In The Rule of Three: Fight for Power by Eric Walters, the gripping second book in the Rule of Three series, everything Adam has fought for is at stake.
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The Rule of 3 Fight for Power
By Eric Walters
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 2015 Eric Walters
All rights reserved.
"Swing us back around!" Herb yelled.
I banked the ultralight to bring the wreckage back into view, and gasped. The dust and dirt rose in a column, forming a cloud that towered higher and higher into the sky. Through the haze I could make out two thick concrete pillars soaring upward but supporting nothing. The rest of the bridge was gone — collapsed and crumbled under the force of the explosives that had been wrapped and wired across the span, then detonated.
"I can't believe it's gone," I said over the intercom.
"Not gone so much as rearranged," Herb said.
I looked below. The explosion had sent the bridge to the valley floor. I could make out the hulks of shattered vehicles — the two dozen trucks that had been on the bridge only a minute before.
A couple of the trucks had caught fire and were sending out black smoke. Most were simply on their sides, smashed in pieces scattered among the rocks, some partially submerged in the river or covered by the chunks of concrete and mountains of asphalt that had come down with them.
We'd done it. We'd blown up the bridge and all the trucks that were on it and all the men who were coming to destroy us. Just seconds before, they had been racing across the bridge to kill us — my family, my friends, my neighbors — and destroy all that we had worked so hard to build. And now they were lying at the bottom of the valley, dead. And because they were dead we could live.
"Nobody could have survived that, could they?"
"Adam, I can't imagine it would have been possible to live through that," Herb said.
"How many enemies are down there? How many men did we kill?"
"An awful lot," he said.
That boggled my mind. Just three months ago, we had all been leading normal, everyday lives. And then the computer virus or whatever it was had come out of nowhere and cast us all into the darkness. We'd walled off our neighborhood, and outside those walls we'd found enemies among former friends. And now we had taken part in killing dozens, no, hundreds, of men. But what choice was there? They were coming to destroy our homes, take all the things we'd worked so hard to create, the things we needed to survive, and they would kill whoever stood in their way. It was us or them. So it was them, down below, lying in the wreckage.
I couldn't allow myself to feel sorry for them or regret what we'd done. I knew they wouldn't have felt sorry for us — they wouldn't have felt anything.
"Bring us down," Herb said.
"How low do you want me to get?"
"I want you to land."
"I'd like to get as close to the site of the collapse as possible. Can you do that?"
"Sure, I guess so."
Running alongside the river was a small paved strip — what used to be a walking path for hikers, and cyclists, and mothers pushing babies in carriages. It wasn't wide and it hugged the curves of the river, but I'd spied one section that was straight enough and long enough to be a landing strip for my ultralight.
"I'm going to tell your mother what we're doing," Herb said. Then he spoke into the walkie-talkie. "This is Herb. Captain, can you read me?"
There was static and then my mother's voice. She was holding a position a short distance from the bridge site. "Roger, Herb."
Along with her voice were screams of joy coming through the radio: celebration. The squads gathered around my mother were cheering the deaths of those murderers who had plunged into the river. It had happened right before my eyes, I was seeing the results below us, but still it was hardly believable. A mixture of emotions — joy, sadness, grief, confusion — washed over me. We were going to live, we were going to survive. Their death meant our life.
"Captain, what are the plans to secure the crash site below the bridge?"
"Already working it through, Herb. I'm going to ask Brett to leave half his team at the top of the ravine to control and offer protection on the east rim and for him to lead the other half down to the site of the wreckage," my mom said, sounding like the former police chief she was.
"I'm also sending two squads, one north and one south of the collapse site, to seal it in on both sides."
"Excellent, that will give us the coverage we need to secure the site. We're going to put down ... if we have your permission."
"You're going to land?"
"Roger on that, Captain. With the site secured we'll be fine. That's why it will be good to have Brett's team down there with us. Why don't we send almost everybody else back to the neighborhood, just in case? No sense in winning the battle but losing the war."
My mother hesitated. "Is there another threat that you've seen from up there heading for the neighborhood?"
"Okay. I'll let them stand down, go home, and spread the news. We made it."
"And, Herb? You need to take care of my son," she said.
"You've got that backward, Captain. Adam's the one taking care of me."
"Then take care of each other until I see you. I'm heading back with the reserves. I can leave Howie up here in command."
"Good idea. It should be you leading the way back and telling the people that they're safe."
"I guess it will help them trust that we know what we're doing. As if."
"You read my mind," Herb said. "It'll also help them deal with the bad news that's going to come."
"Over and out," my mother signed off.
"Bad news?" I said. I'm sure my voice had a panicked tone.
"Not today, Adam. Today is only good, but bad news will follow, sooner or later," Herb said. "And when it does they'll need to remember your mom as one of the leaders who brought them through this crisis successfully so they can trust her to lead them through the next one."
