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Decoy and Retrofit: Chapter 6

A downloadable package of this chapter (.pdf, .epub, and .mobi) is available in the Sparkler Monthly Issue #054 back issue and Hazel + Bell’s Patreon.

Apollo was in his bed, like he always was.

Griffin had spent hours in this room before. Sometimes days. Sitting on the chair, opening the curtains in the morning, closing them at night. Measuring time with the nurses that would come through with food, to change his bedpan, to rotate his body so he wouldn’t get sores.

No matter how much time he spent here, nothing ever changed.

He didn’t fall asleep on the floor this time–he went up to the roof with a blanket instead. Out there, he breathed in the sharp, cold air, stared up at the stars that carpeted the sky above him. A dark shape crossed the sky in the distance, its lights winking bright and green as it traveled across the sky.

He didn’t want to think about them. Not about Noel, not about Apollo. He thought about how the sky lightened and pinked, the way the stars that seemed to jump into his eyes faded out into dawn. He thought about how his fingers were cold but his legs were warm, he thought that his hair was getting long enough that he should consider getting it cut.

The river was dark, churning along the bank and under the bridge. Griffin pulled his knees under his chin and watched the water ripple and churn. He didn’t know how long he was staring at the river moving along, running down the bend, when he heard a splash.

He glanced up, dozy, and felt a jolt in his stomach.

There was something in the water.

It was dark. Large and dark and cresting the river’s surface. It was far away, but as it approached, Griffin could see it moving closer with alarming speed. The water frothed and rippled around it as it surged forward.

Griffin found himself stumbling to his feet, running to the edge of the roof to peer over the railing. The shape was roaring toward the bank, fast and dark. When it clambered up on the bank and shook water off itself, Griffin knew exactly what it was.

Tiny.

He moved before he realized what was happening. Bursting back down the roof access, taking the hospital stairs two at a time. He barreled past nurses and doctors and patients, charging out the hospital’s front doors and onto the gray, empty street.

Without a single ounce of hesitation, he ran to the riverbank.

He thought, no, he knew that Noel would have gone back to the truck last night. There was nowhere for him to stay in Nelson. The truck was way too vulnerable to be left by itself.

So why was Tiny here?

Griffin charged down the rocky edge of the river, and saw Tiny taking the rocks steadily before leaping up to flat ground. A single, horrifying string of thought entered Griffin’s brain.

Tourist wardog in one of the last bastions of humanity in the northwest–

Tiny barreled forward, and punched Griffin in the gut.

Griffin went down, back hitting the ground, choking for air. Above him, Tiny straddled his body, panting hard, dripping river water and drooling on his face.

“Jesus–” Griffin gasped, paralyzed in fear. “Jesus Christ–”

Tiny heaved a breath out and released a piercing noise that sounded like a mix of a roar and a rattle.

I’m going to be eaten. I’m going to be eaten by this shitty Tourist monster–

Which was when Griffin felt something.

He didn’t know what it was at first. He was frozen in fear, staring up into the eyeless maw that was Tiny’s face. But he felt something strange, fuzzy and distant, that he somehow knew wasn’t coming from himself. It was worry.

Tiny stepped off him, and Griffin let out a breath he hadn’t realized he had been holding. He wheezed, curling in on himself, panting into the grass. Behind him, he heard a rustle as Tiny settled down onto its back legs and whined.

Maybe he wasn’t going to get eaten.

Griffin rolled over on the grass and glanced up at the Tourist wardog. Tiny was hideous, a maw of teeth and claws and spines, terrifying in an almost exaggerated way. It was settling its massive snout on its paws, and let out a bubbly whistle from a nose that rippled with snot.

Worry. It panged through him, like he had forgotten something. He sat up on his knees, shuffling cautiously closer to Tiny.

“Is this…” he asked, unsure. “Is this coming from you?”

Tiny whined. Griffin chewed his lip. He didn’t want anything to do with this thing, this Tourist weapon of destruction. It had tried to tear him apart when they met. It hated him.

But something was off. Something was wrong.

“Tiny…” Griffin swallowed. “Is Noel in trouble?”

Tiny let out a noise that curled in Griffin’s ears, and a feeling flooded him that was the most potent sense of worry that Griffin could ever feel. The sense of helplessness. The sense that it was all over.

He closed his eyes.

“Right,” he whispered. “Right.”

Griffin was overcome with feeling. Fear, terror, uncertainty. Bright lights and harsh noises and emotion.

