Taken Away

“To save the many, you must kill the few.”

He was running through the jungle; the thing was still chasing him. Multiple snakes had already embedded their fangs into his suit. It was a good thing he was wearing this suit; otherwise, he'd be dead. The distance counter in the corner of his vision showed that he had more than a kilometer before he reached the evac zone. However, his time was running out. The ship was waiting but they couldn't wait much longer. Their estimated safe time was less than two minutes. Even though he was a cross-country runner, he wasn't able to run that fast. And these suits were not optimized for running. He was not going to make it.

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3. Chapter 2

Thomas separated himself from his brother, drawing closer to his friends sitting at the nearby table. He sat down, his army green backpack still resting in his shoulders. He adjusted it to rest on the seat, taking the heavy load off his shoulders. There were only two at the table, Trent and Jackson, but Thomas didn’t mind. They were his best friends and he’d rather hang out with them.

“What’s up?” he asked. His friends weren’t talking when he’d sat down but he knew that they’d already exchanged information between the two of them to deliver to Thomas.

“Well, not much,” Jackson said. “We heard someone might be thinking about asking you to prom.” Thomas groaned audibly and put his head down on the table. He’d been trying to avoid this for as long as possible but it was difficult. As much as he didn’t like interacting or getting close with others, the girls always seemed to be looking for a way to get to him. After graduating, he was planning on going into the Marines and becoming a MARSOC (Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command). He knew he was going to be on the front lines of war and didn’t want to be too close to anyone when he died. He knew death was inevitable there and tried to avoid any sort of relationship. But his stocky build, six foot one height and buzz cut seemed to make him a beacon for dating material. He’d only been on two dates in the past and that was because he was pretty much forced to. Admittedly, he’d had a good time when he went but he wasn’t looking for anything. His friends knew this and tried everything they could to help Thomas. But it was sometimes unavoidable. This, however, was pretty hard to avoid. He raised his head and looked at Jackson.

“Who is it?”

“Nobody good,” he replied solemnly. He leaned toward Thomas and cupped his hand next to his ear. “It’s Michelle,” he whispered. Thomas shivered and shook his head. Michelle was a girl in his class that couldn’t keep her eyes off him. He’d noticed this several times in multiple different classes. She was kind of weird, randomly making animal noises like a kindergartener in the middle of class. Thomas looked solemnly at Trent and Jackson.

“There’s not much I can do, is there?” The two shook their heads slowly. He swore under his breath and sighed, leaning his head back to rest on the top of the backpack. As if to anger him, the bell suddenly sounded. He stood up with his friends and realized he didn’t have his wrestling shoes. He swore again and told his friends.

“I left my shoes in my car. I’ll see you in first hour.”

“You gonna be late again?” Trent asked.

“Probably. If they mark me as absent, just leave it. I’ll fix it later.” The friends parted ways, the two heading to Government and Thomas heading for his car. He reached his vehicle, unlocked it, retrieved his shoes from the backseat, closed the door and relocked the car. He was walking across the parking lot when the warning bell sounded. He didn’t care; he’d already accepted the fact that he’d be late. He heard an engine rumble in the distance, getting louder at a fast pace and turn to see a car take a corner a little too fast, squealing the tires and fishtailing slightly. He stopped and watched the driver regain control. The car shot forward, slowing down before pulling into an empty parking spot. Thomas shook his head and continued walking. People are crazy. He walked into the now empty commons area as the bell rang. Immediately after the bell stopped sounding, the intercom sounded as morning announcements started. Thomas walked the halls to the locker room, passively listening. Something was said about prom but he ignored it. He wasn’t going to prom.

“Now please stand and follow me in the Pledge of Allegiance.” He stopped and turned to a nearby flag, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance loud and proud. Once done, he continued his venture.

He reached the locker room and pushed the door open. There was also a light switch by the door but it was already on so he walked into the dark room. The automatic lights overhead blinked to life once a sensor detected his movement. Thomas moved to his locker, number 396, and entered the combination. He lifted the handle and the locker opened. He put his shoes down on the lip that sat in front of the lockers for athletes to sit on while getting dressed. He removed his backpack from his shoulders and removed his workout clothes, putting those in the locker. He made sure they were neatly folded with no wrinkles and set his shoes on top of them. It wasn’t his choice of doing; coach did what he called “tidiness checks”. Randomly, throughout the day, he would check different lockers and make sure his wrestlers had their clothes neatly in their lockers. If someone didn’t, he made the entire team do extra workouts at the end of practice. He claimed that doing these “tidiness checks” would help them later in life when they went to college. Thomas didn’t see it but he made sure his locker was tidy all the same. He didn’t want to be the reason the team got punished.

