8 Never a Hero’s Death

Never a Hero’s Death

Lucia Floan

I could’ve been screaming, but I wasn’t.

No… I was past that point. Falling towards a pack of bloodthirsty, mutant armadillo dogs tended to push you past thinking.

Everything I tried grabbing snapped under my weight. Shortly before hitting the ground, though, my face smacked into a larger branch. I hung on to it for dear life, anchoring my hands in a crevice to avoid sliding off. In the process I wedged a splinter into my palm and nearly fell again.

Blasted nerves.

When I’d gotten my footing back on the tree, I pulled out my pistol and fired a few shots in the group. None fell. I’d have to hit one dead in the eye to knock it down, the only place unshielded by their bulletproof armor.

I tapped the com on. “Ok, I can read you.”

Geneva sighed and repeated whatever instructions she’d given before. “Change of plans, you’ll need to lead the pack of dogs to the chasm. The rockslide trap was already set off. Team three is checking it out now.”

I nodded, then realized we were talking over com. “Ok, and how are we going to get them in the chasm?”

“You’re gonna jump with them. Studies show they’re dumb enough to follow you.”

I smacked the but of my gun into a creature trying to tear through my


“So now I get to do the hero sacrifice.”

As enticing as it sounded, too much careful planning had gone into

getting me on earth and to infiltrate this team. I couldn’t die on EN’s terms, being one of the few moles still active.

Geneva spoke again. “No, brains, you’re gonna use the new hang glider in your pack.”

A hero’s death for sure.

Geneva, as resourceful as ever, didn’t bother to give me a plan for my current or future dilemma. “You’ll figure it out, and whatever you’re going to do to get there,” she sighed again, “please try not to die. I’d have to face the council and explain why you were mauled under my watch.”

I gave no comeback.

Geneva was too attached to let me get killed like that. We’d known each other for over eleven years now. She’d switched teams by marrying Floyd and I’d been joined after being chosen from an orphanage for my lack of connections…

…none except for Wanderer’s chip in my brain.

About twelve years ago, the EN, Earth Nation, sent several ships to colonize Wanderer, a planet galaxies away. My parents being on one of those. Shortly after moving to the planet, the people on Wanderer cut Earth off from communications. Our virus then erased any digital lead to the planet, and lab mutants were set free, forcing every Earth civilian underground.

With earth predicted to explode any day now, they were all doomed unless they found a way to get to Wanderer. That, however, would threaten current colonizers. The planet didn’t have enough earth resources to keep that many people alive.

So Wanderer’s people, to ensure absolute doom, sent undercover moles, like me, to keep everyone on earth… on earth.

My parents and younger brother were still on the planet, my sister here with me. She was also one of the chosen to infiltrate earth, kept loyal by a threat hanging over our family.

Well, mostly loyal.

The shaking of my branch shocked me back into reality. I jumped from the tree, over the hoard, and threw a small round disk to the ground. There it folded to a small hovercraft board. Though there was a soaking mist in the caves, the board’s surface was made of tractable rubber, which kept me from slipping off as I landed.

“You’re gonna have to get me to the chasm.” I told Geneva.

“I told you to study the maps.”

Crouching down and activating the board, I sped away from the group of creatures who had just realized Food was no longer chatting in the tree.

“I looked at the maps, but was too busy learning important things like practicing with the disk board.” I flipped the board underneath my feet as I rounded a bend.

Using the board was a cinch, but you still had to be careful of sudden rocks or new stalagmites.

Instead, I wasn’t careful—that was the plan—and went flying off from an impact. Instinctively I tucked into a ball and rolled to my feet, twisting my head so my earpiece scraped against the ground.

“Calix, what did you just do?” Geneva hissed.

I jumped up and spotted the disk board on the ground a few yards away. It wasn’t in the best shape, even with its shielding technology. I didn’t have time to salvage it.

“What in all dragons’ mouths are you doing?”

Her voice was already beginning to fuzz. The idea had worked. A few more minutes and my connection would be off.

“I hit something.”

Geneva ignored me, and I could hear her swiping her touchpad furiously, pinning my location using the com.

“Run, Calix, before they eat you. I’m detaching Floyd to pick you up on his sled. He was on his way but got deterred by another pack.”

“Another one?”

“Yes. Binguans. Only in their first metamorphis though.”

Binguans were basically winged komodo dragons. When in their first stage, they were about the size of a small cat… but when fully grown, twice the size of an elephant.

Floyd would have his hands full with the pack of babies, and needed to worry about keeping himself alive. He would never get here in time.

“Geneva, that’s not gonna happen.” The earpiece fuzzed.


The earpiece continued to fuzz.

I yanked it out of my ear, examining it as I ran, which is a lot harder than it sounds. The blue, squishy moisture protection was torn in two. By now, the internal workings had to be soaked.

At that very moment I smashed my face again, this time to the ground as I stepped in a crack. My leg wedged itself between the two sides. I tried to pull it out, but it wouldn’t budge. This… had not been part of any plan.