He blinked, and it was over.

Tiny whined and Griffin twitched, before stretching out a hand and placing it on its muzzle.

And for some reason, it felt safe.

***

Breaking into Coleman’s shed-office was just as easy as Griffin remembered.

Everything was in the same spot. The greasy curtains pulled over the windows, the kitchen counters lined with mechanical parts laid out on scrubby washcloths. The stained mattress on the floor in the corner. Coleman was where Griffin had seen him last, feet up on the old boiler that he used as a coffee table, sputtering around his ramen noodles as Griffin slammed his back door open.

“Wh–GRIFF! What are you–”

“Morning, Coleman,” Griffin said, moving straight through the shed-office to the fireplace. “I need a favor.”

“What do you mean,” Coleman coughed, “you need a favor?”

Griffin spared him a glance. Coleman looked the same as he had before Griffin’s contract with Atlas: the same weathered face and thin, icy eyes, the duct-taped windbreaker and the first responder badge. He was a good person to know, someone who had his ear to the ground and eyes everywhere. Someone who had soft spots that Griffin could prod on occasion.

Coleman stared at Griffin, then turned to look at where he had burst in from. “Did you remove the door hinges again?” he asked.

“Maybe.” Griffin kicked up the shabby throw rug that lay flat in front of the fireplace, revealing a trapdoor embedded into the floor under it. He wrenched open the hatch door with no hesitation and jumped down into the cellar.

He landed in a dark, cold, narrow pit of a room.

“Griff!” Coleman yelled from above. “Get out of there.”

Griffin didn’t respond. He was looking, his eyes scanning the shelves surrounding him, his fingers going for the chain that he knew hung overhead.

He pulled it once, and the bare bulb flooded the pit basement with light. Guns were strapped in racks to the walls, loaded into shelves, mounted in cabinets, and stacked all around him. Shotguns, pistols, assault rifles, guns from the army, guns from other countries. Body armor hung from hooks on the ceiling, milk crates of ammunition crowding every available space of dirt floor. This was Coleman’s pilfered, smuggled weapons stash, and it was as well-stocked as ever.

Griffin picked up a rifle from a hook on the dirt wall and balanced it on his shoulder, fingers sliding into position. Its weight was sturdy, familiar. Reliable.

“Noel’s in trouble,” he finally yelled up.

“That’s not an answer, Griff,” Coleman said, his voice clearer as he moved closer; Griffin could hear the floorboard squeak as he strode toward the cellar. “Who is Noel?”

Griffin turned over the answer in his head. He picked up an army-issue shotgun off its rack, testing its weight in his hands. He would need one of these. He put it on the shelf with his rifle and went to the wall, unhooking a handful of padded shoulder straps. Stacking them, moving on to the next shelf.

“My brother’s best friend,” Griffin finally answered.

It sounded weird to say, but it was the only correct answer. After everything they had gone through, everything they had become, that was what they were in the end.

“Oh,” said Coleman, stunned. “W-wait. What? Is he from Kelowna, too?”

Was Noel from Kelowna? Griffin didn’t know if he could answer that without giving Coleman all the details.

“It’s a long story,” Griffin said, snapping on a thigh holster. “It’s a long, stupid story.”

Coleman went silent above him, and Griffin went fishing through the case of grenades he kept on the lower shelf. He considered the available space in his coat pockets, and the fact that he was already going to have a shotgun and rifle strapped across his chest.

“Hey,” Griffin yelled up. “Do you have a grenade launcher down here, or am I going to have to throw–”

Griffin wasn’t sure what he heard first: the THUD THUD THUD on the wood floor above him, or Coleman’s high-pitched shriek. He glanced up just as Coleman dropped down next to him in the cellar, slamming the trapdoor shut over his head.

The light bulb decided that this was the moment to wink out. The cellar immediately descended into absolute darkness.

Griffin blinked down at his hands, full of grenades, now completely invisible to his eyes. “Coleman, I can’t see.”

“There’s a monster up there,” Coleman panted.

Griffin could smell that rancid whiff that accompanied its presence. He sighed.

“Its name is Tiny,” Griffin said in the darkness. “Be nice.”

“T-Tiny?” Coleman wheezed. “It’s a Tourist thing, isn’t it?”

Above him, he could hear Tiny snuffling at the trapdoor, its clawed feet scratching against the floorboards.

“Coleman, listen.” Griffin very carefully placed the grenades, one by one, back in their box. “It’s fine.”