He was about to leave the locker room when the lights went out. He stood up and moved under the sensor, expecting it to activate the lights again. When they didn’t, he went to the switch and flipped it. Nothing. The emergency exit lights suddenly cut through the darkness, temporarily blinding him. He figured out what had happened. A power outage. Out of curiosity, he tried the door. It was securely closed. Stupid safety stuff. It wasn’t safe at all because if there was a fire and it knocked the power out, you’d basically be burned alive because you wouldn’t be able to get out. But, whatever, school lockdowns and such were way more important than a fire. There wasn’t anything he could do so he went back to his backpack, slung it over his back just in case, and closed the locker. He sat down and waited.

* * * * *

A distant gunshot echoed throughout the silent school. Everyone had been evacuated to a nearby building. That is, everyone except Thomas and Logan. Stephen noticed this about ten minutes after he’d arrived at the building. He’d waited for all his friends. Michael, Brandon and Mark arrived but as they waited for Logan, they began to think of the worst. It all came slamming down when the principal announced that everyone had been evacuated. The three boys turned to each other, a terrified look masking their faces. Logan hadn’t made it out. Where was he then? The three boys made their way to another room that was unoccupied. They shut the door and began to converse.

“Okay,” Stephen started. “Anyone else freaking out that we were just evacuated and now we can’t find Logan?” The other three agreed.

“It’s weird, isn’t it? It’s not like him to just stay behind.” Brandon said.

“Uh, yeah it is. If he was trying to save someone, he’d stay behind. You do know that he wants to be a Navy Seal, right?”

“No, I didn’t know that. Why does…”

“Look, it doesn’t matter right now. All that matters is that we find him.”

“Well, why don’t we call him?” Michael said. Mark shook his head.

“It won’t work. He turns off his phone before school starts. Even if you did, it wouldn’t ring.”

“Are you sure? Sometimes he forgets to shut off his phone.” Michael said.

“Well, I guess I can’t hurt to try it.” Mark said, pulling out his phone. He hit Logan’s contact and the phone began calling. He listened for a minute before ending the call.

“Just as I suspected. Phone, off.”

“Well, what do we do? I mean, we can’t just sit here and do nothing. But we also can’t just walk out of here. There’s teachers at every door and they won’t let anyone out under any circumstances.”

“Hmm,” Stephen said. “I have an idea but none of you are going to like it.”

“Really?” Michael was inquisitive. “If it involves finding where Logan’s at, I’m in.”

“That’s the problem. Only one of us would be able to go and find him.” Michael was angry and tried to voice it but Stephen cut him off.

“Let me ask you something. What do you think is happening to him right now?”

“I think he’s dead if I’m being honest here. I mean, they evacuated us and we’re not sure why. He’s not here so my first assumption is that he’s dead.” Stephen just looked at him in disbelief.

“You think that just because he’s not here, he’s dead? Is that what you think when he goes home after practice?”

“Well, no. He tells us he’s going to be home so I have no reason to be worried.”

“But what if he doesn’t show up at school one day? What then?” Stephen was dumbfounded that Michael would think like this.

“I assume he’s okay unless I know otherwise. Look, we were evacuated and we don’t know why. The only reason they’d do this is if there was something terribly wrong at the school. Like, I don’t know, a gas leak. Maybe a bomb. Maybe a school shooter. I don’t know. But I’m kind of worried about my best friend over here.” Stephen understood where he was coming from with this argument. Stephen was worried too. But not to the point of thinking that the worst had come upon Logan. Stephen sighed and voiced his thoughts.

“I know you’re worried. We all are. But I don’t think the rest of us are going to immediately assume that he’s dead. That is a worst case scenario. Unless there’s a body to be seen, I say he’s not dead. ” Stephen sighed again. “Alright, here’s what I was thinking. One of us can sneak out and go over and see what’s up. Then they’ll come back and tell the rest. We’ll then make a plan on how to progress with the situation.” The other three boys began to argue over who was going to go. Stephen put a halt to their argument.

“None of you are going to go. I will. After all, I’m the oldest.”

“You can’t go!” Mark insisted. “I’m a closer friend.”

“That doesn’t matter. What matters is that somebody, doesn’t matter who, goes over and sees what’s happening. Since I’m the oldest, I’ll go.”

