The Redcards: 5- The raise of the Redcards

The Raise of the Redcards

The knife gleamed. The liquid at its tip glistened.

          ‘That’s right,’ said the Master. ‘Not the blade that kills you. The poison.’

          Trying to ignore the fetid, nauseating smell that emanated from the tribal leader, Dale Fox glanced around. He was surrounded by the Master’s many loyal followers and he obviously wasn’t going to get any help from them. He was alone in the village, having seen all the other exiles to the Wild Zone die earlier that day. The only person who could help him was himself; and the prospect of imminent death really was a very effective motivator.

          ‘The weapon, the emitters – you say it hurts you?’

          ‘Hurts us,’ hissed the master. ‘Now you hurt!’

          As the brute grabbed his shoulder, Dale felt the blade close to his neck.

          ‘I can stop them!’ he yelled, in desperation. ‘The emitters. I can turn them off. Do you understand?’

          ‘Understand!’ growled the Master, his green eyes gleaming. ‘Understand more than you think. Understand all. How you can do it? How you turn off?’

          ‘There’s a teleporter in the Wild Zone, right?’

          Dale knew that Wolf Chang had acquired the advanced prototypes just before the pandemic, hoping that they would allow convenient transportation around the island. But while a test phase had been carried out, the crisis had forced new priorities on Chang and the teleporter program had been neglected. However, Dale’s job had occasionally involved working on the teleporters and he knew that there was one in this area.

          ‘What?’ demanded The Master. All around them, the mutants looked on, most of their expressions very confused.

          ‘Teleporter. A technical device. It looks like a large metal ring. I believe it’s located just north of the mountain. Not far.’

          The Master nodded. ‘Metal ring. Yes, I know where. I find.’ He lowered the blade and took a step backwards.

Dale breathed a sigh of relief.

          ‘This Tele…’

          ‘Teleporter. It’s currently only capable of transporting one way – from Techville to the Wild Zone, but I know the design; I can probably reverse it.’

          ‘Reverse?’

          ‘Yes – and the other teleporter is right behind the power station. If we can turn the power off, the emitters won’t function. No more pain.’

          ‘No more pain,’ repeated the Master. Some of his followers said the phrase too.

          ‘You can do this?’ he asked Dale.

          ‘I’ll try.’

          ‘Try? Try no good. You do!’ The Master jabbed his knife towards him.

          ‘Right,’ said Dale. ‘I do.’

It was decided that the plan would be carried out the next day. Later that evening, Dale watched as the Master sat in his throne and informed his followers that they were going to the city; that they were going to take back the island. All Dale could do was hope that his good fortune returned. A little piece had already come his way: It wasn’t just the blasters that the primitives had stolen; they had also acquired several boxes of tools. Before the sun set, Dale placed the ones he thought he would need in a pack, ready for the next day’s mission.

That night, he lay in one of the huts, guarded by two armed mutants. He couldn’t believe that he was now an ally of The Master and about to facilitate an attack on what had previously been his home. Dale told himself that he would do whatever was necessary to get back to Marie and Julie. He felt a strange pride that he was only one of the exiles to survive but the challenges would only get harder from here.  

 At dawn, he found that the majority of the primitives would be joining he and the Master. They were armed to the teeth with blasters, wooden lances, homemade swords and other weapons. The young, old and weak would remain behind. While waiting to leave, Dale watched the villagers going about their daily lives: transporting water, collecting firewood, cooking and eating. He had previously seen only violence from them but now realised that they were also just a community, trying to survive. Despite his fears, he also took a moment to enjoy the sunshine that warmed the village that morning; for all he knew it might be his last day on Earth.

His thoughts turned to Wolf Chang. Did the man even care that he was unleashing such suffering upon those cast into the Wild Zone? With all his billions, why wasn’t he trying to help the infected instead of casting them into this terrifying exile? As he recalled all the horrifying deaths he’d observed the previous day, Dale lurched over to a tree and threw up. As he recovered himself, one of the villagers approached and handed him a mug of water.

‘Thank you.’

The teleporter was only half an hour away and he was surprised that the Master even knew of it. Vines and shrubs had grown over the device, leaving it almost invisible from the path. With his captors looking on, Dale took out his tools, opened up an access panel and surveyed the interior.