“Fine?” gasped Coleman. “How is that fine? How is that thing in my house fine, Griff?

He was panicking, but Griffin didn’t have time to deal with it. He didn’t have time for any of this. He felt his way through the dirt cellar, groping at the wall until his fingers brushed the metal chain dangling down from the bulb.

“It’s going to help me find Noel,” Griffin said calmly.

There was a beat of silence. Griffin groped for the bare bulb while Coleman quietly hyperventilated in the corner. Overhead, Griffin could hear Tiny let out a series of loud, horse-like snorts, pacing over the covered cellar and whining impatiently.

His fingers brushed the hot bulb, and it flickered back to light. Yellow light flooded in his eyes, revealing the cellar and Coleman. He was crouched down on the floor, armed with a crossbow.

Griffin stared at him, and the man stared right back, before Griffin rolled his eyes and went back to stealing his guns.

“What’s gotten into you?” Coleman finally asked, struggling to his feet.

Griffin didn’t answer.

You barrel back into town with some kind of loaded ice cream truck, and now you’re going on a rescue mission for someone? And you’re hanging out with…” Coleman gestured up at the ceiling, completely at a loss for words to describe it. “That?

It was a good question. After all, Coleman knew Griffin. He knew that Griffin stayed in groups. Griffin didn’t make friends. Griffin didn’t stick out his neck for anyone.

And more than anything, Griffin hated Tourists.

Griffin dumped a milk crate full of ammunition into his shiny alien backpack and wondered if he had ever been this determined in his life. Probably not.

He zipped the backpack shut and hauled it onto his shoulders.

“Coleman, buddy,” Griffin finally said as he adjusted the straps, “I appreciate you. You’re always there for me. I treat you like shit. But out of all the assholes I’ve had to rely on since the world blew up, you’re the least worst one.”

“Thanks,” said Coleman.

He wasn’t happy. Of course he wasn’t. Griffin gave him nothing, and took whatever he could. But maybe when they got back, maybe when Noel was safe and the spaceship was gone, Griffin could sit him down and tell him what had happened to him before he showed up in Nelson.

Griffin finished gathering his guns, then swung up the ladder. “I might die here,” he said, climbing back up. “But it won’t be from Tiny. It’s gonna get me to Noel.”

“Oh,” said Coleman distantly. And then, he jerked his head up. “Like Lassie?”

“I don’t know your bizarre old people references, Coleman,” Griffin grumbled. And with that, he swung open the trapdoor, revealing Tiny’s enormous, snuffling, drooling face.

“Good boy,” Griffin said. “Girl. Whatever you are.”

Tiny grunted something. Below him, Coleman made a noise as he clambered onto the floor.

“Griffin,” he said finally, his voice tinny and quiet under the floor. “Do you want pants?”

Griffin looked down at his bare legs–thigh holsters strapped around them, knives in his boots, body armor and rifles slung over his chest.

“Nah.” He smiled. “I’m good.”

***

Guns were heavy.

Griffin was used to moving around with weaponry strapped to him, but he quickly realized that his speed had been reduced to a fast walk under their weight. He may have been overzealous with the amount he’d stolen.

What he needed was a car.

There weren’t many cars in Nelson on a good day–the blockade from over the river did a good job of that. You could get cars in from the other side, from Alberta, but the road was treacherous and not easily traveled by four wheels.

There were, however, a lot of bikes.

The first motorbike that Griffin stumbled upon was perfect. Not too rusty, leaning against a sinking alley fence, air in its tires. There was even a battered helmet strapped to the body.

Griffin sidled up to the bike and placed his hand close to the frame. Heat radiated on his palm. Its owner was still nearby, then.

Griffin looked right, and then left. Tiny grunted something that Griffin could interpret as approval.

He went for it. The bike had been hotwired before, so doing it again wasn’t the hardest thing he had pulled off. It only took a minute of fiddling before the engine gurgled to life, then Griffin was cutting the helmet loose and shoving it over his head.

“Right,” he said loudly to Tiny, steering the bike around, balancing himself on the tips of his toes. The alley was a straight shot to the road, and after that, well, he would deal with that when he came to it.

“That’s my bike! Oh–”

Griffin glanced around. Tiny was facing off with a gangly middle-aged man who had just run out of the closest building. He was staring at the wardog with his mouth hanging open, like a scream had died in his throat.

Griffin wondered if that had been the kind of face he’d made when seeing Tiny for the first time. No, it was probably worse.