“You’re sure about this? What if you die?” Brandon was done with Michael’s negativity and violently shoved the phone he was on into his pocket. He stood and pointed a finger at Michael.

“He’s not going to die! Why do you have such a negative attitude towards everything? Logan isn’t dead! Stephen is not going to die! If you don’t have something to say besides someone dying, then shut your trap.” He sat back down and pulled the phone out, resuming whatever he was doing before. Michael sat down and just shook his head, putting a hand on his forehead. Mark and Stephen looked at each other. They decided not to continue their conversation here and moved out into the hallway.

“Are you sure about this?” Mark asked. “You don’t know what’s going on there. The risk of death is extremely high.”

“I’m sure. I won’t be there long. Just there to see if Logan’s there. If he’s not, then I’ll come back and we’ll come up with another plan. Just…” he lowered his voice. “We’ll have to do it without those two.” He gestured toward Brandon and Michael. “They’re not in the best of moods right now.” Mark snickered.

“What’s your plan on getting out of here?” Stephen looked at him as if the answer was obvious.

“I’ll climb out a window.” he said. Mark felt like an idiot. That was an easy answer. They’d been to this building many times before and had done that exact thing multiple times. The two boys wandered over to the window they’d climbed out of the most. It was in another room so they closed the door before they popped the latch. The pressure on the window frame released slightly and Stephen pushed the window outward. Mark went to the window embedded in the door and looked out. After finding no one in viewing distance, he nodded. Stephen quickly swung his lower body out and followed it with the rest of his body. The window was only about six feet off the ground and Stephen dropped down nicely. Mark’s arm extended out to seize the handle and he pulled the window back into place. He’d be waiting there when Stephen came back so he could get in. They saluted to each other as their signature greeting and farewell motion and Stephen ran across the parking lot to hide in a bush. He moved over behind another building and Mark was unable to see him anymore.

* * * * *

This always gave Stephen a rush. This sneaking around adults was always so fun. He never did it at home but when he came to other activities and adults put unnecessary restriction on where they could go, Stephen was always the first one to break those boundaries.

He was out in the open for only a short time, ducking into a bush to blend in and avoid being seen. He made the right choice this morning to wear a digital camo shirt. He crawled through the bushes where a path was already created from his previous escapes and came out in a nearby yard. Staying low, he ran into the open backyard and hopped the fence, landing in another backyard where he ran onto the front lawn and out into the street. It was strangely quiet; nobody was walking on the sidewalk and there were no vehicles driving down the road. It was almost as if it had been abandoned. But that wasn’t his concern right now. His concern was if his best friend was okay or not. He darted across the road and ducked behind a car that was sitting in the parking lot. The run across the parking lot from here to the front of the school looked clear, barely more than 800 meters. He was more than capable of making it there in less than two minutes, but this wasn’t a race. Just an avoidance of being seen by anyone. He could take it slower, but not too slow. About three minutes max. He moved to the back of the car and looked across the vast parking lot. There was nobody in sight. He was risking a lot right now being in the open as he was. “What more do I have to lose?” he thought. He darted out from behind the car, running toward the school. His heart began to pick up the pace to keep oxygen going to his muscles.

About two minutes later, he arrived at one of the side doors. He stayed off to the side of them, away from the view of anyone inside; his fight-or-flight response engaged. He tried peering into through the glass but it was too dark inside. All he saw was his reflection staring back at him when he pulled away from the window. He tried opening the door and found it locked. Weird. He went to another door nearby to find it unlocked. He pulled it open and entered the dark school, the solid door slowly decreasing the amount of sunlight flooding into the hallway until it shut, echoing throughout the hallway and leaving Stephen blinded by the darkness. It took his eyes a minute to adjust and when they did, he found himself by the gym. The entire school was connected with hallways so you could get anywhere you wanted once you entered the school as long as the doors where you wanted to go weren’t locked. With access to almost anything, he decided to head to the locker room. If anyone was going to be in the school, that was the place to be.