"Got it," I said. Suddenly we hit a patch of rough air and the ultralight dipped and shuddered like a roller coaster. Herb gasped and grabbed hold of the windshield frame. I smiled to myself, amused that I was probably the only one who knew that fearless Herb was afraid of flying.
"I'll put us down there," I said.
I eased off the throttle to reduce our speed and got us lined up on the path. The slower the landing speed, the shorter the distance I needed to land on. Now we were angling into the river valley, and the cliffs on both sides protected us from crosswinds. We dropped down, lower and lower. The river was off to my right, and the eastern cliff face to the left. Up ahead the cloud of dust and smoke rose peacefully into the air. I could almost taste the dust in my mouth, and the smell of the explosives and car fires and burning gasoline was already sharp.
The walking path rushed up to meet us. It was much narrower than the roads I was accustomed to using as landing strips, so I had to be more precise about placing my wheels on the asphalt. If one of them dropped off onto the softer and rougher ground beside the pavement, the whole plane could spin out or even flip over. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea, but it was too late to argue. Besides, after dodging bullets and explosives from people and a plane trying to shoot me down, I knew a strip of grass wasn't going to kill me.
I hit the right rudder to put my front wheel directly into line with the center of the path, and pulled slightly back on the stick to soften our descent. I eased off the throttle even more, slowing us down but still listening for the sound of the engine, making sure it was getting enough gas to keep us from stalling out. Lower and lower we came, the whir of the propeller behind our seats a constant background noise, until we were no more than a dozen feet above the ground. We touched down, bounced slightly up, and settled in again. Then I eased completely off the throttle and focused on the path, keeping us on line as we rumbled along the rough asphalt strip, slowing down and finally coming to a stop. I let out a big sigh of relief.
"Nice work," Herb said.
"Do you want me to taxi along to get us closer?"
"Closer, but not too close," he said. "I want to make sure your plane is out of harm's way if something explodes. We know the trucks contained weapons and ammunition, and there's always the potential for gas tanks to blow," Herb said.
"Then shouldn't we all just stay away until we know that there isn't going to be any explosion?"
"We don't have time to wait. We have to scavenge before they're in the water too long or consumed by secondary fires. There's a lot in those vehicles that we need."
"Okay, I see," I mumbled. I gave the plane more gas to taxi us along the strip.
"It's not going to be pleasant," Herb said. "I know it feels like stealing from the dead, but it's not like they're going to use those things anymore. Besides, anything we leave can easily fall into the hands of other people who can turn them against us."
"I understand ... but they're all dead, right?"
"Anybody on that bridge is gone. It would be like falling from a twenty -story building. Regardless, if they did somehow miraculously survive, they won't be surviving for long."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"The injuries would be devastating. There's no way they can be saved. If we come across anybody who's alive, we'll have to, well, take action."
My stomach lurched. Take action. I knew what he meant. At least I thought I knew what he meant.
"I can't ... I can't do that," I stammered.
"No one is asking you to. It's on me. I wouldn't leave a dog to die in pain."
"But we're not talking about dogs," I said.
"No, we're talking about men who were coming here to murder you and me and your mother and brother and sister and everybody who lived in our neighborhood. They were going to kill anybody who stood in their way, and then take everything, leaving those they didn't kill to ultimately die without food or the means to survive."
"I know. I know all of it. I know we had no choice."
"You saw what they were capable of."
It was impossible to get those thoughts and images out of my mind. I did know what they'd done. They'd overrun Olde Burnham, a nearby neighborhood whose residents had been on friendly terms with us, smashed through the walls, set buildings on fire, blown guards to pieces with rockets and grenades, executed prisoners by shooting them at point-blank range, killed innocent women and children in the crossfire, and then looted and plundered whatever was left.
"It's going to be a scene from hell over there," Herb said. He gestured toward the smoke.
"I've seen hell before," I said, thinking of Olde Burnham after the attack. "I've flown over it and landed in the middle."
"Seeing it once doesn't mean you need to see it again. Okay, this is close enough. Cut the power."
I reduced the throttle to nothing and we came to rest. Herb undid his harness and climbed out of the plane, his rifle in his hands. I did the same, removing my pistol from its holster. Just because no one survived the fall didn't mean there weren't other dangers lurking out here. There were always dangers.
Herb started walking toward the wreckage and motioned for me to follow. Pieces of the bridge — concrete, asphalt, metal — were strung out across the valley floor in a jagged line, starting on one side, crossing the river, and reaching over to the other wall of the valley. The cloud of dust and smoke started to dissipate before our eyes, the haze rising up, revealing more of the destruction, allowing us to see it more clearly. All that remained of the bridge were those two gigantic support columns, erect and defiant.