“Sorry, I’m borrowing this,” Griffin yelled over the sound of the engine. “Have a good day.”

Then the bike lurched forward, and Griffin drove out of the alley.

It was about a five-minute drive to the bridge. Griffin took the time to get used to the steering, the way the helmet bobbed loosely over his head, the blind spots at his sides. He kept an eye on Tiny as well, who was jogging away at his side as they rode through the quiet town.

At first, Griffin was unsure that Tiny would be able to keep up. He gunned the engine slow as they went down the main street. Tiny kept up easily, its limbs moving in long, relaxed motions, its tongue lolling out of its mouth. Like a dog, Griffin thought, as they came up to the bridge.

The orange bridge was a long, straight shot, and the ice cream truck would be just on the other side, if it was still there. Noel could be close. Or maybe he was far away already.

Griffin didn’t want to think about that. He gunned the engine, revving it up, peeling forward and fast down the bridge. Tiny kept up like it was nothing, and Griffin realized with a jolt that Tiny would probably be able to outrun any speed that Griffin went.

“Tiny!” he yelled over the engine, over the roar of wind against his helmet. He felt a warm thread of consciousness shoot right through him. “Tiny, take care of the gate.”

Tiny blasted forward, easily overtaking the bike. When it launched itself and rocketed through the air by the sheer power of its back legs, Griffin had a moment to wonder if he deserved to have responsibility over this thing.

Then there was an echoing, rattling crash, as the entire roadblock gate slammed to the ground.

Griffin didn’t stop. He roared over the chain link on the ground, tires skidding as they peeled off the bridge. He only paused to turn and wave at the booth lady, her jaw hanging open in shock, as they peeled off down the road together.

***

The spot where the ice cream truck had parked was empty.

Griffin stared at it, heart in his throat, before driving up and down the road, backtracking to make sure it wasn’t just around another corner, that he hadn’t mistaken where it had been. But he knew that the heavy tire tracks on the ground were new. A convoy had passed through there, and taken Noel–and the ice cream truck–with them.

Atlas had caught up with them, after all.

“Okay,” Griffin said, biting his lip, planting his feet on the ground, leaning his body over the bike. “Okay. Let’s think for a sec.”

In the back of his head he had been hoping that they would still be here, that there would be someone he could shoot at. But they were gone, and Noel was gone with them.

Griffin closed his eyes and inhaled.

The dog knew.

Of course the dog knew–it had to have been there when the truck was stolen. Why the hell hadn’t Tiny just stopped whoever was stealing the truck? He bit back that anger and opened his eyes.

“Tiny,” Griffin said slowly. “Which way did they go?”

It sounded stupid to his own ears. To be asking the dog what direction a convoy went. It was either one direction or the other, judging by the tracks. But he wanted to see if his request could get through Tiny’s Tourist brain.

“Which way?” he asked, gesturing at the mess of dirt and gravel tire tracks that cut through the road. His eyes followed the tracks, moving down the river, and into the distance. “That way?” he asked, pointing.

And then, at once, Tiny blasted past him. It bounded down the dirt road that ran alongside the river, following the mess of tire tracks. Then Tiny stopped, turned to look at Griff, and let out the ugliest, most guttural noise Griffin had heard all day.

“Okay, okay.” Griffin sighed, slapping the visor on his helmet back down. “That way, then.”

He drove the bike up the road, to Tiny’s side–and right as they met, he felt a fresh bloom of anxiety peel through him. It clutched through his chest like a hand around his lungs, grasping in panic for something to hold on to.

Griffin choked, and readjusted his grip on the handlebars.

“Are you projecting?” he yelled loudly over the engine.

Tiny, loping along beside him, let out a high-pitched whine.

“It’s weird,” Griffin said. “Please calm down if you’re going to turn into an empath.”

Tiny said nothing, but the pressure began to ease, and Griffin could breathe more easily under his layers of Kevlar and ammunition. But the idea that he could communicate with Tiny like this made him feel oddly soft, in a way.

Tiny whined again, and Griffin gritted his teeth under his helmet.

“We’re gonna get him back, okay?” he yelled. “We’re gonna get him back.”

And with that, he revved the bike into a high gear, and they sped off down the road.

***

As Griffin drove, forest blowing by his helmet visor, he thought about Noel.

It was pain that was caught between his heart and lungs, sinking deeper with every inhale, piercing deeper with every heartbeat. Every thought was barbed and every part of Griffin was tender, wounded, sore enough to forget that there was a reality beyond the narrow one that had entrapped him. The fantasy of a time when he was happy. The obsession of a world that no longer existed.

