The Fallen

Imagine a world where anything you do wrong – from detonating a dirty bomb in a kindergarten, to murder, to theft, all the way to running a red-light or returning a library book late – will result instant, merciless death. In the world of the Fallen, the death penalty has spiraled massively out of control, claiming hundreds of thousands of lives every year. Fallon McKenna, the adopted daughter of two rich government politicians, was raised in a sheltered life, protected from the fear and pain that surrounded her.
But all that changes when she meets Viper. He’s alluring and charismatic. And he’s dangerous. Viper knows the real truth behind the system that has the world split in half, and he’s fighting to bring it down. Now Fallon must make a choice. Will she bend before the fear that overwhelms her, or stand with Viper and fight… and fall.

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1. Followed

I walk slowly down the street, pausing every now and then to look behind me. I’m not usually this paranoid, but it’s late and someone’s been following me for three blocks now. I may be young, but even I know when I’m being stalked. So far, the figure hasn’t tried anything, but it’s only a matter of time.

Just before a corner, I break into a run. It startles my pursuer, but an instant later heavy footsteps are racing toward me. I’m never going to make it home at this rate. No. No, I’m going to be fine. I tell myself that as I duck into an alley. Pressing myself back behind a collapsed wall – almost no buildings are whole anymore, especially in the poorer districts – I watch the man turn the corner. He doesn’t even look into the alley as he darts by.

I pause long enough to slow my heart-rate and breathing, and then I take off again. I head a few streets down before turning back toward my neighborhood. Dad did always tell me that the streets were dangerous, but really. This was absurd.

The adults all talked about a time when the world was perfect. Of course, no one knew it back then. They all squabbled over everything, but that was just for something to do. Now people fight for their lives, for food, for hope. Now people fight because they are desperate, and desperate people do stupid things. Like chase teenaged girls across abandoned streets.

But I’m not going to let them take me. I will go down fighting.

That’s what I tell myself and anyone who asks. I don’t know why I flaunt myself like this, but staying home where it’s safe and warm just doesn’t feel… right. Not anymore. Without Bailey, it feels empty. So I walk around at night, when no one is out to see me, except for the kinds of people who will try to grab me. I think that part of me wants them to come. Part of me wants the man who took my sister to come for me. That animal part of my soul screams for his blood.

Unfortunately, besides the one man I slipped, I find no one. Then, just as I walk through the twisted, rusty metal of the broken neighborhood gate, I see the first stain. It’s dry and flaking, and if I don’t look to close I can almost pretend that it’s paint. Almost.

Another stain smears the wall of a house inside the community. This one is still shiny. Bloody trails lead down the asphalt, showing the progression of the mob. Someone must have already taken the bodies away, but no one has started on the blood yet. This was recent.

Less than five minutes from my house, I see the man. He’s lying on his side next to the broken remains of a wall. Unable to help myself, I go closer to look. When I see his face, I recoil. The man is dirty, ragged, clearly homeless. A mob member.

And he’s dead.

My hand moves without asking my permission, and I watch it close his empty, staring eyes. This at least I can do. Maybe Dad’s right. Maybe the mob don’t deserve respect or compassion or sympathy. Maybe they are more animal than human, ruled by their appetites and lusts. Maybe. But even so this man deserves more than to be left here like this.

I shake my head and turn away. I’m just a girl, I can’t do anything. I rub the dirt from my fingers on my jacket, and turn away. My boots pull free of the congealing blood with a disgusting sucking sound

After the dead man, the walk home blurs. I keep seeing his face, everywhere I look. I should have done something. I should have been here when the mob attacked. Not that I could have helped, but still. I should have been here. Bailey would have been.

I live in a big, two story house with a yard. It’s even semi-nice looking, which is an oddity. Only those with enough money and power that even the mob won’t bother them have the guts to decorate. My foster-parents have both. The door is locked – another oddity. Few locks work, and fewer people bother to use them. Most just hire guards to watch the door. My dad worries that any guards he hires will cause trouble. Considering his twelve adopted teenaged daughters, that’s a good assumption.