I’d been instructed to send out a beacon to my EN team if something like this happened, but the beacon was on the broken earpiece, and I had a pack of dogs a few bends off tracking my scent.

If I didn’t do something, I was gonna die.

“Agent HS2L, operation SID, password: Lightspeed.” I repeated the phrase that had been drilled into my memory. I fought a shudder as I felt, heard, or subconsciously received the click in my head that signaled my brain had just been opened once more to operation SID. Instantly words, typed lightyears away, appeared as my own thoughts.

A single string of instructions tapped into my chip and claimed the


Agent HS2L., you are in danger. Please leave the area.

“Kinda stuck?”

More words came through.

Wait while we access your location.

I knew they, the Wanderer’s Secret Intelligence Destruction, would see

me through my chip. Of course, that needed to be on a micro-frequency to avoid detection.

We will dispatch R5K1, or Sarah, to you… lead a second stray pack so she can follow them.

I laughed nervously. “You’re not mad?” They didn’t answer my question.

We got new info on the map containing Wanderer’s location.


Our radar picked up another abandoned lab off California’s coast.

“You want me to go check it out.”

Your team isn’t gonna let you venture off alone for some time with this incident. You’re elite and that makes you very valuable to them. We’ll leak the info to EN’s forces, and they’ll send you, one of the closest teams, to it.

I was also very valuable to operation SID, and I caught the hint.


“If you’re worried about me running off, just tap into the tracker in my

You have a bad history with technology malfunctioning.

Somehow I’d smashed my two previous head chips in collisions, but

other SID moles had managed to replace them. I hadn’t even come out with any real unfixable damage.

They didn’t speak for some time.

We led off the pack chasing you. You need to bring more protection.

Reassess your packing tonight.

“This thing,” I waved my gun at the sky, “has kept me alive more than


The gun isn’t loaded.

Well, whoop-de-doo, they were planning to tell me that at my grave? There was a glimpse of dark red cloth in the distance, probably Sarah,

but I couldn’t risk calling out.

After a few moments, she came into view. “There you are, miss me much?”

Sarah had pale blue eyes and auburn hair, darkened from lack of sunlight. I’d been told we twins had a strong family resemblance… somehow I’d never seen it. The only thing we had in common was our lack of sympathy.

As if only to prove my point, she walked up to me, crouched, and tried to jerk my leg out of the crack.

“That hurts.” I glared at her, tapping in morse code on her shoulder.

‘Are you offline from EN.’

“Stop being a baby.” Sarah continued to pull, causing a shock of pain to run up my leg.


She pulled out a drill and tapped back in answer to my question. ‘No.’

Why was I so tired? I ran a hand down my face. Oh, right, I’d spent all last night fitting a new earpiece… after trekking back across the miles of cave to get to the base. Even though the mat I lay on wasn’t the most comfortable, I definitely didn’t feel like attending a meeting today.

When I’d finally found the strength to push myself off the floor, I walked down the hallway of the base and slipped into the assembly room. Both of my legs, thankfully, were still in-tact.

As I entered next to my team, the speaker, an agent whose name I’d again forgotten, paused to nod at me. Sarah stood in the opposite corner next to her team, caught my eye, and raised an eyebrow while tapping her watch.

I rolled my eyes. I was usually late.

They were discussing the newly found information on a hidden lab off the coast of California. After the failure to find the map yesterday, they needed to speed up their planning.

The mission was to find the location of Wanderer, ambush those unloyal to EN, kill them, and then recolonize. That was the mission EN had given me. The mission i needed to stop to save my family

After an abandoned lab was located this morning, we were being sent to check it out. With Earth exploding any day, it was a game of cat and mouse to find the last record of Wanderer.

That meant it was time to switch into the final phase of operation SID.

The soup had been cold. The food was always cold. You didn’t have time to warm anything up when you were constantly fighting for your lives.

The army hovercraft shook from turbulence. We were supposed to land in a few minutes. Sarah sat across from me, back straight and eyes riveted on the ceiling. She looked so much older than fifteen, but the life of an EN agent would do that to you.

I was exhausted. She must’ve been as well, but she never showed emotion.

Neither of us could.

There was no room for weakness. Failure got you killed… and killed our family. That was the only reason I kept going. I was the only one who could save everyone.

Me and my team sat in the aisle from Sarah’s. Farther up, another team was playing a game by using chalk on the metal wall. Heading to one of the most dangerous places on this planet must give some the urge to win, or sadly lose, a last game of tic tac toe.

Everyone fell sideways as the hovercraft landed, our seat-belts keeping us from hitting the ground. I glanced up towards the cockpit as Geneva stepped out, having been co-pilot for Floyd.

Sarah’s team stood first, then mine, and we climbed out the door of the hovercraft. After pulling my pack over my head, I glanced back at our ride and confirmed what I’d thought of earlier… It looked like a giant marshmallow.

