Stefan Novick's silver-tipped pen tapped a relentless tattoo against the surface of his desk. He glowered down at it, as if the device moved under some force besides his own hand. Guarin Bohne watched with growing unease, trying not to squirm in his hard wooden chair. The last thing he wanted was to call attention to himself. He sat, and sweated, and refused to stir, even when a lone fly buzzed and perched on his hand, crawling up his wrist as if aware he could do nothing to stop it.
The pen stilled, plunging the room into silence. Guarin and his three other companions took a quiet, collective breath, then held it. The glowering blue eyes raised, then settled upon their chosen target. Waves of relief, then shame, flooded through Guarin, though he dared not show it. The woman sitting next to him, upon whom Novick was now intently focused, shrank under the withering glare.
"Explain again what happened." The quiet voice was tinged with poison. The undercurrent in the room was clear, despite the words: Explanations were not needed. Not anymore. Now, punishment must be exacted.
In spite of his tone, the explanation tumbled out again. Feminism be damned, Guarin still hated when it was a woman. This one - Andrea, that was her name - was managing as much dignity as possible under the circumstances. But he had seen both men and women under the power of that gaze, some of them the bravest souls he knew. It was a wonder she was able to form coherent sentences.
The story was the same as it had been in the first two tellings: the caravan had been right on track. Ahead of schedule, even. The food supplies that the city desperately needed had only been a day's drive away from the gates, and the harvest had been highly successful.
Unfortunately, the crew members had not been the only ones aware of that fact.
The bandits were many steps ahead. The scouts found no trace of them and had given the caravan the all clear to proceed. Then, all hell broke loose.
"I still fail to see, dear Andrea," Novick's voice purred, "how your crew of more than a hundred trained men and women was caught off-guard by a ragtag band of miscreants."
Andrea opened her mouth, then closed it again. Rationally, she knew the frivolity of offering an explanation. They all did. Her head bowed and her eyes slid closed, a single tear forming.
"They were on their home territory."
Guarin's heart dropped as the words exploded into the silence. It dropped even further as he recognized the voice that spoke them: His own.
Those steely blue eyes shifted, and now it was Guarin's turn to sweat. He did his best to maintain composure, though. To meet that gaze. The words had escaped him, unbidden, and now he had no choice but to plow ahead.
"The woods are where they live," Guarin continued, ignoring the shock on his fellow council members' faces. "It was natural for them to have an advantage. They know how to conceal themselves, where to watch the roads in and out of New Chicago, what approaches are best for overtaking a caravan, even a well-armed one."
As he spoke, a wild, desperate idea started to form in his head. Novick had not cut him off yet, so he continued, his voice gaining strength. "We need to take a different tactical approach. Perhaps, if we had their knowledge of the forest, some insight into how they work..."
He trailed off, then, realizing the audacity of what he was proposing. Novick's face was an expressionless mask. Guarin felt a hard knot of ice form in his belly.
"Guarin Bohne," Novick pronounced slowly, turning his silver-tipped pen over in his hands, gazing at it as if it were the most fascinating object in the world. "Are you proposing that we spy? On the outcasts? The refugees? The... deserters?"
Guarin nodded, keeping his lips pressed tightly together. He wondered what his punishment would be for speaking up this time. Confinement? The stocks? Or something worse? He tried to suppress a shudder. How had it come to this?
The silence stretched out as Novick contemplated the idea. Guarin felt the faintest hint of incredulity, then outright shock as a faint grin twitched behind the man's well-groomed blond beard.
"I like it," Novick announced. The surprise in the room was almost palpable. Andrea's eyes bugged out of her head. Guarin felt a surge of hope.
The silver pen pointed right at Andrea's face, though, swift as a blade, and Guarin quickly reined in his emotions. "I want likely candidates chosen by the end of the week." Novick's eyes flicked to Guarin, then went back to Andrea, whose features were glowing with fierce determination. She nodded vigorously, blond hair coming loose of its efficient bun to fall around her shoulders. He continued, "Someone skilled, but unassuming. And fiercely loyal. We can't have them swayed by the poison that Rob Hale speaks against me." His tone soured at those last words, lips forming the name like a curse.
"Yes. Right away, sir," she murmured, her voice hoarse. She shot a glance at Guarin from the corner of her eye, filled with such gratitude that he almost laughed aloud. Perhaps they had escaped, this time.