I contemplate my sisters as I hunt for the spare key. Dad always hides it in the plants near the door, but they are getting wild again, so it takes me a few minutes to find it. My sisters are so different from each other and from me, it’s like my parents adopted us to have one of each kind. Bailey had been the prettiest, of course. Tall, thin, willowy and blonde. Yes, she was just the type to be grabbed.

I like to think I’m almost as pretty as she was, but in different ways. I’m short and petite. Everyone’s thin now, because of the food crisis. But I have a good figure, nicely shaped and proportioned. And I have the almost bleached hair and light eyes from the north.

My other sisters are just strange. Dark skinned Amy, tan Kiki, Sean with her shaved head and piercings. We are all different. All unique. All special. That’s what our parents tell us. But they are wrong. We’re all the same. All of us want to be free, but none of us have the courage to run away. My nightly forays are the closest any of us has come since Bailey was taken.

Ah, there it is. I press the little silver key into the lock and twist. With a scream of metal on metal, the door clicks. Tossing the key back into the planter, I push the door open and duck inside. The lights are on in the entryway – a bad sign. My parents are awake.

Angry, raised voices echo down the marble hall. If I’m careful and move slowly, I can probably get upstairs without them realizing I’m home. Maybe, if I’m really lucky, they won’t even notice that I was ever gone. Yeah right. When am I ever lucky?

Apparently today. I’m up the stairs and creeping into the bedroom Lucy and I share with Donna without being spotted. It’s strange; usually they don’t fight this loudly. From what I hear, it’s about the mob. Lucy and Donna are sitting on my bed, waiting for me. They look terrified.

“Hey. Did they look for me?” I whisper, closing the door behind me. The shouting still reverberates through the floor.

Lucy shakes her head. “No, they didn’t even notice you were gone,” she whispers back just as softly. I sink down onto the bed thankfully.

“What’s wrong, Fallon? Why are they yelling?” Donna’s voice is spike with panic. She’s the youngest of us, only ten, so she is scared.

“I don’t know Don. They are just tired and mad. Go to bed; I promise everything will be fine in the morning.” The strange thing is that, even though I sneak out almost every night, even though I lie to our parents, even though I haven’t given anyone any reason to trust me, they still do. The littler kids all take my word as an unbreakable truth. I’m never wrong, apparently. It’s almost hard to lie to them like this. Because I know that, despite my words, the odds are this isn’t going to be ok.

I sat there – awake in my bed, holding my sisters as they tried to sleep – for what felt like hours. By the movement of the moon, it was barely any time. Then, almost inaudible over the angry voices arguing downstairs, I hear the door open. I’m sure it’s the house door, but who is it? I’m the only one who ever goes out at night. No one else seems to notice, even though my room is right above the entryway. Even Lucy – who, like me, cannot sleep – doesn’t move.

But I know someone’s there. Without thinking, I get up and go to the door. “Where are you going, Fallon? What are you doing?”

“I’m just going to check on something. You stay here, alright? Just stay with Donna. Don’t come downstairs, no matter what.” Lucy looks confused by the order, but she nods. Well, at least their blind faith in me is good for something.

I creep out the door and down the hall without looking back. Part of me is terrified that, if I do hesitate, I won’t be able to make myself go downstairs. I don’t acknowledge that part of me and keep going. The hallway is deadly silent, but Zaina’s door is open too. She’s peering out, and sees me. I motion for her to get back in her room, but she shakes her head at me. Suppressing a resigned sigh, I let Zaina – who is fifteen and not likely to listen to me anyways – and Sabrina – seventeen, like me – come with me. I know I can’t stop them, and trying will just make too much noise.

The entryway is still lit and light shines from beneath the kitchen door as well. The voices are loudest there; it’s where our parents are fighting. The light clearly shows the open front door – unnoticed by the rest of the household…

…And the dozen men spreading out across the first floor.

