“I don’t like this, Juan. Not a bit.” Hank said. The two of them were walking on a long stretch of the beach near sunset. It was almost pre-oubreak; there were children playing in the sand while parents watched and even a few vendors out plying their wares. Aside from the number of firearms, clubs and armed soldiers patrolling the area, it was idyllic.
“Si, yo se.” Juan answered, “We never could get in direct contact with anyone from NORAD.”
“I know and if you or I couldn’t get their equipment working, then…”
“I think it was working, we picked up signals, but didn’t know how to decrypt them and no one answered our messages.” Juan said.
Hank nodded. “The Navy, at least knows, what’s happening in Iowa.” Max, Stewart and Gus had gone to meet with Commander Perry around lunch and had brought news back with them.
“And it isn’t good. They said there were some refugees taken from the west, a group of people from Colorado.”
“The numbers were too low. I want to go back, see if…I mean your family, all of our friends…”
“We would know, Hank. We would know if something had happened to any of them.”
“I don’t think I can go back. I mean, look at me? My meat is rotting off my bones. I can’t hardly get up in the mornings. I am losing this fight.”
“If you turn, they can bring you back.” Juan said.
“No. If I turn, you kill me.”
“Si.” Juan said staring off into the ocean, “Have you talked to Max?”
“About…” He waved one hand in Hank’s general direction, “…this. You dying. He might be able to do something.”
“I’m afraid he might. I don’t trust him. Not yet. He could go up to Iowa, stop the people from California with the wave of one hand and be back here a minute later.”
“Si. I feel for him, to have such power. When he leaves for that minute and the next invader comes through and kills everyone here, what then?”
“It’s a low risk and, if I understand how Gus works, something that could be foreseen.”
“I don’t think that’s it.” Juan said, “I think he is tired. He never wanted to be the moral warrior righting wrongs and fighting evil. It’s easy to become evil if you have his kind of power and when he goes to right one wrong he would become evil in the eyes of some others. Let’s say he kills the Californian’s like you want. So, they die, back home their people recoil at the losses and widow cry, children vow to avenge their mother and father’s deaths and evil has a new name; Max.”
“I get what you’re saying; evil is subjective.”
“Not all evil.” Hank said, brooding for a few paces. Ahead of them a young man was sitting on the rotted hulk of a small boat, waves lapping at one end, while the other was still grounded in dry sand. It was Nick.
He noticed Hank and Juan and scowled, “Did my dad send you?”
Hank laughed, “No. We were just talking a few things out. What are you doing out here?”
“Well maybe we could share thoughts and help each other out?” Hank said.
“Sure.” Nick hopped off of the hull, but leaned back against its bulk, eyeing Hank, “You first.”
“What is evil?”
Nick laughed, “That’s easy; being a dick. Doing something to someone you wouldn’t want done to you or your family or friends.”
Juan nodded, “That sounds about right.”
“What’s the context?” Nick asked.
“Why won’t your father go back and kill all the Californian’s fighting with Iowa.”
“That would make him evil in the Californian’s eyes. But a hero to everyone in Iowa.”
“That’s…more complicated than I thought.” Nick said.
“There ain’t no easy answers.” Hank said. “Your turn.”
“What am I doing here?”
“You came to find your dad.” Hank told him, “You didn’t have any plans after that. So now you have to figure out what you’re going to do.”
“That’s true, I guess.” Nick still looked troubled, “My dad told me about the three plans he brought to the navy guy.”
“Perry.” Juan said.
“Yeah, him. Did you know he wanted to go through the rift, when they sent that group through? He wanted to lead them.”
“No. Probably a good thing they didn’t send him, all things considered. Did you know Gus was with them?” Hank asked.
“No, I hadn’t heard that. Did he say what it was like?”
“Bad, empty, mostly, with a few dozen people left in the entire world. Very bad people, like Gods.”
“I kinda want to see it myself.” Nick said.
“They told us not to go through the portal.” Juan said.
“I wouldn’t mind seeing it either.” Hank said.
“No.” Juan told them. He raised up his arm and looked at it, flexing the fingers and turning it from side to side. “We are not going through the portal.”
“How’s your hand?” Nick asked. It had grown back over several weeks, having been amputated in a fight.
“It doesn’t feel quite the same, if you can get that. It works, but it still feels a little weaker, not quite whole. Maybe ninety-five percent? Like maybe a part is missing somewhere.”
“Like the timing belt is just a little off?” Hank asked.
“More like the valves are fouled.”
Nick looked at Hank, who met his eyes steadily. “I think we’re going.”
Juan sighed. “Someone should scout it out, if we go with the first plan. I hear their frijoles are good.”