting, and sweat was trickling from between his shoulders. He swung his leg over the top, and collapsed in a heap. That wasn’t nearly as easy as it looked, he thought.
“HANDS IN THE AIR, NOW!” The sheer volume of the bullhorn forced Reid to clap his hands over his ears, and he let out an involuntary wail of fear. Wide-eyed, he turned in the direction of the voice, looking upon a pair of uniformed men. The one holding the bullhorn was also brandishing a dull-colored handgun, while the other was directing a high-powered rifle toward Reid. Neither looked particularly calm, and Reid removed his hands from his ears and reached toward the the clouds.
“I ain’t got a gun! I ain’t got nothing but me!” Reid didn’t realize how high-pitched he sounded until he was truly frightened, and there was a part of him waiting for the guns to go off, from the way that the policemen were staring at him. He couldn’t keep the flow of words from leaving his lips, as terror had taken over. Oh God don’t shoot I dint do nothing don’t shoot I’m a dummy not a bad guy!“
The policemen shared a glance, and the one with the bullhorn stood on tiptoes, looking toward the truck the way that a person might look at a firecracker that didn’t pop when the fuse ran out. “THE OTHERS IN THE TRUCK NEED TO EXIT THE VEHICLE, SIR,” he said into the amplifier. “YOU ARE NOT THE PERSON WE ARE AFTER. THEY ARE WANTED FOR QUESTIONING.”
They lie, Reid, came Magnus in his mind. They lie, and though you might be addled, you can smell the lies in the air. They have come to kill us. Distract them.
“They ain’t carrying no guns neither!” Reid squawked. “They’re my friends, and they don’t need to go with you! They’re good!” In his mind the words were strong, perhaps the strongest he’d ever spoken to a person of authority, and for a moment he half-expected the policemen to nod to each other, put their guns away, and drive away.
“I DON’T CARE WHAT YOU THINK, SUBHUMAN,” came the response, and Reid’s heart sank. “SO STOP WITH YOUR BABBLING OR WE’LL THROW YOU IN THE CAR, TOO. DO YOU WANT US TO ARREST YOU? DO YOU WANT TO BE A CRIMINAL?” Reid could see the way that the man was standing, the same way that Mr. Landers stood when he was getting ready to tear into Reid for doing something foolish. It made him feel small and unimportant. “IF THEY DON’T COME OUT OF THE CAR, WE WILL GO IN AND DRAG THEM OUT, AND IT WON’T BE ANY FUN. DO YOU HEAR THAT, YOU GLOWHEADS? WE WILL DRAG YOU OUT, AND WE WILL MAKE IT HURT!”
Reid stood, tottering slightly, and gestured frantically toward the policmen. “No, they’re good, don’t do that, please don’t hurt my friends!”
We’re going to have to run, Reid, came the voice of Cassius in his mind. Keep them occupied if you can. Thank you, friend.
The back doors opened roughly, banging against the battered pavement and echoing in the empty sky. Reid turned toward the sound, and the policeman on the bullhorn cursed and began running toward the back of the truck. The rifle-toting officer bustled around the car door, face red with fury, keeping his weapon high.
Reid licked his lips frantically. They wouldn’t make it to cover without more of a distraction. His plan hadn’t been great after all, and he wasn’t sure what to do. He could see Cassius ducking through the opening in the door, moving slowly because of the hindrance of his great height, and he knew that he wouldn’t get more than a couple of steps before the policemen were upon him. He screamed at Cassius, wanting him to get back in the truck.
Cassius was fully exposed, and Reid saw his fiery eyes go wide with terror, and he began running toward the forestry, moving in great, leaping strides. The policemen didn’t yell for him to stop. They didn’t even shout that they were the police, like they did in the shows that Reid’s mama used to like watching. Instead, they raised their guns, and in perfect synchronization, opened fire upon Cassius.
A few of the bullets whined, bouncing off of the cracked asphalt and into oblivion, but most of them struck their target, and Reid began screaming again. His friend was lifted in the air, looking very much like a marionette pulled sharply in the air, and crashed to the ground. Dark blue stains spread across his white tunic and saturated the ground below.
Reid tore the loose side-mirror from the door below him and threw it at the officers, still screaming, his words rising high and unintelligible, his heart filled with sorrow and pain and rage. The mirror struck the rifleman in the shoulder, sending him sprawling, and the cop with the handgun turned, his eyes wide with savage joy, and he began firing again…this time upon Reid.
Reid tried to duck, and he felt the sharp breeze as a pair of bullets hissed past his face, but then there was a sharp tug at his right shoulder, and he felt himself being pushed back. Pain erupted at the sight, and he roared. He felt back, tumbling from the truck and landing hard on his back, shoving the air from his lungs. He saw a swelling patch of red stain his coveralls at the shoulder, and his gaped.
I been shot. It was the only thought in his mind, repeating over and over again, until even that thought was forced away, popping like a bubble, and replaced instead by the thoughts of another….the thoughts of Magnus, which came out in a single word.