With that, they were unceremoniously dismissed. Novick turned away, back to the pile of papers on his desk, and flicked his wrist. His council gathered themselves and shuffled out.
Still disbelieving, Guarin risked a look over his shoulder at where Novick sat, straight-backed and proud. His eyes met steely blue once more, and a chill crept up his spine. Novick's gaze, still filled with smoldering anger, was fixated on the back of Andrea's head.
The empty marble corridors of the old building rang with their footsteps as the council members moved away from the double doors of Novick's office. Signs of dilapidated grandeur surrounded them, plush chairs dotting the hallways at intervals and hints of glistening wooden tables peeking through layers of dust. For once, Guarin took no notice. The adrenaline was leaving his system rapidly, and his knees were beginning to shake. He paused, letting his cohorts get ahead of him, and sagged against the wall, waves of dizziness overcoming him.
"That was foolish," a voice hissed in his ear. He turned his head weakly. Andrea was standing next to him, looking no better than he felt, a thousand emotions warring on her features.
"You're welcome," he muttered, looking away from her tousled blond hair and bright, nervous green eyes.
"It isn't that I'm not grateful," she muttered, glancing over her shoulder. Novick's personal body guards stood well out of earshot down the hall, and gave no sign that they were interested in their hushed conversation. She still lowered her voice further. "But all you did was, what, buy me a few more days? This is the third time in two months I've failed in his eyes. I don't think his punishment will be quite so temporary this time. And you may as well have been asking to join me."
Guarin knew she was right. Novick's council members walked a fine line in recent months. He was the only original member of the group left, the others having been summarily dismissed in the year since the group formed. Most of the dismissals came after a series of increasingly painful demonstrations of discipline. Novick did not tolerate what he dubbed "unsatisfactory work on behalf of the citizens." Those "public servants" on the council who failed to live up to his standards learned quickly, or faced his quicksilver bouts of wrath. Guarin feared what Andrea had just spoken aloud: Novick was becoming more unpredictable and brutal the longer the bandit refugees were a thorn in his side. With an entire food supply that the city was depending on now gone, there was little stopping him from starting what they all dreaded: another round of executions.
"We can't afford even more loss, Andrea," Guarin whispered, letting his eyes slide shut momentarily. He felt far older than his thirty-two years, and the lines on his face spoke of his hardship. Of the hardship of them all. "Take what I've won for you and go. Run. You can make it out at nightfall. I will deal with the consequences. I have lasted this long."
Andrea gave him a long, considering look, her expression unreadable. "I know what to do," she said finally. "And I won't forget this. I will be back for you."
All Guarin could do was shake his head as he watched her walk away.
Rob Hale zipped through the woods on the back of the motorbike, making lazy circles among the trees. He slipped under branches and between tree trunks using only the lightest of touches and the subtlest shifts of his weight in the saddle. It was foolish, using up valuable fuel this way, but he could not help it. This was the only way he could get away from the others, far enough away that they knew better than to come looking for him, and fast enough that he could get back in time if he needed to. Few of their little band begrudged him these infrequent jaunts, and the others knew better than to speak up.
The faithful little engine whirred noisily through the woods, but he did not mind the sound. He knew this area well enough, knew that no one else tended to travel there, and he was in little danger of any of Novick's constant scouting groups. There was nothing there to fear anymore, not for years, but people still kept their distance.
He slowed down as he neared the spot, the gurgle of the engine fading as he let the bike coast, then drew to a stop, pulling the clutch in and flicking off the ignition switch. The kickstand, loose from years of use, dropped down with a slight tap. He would have to tighten it before leaving, otherwise it would fall and stall him out again.
Rob pulled the scratched black helmet off of his head, brown locks falling to brush the back of his neck. He surveyed the scene, letting the solemn mood of the place take over. For once, his rugged features were not pulled into a faint grin. Here, even Rob the Rogue paid homage.
The gates hung open now, one slightly askew, metal rusted from long exposure to the elements. Parts of the fence that encircled the perimeter were also missing, reclaimed by nature or whomever was brave enough to scavenge here for materials. Within, though, the buildings themselves were touched only by overgrowth. They consisted of low, concrete slabs, made to endure, though even the toughest of structures would eventually collapse against the press of time.
Rob knew the history of this place, as did everyone else left in what remained of the United States. It was where they had taken the dead and the dying. Where many of the living went, sacrificing their lives, trying to uncover the secrets of the wasting sickness, to unlock a cure. And, in the process, giving up any chance of their own survival. The only possible solution was containment, to save what little of the population remained. This was the death place of millions, and the death place of the sickness that had almost demolished the human population on Earth.
