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The End: Chapter 9
We race, Solo leading the way, no doubt sensing our urgency, back to the station. When we burst through the door, everyone is gathered in the main room, except Noah who has gone out to fish. We relay the information and the men waste no time. Gabriel, making me swear not to leave the station, dashes to fetch his father, toting an extra rifle for him. Tobias and Connor take the far right ride of main street, while Markus and Ali flank the left. Thomas goes to the roof of the hotel where he will watch for the Marauders and direct the men via their long-range walkies.
I linger downstairs, preparing essentials for immediate travel. I know, after a second attack so soon, we must go tonight. A scout must have made it back, they know we're here and that we have resources. I operate under the assumption we are going to come out of this on top. No other option. Solo whines anxiously behind me, hearing the rapid footsteps before I do. Gabriel and Noah come in the back door, both ruddy-cheeked and out of breath.
"Ammo" Gabe says.
I toss it to him as Noah is gathering his own from the pile on the table.
"Pop, go up in the nest with Hannah. You can pick 'em off if they get past us."
Noah and I both open our mouths to protest but Gabriel will have none of it.
"Get your asses up there!" He booms.
I decide not to waste time arguing and we head up the spiral staircase. We reach the nest and Noah takes his place at the window with the sniper rifle.
"There you are..." Noah says to himself, looking through the rifle's scope. He picks up the walkie Thomas had left in the crows nest.
"They're moving in through the harbor side. About fifty yards away from the marina. Only see six, though."
"Got 'em" Eli's voice comes back.
"Try to find the others, Pop." Gabriel crackles over the radio
Noah scans while I watch the six approaching the marina. Eli and Markus are waiting somewhere, most likely amongst the tourist shops overlooking the bay. Then, the flash of a rifle muzzle from the window of a small bed & breakfast. And another. I take up the other rifle we have stowed in the nest and look through the scope. Two of the marauders are down; headshots both. I grin, knowing Eli is safe and still a great shot. As the filthy band aim their rifles upward, they fire blindly at the surrounding buildings. Four more rapid, concise shots ring out distinctly over the marauders' guns. They drop to the sand; dead. I find myself grinning again, nudging NOah with my elbow.
"Marina is clear."
"That's good, because twelve was a bit of an understatement, girlie."
But Noah is back on the radio.
"Thomas, group of about twenty coming out of the woods right off the main street. They're fanning out."
I am momentarily horrified, but jump to action, pointing my rifle in the direction Noah had said they were coming from.
"Got it, Noah. Eli, Markus, take up positions facing main street. Tobias, you and Connor stay where you are until Gabriel and I get to you." My brother's voice comes clear and direct over the radio. For a moment; silence, then he speaks again.
"Hannah, cover us but stay where you are." There is no mistaking; it is an order.
I see a group of four racing down the hill from the woods and line up my shot, leading my quarry. The rifle cracks loudly without it's silencer and one of them drops. Not a headshot but he certainly won't make it. The other three scramble for cover but they are unsure where to hide, not knowing where the shot came from. Their hesitation is enough for me to get another shot off. One more down but the remaining two wisen up and drop behind a car.
I can hear multiple firefights break out but don't want to let the two behind the car out of my sight. Thomas and Gabe have joined Connor and Tobias, they are taking a group near the old IGA.
"Noah, how are they?" I keep my eyes on the car
"A little bogged down but holding up ok. Bunch of inbred savages, no match for our boys, darlin'."
His assesment of our attackers is confirmed for me when the two I've been waiting for charge recklessly from behind the car. I smile at their stupidity and put a bullet in each of their chests. Noah is talking to Eli as I shift my scope toward the IGA
"You see any more coming toward the station?" Eli asks.
"Negative, the whole lot are closing in around the IGA."
Tobias and Connor are on the roof now, Thomas and Gabe flanking either side of the marauders, who are doing a better job of stay in cover than I expected. They are not, however, anticipating the impending rear attack as Markus and Eli close in from the marina side. I manage to pick off one from my perch and as he drops, shift the scope to cover the guys' approach. I've just got them in my sights when Noah bellows.
