This was the night it ended. This was the night it all came undone. Rhodes and a dozen others lay dead in the square, shot full of holes. The rest of us ran. It was our city. We knew the streets, knew the alleys, knew the shortcuts. We knew the hiding places for the weapons we were not supposed to have.
Martin and I reached Stone Street while sirens and gunfire and screams announced the advent of the ugliest of wars. The hulk of the old warehouse rose up black against the sky, and we vanished into the darkness inside through a gap in the wall.
The interior of the old building was pitch black, but we knew our way. Practice stood in for illumination. Our hideaway was in the back, behind stacks of rotting boxes and an iron hatch. Our hands found the rusty wheel that sealed it shut, and we strained until it turned. So much for the quiet; the iron shrieked like a wounded animal.
Neither of us spoke until the door fell shut behind us, and then as little as possible.
“Get the guns. Like we practiced. We move out in ten.”
“Same plan, Liesel?” Martin’s hoarse voice came from somewhere to my right. He switched on a flashlight and set it on a shelf on the other side of the room.
I nodded. “Like Rhodes wanted.”
“And the others?”
“Hopefully they make it.”
I wondered if all revolutionaries felt this way. Terrified. Out of their depth. Just smart enough to realize the odds, but too stupid to let that stop them. All because they thought they could make the world a better place.
We could worry about that if we survived the night.
And then someone’s fist beat on the hatchway door. Martin cursed. I bit my tongue to keep from doing the same. Both of us trained our guns on the door. The knocking came again, followed by a voice, muffled but familiar.
I lowered my rifle but motioned for Martin to keep his aimed at the door. Just in case. Then, I opened it. And there was Bax, alive and in the flesh, with a pair of kids no more than five years old. He pushed inside as soon as the door was open and helped me pull the hatch shut again without a syllable of explanation.
“Who are they?” I stopped him before he could push past me.
“Their parents got killed in the fighting off the square,” he said, as if that would suffice.
“We can’t take them with us.”
One of the kids started to fuss, and he bent down to pick her up.
“You won’t have to. I will. What are you going to do, send them back out to the streets?”
I couldn’t answer that. Martin did instead. “Kids aren’t part of the plan.”
“Then we change the plan,” said Bax. The little girl quieted in his arms.
Martin was about to say something else, but I cut him off before he could. “Did anyone else make it out?”
Bax shook his head. “I wouldn’t count on it.”
“Right.” I swallowed another curse. “At least we’ve got you.”
“I’m not going to be much help,” said Bax. “Not until I get these two somewhere safe.”
Martin growled an expletive.
I almost did as well, but managed to stay civil. “We don’t have that luxury, Bax.”
“We don’t have the luxury of not. If kids get hurt, who’s going to catch the blame? The government boys or us damn rebels?”
“Saving a couple of kids isn’t going to change that, you idiot,” said Martin. “We’re already the bad guys. We wouldn’t sit down and shut up, and now the city’s on fire.”
“Oh, that’s great. So I should just forget them and hope they don’t get killed in the crossfire?”
I broke in before Martin could express agreement with that statement. “Who were their parents anyway?”
Bax hesitated before answering, and I felt my gut knot up. “I’m not sure. They looked upper class.”
Martin would have killed him then if I’d let him. He swung at him with his rifle butt even with me standing right there. Bax jumped back. I caught Martin and threw him down with his own momentum, and he hit the ground hard enough to think twice about trying again.
“Upper class kids, Bax? What the hell were you thinking?” I was yelling. Both kids started crying.
“They’re kids, Liesel! Just kids! It doesn’t matter who their parents were, they’ll die just the same as the rest of us.”
“Yeah, you bet they will.” Martin picked himself back up off the ground and snapped his mouth shut at a dirty glance from me. Disgust flamed in his eyes.
“I don’t care how many orphans you’ve picked up, Bax. We’ve got work to do, and I need you with us. Find someplace for them on the way.”
He looked like he wanted to argue. For whatever reason, he decided not to. We gathered up our gear and weapons. Bax managed to get the kids quiet again. We opened the hatch and moved back out through the shadows of the warehouse towards the gap that led to the street.
Sudden light blinded us as we reached it. We tumbled back as a spray of gunfire laid waste to the ground in front of us.
“Rebel fighters, we have you surrounded.”
The voice came through a megaphone and was just as jarring as the violent light.
“We know you have two children as hostages. Why don’t we talk about how you’re going to return them?”
I turned on Bax. “They saw you take them? You let them follow you? Are you sure you’re actually one of us?”
Bax looked stricken. “I thought I lost them.”
“Well, clearly you thought wrong,” said Martin. The severe light cast weird shadows across his face, and his sneer was demonic.
Both kids started wailing. Bax tried to quiet them, but had no luck. He glanced around, horrified. Then, with a look at me, he grabbed each of the kids by one hand. “I’m so sorry. They shouldn’t be part of this.” And he started for the gap. “Don’t shoot! I surrender!”
He didn’t make it through the opening. Martin tackled him and started punching him in the face. The kids scattered, screaming.
“This isn’t a game! You don’t get to do whatever makes you feel good! Without those kids none of us are getting out alive! With hostages maybe, maybe we have a chance!”
Bax tried to fight back, but Martin outmatched him. The gap in the wall was between me and them. More gunfire forced me back when I tried to cross.
“This is war! Your conscience is out of place!”
He punctuated every sentence with blows. Bax lurched and finally dislodged him, only for Martin to leap at him again.
“There’s never going to be any change unless jackasses like you finally figure out that we have to pay for change in blood!”
“Martin, get off of him!” I tried the gap again, only for another shot to keep me down.
Bax wasn’t fighting anymore. He lay limp as Martin’s bloody fists beat him again and again. He was dead when Martin finally let him go.
“Traitor.” Martin spat. Then he pulled his handgun from its holster and grabbed the nearest of the kids. She screamed and squirmed and wailed, and Martin moved to the gap and yelled louder than it all. He had the girl out in front of him, his gun menacing the back of her head. “You want these two alive? Then here’s our demands. Safe passage. Weapons. Transpor—”
I shot him. He fell. The girl fell too, terrified and screaming but alive. Outside, I heard shouts and orders. It wouldn’t be long. I looked at Martin where he lay, sprawled in the gap and with blood covering his face.
“Why?” His voice rasped and rattled. “We might have won.”
I sank down beside him. Bax’s body was only a few feet away. The kids were in the shadows, huddled and crying. They’d be fine, now. They weren’t rebels.
“We might have won,” he repeated.
“Not this way,” I said.
Boots stamped closer. Black figures blocked the spotlight. Harsh voices barked for me to raise my hands, stay on my knees, lock my fingers behind my head. Rough hands clapped me in handcuffs and hauled me away, and the last things I saw were my two dead friends and two rescued kids.
Originally published as part of the 2016 Winter Writing Contest on shortfictionbreak.com.