Lane checked the chamber of his pistol with a practiced motion as his mind wondered. On this very day, he thought, evolution is proven yet again. The strong will win out over the weak. And there was no doubt in his mind as to who the weak and strong were.
"Ready?" Lane asked, nudging the man next to him.
"On your mark, boss," his thin companion said. Barely a hundred and twenty pounds, Blinks looked too small to be holding the gun that was propped against his shoulder. His name was a bit misleading, since Lane had never seen his eyes close even for a second. Neither had anyone else, for that matter.
"Alright." Lane slid his pistol into his side holster. He took two steps forward and straddled his thin, stripped motorbike. "Let's do it."
Blinks lifted his gun to his shoulder, putting his left hand halfway up the long barrel to keep it steady. When he put his eye to the lens of the scope, Lane twisted his key in the ignition.
Lane turned his attention to the wall about four hundred yards in front of him. The main gates were open for the morning traffic, letting the food trucks inside the city. The city that Lane's ancestors had been exiled from almost two hundred years before. At the side of the open gate stood two guards, leaning against the wall in boredom at another eventless day.
Lane grinned. Their last bored day, as it were.
Like Blinks and everyone else he knew, Lane came from a long line of outcast criminals, thrown from the civilized world for one crime or another and left to make their way in the harsh, outside world. And outside of the comfort of the walls of a city, life became harsh indeed. Most died. But some, like Lane, not only survived, but thrived. Competition and the constant threat of death shaped them like clay on a potter's wheel. Those who sat inside the walls grew fat and comfortable while the exiles fought for their very survival, and time had made the difference between the two very noticeable.
The rising sun began to light up the leaves in the small cluster of trees where the two men hid. Early morning silence was broken by the sound of a horn from one of the impatient truck drivers, moving at a crawl not thirty feet away. A second sound, much quieter, followed it.
The thin poof of Blink's air-powered rifle came only a split second before the head of one of the gate guards burst like a ripe melon. A second poof and the other guard took his friend's example. Lane thought that the second guard might have had the time to gasp, but he doubted it.
Revving his engine, Lane shot from the safety of the trees and towards the asphalt. Weaving past and around the trucks, he sped past the slower, surprised drivers. Like everything else about Lane, his bike lacked anything unnecessary, and the trucks couldn't have paced him even if they wanted to.
The distance between him and the gate was rapidly closing. A guard much like the first two stepped into view, trying to see what had become of his companions. Lane was too far away to hear the sound of Blinks or his gun, but he saw the guard topple to the ground in the same manner as his friends.
The drivers of the trucks near the gate were beginning to step out in confusion. Another example of evolution, Lane thought. Only a city-idiot would purposefully move towards three dead bodies, unarmed, to find out what phenomenon had caused their heads to explode spontaneously.
Snapping his pistol out, Lane fired a round into the chest of a truck driver that was moving into his path. The man staggered and tripped, going to his knees and clutching at his bloody shirt with a painful, puzzled expression. Another thirty, twenty, ten yards, then Lane burst through the open gate and into the city, the first of his kind to do so for more than a century.
The crowds were beginning to gather. Not a soldier among them, Lane realized. Only three guards at the main entrance to the only site of civilization for thousands of miles, and a trio of men defended it with boredom. Oh, how he hated them. A middle-aged man stepped forward past his peers for one reason or another, and Lane emptied half a clip into his chest. It was unnecessary, but it made him feel better. One less weakness, one less failure. One less fat blob that ordered his meals from his computer chair, too lazy to even get up to walk to the store, much less chase it down or harvest it.
The screaming had begun. Lane's lips twisted into a snarl. Four deaths and they just now realized what the hell was going on. Idiots. He'd capture the city himself, if he had a few more bullets. As it were, he'd better let some of his friends in on the fun.
"Now where the hell's it at?" he grumbled. Roaming his eyes over the ground, he finally spotted the sewer grate.
"Aha." Lane drove forward and hopped off his bike. The city streets were becoming packed as the frightened crowd tried to fight its way against the unwary newcomers, pushing and shoving and tripping, creating the kind of chaos that Lane loved so much.
"Anyone want to come out and play?" Lane asked. He reached over his shoulder and took off the modified blowtorch from his back holster. Kneeling down, he went to work on the lock for the grate. No one in the city expected an attack from below, in the sewers. He could imagine their reaction. 'Oh, but it's so dirty down there!' Lane rolled his eyes, and finished melting off the thin lock. Instantly, the grate burst up, pushed by a dozen pairs of hands. Out poured exiles like a human river.
Lane stood back, watching his people climb up into the city that had been denied to them for so long. Three, maybe four hundred people had been hiding for the past two days in waiting, he figured. And once they found the city barracks and armory, there would be no stopping them.
Feeling someone behind him, Lane turned around, bringing up his pistol. He stopped when he saw the ever-open eyes of Blinks.
"Sorry it took me so long," Blinks said. He pointed one thumb over his shoulder at one of the food trucks, parked at a crooked angle near Lane's bike. "I had to borrow a ride. Somehow I think the original owner won't be needing it anymore."
Lane grinned wickedly. He spread his arms wide, indicating the entire city. "I don't think anyone here is going to be needing anything anymore. It's only polite for us to step in and keep it all from going to waste."
"My thoughts exactly," Blinks replied. He lifted his rifle up to his shoulder and took aim. "Let's get started then, shall we?"
* * *Night had begun to fall as the group of terrified men and women, numbering about thirty, ran frantically down the back alley. They ranged in age from a two year old baby to an old married couple that had probably been retired for a decade. The group cringed as a single entity when a fresh scream echoed through the city, evidence that the massacre still continued.
"We've got to go for help!" one man said in a high voice.
"Who's going to help us now?" another asked. "The city watch is dead. The communication towers are out; the savages blasted those before noon. What are we supposed to do now?"
"Run away," a woman suggested. "Run anywhere. Just away from this doomed city and those bloodthirsty bastards."
"The only place left to go is outside, and that's where they came from."
"It's either exile or death," the woman answered. "I'm choosing exile."
The sounds of many footsteps drifted into hearing. Voices, laughing and cheering, accompanied it. The group cringed again. Only one kind of people laughed tonight.
"Hide!" an old woman hissed.
Everyone looked around. Closed, locked doors and firm walls looked back at them blankly.
"Sewers," a new person whispered.
"Sewers. There's a grate at the corner, over there. It's the only way."
The group paused a moment before shuffling forward quickly like a startled herd of cattle. They stopped at the entrance to the world below, hesitant and confused.
"That bar over there," a man said. "Hand it over. If we work together, we can slide it under the lock like this and break it."
More shuffling, more confusion, and finally the beginnings of cooperation. Two minutes of grunting effort passed, and then the sound of metal breaking shattered the uneasy silence.
Two men lifted the grate up. "I'll lower you down," one of them said to his wife. "Come on; there's no time!"
The distant voices were becoming much less distant. Individual voices could be made out now; rough, rocky tones that promised violence and an abrupt end to any city-fools they found.
One woman was lowered down through the opening. Her landing about eight feet below came with the sound of splashing. The gagging noise made it clear that there was no water.
Another, then another, then more people splashed down into the human filth. Fresh vomit was added to the existing liquids, along with tears.
"Let's try to find an exit," a mother holding her young child suggested through a tight throat. "We can't stay here."
As the group moved, one of the young men remembered something his father had told him after he hurt his knee playing football. For reasons he couldn't quite understand, he whispered the words aloud to the darkness.
"What doesn't kill us only makes us stronger."