For some of us, our work took on a new urgency after that. Others became despondent. From what I could tell though, nobody left. After all, where was there to go? Most of their friends and family were either dead, far out of reach, or in the room with them.
For the first time in a long time, I thought about my family. I suddenly realized that I had no idea if they were alive or not. I didn’t even know whether or not Maynard was part of the area that had been taken. Normally, it was just a thirty-minute drive by highway. Now it was probably a world away, through Dragon’s Teeth patrols, ruined roads, blasted landscape, destroyed houses, wrecked and abandoned vehicles, and corpses.
Until the invasion, I may have been one of the most knowledgeable people on the subject of Teeth weapons and tactics. I knew what could, no, what would happen if you were hit by their weapons. Hell, a near-miss from their personal plasma weaponry had inflicted some of the most horrific damage I’d ever seen on a human being. If it hit my parents or my sister…
I excused myself quickly. I knew why I hadn’t been thinking about it. I couldn’t bear it. I was a coward. I was distant from the world I was thought I was helping. What the hell was I doing? Did I really think that any of this was doing anything? I was just a dumb kid from Maynard who was good at killing people on occasion.
As soon as I found a room, Eliza found me. “Oi, Nate,” she said softly. “You alright, mate?”
“Where’s my family?” I asked, turning to look at her.
Eliza looked thoughtful. After a long while she said, “I think we both know. But there’s really only one way to be sure.”
“Yeah,” I said. “And I don’t think that I can go out looking for them. If they’re in Dragon’s Teeth territory, well.” I gestured to my wheelchair. “I can’t exactly ask you to push me the entire way.”
“Or you could just call, you git,” Eliza said, pointing to a landline on the wall.
“The cell towers are all dead,” I said morosely. “And the landlines are cut.”
“You sure?” Eliza asked. “Your ‘ouse still ‘as a landline, doesn’t it?” She grabbed my chair and wheeled me to the phone. “Call ‘em. Apologize for being a wanker and not calling ‘em sooner or I’ll dump you outta the chair, lock you in the room, and leave you to your own devices.”
“Ok,” I said, taking the corded phone off its cradle and punching in the number. “I’ll do it.” Putting the phone to my ear, I heard the reassuring dial tone. Eliza was right, the phones were still working.
But when I finished punching in the number, a gruff, professional voice said, “We’re sorry, but due to recent events many numbers have been disconnected. This number,” the next phrase was in a different military voice, “is located in an area that has been confirmed destroyed.” The first voice began speaking again. “If you have any questions, please contact General Paulson’s office at-”
I didn’t hear the rest of the voice. I hung up, rather than listen about how I should contact a dead army officer. “Apparently,” I said dully, “My home… my family lives in an area that ‘has been confirmed destroyed.’” I broke down sobbing.
“Well,” Eliza said, “you can-”
“Avenge them?” I asked. “Really? And what happens if the reason they’re dead is that they were in a US barrage?” Eliza looked shocked. “It. Doesn’t. Matter. What matters is that I was out doing something utterly stupid instead of being with them.” Before Eliza could respond, I quickly added, “It isn’t your fault or Charlotte’s. It’s mine. I believed I could save the world. At any point on this whole crazy ride, I could have said, ‘you know what, I’m just a dumb kid in over my head,’ and left. And at most points, I could have done it and no one would have thought any less of me.”
“Nate,” Eliza said, “Do you want to leave?”
“Now?” I asked. “No. I might have a way out of this, but nobody else here does.” I sighed and laughed. “We’re fucked, but we can at least die standing. Or sitting,” I added, remembering my chair.
Eliza smiled and hugged me. “I’m glad you’re here.” Her hug tightened. “And I’m glad you want to be here.”
Hugging her back, my voice breaking with tears, I said, “I’m glad you’re here, too.” Getting my voice under control, I tried to add in a flippant tone, “Shame we don’t have a view of the trees. Massachusetts is beautiful this time of year.”