Edge of Valor: A Post-Apocalyptic EMP Survival Thriller(4)

Most folks assumed it was Liam who’d committed the act; it was Hannah and Quinn who had confronted the superintendent and come out the victors.

Hannah had seen no reason to correct them. Besides, Quinn had enough on her plate.

“We’re assuming he’s as bad as Rosamond was,” Lee said. “What if that’s a mistake?”

“What if he’s worse?” Bishop said. “Isn’t that more likely?”

Shen Lee hadn’t seen Rosamond for who she truly was. At first, he’d supported the militia, long after he shouldn’t have.

“Every member of that family was poison.” Hannah pinned her gaze on Lee. “Gavin Pike was a murderous psychopath. Julian, a scheming enabler. Rosamond, a selfish, manipulative tyrant.”

“It’s safe to assume that the poisoned apples didn’t fall far from the tree,” Bishop said. “If the General is the tree—”

“—then we’re facing a heap of trouble,” Dave finished, the blood draining from his face.

Hannah kept looking at Lee. Embarrassed, he dropped his gaze, his cheeks blooming red.

“We need to assume that he’s as much a threat as Sutter claimed he is,” Liam said. “Until and unless we receive actionable intelligence otherwise, we’re facing the gravest threat to our safety that we have yet encountered.”

Liam waved Evelyn away like an irritating wasp and sat up. Nonplussed, she slapped his hand aside and went back to work abrading his wound.

Hannah’s mind whirred. Her brain kept searching for a different explanation, for a way out. There wasn’t one.

“We thought it was finished with her,” Molly said, the slightest tremble in her voice. “It was supposed to be over.”

“Since the Collapse, nothing has ever been over,” Liam said.

Hannah shivered, suddenly cold. He wasn’t wrong.

Three and a half months ago, an EMP attack devastated the nation. A series of simultaneous, high-altitude nuclear detonations had caused an electromagnetic pulse that destroyed the power grid across most of the continental United States.

It had fried the electronic systems in vehicles, aircraft, laptops and phones, even many newer model generators.

Tens of thousands had died that first day. Cities were deluged with fires, explosions from fallen planes, and massive vehicular collisions.

The weeks that followed had been horrific. The brutal winter had killed millions with hypothermia, starvation, and disease from poor sanitation and tainted water. Hundreds of thousands of medically fragile people perished without access to the machines and critical medications that kept them alive.

And the violence. People murdered each other for a can of beans or a bottle of antibiotics. Gangs and cartels fought for supremacy in the power vacuum left by impotent local and state authorities.

“Evil is difficult to eradicate,” Bishop said. “It sprouts everywhere. You cut off one head, another appears somewhere else. With the collapse of civilization, those with wicked intent have become emboldened. They believe there is nothing to stop them from doing whatever they wish.”

“I’ll stop them,” Liam said.

“What if he comes with hundreds of armed men?” Reynoso asked. “Real soldiers. That’s a far cry from a bloodthirsty band of untrained militia. We’re talking about the military, here. We couldn’t face that.”

“What do we do?” Molly asked. “What’s the game plan?”

“Could we run?” Dave asked. “Gather our people and flee Fall Creek?”

“And go where?” Liam asked.

“The neighboring towns—”

“Would put themselves in his crosshairs,” Bishop finished. “We wouldn’t be safer with them.”

Perez shook her head, dark eyes flashing. “Like they’d even agree to shelter us. I doubt that. Not after the way the Community Alliance abandoned us.”

“Then we go further,” Lee said without conviction. The blood had drained from his face. He looked as sick as Hannah felt.

“With what vehicles?” Hannah asked. “We only have a handful of working trucks, tractors, and ATVs. Not enough for a thousand people.”

“It’s not logistically feasible,” Liam said. “We would run out of fuel and food. We would starve.”

“I’m not leaving,” Molly said. “This is my home. It was my daddy’s home before mine. I spent forty years with my husband in that house. No way I’m giving it up to a bunch of turdballs with guns.”

“Then how can we defend ourselves?” Lee asked.

“How many men?” Bishop rested one hand on the pistol holstered beneath his leather jacket. Like he wanted to confront this new enemy that second. “How well trained? With what weapons? Will they have military gear? The seal of approval from the government? What are we facing here?”

“All questions we needed answers for yesterday,” Liam said.

“When will it end?” Quinn asked.

“When we end it,” Hannah said with more conviction than she felt. “And we will end it.”

Bishop placed a hand on her shoulder. “Hannah’s right. We’ll face this threat together. We’ll figure it out. We always do.”

Despite her brave words, a frisson of terror raced up her spine. A coldness seeped into her flesh, a coldness she couldn’t shake.

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