He could hear the nuclear alarm alerting the city to evacuate, its repeated wailing echoing through the metropolis of New York City. His eyes kept fluttering, soaking in the morphine hooked into his vein. Yet, he could only feel the needle sticking in his arm and felt no relief from the bullet still lodged in his body. It was as if the shells of the bullet were taking a ride through his bloodstream and making sure every part of his body received some shrapnel of pain. Inside his hospital room, a siren was flashing and the loudspeaker kept calling for a code silver: mass evacuation. The air traffic of space transit, airplanes, and motorcars was louder than ever as the entire city tried to evacuate.
He waited for someone to come into his room to take him with the rest of the hospital evacuees. His room was on the top floor all the way at the end, so they must have not gotten to him yet. Thankfully, the morphine started to work as he was going in and out of consciousness. But before he completely closed his eyes, he glanced over to his sharp IV, admiring his healthy blue vein. His eyes trailed down until they got to his handcuffed hands. Just when the alarm begun its crescendo melody once more, he drifted into his sleep.
The deafening silence startled him awake. As his eyes adjusted back to the same surroundings he last saw before drifting into deep sleep, he noticed he was in the same hospital room as before, only it couldn’t be more different. The window to his right was smashed, with debris scattered all over the floor. The room was dark, as was the rest of the hospital from what he could see. Power outage. His heart monitor was black and the once full IV drip of morphine was now sucked dry and folded in. He followed the cord attached to the IV all the way to his handcuffed hands and up to his vein. His infected, bruised, swollen vein that had even turned the veins on his bicep and forearm purple. The only sound was a breeze whistling outside.
As he stared down at his infected vein, all the pain he felt before came rushing in. He yelled out in anguish, but of course, no one heard him. He couldn’t remove the IV because he was still handcuffed. The little needle felt as if it pierced him from the vein straight through his spine. He writhed in the bed, trying to wiggle his wrists free from the restraints. That’s when he saw it: the handcuffs were OFF. He closed his eyes, took a sharp inhale, and spoke.
“Suspect 1011. First name, kilo alpha hotel November. Last name, unknown. Release.”
The handcuffs flickered for a brief moment and then opened, releasing his hands. He threw them down on the ground, the titanium carbon clanking upon impact. He opened and closed his fingers, getting the circulation going. He looked to the where the source of his pain was coming from, the IV. He went to pull the infected needle out of his arm and instantly jolted back. It was if he was pulling a dagger out of his arm and it wouldn’t budge. The pain was insufferable and yet he didn’t even move the needle a centimeter. Even just touching it sent a wave of pain through his whole body. He prepared himself again, this time closing his eyes, and went to pull the needle out. He yelled out in agony as a cold sweat began to drip down his forehead. It was halfway out and yet it felt as if it was immobilizing his entire body. He cursed a few times under his breath, a weak attempt at making him feel invincible. Before he could think any longer about it, he pulled the remainder of the needle out and immediately blacked out.
It was now sunset. Or was it sunrise? Either way, it was time to leave. He brought himself out of the bed and began limping out of the hospital. It was completely abandoned. Rats squeaked on the floor, loving that the world was now theirs once more. Five flights of stairs later, he was nearly at the exit when he heard a voice call out to him.
He turned back to see where the voice came from. A young girl of about 10 or 11-years-old was all the way at the end of the hallway. She ran up to where he was standing and looked up to him. A face of such innocence with a city awaiting them filled with devastation.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
“Nice to meet you Kahn. I’m Ro. Are you ready?”
She was waiting for him to lead them. Kahn hadn’t even taken a full step outside and already he had assumed the responsibility of another person. That was never his forte. He always worked alone, lived alone, and would probably die alone. His job wasn’t, strictly speaking, legal, but it’s all he knew after his deployments in the third World War. The mafia and gangs called him to do their dirty work. But the police never stopped him because he managed to stop certain crimes from happening or becoming more serious. Kahn even saved a few lives in his career. Some might even call him a vigilante. Other just knew him by his name and what it represented. Now, Kahn appeared to be one of the only survivors in all of New York City–maybe further–and had no experience in children. So, he didn’t say anything and the two of them walked outside.
The normal hustle of New York City was now eerily quiet. Almost every building had its windows blown out and were charred from a fire that sounded like it was still burning, though really it was just debris blowing in the wind. From where he stood in Midtown, the skyscrapers were still standing. Yet, they also had charcoaled structures. Cars were abandoned and looked as if a tornado took them for a joy ride. Kahn limped forward, being careful not to step on any of the fallen debris or broken glass. He still felt the bullet swimming in his body and his arm still looked infected from the IV. It felt like it could fall off at any moment and as if amputating it was the only way to kill the pain. Ro followed after him, a bit quicker in her step.
“Where are we going?” she asked.
Kahn pulled down his shirt over his arm just kept walking. Maybe Ro would get the idea and leave him alone. They walked for what seemed like hours, taken in the abandoned landscape of what was once the bridge to the future. New York City was the very first place to allow space transit. It was one of the country’s greatest meccas and now it was just remnants of what it once was. It felt like a nightmare, knowing that you are conscious, but not entirely awake. Yet, this was now their reality and they were most definitely not asleep.
Eventually they stumbled upon the Union Square station. It was the one subway station that had an open entrance not blocked by debris or still burning. Kahn and Ro headed to the stairs leading down to the station. It was dark, but a light in the distance illuminated for them to walk further into the underground station. Kahn followed it with Ro close behind. A rat squeaked across the floor, startling Ro. She ran up to Kahn and wrapped her arms around him. He was about to remove her arms from around his waist, but decided she wasn’t any harm. It actually felt almost comforting to have a child seeking him for safety. He had forgotten what a hug felt like.