There was a little rust and decay but he soon had the reserve power supply activated. The metal ring hummed and then generated a shimmering tower of red rings large enough to accommodate a human. Once he’d turned the prototype off once more, it was a question of working out how to reverse the transport direction. Squatting there in the undergrowth, with the Master and dozens of his followers watching, Dale had never known such pressure. And yet, his good fortune clearly had returned, because each stage of the modification went well. After about an hour, he at last executed the reversal, sighing with relief when then the tower of red rings was replaced by green.

Wiping his sweaty brow, Dale put down his tools and stood.

The Master pushed two of his underlings aside, transfixed by the teleporter. ‘What now?’

‘I go through,’ replied Dale, speaking slowly to ensure the brute understood. ‘The reciprocal teleporter is in Techville. I’ll get inside the power station and turn it off. That will disable the emitters. No more pain.’

In fact, Dale wasn’t yet sure what he was going to do. Chang and his lackeys might have exiled him but he wasn’t all that keen on siding with the Master and throwing the island into chaos. That would put Marie and Julie at risk.  

The Master came close to him. ‘You will do it? You will end the pain?’

‘Of course. I hate Chang as much as you.’

The Master pulled out the knife. Up close, Dale saw that the hilt contained a vial of poison that supplied the lethal tip. To his surprise, the Master did not threaten him with the weapon, he gave it to him.

‘Might need this. For protect!’

‘Thank you.’

‘When pain ends, we come to city.’

‘Understood.’

‘Go now.’

Warily holding the knife, with the Master and his many followers watching, Dale stepped into the green rings. He felt a strange, warm feeling upon his skin and surge of energy that flowed through him.

Blinded by green light, he staggered out of the teleporter. He half-expected himself to be back in the Wild Zone but in fact he was right behind the power station.

‘It worked,’ he whispered to himself. Dale stood there for a moment, alone. He was out of the Wild Zone, but hardly out of danger. He was still infected and if anyone saw him, he’d be shot or immediately sent back. All he knew was that he had to talk to Marie; work out what he was going to do.

Dale had taken ten steps when he stopped and looked back at the fence that surrounded the power station. What if he did find Marie and Julie? He wouldn’t be allowed to stay with them. In fact, he’d likely find himself thrown immediately back into the Wild Zone.

What if he did what the Master wanted him to? The mutants would attack and the island would be thrown into chaos.

Chaos can sometimes be useful.

Without Wolf Chang in charge, perhaps there would be a chance for infected mutants like Dale. Perhaps there would be a strong chance of success for a man with exceptional good luck…

Thankfully, nobody thought there was a need to secure locations like the power station; not with an entirely obedient workforce. Dale first checked that no one was around then scaled the ten-foot fence and climbed down to the ground. Here, he was in amongst the maze of humming relays, cables and pipes that made up the station. The facility was almost fully automated and he was relieved, if not surprised, to find it empty.

Dale hurried to the main hub and the integrated power control; a large, red lever. He switched off the safety lock, grabbed the lever with both hands and pulled it down. Immediately, all the relays became quiet and all the surrounding lights went off.

Without power, the main gate also swung open. Running out of the complex, Dale heard an alarm somewhere in the distance and a man shouting. Once at the rear of the power station, he found that the Master and ten of his followers had already come through. More were stepping out of the teleporter every few seconds. It seemed strange beyond words to see the violent, primitive mutants right there in the middle of Techville.

The Master had a wooden lance over his shoulder and was holding a blaster. His odd, skeletal face seemed to be smiling. ‘No pain! You did good!’

‘Good. Listen, I’ve been thinking. We’re both enemies of Chang but if we work together, we can make a new home for humans and mutants.’

The Master gave them some thought. ‘Both enemies, yes. Hate Chang, yes.’

‘There’s something I need to go and do – to help us. Then we can begin. I’ll lead the humans; you’ll lead the mutants. I’ll be back soon.’

‘You lead humans, I lead mutants. Yes.’ To underscore his approval, the Master clapped Dale across the shoulder. The hard blow almost knocked him over. ‘Back soon – you promise.’

‘Promise.’ 

‘Good. Very good!’ The Master barked orders at his men as Dale departed.

With the power off, everyone was in a panic, heading for muster stations, or home to be with their loved ones. This helped Dale get to the Wolf Building, where Chang could usually be found, directing operations. After dodging some engineers and a security patrol, he hurried up the staircase that led into the rear of the facility. Knowing how important the next few moments could be, he shook his head in disbelief. So much had changed in a few days. But if he was going to be with his family and survive, everything had to change.

Dale realised he had changed too. For most of his life he had been a follower; and he’d been glad to follow Wolf Chang, who’d offered he and his family safety. But as soon as he’d been exiled, he was in a new reality. There had been more truth in what he said to the Master than he’d understood at the time. Now he would have to lead.