The entire complex spread out for miles, but it was all the same stark structures and overgrown vegetation. Rob had explored several of the buildings throughout the years, finding them to be burnt husks on the inside. Eventually, he stopped exploring. He could only look at so many charred remains before determining that there was nothing left here but harmless ash and bones. Those last few who managed to cling to life the longest had seen to the ultimate cleansing before they finally succumbed.
Rob restarted the bike and wove figure eights among the buildings, allowing his mind to drift from past troubles to current ones. He and his little group were finally well out of the long winter. The growing season had started, and their camp was brimming with activity. They managed a few clever camouflage tricks that allowed them to stealthily start growing what would eventually become a generous supply of food. The going was still slow, and Novick's scouts had found some of their stashes, but Rob was optimistic.
Not everyone in the camp shared his optimism, though, and his features darkened again as his thoughts arrived at the reason he had set out on this little trip in the first place. Arguments were breaking out, yet again, about the food. It frustrated him to no end. Try as they might, none of them were particularly skilled hunters, especially with the rudimentary tools they managed to glean prior to escaping the city.
It was too risky to start eating things they found growing in the wilderness, as he had quickly learned following several days of illness that sapped his strength and turned his stomach into knots after a few stray berries. Rob's visions of living easily off of the land had faded with the harsh realities of roughing it through the winter with no power, inadequate shelter, and few natural resources. Fortunately, the abandoned towns they managed to scavenge from yielded enough non-perishable goods to sustain them, but he knew they could not count on those supplies forever. Their band was growing every week, and they needed a long-term plan.
It had been one of the first goals that he and Novick had set together: get true, sustainable food sources going again. They were wildly successful; New Chicago had flourished. If only they had not disagreed on so many other things...
Rob quickly pulled his thoughts out of that murky mire. It was no use dwelling on it. He chose his path and was now irrevocably navigating it.
It took a moment for him to realize that the bike had rolled to a stop. He was standing there, feet planted, clutch pulled in as the bike idled loudly beneath him, staring into space. He gave himself a shake, then sat back down in the saddle, easing the clutch out again and kicking the bike into gear. It obeyed and he was gliding easily among the trees once more.
The possible arguments played themselves out in his mind again, and he struggled to find a way to convince the factions in his band to abandon what they had been pushing for the last several weeks. Raids on food caravans would just bring more unnecessary loss. He wondered again, in the wake of the worst tragedy the world had ever seen, what else it would take to convince people that death was not the answer.
His thoughts continued to twist and turn like a piece of silk caught in the wind, and he continued to maneuver his way around the outskirts of the abandoned complex, cranking the engine to jump an incline or take a hairpin turn to vent his frustration. He became so lost in the corners of his mind and the weaving between obstacles that it took several moments for him to notice the addition of a new sound joining with the thrum of his bike's motor.
This vehicle was bigger, though the engine was smoother. He could hear it approaching from the direction he had come, and his heart began to hammer. He was too reckless. Stupid, stupid reckless. He quickly cut the bike's engine, hopping off. He pushed its light weight behind one of the low, rounded concrete buildings and ducked down next to it. With any luck, they would drive right past. Rob wracked his brain, trying to figure out who besides Novick would come this far, to this place. Not many people possessed the fuel for travel via motorized vehicles, and those that did used them sparingly.
The vehicle - it must be a car of some sort, he was sure from the sound - came to an audible stop. He heard the click and squeak of a door. Then, a familiar voice: "Rob?"
Relief surged through him, followed by confusion. He sprang from his hiding place, mounting the low mound of the bunker's roof to reveal himself to his seeker. Marie Sarks spotted him from behind the truck's door and raised her hand in greeting, beckoning him over. He noted her thin brows were furrowed into a frown, her lips pinched together. Rob's anxiety returned. She would not bother him here unless something was truly wrong.
"What is it?" he asked, jumping down from his perch and jogging over to her. "Did something happen? Is everyone okay?"
Marie shook her head, her wild red hair brushing her shoulders, which were hunched with tension. He fought a sudden, unexpected urge to tuck a stray curl behind her ear where it had fallen loose, to rest a comforting hand on her tight shoulder. "You need to come back. It's Will. He's..." she hesitated, then sighed. "He's done something very foolish."