He was angry. He was angry at Noel, at his mother, at the world. Angry that his brother had come home in a box, angry that the Noel who came back to him wasn’t the same person who had left. Angry that he couldn’t pretend that there was anything left in his life after Kelowna’s explosion.

But there wasn’t any point to being angry anymore. Noel was different now, and nothing he could do would change that. It wasn’t Noel’s fault that he had abandoned him. It wasn’t Apollo’s fault that he was brain-dead. It was his mother’s fault, and her fault alone.

It welled inside of him–a poison that collected in the wounds in his chest. It was an ancient anger that had twisted him for years into who he was now, the messed-up adult he’d grown into.

But there wasn’t any point in being mad at someone who could barely remember who he was.

He had said that Noel was from Kelowna, back when Coleman has asked. But that wasn’t really true. Being from Kelowna was now synonymous with crawling out of the rubble, white with dust and red with head injuries. Tinnitus and

respiratory illnesses and PTSD. Missing family posters and sleeping in the gymnasiums of neighboring towns. Waiting in lineups for food and water, always surrounded by men with guns and body armor and power. The radio whistled endlessly about government decisions to accommodate, interspliced with opinion pieces and skepticism over how many of the victims had become infected with Tourist influence. About how they deserved it.

Noel hadn’t been a part of that. Noel had been in orbit, in an alien spaceship, getting alien brain surgery. He wasn’t from Kelowna anymore–not like how Griffin had been.

Someone had told him once, over a campfire, that it wasn’t the Tourists who had bombed Kelowna. It had been their own governments: the provincial and federal governments, along with their allies. They had done it to every town where a Tourist dropship had landed, every town with a population of retrofits intermingling with their human neighbors.

It had been laughable. A conspiracy theory, that their own government could have ordered its own cities to be bombed. But as the years passed, and the aid dwindled, the military support left, the infrastructure crumbled–Griffin had always thought that it was very convenient for the aliens to destroy something that their government had no desire to repair.

But he hadn’t thought about that. It had always been easier to hate the Tourists, after all.

He had seen his friends get swooped up. Heard stories about soldiers who killed Tourists in the army, on patrols, ending up missing or dead. Griffin knew about how they were eventually hunted down by dark ships skimming the horizon. Tourists knew, somehow, when their own were killed. That’s why Griffin had asked to be paid so much when he killed the scout. He honestly hadn’t thought he would live long enough to see the consequences of his actions.

He was realizing now, in this cool state of panic as they whipped down the dirt road that led along the river, that this was the beginning of those consequences.

His consequences for not wanting to live in the future he had been left with.

But he had to face it.

This was what he had. A comatose brother. A kidnapped, amnesiac friend. And a Tourist wardog.

And if he wanted to protect anything that he had once cherished before the world collapsed in on itself, he needed to tear the barbs out of his chest and let it bleed out on its own.

***

They had been moving for an hour when Tiny suddenly stopped.

Griffin saw it move from the corner of his visor. It had been keeping speed with the bike at what had to be at least eighty kilometers an hour, legs a blur as it ran without any sign of exhaustion or pain. It cut in front of Griffin’s bike, charging ahead at twice the speed before stopping suddenly in the middle of the road.

Griffin swore and hit the brakes, swerving out wide. Dust and pebbles flung out from under the tires, skidding hot enough on the dirt road to burn rubber. He came to a stop halfway off the road, panting under his helmet.

Tiny, sitting in the middle of the road, remained motionless.

“The hell,” Griffin hissed, flipping his visor. “Tiny, what the fuck, I almost spun out–”

He almost keeled over with the emotion that flowed into him. It was tension, wound as tight as a bowstring, and bubbling anticipation. Griffin paused to breathe, taking a minute to figure out whether this feeling was coming from inside him or not.

“Tiny?”

Tiny didn’t move. Griffin kicked the stand out from his bike and followed Tiny’s snout. It was looking down the river bend, following the road. They could see ahead from here, actually, where the road went along the river, and–

Griffin squinted. What was that?

He walked over to Tiny’s side, shading the sun from his vision, focusing on a spot in the road where he could see a truck. And another truck. He held his breath, fumbling for the binoculars buckled away in his pouch. It was too far away to see anything–

The sky turned red.