In the next seconds, I am lifted off my feet as Noah plows into me, sending me tumbling down the stairs. The world around me erupts in debris, heat, smoke, and noise. Through the ringing in my ears after the initial blast, I can hear distant gunfire. A searing pain runs from my shoulder down my back and I open my eyes and attempt to lift myself. I can see Solo cowering, no, trapped beneath a pile of debris, the gaping hoke where the crows nest had been and still the scene won't register in my mind. My vision blurred, then obscured completely as something warm and thick runs into my eyes. I try to stand again, the world spins around me and I vomint, collapsing as I attempt to get to Solo. I lie there, trying to force my thoughts into order. I shot the marauders...then what? My mind reels, what was that Noah had shouted?
A sharp yelp from SOlo as burning beam falls near us bring it all into focus. I reach up to wipe the blood from my eyes, but the pain which choots through my arm as I do is like a thousand volts, drawing a sound from me that I hardly recognize as my own voice. I look down to see my arm twisted unnaturally. Wiping my face with the other hand and again try to get up. The smoke is thickening and I hear shouts outside as I manage to drag myself to Solo. I use my good arm to shift the debris and Solo crawls out, dishevelled and singed but otherwise unharmed. He snarls as rapid footsteps pound against the pavement outside, grind up the gravel path and burst through the back door.
"Hannah! Pops!" Gabriel's voice comes, clouded in my damaged ears, then Thomas.
"Where are you!" it is more a demand than a question.
"Here!" I mean to say, but in the choking smoke, my voice is strangled.
They appear through the smoke, spot Solo and I. Gabriel, without a word, gathers me in his arms and carries me out of the the smoldering ruins while the others dash about the station putting out flames and shifting debris, calling out for Noah.
"Gabriel...where..." I lose the question I meant to ask as the world seems to spin around me with the effort of talking.
"Hush. Don't talk, just breathe. Get the fresh air in you, you've inhaled a lot of smoke." He says as we cross the parking lot toward the hotel.
"Solo?" I manage
"With us. Now shush."
I close my eyes and let unconsciousness take me, sinking into comfortable, empty darkness. When I wake, I'm in a dark room. My head throbs, my back is stiff and sore, there is hardly a part of me that doesn't hurt. Solo lies next to me on the bed, his head resting on my leg, golden eyes watching me. When he sees my eyes open, his plumed tail lifts off the bed and waves slowly. I hear snoring and turn to see Thomas asleep in a chair on the other side of the bed.
"Tom?" I croak out, my throat feeling as if it had been seared.
Thomas jerks awake and is out of his chair in an instant.
"Nannie!" He touches my forehead and I can't keep from smiling at his use of my childhood nickname. The one I'd hated that they had all called me just to see me get angry.
"How are you feeling?" His eyes search mine anxiously. "Should I get Eli?"
"No, I'm ok. Just sore, my head is killing me."
"Yeah, I bet. You've got quite a gash up there."
I try to reach up and remember, too late, that it is best to use my left, bite my lip to keep from crying out. I run my left hand over my head, feeling where my hair has been cropped close to better treat the wound, the six inch laceration in my scalp.
"Your shoulder was dislocated, maybe some cracked ribs, some bruises, concussion... but you're going to be fine. I thought you were a goner when they fired that thing." He lays a hand on my shoulder. "I'm glad you're ok."
"Thomas, what happened?"
His face clouds with concern; "You don't remember?"
"Some things." I tell him when I am able to recall, but it is all hazy.
He shakes his head. "Well, they spotted the nest, spotted you, Pulled a goddamn rocket launcher out of who knows where, must've run across a military outpost somewhere..."
"RPG" I remember now. Noah had yelled it just before he pushed me down the stairs and closed the heavy steel hatch-style door which closed off the nest from the lower floors.