"What is it, Marie?" Rob demanded, though he feared he already knew. If Marie was coming to talk to him about her brother, it could not be good.
She shook her head. "You'd better just come. They're going to need to hear from you. Get your bike, let's go."
He hesitated, then turned and jogged to where the bike was standing. He mounted it in one smooth motion, then took off back toward the camp. He prayed the entire way that his suspicions about what he would find there were wrong.
Will Sarks stretched out on the hood of the truck bearing the city's emblem, head resting on his clasped hands against the windshield. He was dressed in greens and browns, the standard garb among the camp, clothes that would fade quickly into the forests they frequented. An insolent smile played on his tanned features, and his blue eyes noted Rob's progress as he approached, tension thickening in the air with each step.
"What have you done?" Rob demanded, his quiet voice carrying among those gathered. The entire camp was there. Will's supporters, the faction of young men that had been a thorn in Rob's side ever since the boy had arrived, stood among the trucks, pulling out crates of produce, though they paused when Rob approached. Everyone else stood silently, looking on, waiting. Rob felt Marie's eyes boring into the back of his head, a silent plea. He did not know how she would choose, if Rob exiled her brother. Whether she would stay, or follow her kin, no matter how much she disagreed with Will. But Rob had little choice.
"What we needed to survive," Will replied, not bothering to get up from his casual sprawl. The smile never left his lips, a mocking parody of Rob's usual grin. Rob tried to rein in his temper. Will was just a boy. A foolish, arrogant boy who had likely just cost the entire camp their lives.
"This? This is what we need?" Rob demanded. In one quick movement, he was standing on the hood of the truck next to Will, grabbing the boy's arm and hauling him to his feet. Will's eyes widened, his muscles tensing, but he quickly regained his composure, shaking loose of Rob's grip.
"Yeah, it is, and I was the one brave enough to get it," Will replied, pitching his voice to carry to the other people assembled there. "We're starving out here, Rob, or damn close to it. What did you want us to do? Roll over and die?"
"And just what do you think Novick's response is going to be when he hears of this?" Rob shot back. "Do you think he's going to send us his best wishes? Perhaps some fine china to eat off of? Or bullets in the dark?"
That caused a stir. Even the dissenters, the unseasoned boys in Will's group, had experience dealing with Novick's crews. Well-armed and well-equipped, they were hard to evade, and even harder to fight. However Will had managed to overcome those guarding the caravan, it was a safe bet that it would not work a second time, particularly if he and his friends also had to protect the clusters of families who called this camp home. And Novick's men would find the camp easily, now that they had the caravan's tracks to follow through the woods.
"We'll get away from them," Will insisted stubbornly, though Rob could see the fear there. The boy had never considered Novick's retaliation. What would New Chicago's response be? The entire camp was going to end up paying for Will's mistake. "We'll hide deeper in the forest again, like we always do."
"And abandon everything," Rob shot back. "There's no way we can get away with everyone, and with all of this, unharmed. We can't move fast enough. For every ten of us who get away, one will die. Was that the sacrifice you were willing to make when you stole?"
"I didn't steal," Will muttered, jumping down from the hood of the truck. "You planted those farms. Half of us here helped you. You deserve a share. We all deserve a share."
"And what about the share for those left in the city?" Rob demanded. "Did you think of them? Many of us still have family in New Chicago, just as hungry as we are. Did you want them to suffer, too? All you've done is put us in danger, and starved hundreds of people." He turned, looking out at the assembled faces, most of them twisted with fear. He felt a pang of guilt, but they deserved to know the truth. And they deserved to have a plan for getting out of this mess.
"Everyone get a bag," he announced. "One per person, including the children. Take what can fit and what you can carry. We have to leave by this afternoon. It isn't safe here anymore."
Will stopped several feet away, his back to Rob, leaning against a tree. Every line in his body spoke of fear and anger. He had not seen any farther than his own nose, impulsive as he was, and it was costing them.
"Will," Rob called. He saw Marie tense out of the corner of his eye, awaiting his decree. "You and your... men. You will take whatever remains to the north road. All of the food is to be left there, in sight of Barrington Farm." Novick's people would see it there soon enough, but with a little luck, Will and his group would be well away before they could think to take any action. "Empty one of the vehicles and use it to get yourselves back to us. We're leaving."
"Where are we going?" Marie called out as Rob jumped down from the hood of the truck and started making his way through the crowd.