He tried opening the door but found it to be locked. Typical. Suddenly, he remembered the corridors above the school. There were hallways full of technical equipment and wires were running from everywhere, coming out of the walls and disappearing somewhere else, fulfilling their job. Found a random box sitting in the hallway and boosted himself up into the ceiling tiles. To keep the ceiling from collapsing, he stayed close to the solid walls until he found a hole bore through the cement that put him in a small closet in the corridors. He pulled himself all the way up and opened the door once he reached his full height. It was totally black in these hallways. There were some small doors that would put him on the roof but those wouldn’t help him at all. Light leaked around the door, providing a tiny bit of light but not enough to serve the purpose Stephen needed them to. He could open them but then that would alert someone to his presence up here. He decided the best course of action would be to see if his eyes would adjust to the blackness up here and hopefully follow the walls to where he needed to go. He’d been up here multiple times before and knew his way around. He’d never tested to see if he’d had it memorized but he had a pretty good understanding of the layout up here.

He began walking toward some small, blinking lights in the distance. He could already tell that it was a server bank. Once he got there, he could determine where exactly he was and go from there. As he was walking toward the server, he thought he heard a second set of footsteps behind him. He turned around, finding the same blackness staring back at him. He didn’t see anything there and wanted to pull out his phone for a flashlight. But he knew that if anyone was here, it would only draw attention. He turned back around to face the blinking lights and continued towards them. A few times, he stumbled over pipes running across the floor. He had a pretty good sense of balance and managed to stay upright.

He got to the little blinking lights, he also heard the fans whirring and for a brief second, he wondered how it was running. He remembered that all the servers had back-up batteries and they automatically turned on when power was cut. His hearing sensitivity was really high and he heard something step behind him. He spun around and was caught across the face from something. It felt like a punch. He hit the ground, felt the blood oozing from the cut on his cheek. His head hit the ground and a blinding white light entered his vision briefly. More blood leaked from the new wound and he groaned in pain. A kick to his side sent the air rushing out of him. He took in a big breath and the smell of chloroform entered his nostrils. A rag clamped itself over his mouth and he tried to fight it but he was give out and let himself sink into a deep sleep.

* * * * *

“Oh, where the hell is he?!” Mark was concerned for Stephen. He should have been back by now. Mark risked calling him and was sent to voicemail. The phone was off, which was weird. Stephen hardly ever turned his phone off. But now Mark was worried. He worried easily and it was doubled when it involved those close to him. Stephen and him were very close. So close, in fact, they referred to each other as brothers. They used to just be best friends until Mark attempted suicide last year. Since then, they’d grown closer to prevent another attempt in addition to the counseling he was going to.

Mark remembered that him and all his friends had shared their location with each other. He pulled out his phone and opened the app. It took a bit to locate where he was and once it did, it began locating everyone else. Brandon and Michael were next to him on the map, in the other room. Logan’s current location was unknown but it shown his last known location at the school. Stephen popped up as current and active. What? I thought his phone was off! He zoomed in as far as the map would allow him and watched as he slowly moved around the school. Suddenly he stopped abruptly then began to go back the way he had came. Then it stopped.

After a few seconds of no movement, he was flung out of view as his location updated. Mark moved the map to focus back on Stephen and watched as his location moved at a very fast speed. He was running from something. His photo moved outside of the school and stopped abruptly again. This time, it stayed there and would not move, despite Mark’s constant refreshing of the map. Finally, Stephen’s photo disappeared and a message popped up.

Could not locate.

Mark violently stuffed the phone and his hands into his jacket pockets. This could not be any worse. Logan had disappeared so Stephen had went to find him and inside had made the situation worse than it already was. He ran his hands through his hair. It helped relieve his stress. He slumped down against the door, lost in his thoughts as he tried to think of a way to rectify the situation. As he began to get lost in his thoughts, he heard a different noise outside. The noise of an engine. He got up and looked out the window, the same window that Stephen had slipped out of earlier. A black SUV’s lights were on and as Mark watched, it was maneuvered out of the parking lot and turned onto the road, back toward the school. Mark began to panic but calmed by telling himself that whoever was in the SUV was necessarily looking for Stephen. They might not be looking for anybody.

Even still, Mark was nervous. He was always suspicious of being watched and had put tape over his phone and laptop cameras. He didn’t want anyone spying on him. He would have much rather had some disposable burner phones but his friends needed to keep in constant contact with him so he reluctantly went with the smartphone. Admittedly, he had turned off a lot of features, including location and background refresh to preventing the phone from trying to find his location when he wasn’t aware of it. The only app that he allowed to see his location was the app he had just used to track Stephen.

He sank down against the wall, trying to not to let the torrents of tears that was on the brink of falling from overwhelming him. There was nothing to be worried about yet. But as he sat there, unbeknownst to him, there were things to worry about. However, even if he knew, there was nothing he could do about it.

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