Rust: Episode Seventeen
by Alan Augustson
28 May 2017

Pike stood frozen in horror. The screen had to be a good quarter-mile off, yet he was certain he could feel that heat. He was sure it would melt the sign entire, and bore a hole through the world from there. Then, as it cooled, he saw.

“Army of the Damned…” he muttered at the brilliant appearance of the AD, which would likely be just as impressive a hole through the screen in the morning. Just as that pathetic suit, McMonagal, had mentioned. Who were they?, he puzzled.

“Pike! Hey, Pike!”

For a split second, Pike slipped into Fight Mode — he didn’t have a Flight one — and readied his trusty pipe. But he quickly recognized the two boys running at him and his berzerker rage faded in a breath and a blink.

“Pike, everything’s going crazy!” panted the younger boy.

“I know; I can’t believe this either. I thought I saw another one burning, off over that way,” Pike said, gesturing.

“It’s not the screens,” said Timmy, the older. “The whorehouse went up, too.”

“What? When?”

“The exact same time,” the boys said in near unison.

“Jesus.”

“It’s true,” said Timmy. “People were running, screaming. I don’t know how many made it out, though.”

“Shit,” said the other kid. “Pike, I almost forgot. There were kids. Timmy saw them bringing kids in the back!”

“Oh, fuck. You’re certain, Timmy?”

The boy nodded. “Yeah. They were. It was dark, but I saw maybe three.”

“Did they get out?”

“What?”

Pike grabbed Timmy by the shirt and snarled. “The kids, goddamnit! Did they get out?”

“I- I don’t know-”

“The fuck you mean, you don’t know… ?” Pike growled, and Timmy cowered at what looked like a backhand coming, but the other boy grabbed at his elbow, snapping him out of it.

“No, Pike! It’s not his fault! Everything went fucking loco; we had to get out of there!”

Shaking nearly as much as Timmy, Pike looked around, dazed, then nodded his understanding. “Okay… okay. Okay. We gotta get over there. Could be kids hurt, or worse. Come on.”

He had nearly broken into a run towards the blaze in the distance, when he was blinded by spotlights.

“Drop the pipe, Mister Pike,” came a voice.

“I already answered you assholes’ questions!” Pike shouted, but complied anyway.

“I heard. I suspect we were asking the wrong questions last time.”

A figure emerged from the light, offering him one of his two lit cigarettes.

“I’m Burke. Zero-zero-six, seven-two-one.”

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Social scientist, public policy analyst, emergency management consultant and author. U.S. Marine Corps veteran and former firefighter. Former candidate for U.S. Congress.

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