Rob paused, then replied without looking at her, "We'll head toward Madison. That should get enough distance between us and Novick before he decides how to retaliate."
Or so he hoped.
Marie listened to Rob and Will argue with rising trepidation. Each fight brought them closer to coming to blows, and she knew it was just a matter of time.
Will stalked away, his head bent under the weight of Rob's sentence. He would comply, Marie knew, but he would resent it every step of the way. She hung back, watching as Rob started directing people to pack up. Food was distributed and teams assembled. They would send one last group into the nearby town to dig through the collapsing homes for what few supplies they might yield. Marie still had to marvel at the miracle of the little tins of food they managed to find. Unspoiled, bereft of much flavor, but good enough - especially on an empty belly. Rob claimed that they could make such things again, with enough heat and salt and food, but she was nervous at the notion. Whatever technology that had allowed her predecessors to create such marvels as food that would last forever was surely lost to them, for now.
Marie moved to follow Will, but hesitated when she caught Rob looking at her. He looked away when their gazes crossed, and she jogged to catch up with her brother, fighting the rising flush suffusing her cheeks. Rob was attentive with all of his followers, she reflected. That was what made him such a good leader. One that she was proud to follow, most of the time.
"What has you so flustered?" Will muttered as she pushed aside the tarp that served as their door. The rough-hewn wooden structure was not much, but it was home, had been home for these past few months. It was easy enough to replace, at least, once they got to Madison. And far safer than the dilapidated towns, which she knew Novick's troops patrolled on a weekly basis.
"What do you mean?" Marie asked, assuming what she hoped was an innocent expression. She started throwing their belongings into dusty, mismatched bags she pulled from under their makeshift beds. Rob had insisted that every member of camp be able to pack up quickly, just in case. Now she understood why.
Will ignored her pretense and flopped down on the thin palate of cloth and stuffing that served as his mattress. It may have been of sturdy construction, once, but time had worn its breadth down to just a few lumpy inches. Most of the good, old, manufactured mattresses had been gathered into the cities, long ago.
"I don't see why we even need to leave," he griped, staring at the tarp-covered ceiling. "How does he think Novick is going to find us, if he hasn't in all this time?"
"Your caravan left plenty of tracks that lead straight here. Besides that, Rob knows Novick better than anyone," Marie reminded him, continuing to put their clothing and meager possessions into bags. "He probably knows a way. Novick has people in the city - some Survivors, even. You don't know what they might come up with."
Will rolled his eyes, then flopped over on his belly, facing away from her.
"And hiding a few people here and there, that isn't hard. But an entire caravan?" Marie paused to shoot a glare at her brother. "Didn't you even think of the tracks?"
He remained silent for a moment, then sighed, rolling back over to look at his sister.
"I know. Look, I know, alright? And I'm sorry. But people were getting hungry, and it just wasn't fair..."
He talked of fairness often, and Marie had long since stopped trying to argue with him.
"It never is," was all she said as she continued to pack. "Just take your things and do what Rob says."
"Do what Rob says," Will mimicked her and glared, his apologetic mood quickly fading. "What has he ever done?"
"Kept us alive," she barked, rounding on him. "Do I have to explain this to you again? Now? After you've seen all of the refugees gathering here, escaping from Novick day by day? Don't you listen to what they say about what's happening in the city?"
Will glared at Marie for a long moment, and she saw rebellion brewing in his eyes again. But then it gradually faded, replaced with the lost looking boy Marie had grown up caring for. She almost went to him, but he flinched away.
"I'll go. For you, though, not for him."
Marie embraced her brother then, despite his cringe. "Be careful," she muttered. "Keep safe. We'll meet up with you on the way to Madison."
He shrugged out of her embrace and shouldered his small pack of belongings. Giving her one last look, he left their temporary home. Marie watched him go, fighting her dread with each step.
Rob watched as Will sauntered back from the quarters he shared with Marie and made his way to his followers. They conferred and exchanged grim looks, shooting the occasional glare at Rob. For a long moment, he feared it might come to another confrontation, but they seemed to reach an accord, dispersing among the waiting vehicles. One by one, the trucks roared to life and departed, making their noisy way through the forest.
His own group of followers was assembling, awaiting his instructions. Most had vehicles, thankfully. That was a minor miracle itself, though it had become easier to gain such luxuries after their mechanic, Anthony, had joined their band. His father had taught him how to keep the things running, before the illness had claimed him, and nearby abandoned towns gave them plenty of scrap to work with. It was procuring the precious fuel that was the trick. Rob sent up a prayer that their small store of the stuff would be enough.