Dale warily entered the rear of the operations room, a wide space illuminated by yellow lighting. Chang accompanied by some senior personnel and technicians, staring at a video feed that showed the mutants now encircling the power station.

As Dale neared them, Chang bellowed at Michael Dubois, his Head of Operations. ‘Get Bryce over there immediately, with every man we have! Who the hell could have reactivated those old teleporters?’

‘I did.’

Dale said it quietly, but Chang and the others heard it. They turned around and watched him walk past several desks and computer terminals.

‘Fox, you look like hell,’ said Dubois with a frown. ‘What happened to you?’

‘Ask your boss,’ said Dale. ‘I was thrown into the Wild Zone and had to watch the others get eaten, bitten and chopped to death. Just to so Mr. Chang here could solve his problem.’ He turned an accusing gaze on to the billionaire he had once so admired. ‘What gives you the right to hand out death sentences?’

Wolf Chang remained calm and his addressed his subordinates. ‘The rest of you can step aside. I know Mr. Fox is a reasonable man. We will discuss this reasonably.’

The five others, Dubois included, seemed happy to get away from Dale, which didn’t surprise him – to them, he was just another infected mutant. He waited for them all to move across the room before approaching Chang.  

‘As you can see, the situation has changed. The defences you built mean nothing now. We’re all going to need to find a way to get along.’

‘You know that’s not possible.’

‘Of course, it is,’ said Dale, feeling his anger grow. ‘You can’t just throw people away because of an infection that’s no fault of their own.’

‘It is simple science,’ answered Chang. ‘Most of the planet is now infected. Someone has to protect the integrity of the human genome. I did not expect or ask for that role but I may now be the only man alive who can fulfil it. That is my mission.’ 

‘Who are you to play god?’ demanded Dale. ‘I have the virus but I’m entirely healthy.’

‘This isn’t about individuals,’ said Chang.

‘Oh really?’ snapped Dale, advancing towards him. ‘Tell that to Myers, who was stung to death; or Berti, who was ripped apart by scorpions.’ Dale stabbed a finger at his head. ‘I can still hear him screaming.’

‘You’re being emotional,’ said Chang, holding up his hands as Dale came close. ‘I have to be scientific. Logical.’

 Dale realised then that he would have to force Chang into action. He still had the Master’s knife tucked into his belt. He drew it and took a step towards Chang, who was now trapped between him and a desk.

‘Dale, put it down.’

It was Marie. She had just walked in to the operations room from the main corridor, holding hands with young Julie. Even though they’d only been apart a few days, it seemed like months.

‘Marie. What are you doing here?’

‘Mr. DuBois sent for me.’

Only then, did Dale notice that DuBois was lurking in a corner, with a phone in his hand.  

‘Hi, Dad,’ said Julie with a tearful smile.

‘Hey, sweetheart,’ replied Dale, holding back tears himself.

Marie placed Julie on an office chair then continued towards them.

‘You mustn’t hurt Mr. Chang, Dale. This isn’t like you.’

‘Marie, you know I love you but please stay out of this. You haven’t seen what it’s like. He knows how the people in the Wild Zone suffer but he doesn’t care. It’s not right. If I don’t do something, he’ll have me put back in there.’

  ‘You’re not going to hurt him.’ Marie rounded a desk, her hand outstretched towards Dale.

Dale looked at Chang’s face and felt sure he saw a trace of a smile. Marie was very close. He had to act now, before it was too late.

Dale jabbed the blade towards Chang but the wily billionaire grabbed his wrist with both hands. Dale pulled free but his arm shot up and the blade caught Marie on her outstretched hand. She cried out and staggered away.

Dale let go of the knife, which clattered to the floor.

‘No! Marie, are you hurt? I’m so sorry.’

‘It’s okay,’ she said. ‘Just a tiny cut.’  

But within seconds she slumped to the floor, a tin trail of saliva seeping from her mouth.

‘Mom!’

‘Stay there, Julie!’ instructed Dale as he knelt by his wife. ‘No.  No.’

Chang stood over them. ‘I see that’s no normal knife. So, you intended to stab and poison me?’

Dale sat beside Marie and put her head in her lap. Her eyes had already closed and he could feel her pulse slowing.

‘What have I done?’ he wailed.

At that moment, DuBois and the others closed in. Two security guards also arrived. They ran straight to their superior, guns already drawn.