The distant light had now become a whole hallway of candles, which lit the path to the now abandoned railroad. A crashed subway car was lying on its side with some of the foundation of the building crushing a large portion of it. There was no determining whether people were in that subway when it crashed or if it was parked for repairs. People in the city usually travel by air transit or motorcars nowadays.
Suddenly, a voice filled the entire underground station with the sound of the nuclear alarm. The alarm seemed to echo all the way through the tunnels of the subway, making it both louder and quieter simultaneously. It was the Central Command Control, aka the CCC.
“Attention. Attention. Air toxicity level is at 97%. Evacuation for New York City and all 5 boroughs is mandatory. Please head to the nearest air or space transit immediately. Attention. Attention. Air toxicity-”
“Fuck off bitch,” said an unseen voice.
Emerging from the shadows was a bald man full of muscle and tattoos. He had an eye patch around one eye. The trench coat he donned was covered in dust and wet mud. Or perhaps it was blood. It was hard to tell in this light. He had at least three dozen other men just like him walking beside or behind him. Ro hid behind Kahn and he involuntarily put his arm around her.
“Kahn! My brother! Is that you?” asked mystery man, all smiles as he approached.
“Don’t you remember? It’s Luke! You gifted me with this,” he replied, indicating to his eye patch.
Ro looked to Kahn, waiting to see what his next move was. She was still scared, tightening her grip around him. Luke saw her hiding behind Kahn and winked with his one eye. He slowly reached in his pocket and wrapped his hand around something. Kahn didn’t hesitate. He immediately locked Luke in a chokehold, which initiated the rest of the group to point their guns at Kahn. Luke held up his hands as an automatic response to years as a convict.
“Hey hey hey! Relax! I was just getting her something! She looks hungry!”
Luke reached in his pocket once more and pulled out a lollypop. Kahn loosened his hold around Luke as he handed Ro the lollypop. She took it and smiled.
“Luke,” said Kahn. “What are you doing here?”
“I should ask you the same question. You working?”
“You tell me. What’s the job?”
Again, the nuclear alarm and the CCC’s broadcast filled the underground station. Luke indicated to the sound.
“That’s the job.”
Luke went on to explain that after the evacuation, those sounds have been going off every ten minutes, but only in Union Station. There was not a sound anywhere else.
“They know we’re down here and we survived. They want to convince us the air is still toxic so it’ll drive us to death, or worse, drive us crazy. But we’ve been able to prove otherwise. They think they can just get rid of us because we’re a bunch of convicts.”
The bald man from earlier sneezed.
“Except for Marty,” said Luke. “He’s mafia. Fourth generation.”
“You haven’t exactly told me what the job is,” said Kahn.
Just then, Ro took a step forward. She was shaking. One of the men who seemed to have not one inch of his body that wasn’t tattooed walked up to her. She stopped in her tracks, but he smiled warmly. He removed his leather jacket and wrapped it around her. Kahn watched the gesture and felt the slightest hint of a smile grow on his face. Luke took a step forward to Kahn.
“Kahn, do you believe in second chances?”
“We survived what was meant to kill us! The air is not toxic, Kahn. It’s the purest it’s been since before the Industrial Revolution. One of our guys has been able to pick up faint EMF signals from Canada. The CCC wants us gone so they can rebuild the city without crime. We may be criminals but we’re not bad guys. Well, we are, but not if there are no people to commit the crimes against. They don’t seem to realize that life itself is dangerous. It’s just how we choose to live it that makes it worth living.”
“You know, in another life, you could have been a motivational speaker,” said Kahn.
“This is my other life Kahn! We are all alive and this is our second chance to leave our dark past behind us. WE rebuild New York, free from the CCC, and start all over. No one knows the city better than you, which is why we need you.”
Kahn’s mind immediately went into flight or fight, free from any emotion or compassion. He turned away from Luke’s outstretched arms, the looks of people relying on him, and that girl. That sweet, little girl who just lost everything and found solace in his presence. He blocked it all from his mind and kept walking. Away from everyone. Away from his second chance.
Kahn wasn’t outside for long before he started coughing, feeling his lungs were going to burst. He looked down to his hand and saw blood before he blacked out. When Kahn woke back up, he was lying down surrounded by candlelight, back in the Union Square subway station, though it felt more like a haven. Kahn heard the heavy breathing of what sounded like a wolf or a bear. When he widened his eyes, Kahn saw the source of the breathing was coming from Marty who was snoring with one eye open.
“He’s awake!” yelled one of the men.
Within seconds, Ro ran to Kahn and immediately wrapped her arms around him. Again, he was reluctant to hug her. But seeing her elation over him being alive warmed even the dustiest corners of his heart. Luke smiled at the gesture and helped Kahn to his feet. That’s when Kahn noticed his arm. The once infected vein was now a distant memory. A black bandana was wrapped around his arm. He looked over to Luke and nodded his head, silently thanking him. Luke returned the gesture, also fluent in the silent language of the underground.
“What are we calling this job?” asked Kahn.
“A revolution,” said Luke.
A huge smile grew on Kahn’s face for the first time in what seemed like a lifetime. One of the guys handed him a carbon-titanium automatic laser rifle. As if people were watching them, and they probably were, the nuclear siren went off in concurrence with the announcement from the CCC.
“Let’s remind them what it means to be human.”