"Marie," he called when she appeared. She gave a start, then hurried over, her duffle bag slung across her shoulder. "I want you to lead. You know the way best."
"What? Why aren't you leading?" she asked. Her caramel colored eyes searched his face, and he fought the urge to lean in closer. They were in the middle of a crisis, for heaven's sake.
"I'm going to take the bike and scout around," he replied. "I'm worried Novick is already hunting. I want to have fair warning before he arrives, and I can move faster on my own."
Marie considered his plan before nodding, a small crease appearing between her eyebrows. "It makes sense. But..." she hesitated, dropping her eyes to the ground. "Just be careful, okay?"
Rob gave her a quizzical look at the admonishment. "What do you mean?" he asked.
"Just... don't take on a whole troop of Novick's people on your own, for guts and glory," she said, followed by a short, sharp laugh. "And... just watch out for Will, okay?" she murmured, her voice quieter. "He isn't himself lately. I don't think he'd hurt you, not really, but it was a hard winter, and he's bitter, and..." she trailed off, lifting her gaze at last. He thought for a moment that a tear might be trembling there, at the corner of her delicate lashes, but she blinked, and it was gone. He must have imagined it; he doubted she had ever cried once in her entire life.
Her message was clear, though: she did not want anything to happen to Will. He was her brother, after all. The only family she had left, and she was lucky to have him, at that. Of course he would be precious to her.
"I will look after Will," he reassured her, offering a strained smile. "You have my word."
Marie opened her mouth to reply, but whatever she was about to say was interrupted by the arrival of additional members of their camp. Their own ragtag caravan was assembling, motors rumbling through the woods.
"Lead them there as fast as their cars will allow," Rob instructed Marie, turning back to her quickly. "I think you can make good time before dark; you might even make it all the way to Madison by tonight. The fuel should be just enough, if we're careful." His mouth set into a hard line. "We'll be at the sufferance of Lieutenant John for more, assuming he has any mercy to spare when we arrive."
A few of their camp had come down from Madison, bringing with them mixed tales of the city's self-proclaimed leader, the Lieutenant John. Reports were scattered, and none painted him as quite the tyrant that Novick was, but the thought of the man still filled Rob with unease. He shared one last, lingering look with Marie, then turned away. They had a long journey ahead of them, and little time to waste.
Rob gunned the engine of his motorbike, weaving through the trees and away from his encampment. Will's caravan could not have made it very far, but he was surprised after riding for several minutes that he had not caught up with them. His bike was a bit slower than the cars, to be sure, but it had to be rough going through the woods.
As several more minutes passed and he followed the clear trail left through the woods, he began to worry. There were no signs of difficulty that he could spot, but something was wrong. He should have met up with them by now, so that he could keep watch over Will, as Marie wanted him to do.
The thought of Marie sent his thoughts swirling again in confusing ways, and he shied away. Ever since she had arrived in his camp, half-starved and searching for her then-missing brother, he had always been aware of her. Her wild red hair occupied the edge of his vision, and he frequently turned to catch a glimpse as she made her way through the camp on this errand or that.
She had adapted to life within the camp far more readily than Will, who defied his every move. Marie, contrary to her brother, was vivacious, charismatic, and eager to help. It had been through her efforts that they finally started their gardens, getting growing plots and chores organized so they could enjoy a meager but slowly growing harvest.
Rob scowled as he thought of all of those resources, so carefully cultivated and lovingly planted, now effectively gone. There would be no way to keep them going once they abandoned the camp, and the woods and weeds would quickly overtake the secretive, ingenious places they had found to grow. Another failure he owed to Will Sarks.
He tried to change the direction of his thoughts, to plan his next move. He would retrieve Will and his group and head to Madison to join up with the others. Marie would meet him there. His stomach clenched into a tight ball at the thought of her heading north alone, into the den of Lieutenant John without any help or knowledge of what kind of reception they would get. He suddenly wanted to be done with Will as quickly as possible, to catch up with her and protect her and...
With a faint growl of frustration, he gunned his engine again, speeding through the woods. Where were the idiots, anyway? He followed the tracks, letting the bike slow to a more cautious pace, scanning his surroundings. Had Novick sent troops already? It was impossible. But then again, his scouts could be anywhere, cleverly concealed and camouflaged in the shadows, ready to alert more troops at a moment's notice...