Written by Rylee Cooper
Epicentre is the sixth edition in the continuous short story series, Eyes of the Innocent, that will span across this year’s Verse Magazine, inspired by the theme of each particular edition. It tells the story of how one cataclysmic event can affect different people and how it can bring them together.
The gates to the capital split open under the thunder of bodies pressing against the iron, the metal screaming in resistance. Diana slipped between the bars, her entrance covered by the soldiers on either side of her, vibrating with the recoil of weapons pressed against their shoulders. They were so close now.
Her ears rang with the reverberations of gunfire and explosions, and dirt covered almost every bit of her. The red of her sleeves, marking her as a member of the resistance, now a dark maroon. The AK-47 strapped across her back pressed between her shoulder blades as she ran across the parliamentary gardens, bullets whizzing over her head to splatter against the guards with guns aimed at her skull.
Every footstep echoed the same words in her head: Faster. Faster. Faster. The announcement was set to take place any second; that final nail in the coffin that would mean extinction for her people. The people who had already lost, already sacrificed so much, just to survive. The guard to her right fell to the ground, his finger pressed against the trigger of a gun aimed at her chest. Tate, at her shoulder, murmured an apology for the close call, but she barely acknowledged him.
They ducked behind a concrete pillar as the wooden doors sealing the lobby exploded inwards. The bombs their sponsors planted there days ago, hidden in the cracks, finally fulfilling their purpose. Faster.
They rushed inside before the guards posted behind the door could get their bearings, mowing them down with the stinging of metal. Diana’s nose stung with the heavy scent of gunpowder that hung in the air.
To the left, down the corridor and a right. Down the stairs, one, two flights to the metal door. The instructions she had whispered to herself as she laid at night, staring up at the bottom of a creaking iron frame, at the split mattress that leaked dust onto her face in the middle of the night. Their information was good. It would be there. But still, Diana’s heart sat balled in her chest as they launched themselves across the carpeted floor, dust and plaster falling like a soft rain as the bullets chewed through the interior.
Bodies, so many bodies, fell to the floor as the bullets rang out. Red armbands and chains with capital insignias hitting the floor at the same time. The only side that was winning today was death. Faster.
Diana kept running.
To the left, down the hall and a right. She threw herself onto the stairs, leaping over the railings and hitting the landings, combat boots absorbing the shock that shuddered up her ankles.
There was a woman fumbling with keys down the end of the hallway, a panicked look on her face. She turned when Diana’s feet hit the carpet and her eyes widened. Tate hit the ground beside her, panting heavily. Blood was beginning to stain the side of his jacket where a bullet had nicked his arm.
‘Don’t move,’ Diana’s voice echoed off the walls of the corridor. The gunfire was quieter here, more like an incessant hum rather than a shuddering storm. The woman froze, but her fingers stayed buried in her jacket, fumbling for something.
Diana raised her gun at the woman, ‘Whatever you’re doing,’ she said, dead quiet, ‘I wouldn’t.’
The woman’s eyes flicked either side of Diana. The patch on her breast pocket glinting under the buzzing lights, the interlocked circles dancing. Her hands dropped to her sides.
Diana crossed the hallway in short, quick steps, trying to hide the way her heart was beating against her ribcage. She felt sick.
‘Open the door,’ she pointed her chin towards the metal door behind the woman, a thin slit of glass offering the glint of fluorescent lights.
The woman’s features pinched slightly, ‘Why?’
Diana pressed the muzzle of her gun against the woman’s stomach, ‘Because I asked.’
She could feel the worker shaking, the tremors travelling up the barrel to the palm of her hand. They didn’t have time for this.
‘Open it.’ She pressed harder and the woman whimpered. She turned towards the door and took out a passkey, pressing buttons with shaky hands until the lights on the keypad flashed green. The lock clicked.
Diana launched herself through the doors, dread and anticipation mixing in her stomach.
The vats were there. Giant, surgical things connected to metal pipes that burrowed into the ground, into the water that fed through to the slums. Just like their informant said they’d be. Diana turned back to Tate standing behind her and held out a hand expectantly. He dug into his pocket with one hand, keeping the gun pressed into the back of the woman with the other. Sweat beaded on the woman’s head and her eyes had begun to flit around the room.
The vials were heavy in Diana’s palm, the pale liquid tipping from side to side. She walked towards the vats, their size towering over her form, and grabbed hold of the ladder attached to the side. The cold metal bit at her palms as she climbed.
That sick feeling was back, her stomach flipping in the tightness of her gut as she knelt on the top of the vat and twisted the steel wheel to open it. The lid squealed open as she hauled it up, muscles straining after so many sleepless nights.
The air left her lungs.
Their information was good. She knew it was good. She had checked it again and again, and had committed so many atrocities to ensure that it was good. She stilled. She couldn’t breathe. Tate was calling her name, but his voice was so far away. No.
A hand went to her stomach, to the sudden emptiness she felt there. No.
Tate had begun yelling, pressing his gun into the temple of the worker who was trembling so badly she couldn’t get up, as he demanded to know what was going on. He began repeating the same words bouncing around the inside of Diana’s head as the worker explained that they had had no choice. They knew they were coming.
They had emptied the vats early.
The vial slipped from her grasp and clattered uselessly into the bottom of the empty vat, the glass shattering upon impact. More explosions and gunshots echoed overhead as Diana felt her dread rise up in her throat.
They were empty. The vats were empty and the people were empty and she had dragged them all here, picked up the last person in the slums and dragged them towards the capital.
Towards their own extinction.
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