So much for subtleness.

At first glance, the area around us looked like a jungle. Upon closer inspection, you could spot the glint of musty glass beneath the vines and bending trees. When trying hard enough, you could visualize the abandoned street we were walking through.

Something beneath me snapped. I didn’t want to look, but couldn’t stop my head from tilting slighting downward, waiting to see a shard of white.

It was just a stick, apparently recently broken from the tree above my head. I could still see the white-green sap oozing from inside.

Managing to hold on to a few brain cells, I used them to summon logic.

I was the only one walking this way, and no-one from our team had come before.

Something else had been or was here.

I tapped my com twice to turn on the speaker, then warned the teams of what I’d just found. If there was something like a mutant ambush, we needed to be on full alert.

The lab was located in a tall building. Finding the right one, however, was a lot harder than we’d anticipated. The canopy of trees above our heads kept us from identifying any. We would’ve sent up drones, but they wouldn’t last long against the mutant birds that flocked the skies.

“I think I found it.” Floyd said from my right, pulling away vines from two tall doors, glass panes already shattered. He stepped inside. I watched as the rest of the team followed him in.

Ducking my head inside, I had to blink to try and adjust my eyes. It was dark and musty, shafts of light dancing through disturbed dust.

We searched the first several levels with ease, but stopped in shock when reaching the tenth.

All the rooms had been immaculate. The last, however, was sealed off from the outside world.

Every wall was clear. White desks and burned out lights dotted the level. It gave me the chills, seeing so many tiny needles and jars scattered on tables.

HS2l, from what information we have, the map should be in a filing cabinet somewhere.

I rubbed my head. Something had to be wrong with the chip again, it was giving me a crazy sparking headache. I didn’t think they’d have released the poison yet.

Go to the farthest room.

I did so, taking care to avoid smacking into any glass walls.

Sure enough, I could spot a cabinet several labs away from myself.

I glanced at Sarah. She was staring at me. I nodded at her and slipped towards the cabinets.

“Calix stop.” Sarah said from my right.

I ignored her and continued walking toward the cabinet, pulling it open. It was neatly organized, small tabs labeling the contents. Most of the words made no sense to me, but I recognized one.


Stop.” Sarah repeated.

I rolled my eyes looking up, and focused on the black center of a pistol. No, there were more than a few guns pointed at me. Including Sarah’s. I wasn’t surprised, but needed to act as such, so I jerked out my gun. “We know everything.” Geneva said, stepping forward. “Give us the

map, Calix, and we’ll explain.”

I attempted a laugh, but it sounded more like a choking walrus. “What?”

She gestured with her gun. “The map, Calix.”

I clenched the folder in my hand. I hadn’t realized I’d ever removed it. “What are you talking about?”

“Like I said, we know everything, and we can explain everything if you’ll just let us.”

I shook my head. They knew nothing. I knew that Sarah had been offline from SID for a long while, though unsure how she’d kept that from them. I also knew that if I didn’t destroy the map with SID watching through my chip, they’d kill our family.

“Look, Calix.” Sarah spoke this time. “There’s a lot you don’t know.

Trust me and give us the map. Then we can explain.”

“Trust you?” I made my laugh bitter this time, “Like that’s gonna happen.”

“Mom and Dad and Jacky are as good as dead.” Sarah glared daggers. I wanted to laugh but realized my chip had been silent the entire time. “Um, S. I. D.?”

Destroy it. Destroy it, now.

Ah, there they were.

I pointedly looked down at what I held—they needed to see—and shifted out the paper inside. Then I dropped my gun and pulled out my lighter, letting the paper go up in flames.

The shots came.

I guess I hadn’t planned for the shooting. Maybe I should be more prepared.

I heard screams. There was Sarah’s voice as I fell. My head hit the whitewashed floor. I felt the chip inside my head break.

What have you done?” Sarah whispered in my ear as she tried to stop the bleeding. She screamed the same thing at the agents who now surrounded me.

I was dying. Even if they could save me from the bullet wounds, the poison seeping through my body would kill me soon enough.

“It’s ok,” I whispered back. “I knew… I know what I’m doing. They can’t hear us now.” I pointed at the folder. There was another piece of white sticking out of the green. “They can’t see us anymore…

“Save them. Save everyone.”

I’d die, yes, but Sarah could finish what I’d started. A hero’s death for sure…

… I loved sarcasm.


Anoka County Library Write On! 2023 Short Story Contest Winners Copyright © 2023 by Avrie Siedschlag; Ella Howard; Greta Graham; Renad Taher; Rachel Mueller; Daniel Gbati; Julia McBride; Audrey High; Lucia Floan; Rhett LeBeau; Anna Moline; Hannah Jemming; Valomi Lewis; Fen Hendren; Kathryn Downs; Megan Nguyen; Lizzie Elsenpeter; Sophia Accord; and Sophia Acord. All Rights Reserved.

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