It had been blue and bright a second ago, but now the sky was angry, churning an apocalyptic crimson that made Griffin’s heart stop. The white clouds blackened, and a current of electric energy sparked down to earth.

Tiny growled, turned, and leapt at Griffin. They slammed into the road–Griffin’s helmet smacking the ground, his whole body covered by alien dog–when the world lit up.

He could see a scrap of red sky between Tiny’s leg and body, and witnessed the moment it exploded. A tunnel of light rocketed across the sky, screaming above their heads, blasting into the trees. It enveloped them in heat; debris and hot dust filled his lungs and clouded his eyes. Griffin squeezed his eyes shut, and the ground rumbled beneath him.

His mind flashed to Kelowna–running down the stairs as his living room exploded into wood splinters around him. It spiked through his mind, but he swallowed it down.

When it was over, he opened his eyes.

Tiny shifted, and a wet snout was in Griffin’s face. He raised an arm, covered in ash, and patted it awkwardly. It gave a snort and made a move, a kick, and Griffin felt the ground thud with impact.

Griffin struggled to his feet, coughing and wiping dust out of his eyes. His line of sight went from Tiny–shaking dust off its spines–to the massive tree trunk lying next to them on the road. It was split in two. Griffin realized it must’ve landed, and snapped, across Tiny’s back. He took a moment to let the gravity sink in. He would have been dead in a second.

“Huh,” Griffin said, looking between the tree and Tiny. Tiny was nonchalantly scratching its face with a back foot.

“Uh,” said Griffin. “Thanks.”

Tiny let out a grunt.

As the dust settled, Griffin could see that they clearly weren’t in the blast zone. The impact point was farther down the road, where the explosion had cut through the forest in the hills like a drill. The beam of light had carved its shape out of the road and mountainside with laser-cut precision, leaving behind smoking trees and cinders in its wake.

Griffin took a moment to stare in awe of the destruction, then remembered exactly what had caused it. He ran back to the road edge, whipping out his binoculars with shaking hands, and focused on the convoy.

It was them.

The Jeep-tank was the first thing his eyes landed on, followed by the ice cream truck. Eight or ten men stood around a small lunch camp, dressed in Kevlar and swinging around assault rifles. Griffin didn’t recognize any of them until his gaze landed on a figure, curled up on the ground with an arm out.

He had never seen New Noel shirtless before. He was lying in the dirt, arm outstretched, as an alien weapon was removed from his grasp. His arm was luminescent, blue and glowing, cutting in vein-like patterns that led up to his shoulder, threading across his chest like cracks in glass.

Someone shouted, and Griffin watched one of the gang members restraining him as he struggled. He was blindfolded, Griffin noticed too late, lashing out against the restraints, not knowing where he was. Someone pinned him down by the shoulders, and when he pushed them off, another moved forward to kick him in the ribs.

Griffin felt himself holding his breath as they subdued him, pinning his hands together and lashing his arms with rope. He was moving–Griffin could tell that from the binoculars. He wasn’t unconscious, at least, but his motions were sluggish. Drugged, maybe?

Griffin still didn’t recognize any of the guys around Noel. He had thought it was Atlas on their trail, and he knew every single asshole in Atlas by their name and face. But these guys–

Which was when he caught sight of Rib.

He would have known that ugly mug anywhere. He was short, picking at his teeth, yelling something at the mess of guys trying to hold Noel against the ground. So that meant these guys weren’t from Atlas at all. They were from ManLeg.

Of course it wasn’t Atlas. They had destroyed Atlas, vaporizing their convoy with a weapon similar to the one that had just dissolved the hillside. Atlas was probably retreating, hiding out and re-establishing their numbers. That had left a void for Manleg to come in and steal their infamous Jeep-tank, and focus on getting their lost merchandise back.

And, Griffin realized with a sinking knowledge as they wrestled Noel back into the ice cream truck, they had gotten it.

Griffin lowered the binoculars and breathed deep. His heart was pounding. A part of his mind was still lost somewhere in the splintering living room, but he couldn’t think about that now. Not as his binoculars shook in his hands, as Noel got beaten in front of his eyes.

Beside him, he felt as Tiny loped closer to sit next to his feet. It snorted and snuffled, and Griffin felt himself reaching a hand out to place against its spiny nose.

“Well,” Griffin muttered, staring off down the road. “You ready for this?”

Tiny let out a growl, and Griffin felt it deep in his stomach. For once, their feelings seemed to match up.

“Hell yeah.”
Proceed to Chapter 6, page 2–>

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