‘Give me your weapon,’ said Chang to the closest of them.

‘Yes, sir.’ The operative handed over his automatic. 

Dale didn’t even think of poor Julie. All he thought about was Marie. She was completely still now, with no trace of a pulse. He shook his wife but she remained unresponsive.

And it was all his fault. He looked up at Chang who had aimed the pistol at him. 

‘Kill me. Do it. I don’t deserve to live.’

‘No!’ yelled Julie. She came running over and threw herself against Dale, holding him tight. Then she reached over him and began to stroke Marie’s hair, as if she was just asleep.

‘My good luck,’ whispered Dale. ‘Everything was perfect.’  

‘Luck cannot change your destiny,’ said Chang. But he now lowered the gun before speaking again. ‘You have suffered enough, Fox.’ He glanced back at the screen, which showed other security operatives fighting with the mutants. ‘But you have also caused a great deal of suffering. Get out of here. Return to the Wild Zone. And don’t ever come back.’

Dale could barely process what was going on but, having lost Marie, he knew he had to survive; ensure that his daughter at least had her father. He gently set Marie’s lifeless body down and stood up, Julie gripping his hand.

‘Is Mom gone?’

‘I’m afraid so, sweetheart. Yes.’

‘Can I kiss her goodbye?’

‘Yes.’

Julie did so; and then Dale did too.

The chaotic scene inside the Wolf Building was replicated on a larger scale outside. As father and daughter crossed Techville, they saw workers running in all directions and battles between the mutants and Bryce’s security teams. Bullets and blaster beams scythed through the air. The cries and screams of the injured shattered the previous peace and quiet. Several buildings were now aflame and acrid smoke was drifting across the entire city. On three occasions, Dale had to hide in the shadows or wait for danger to pass. When they neared dead bodies, he picked Julie up and told her to cover her eyes.

It seemed that the largest fight had broken out near Extraction One. Dale and Julie crouched behind a loading vehicle when they saw an injured Mark Bryce limping away. Four of his team were dead, along with as many mutants. Dale was astonished to see that one of them was the Master, sun glinting off his gold necklace. The mutant leader had been shot several times and had died holding his blaster.

‘It’s pretty,’ said Julie, gazing down at the necklace, as if determined to ignore all the less beautiful sights around her.

‘We’ll take it,’ said Dale, detaching it from the neck of the mutant leader. ‘This can be very useful where we’re going.’

Despite all the pain and the guilt, he found himself gripped by a sense of direction and a determination to seize his destiny. He had no idea where it came from but it somehow seemed right that – just before reaching the power station – they met two of his old gambling friends, Angelo and Erica.

‘Dale,’ said Angelo, the burly construction worker. ‘What the hell is going on?’

‘What’s going on is that things are changing. And there’s going to be new home for people like us.’

‘You mean the lucky ones?’ asked Erica, who today was wearing a Star Wars t-shirt.

‘That’s right. We can’t trust anyone else. If we’re together then only good luck will come our way. Tell the others. Tell them to come to the teleporter behind the power station and go through.’

‘You’re sure about this?’  asked Angelo.

‘I’m sure. We need our own faction if we’re going to survive. We’re going to be called the Redcards.’

‘I like it,’ said Erica with a grin. ‘Red for your hair; cards for your love of poker.’

‘Round up everyone,’ Dale told them. ‘They’ll be safe with us.’

With that, he and Julie continued on their way. Somehow, he was just able to put his grief aside and pursue what now felt like a mission.

When the remaining mutants gathered at the power station saw him and the necklace he’d put on, they instantly began chanting, “master, master”. Dale didn’t want to be saddled with these primitive brutes when he set up his new faction and there was a very easy way to get rid of them. They were so stupid that they actually followed him into the station; right up to the point where he hit the lever and reactivated the power.

‘Close your eyes, Julie,’ he said. 

With the emitters active once again, the pain of the crystal vibrations was too much for the mutants. In seconds, they were all on the floor, crying in pain and convulsing. By the time he exited the power station, all the mutants were dead.

On his way out, Dale grabbed a tool box from a supply store. He was relieved to find that there was no one else at the teleporter. He switched the setting so that it would transport the other way and then locked it. The members of his new faction could join him but no one would be going back to the city.

‘Come on then,’ he said, taking Julie’s hand once more.

‘Where are we going?’ she asked, gazing at the tower of shimmering green rings.

‘Somewhere all of our own, sweetheart. We’re going on a new adventure.’

Author TheWolf
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