I close my eyes as I know what I must ask next, what I'm sure I already know but must have confirmed. And yet I don't want to ask it. Thomas waits quietly, he too knows what comes next, and the answer he will have to give.
"He didn't make it, Nan. I'm sorry."
I sit in stunned silence. Even though I had been certain Noah was gone, it is still a mind numbing thing to hear.
"But he saved you. He kepts the blast from shooting down the stairwell."
The urge to vomit wells in my throat, I gag it down but then I am sobbing, my face against Thomas's chest, unable to restrain the grief. When the flood subsides, Thomas gently sets me back against my pillows.
"Rest now. The guys are moving everything salvagable from the station here, it's not secure anymore."
"He's fine, helping with the move. We were waiting for you to wake up to lay Noah to rest."
"How long have I been out?"
I close my eyes a moment and gather my strength. "I can get up."
I nod, anxious to get out of the room which seems to be closing in on me.Thomas fetches fresh clothes and leaves while I dress. My body resists my every movement, but finally I am lacing up my boots, wincing against the pain. I step out into the dimly lit hall, Solo at my side as always. At the end of the hall, Thomas stands with Eli, the two of them talking in hushed voices. I rest my hand on SOlo's head as we approach, both of my brothers turning to us, ending their conversation abruptly.
"And how'r we feeling?" Eli smiles, reaching out a steadying hand to me.
I am repulsed by his sugary-sweet bedside manner doctor tone, as I'f I'm a toddler in his office to get a booster shot.
"Fine." I brush past them both and go to the front door.
The sunlight is blinding after being in the darkened room for so long, but after moment of adjustment, I can see and take in the extent of the damage. The nest is gone, half of the station collapsed, the men sifting through the rubble.
"Saved all the food, most of the medical supplies." Eli says, coming up behind me. "Got almost everything we could save out, the guys are just doing a final sweep now.
"Anyone else hurt?"
"No. We finished them right after the explosion. There'll be more, though. We took one of those fuckers alive, got him locked up in the walk-in freezer." Eli nods in the direction of the hotel kitchen.
"Gave us a good bit of info after some persuasion." Thomas adds, joining us.
"Like?" I turn to my brothers questioningly
"Like that their camp was ovverrun, the survivors fanned out to find new place, that they'd already sent someone on ahead to where they were supposed to rendevous with the others to bring them here.That was a week ago, he says."
I know what they are trying to say without saying it. We need to leave immediately and they are worried I am not well enough to travel.
"I'm ready when you are." I tell them.
Whatever Eli says back, I don't hear. Gabriel has just emerged from the charred remains of the station, and all I can think of as I walk toward him is all the things I should say to him; how sorry I am, how it's all my fault. Yet when I reach him I find myself at a total loss. Gabe just outs one arm around my shoulders and pulls me to him.
"It wasn't your fault." As if he had read plainly on my face. "And no more tears, either. The old man wouldn't want it." He plants a kiss on my forehead and that's it. There is too much to be done to dwell on it any longer.
"What's left to do before we can be on the move?"
"Just to say goodbye." Gabe responds, gesturing toward the beach.
We all go together, once everything is prepared for travel, to the beach behind the station where NOah's body has been wrapped in a shroud and placed on a funeral pyre. Prayers are said and then the rest of us watch in silence as Gabriel lights the gasoline-soaked wood beneather his father's body. He produces a flask from his pocket, pours some moonshine out onto the same and looks with wet eyes at the burning pyre.
"Ti Benedico, O Padre. Via con Dio." He takes a swig and passes the flask to me.
We all drink to Noah, watching the flames grow. When the whole pyre is engulfed, the men begin to file away slowly, leaving Gabriel and I alone on the beach.
"We should go." Gabriel says as the fading light of late afternoon sets in.
One last look and we turn away from the smoldering remains. We have no words for the walk back to the hotel, but as we go Gabriel takes me hand and it is enough.