It sounded as if someone followed him.
The echoes of his hurried footsteps against asphalt caromed high off the glass-and-steel buildings, the tall structures hurtling the noises, amplified and just as artificial as his surroundings, back his way. He immediately shifted his confusion, his momentary disorientation, to the side as he wondered from just which direction the people coming for him came. With a slight gasp that he seemingly had to pry out of his throat, he looked over his shoulder every few steps, skirting puddles. He grit his teeth and kept going. An elusive shadow, one from which he wished to escape, held his heart in an iron grip, one that did not loosen even as it thumped against his inner breastbone. His gun, a Sig-Sauer antique used by the Secret Service a century prior, was in his coat pocket, but he did not draw it for fear of being seen—or recognized for his true self. Halfway through the passage, he pulled his long gray trench coat tighter about him. The air was swollen and heavy, and inside this tight, manmade chasm, it felt even more oppressive to the government paper pusher. The tiny hairs on the back of his neck, the ones the coat’s collar didn’t cover, stood up with droplets of dew-like perspiration hanging off the ends. He smelled himself, the aroma curling up from his body and dancing inside his nasal cavity. He suppressed the need to vomit, for whether the fetid stench was truly from his body or from fear, he did not know.
His lip curling, he put his head down and walked toward Downtown Crossing, away from the area known a century and a half ago as Scollay Square. It was only natural that Bostonians had returned to calling that neighborhood by its proper name, long after revolution had taken the city by storm and cut off what had been deemed progress—the pathetic brick wasteland known to generations as Government Center—returning the city to its true roots. He used a somewhat roundabout route, walking through a neighborhood once affected by blight in the middle of the 21st Century and renovated within the past fifty years to its more modern, 22nd Century look. He ducked right, turning onto Spring Lane from Devonshire, and with a quick turn, allowed his eyes to dart back and forth across the narrow expanse. He saw nothing behind him, save a few cars sliding around Dock Square. He wondered when their minions would jump him. Doing so here would be the first thing he would expect; it was a darkened alley. He leaned against a steel cornering post, and without thinking about it, he swallowed his spit. He grimaced; the inside of his mouth had the taste of metal. He felt a stitch developing in his chest. Even as he rubbed the flesh over his heart, he took heavy gulps of air. He needed to get away—and quickly.
Here, practically at the foot of historic Beacon Hill, he was too close to them. He bit back a curse as he pushed away from the building, eager to put plenty of space between himself and his pursuers. Another puddle stood in his way. He sidestepped it instead of splashed through; it had rained earlier today, and puddles were sure to be found throughout downtown.
“Got to get to Washington,” he breathed as he stalked away. “They need to know. They need to prepare. They need to respond.”
He took one more look over his shoulder, then made the left-hand turn onto raucous Washington Street. He saw no one, just like before.
For some reason, one that he couldn’t begin to explain, that didn’t ease his growing anxieties. He reached into his pocket and flipped the safety off with his thumb.
The man tried to regulate his breathing and his heart rate even as he walked south along Washington. He also tried to keep his gait even as the growing crowds milled about in this refurbished and expanded Combat Zone. The old historical monuments along this stretch had burned ninety years prior, replaced by dance clubs and bars. It was late at night, and the scantily-clad revelers of both sexes paid him no mind—for a while. No one even looked twice as they headed into the clubs, presumably for uncontrolled debauchery. He wondered if he looked like a pervert to them, what with the trench coat and all; one then yelled to him.
“Flash us, Silver Surfer!” he crowed.
He ignored it. Some, he saw, crinkled their noses as he approached, giving him a wide berth as they stepped out of his way.
He caught a whiff of fresh marijuana on the air as he slipped past Franklin Street, and received a face full of blue-gray smoke as he meandered through a group of partiers congregating in an outdoor tavern. He inhaled deeply, coughed once, and within moments, he felt lighter in the head and in the heart.
“Maybe we should go back eighty years and rethink that whole making weed legal thing,” he muttered. “Damn, that was fresh off the plant.” He slapped his lips together; his mouth had turned arid.
He shook his head as soon as he made it to the Downtown Crossing subway stop on the Inner Belt Rapid Transit system, as if he tried to remember his task through the fog. He pulled his thin phone out of his pocket and held it up to a scanner next to the gates. The gate immediately beeped, his electronic currency proven. Servos and gears whirled as the doors slid apart, thudding into the jambs. He headed downstairs to the station proper, his steps rapid.
