By Robert Lynch
Jasper looked out into the darkness. The floodlights behind him cast his shadow large on the ground in front of the wall. The perimeter kept a ring of light around the compound at all times, day and night. All was quiet, but it wouldn’t stay that long.
He gripped the laser rifle and checked the safety for the 50th time.
Light rain began to fall, just a couple drops, Jasper’s heavy coat shrugged off even heavy downpours. But rain occluded light. It wouldn’t be long now.
This was the culmination of ten years work. From the darkest corners of the slums, Jasper had begged, borrowed, and stolen to get by. Always working toward getting out of that dark place. The shadows were terrifying places. Twice in his life had the wall been breached, both times the slums bore the brunt of the carnage once the enemy got in. The first time he had only survived because his sister, Mary, had found a piece of wood to burn. She’d used her own clothes to make the torch. But the light was little and the shadows extended far. Without her shirt she probably wouldn’t have lasted more than a week in the cold season, not to mention the other dangers a girl could face if she found herself in the slums half-naked.
Jasper thought of that moment often. His sister giving him the torch as she lifted him up into the vent. Just for a moment, the light didn’t protect her. It was all the opening they needed. He had pushed the light out to try and scare them off. They retreated, but they took Mary with them. The look on her face as they pulled her into the darkness was something he would never forget. He saw it most nights in his dreams.
This moment was similar. It resonated. His first Watch. Watchmen were well paid and kept in supplies and food. He need never go hungry again. He would never be cold and wet again. He would never be helpless again.
He checked the safety for the 51st time.
The rain came down a little heavier. The shadow grew.
There aren’t many options in the slums. To get out you have to be willing to do the jobs that no one will do. You have to live in the darkness. The price for light and warmth is to take the darkness into you and make it a part of you.
To be accepted into the Watchmen as a trainee you needed money. More money than Jasper could ever pickpocket. He had become a runner. In the dawn, before the sun rose and safety blanketed the city, he would run out of the gates and collect ‘specimens.’ Once the sun came up they would burn away, so you had to be quick. The enemy retreats in front of the sun, but they can still get you from burrows; injured creatures can lash out at you. Most Runners die in their first Run.
Jasper had Run for almost two years. More than 600 jaunts into no man’s land and back.
When the second breach happened, he did not search for shelter. He looked for revenge. Careful to make clean kills to ensure the best samples. He even took a small one alive; sold it caged.
It was the last he needed to pay into the Watchmen. After years of training, it was time to guard against the darkness.
Jasper checked his safety for the 52nd time and flicked it off. He shouldered the laser rifle and stood solidly against the recoil.
The rain started to come down in sheets. Guns began firing elsewhere. Jasper held his nerve and waited. The creatures began racing across the open ground toward him. He looked down the sight and tracked the lead creature.
“For Mary.” He thought.
He pulled the trigger.