Zaina screams, and every head whips toward us. Their faces are hidden by black masks which would obviously be more helpful out in the night. I watch, frozen, as one signals. Three dash forward, one grabbing me, one Sabrina, and one rushing after Zaina, who flees, still screaming. He catches her almost immediately, but her screams have the desired effect. The shouting in the kitchen stops and my adoptive-father shoves the door open. Immediately, he is set upon by two of the invaders. Another grabs my mother, and four head toward the stairs.

I watch, still unable to move, unable to fight, as one walks up to my father. “You thought you were exempt. You thought we couldn’t touch you, the law couldn’t touch you. You were invincible. Witness your folly.” My father pales and starts thrashing, and my mother screams.

The man’s hand cracks across my father’s face, leaving behind a red print. Just then, one of the men who was upstairs comes back. “There’s a whole bunch of kids up there. How many we takin?” The man who had hit my father seems to contemplate this for a minute, then looks back at my father. The man is now sputtering and whimpering. Pathetic. I can understand Mom crying; she’s a woman, she can’t fight. But Dad should do something. But, then again, that’s easy for me to think. I’m just standing here, not moving or fighting or doing much of anything. So much for never letting them take me.

“All of them.” The leader’s voice is soft, almost melodic. It’s a young voice, I think, but I really can’t tell. It would be easier if I could see his face. All I can see is a pair of startlingly green eyes. “We will free them from this prison. From this cage built of lies.”

I try to ignore his words. They really wouldn’t take all of us. Even selling us to the slave dealers would be more trouble than it’s worth. After all, most of us are too young to make good money, and even those old enough are too exotic. We would draw attention, which is something the human traffickers try to avoid.

But, a moment later, the four come down again, dragging girls with them. I see Lucy and Donna, May and Thea. As soon as the girls see us, the fight goes out of them. May collapses, her narrow eyes closing. The men just let her hit the ground. Thea is crying. Why can’t they just shut up and let me think?

Then it comes to me. They didn’t break in the door. They knew about the key. They followed me here. This is my fault. I have to fix it, I can’t just let this happen. “You don’t want them.” Everyone looks at me: my parents in horror, the men in surprise and curiosity, and my sisters in dull, hopeless despair. I continue, my face reddening, pushing away from the man holding me. He lets me go at a nod from the leader. “They will draw attention, and you know it. I mean, look at them!”

Everyone does. Pointing to one, then another and another, I point out their flaws. “Look, alright. May’s Asian and that’s rare, so no one’s going to buy her. Thea’s a mutt and too young by half. No profit there. Donna’s a child, and Black, and Sabrina’s Russian. Lucy is too normal, and skinny as a boy besides. And just look at Zaina! How are you going to try to hide her?” It was true, Zaina’s dark skin and almost white hair were a rare commodity.

No one says anything, but we all think the same things. I take a deep breath, then voice them. “You can’t take them, not and avoid arrest. But you can take me. They don’t care; I go out all the time at night and everyone knows it. The cops will think they are lying to cover up their own failure to protect me. You will get away scotch free, and still punish them. But let my sisters go.”

The leader watches me with the strangest look in his eyes. It’s almost like… admiration. “Ti, take her. We’re leaving.” The man grabs me again and pushes me away from my sisters. They stare at me as I go, watching with disbelief and relief and horror. It’s a strange combination, I will admit. The man holding me looks into my eyes and smiles. “You’re gonna be fun to break, little girl. I like the ones with spirit.” I shiver as he licks his lips. That darkness, it’s not normal. Not sane.

“Ti. Now.” The leader’s voice is impatient. It’s strange – he’s by far the smallest one here. The others are stocky and muscular, but he’s lean and lanky. I can tell that much behind the dark, nondescript clothes they all wear. But, no matter how small he is, they all move faster when he orders it.

Within moments, I’m pushed out the door. Ti’s arm is tight around my arm even though I’m not resisting. I even walk faster than he does, forcing him to speed his pace. The night is my domain, no matter what these fools think. I tell myself that as they shove me along. I try not to think of the family I’m never going to see again. I saved them, that’s all that counts.

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