Within a minute, and after many furtive glances around him, he found himself on the North-to-South Express train, headed back the way he came. He had figured that the easiest way for him to evade the target’s security detail would be to walk as far away from the nearest subway stops to the factory, all while they searched the surrounding area: there were plenty of places in the old Faneuil Hall Marketplace for him to give them the slip. He only stayed on that train for one stop, getting off at State Street and transferring to the East Boston Express Line. He saw no one waiting for him on that platform, and he let a long breath leave his lungs: He had hoped they wouldn’t think of delving underground to search for him, and he was right—at least so far. Walking toward the platform’s edge, he saw blue paint, faded and cracked, covering the walls on the eastbound half of the station. His heart raced as he waited for the next train, for he knew that at any moment, the target’s lackeys could enter the station from above, capture him, and drag him off to the factory for some aggressive questioning. A few minutes later, a train pulled into the station from Scollay Square up the street. He boarded, thankful that the IBRT’s trains ran on time.
The train’s doors snapped shut. To his ears, the sound resembled the closing of a tomb.
He swallowed hard.
“Next stop, Aquarium.”
The man nibbled his bottom lip as his anxieties returned in full force. His heartbeat matched that of the wheels turning underneath him. He didn’t know if he was alone, if there were any other passengers in other compartments. He hoped he was. He had an important message to send, and no one in the city save himself had a security clearance high enough to read it. If anyone got on at this next stop, he would have to wait a little longer before doing what he had to do. Security, as it was, was paramount.
As it turned out, no one boarded when the train made its last stop in Boston proper. Once the train slipped away from Aquarium Station and into the tunnel underneath Boston Harbor, he sighed again and pulled out his government-issued tablet, turning it on with a light press and a swipe of his index finger. It was the approximate size of an ereader, but this one wasn’t for books. He immediately rested it in his lap before touching his email folder. It burst open, and after touching for a new message, the screen shuffled once. The email screen looked like a digital index card. He began typing with two fingers, the tips bouncing off the screen.
It is as the Bureau has feared. The targets have done it, and it’s only a matter of time now before they execute their plans. I have only just escaped, and I write to you from the subway. I write fast, for the reasons we have privately discussed. If everything we have hypothesized comes true, I will not be around much longer. I fear that they are on to me, and I shall die by their hand. Even as I sit here and type this, I can feel cold, anxious sweat pouring down my face. It is only a matter of time, Alisha. You need to alert the higher-ups immediately.
He wiped his brow and brought his fingers back to the tablet, where he resumed typing—until he noticed that the screen had mysteriously turned silvery-white, as if he had smudged it. He felt a drop slip off the tip of his nose a second later, then another, and then saw, as if his eyes had finally deceived him, that silver liquid rapidly covered the screen. He tried blinking his confusion away.
But that was half a moment before he felt his flesh grow numb, as if he had mistakenly plunged himself in a barrel of ice water.
“Strange,” he said as he rubbed his fingertips together. “I can’t feel them.”
The numb feeling continued growing, spreading across his flesh until he couldn’t feel his hand any longer. He brought his eyebrows together.
“What the devil—?”
He didn’t realize that as he spoke, his speech grew slurred. He didn’t even recognize it as his own.
Only a few seconds had passed since he had touched his face, and he soon felt his eyes widening and watering, the flesh freezing as if paralyzed. The tablet dropped to the subway floor as he tried to stand up, but instead he fell atop the device as spasms quickly wracked his body. Something—his mind told him that it was the tablet—snapped.
“What’s—going—on?” he breathed, his voice raspy. His breath choked him, his lungs squeezing with the force of a python. He then felt a jabbing pain somewhere near his bowels, just before he felt an unnatural fluttering in that same region. “Oh, fuck.”
A flatulent chorus soon filled the train. Feces filled his pants a split second later.
“God,” the man whispered, closing his eyes for what he figured was the final time. He couldn’t tell if his lips moved, or if his words came out in a garbled rush. To his ears, it all sounded as if the words came from under water. “God, help me, please. Stop them, whatever you do, stop them. Stop the Ch—”
His plea went unanswered, his vocal chords undone.
The message on his tablet went unsent.
Here's what the readers are saying about THE LONE BOSTONIAN:
"This was a thrilling story. I was gripped from the first page, and couldn't put the book down. The idea was an interesting one, and one that could so easily happen which makes for unsettling reading! I felt for Terry as he made his perilous journey to find other survivors, and his devastation at losing everything that mattered to him. The pace was spot on and the ending was brilliant. A good sci-fi thriller that kept me glued to the page."
"Excellent dystopian novel, that goes a lot further than the last one I've read by this author, Redeemed. Instead of just destroying an unjust societal system...well, Sean Sweeney takes it on in a big way. Well-written and capably plotted, it was a pleasure to read an novel like this that didn't have any frickin' zombies, or marauding hordes, or even survivalist nutcases - just interesting characters and proper storytelling. It brought to my mind visions of a modern Pat Frank or Nevil Shute. Definitely recommended!"
"If you've read Sean Sweeney's books before, you'll not be disappointed! If you haven't, I suggest you start. Fast paced, twists & turns are his hallmark and this book had them. I'm hoping for this one book to turn into a series. Terry and Brianne CAN be continued!"
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