The debris was piled up, in places twenty or even thirty feet high, and the trucks themselves were scattered, broken, lying on their sides and rooftops. One still perched on its wheels, looking like it could just drive away. As we got closer I could see that its side was ripped open, with bodies intertwined, distorted into impossible positions.
It seemed incredible that all this had happened because of fertilizer and chemicals — from our kitchen cabinets and garages and ransacked supermarket shelves — that Herb had shown us how to combine to make explosives powerful enough to destroy a bridge, to take down all those trucks, to end all those lives.
"I've seen a lot of things in my time but nothing quite like this," Herb said as we closed in.
I swallowed hard. It was so awful and yet somehow mesmerizing at the same time.
"People talk about not being able to look away from a traffic accident, and this was like a hundred accidents all happening at once. You don't have to come any farther."
"I've come this far," I said.
"And this is far enough. I want you back in the plane and —"
"Look out!" I screamed. Up ahead a man climbed over the rim of the wreckage and he had a rifle. I was raising my pistol, but Herb instantly pushed my arm down. "They're our men, Adam! It's Brett."
My racing heart almost stopped. It was Brett, and right behind him another man and then a third — it was Todd, my best friend — followed by others I knew. There was Owen and Tim and Gavin and Mr. Gomez from down the street. I could have mistakenly shot them, or at least shot at them. I took a step back, stunned at how close I had come to pulling the trigger. Thank God Herb had stopped me in time.
"It happens all the time in extreme situations," Herb said. He put a hand on my shoulder. "You're on such an adrenaline high that you can't see straight."
Brett raised his hand in greeting but I ignored it.
"You saw," I said. "You saw enough to stop me from shooting."
"It's not the same for me. This isn't my first rodeo."
That was one name for it. I wondered what you could really call this? Was it a massacre, or a carnage, or a bloodbath, or ... I stopped myself from going any further. It didn't need a name.
One by one the men appeared until there were at least a dozen. They'd come down the side of the valley — as my mother had ordered — and passed over some of the wreckage.
"Everyone, please gather around," Herb called out to them.
As others surrounded him I took a few steps back to the outside of the forming circle.
"We have won the battle," Herb said, and there was a chorus of cheers. "At least thus far." The cheering stopped. "There is so much more we still need to do, and we have to take care not to let one of our lives be taken by a dead man."
What did that even mean?
"We're going to go search the vehicles. We have to be aware of the rocks and rubble, the way the vehicles are perched — it is all unstable. We also have to watch for any weapons, like explosives that might be live. We're going to go through each truck, check each body, and take what will be of value to us."
I could see the looks of shock on faces. Strange how killing people was one thing but searching their bodies was another.
"There are obviously things like guns and ammunition, but I'm hoping for other weapons. I know we'll find things like RPGs — rocket -propelled grenades — but there might also be plastic explosives and other sophisticated weaponry. If you have any question about what something is, do not, I repeat, do not touch it. Step back and let me investigate further. Also, we'll take body armor, walkie-talkies, food, even shoes and boots."
"You want us to strip the bodies?" one of the men asked.
"They can keep their uniforms, but we'll take their boots at least," Brett said. "They might be helpful to us at some point."
"I know this is going to be difficult," Herb added. "It's different when you look somebody in the eyes — even if those eyes are unseeing and the person is dead — but this has to be done."
"My men will do what has to be done," Brett said. His voice was calm. How could he seem so confident?
"Shouldn't we get more people to help?" another man asked.
"No, we want to minimize contact for others, limit exposure to what we're going to see," Herb explained. "You men have been on the front lines and you've seen more than other people. You're best able to handle this."
"Is there anybody who doesn't have the stomach for this?" Brett asked. He looked at the men who were with him — the ones he often led out on patrols. They shook their heads or mumbled that they could handle it. I wasn't sure if anybody had any choice but to agree.
I nodded, even though I knew that I wasn't feeling any more confident than most of the others.
"Here's how it's going to work," Herb said. "Brett is going to come with me. We're going to be the first in each truck to ensure that it's safe and to direct what needs to be done. Once we've cleared the truck, others will follow and remove the gear and the bodies."
"Why can't we just leave the bodies?" somebody asked.
"We can't allow them to simply decompose. It can contaminate the river downstream and spread diseases. We have to dispose of them," Herb said.
"We're going to bury them?"
I knew that wasn't the plan. So did Brett.
"We're going to have a big barbecue," Brett said.
I couldn't believe he was making a joke of it. Only a sick moron would find this funny. But maybe it was like laughing at a funeral, or maybe he was just trying to put people at ease in the middle of an awful situation.
Herb turned to me. "Adam, I want you back up in the air."
"I can handle this," I said. "You need all the help you can get."
Excerpted from The Rule of 3 Fight for Power by Eric Walters. Copyright © 2015 Eric Walters. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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