Chapter 1

“Pistols to the back!” The command cracked from somewhere over Ry’s head and to the right.  Around him, bullets from automatic and semi-automatic weapons spattered into the dirt.  Deadly raindrops.  He felt the air swirling, rending.  Dirt sprayed across him and one projectile passed close enough to leave a new air vent in his jacket.  Hugging the ground as close as he could, Ry extended both arms, the butt of the handgun pressing against his palm like a bad joke.  He lifted his head long enough to take a mediocre aim and squeezed the trigger.  Pistols to the back. The command echoed with the report of his gun.  Meant to put those least protected furthest from the danger.  Furthest out of the way.  Pistols had no place on the front lines of a volley like this.  Pistols had no place in this war at all.  But resources were limited at best, and given the choice between a pistol or nothing, Ry would choose the pistol every time.   He felt, more than saw, the bodies rolling away from him.  Responding to the order, taking their pistols and moving to a safer location.  As usual.  Ry sighted again, pulled the trigger.  Ignored the command.  As usual.

“Astro!  You hear me? Pistols to the back!  Make room for someone with a useful weapon!”  The voice registered as familiar now.  Lee Brooks.  Striker Two for their Drove.   He loved giving orders.  Ry loved pissing him off.  He released his empty magazine and shoved another into place.  To his left, he heard the incomparable sound of a shotgun being racked.  The blast from it, so close, rattled his teeth.  The boy who had fired it let out a maniacal laugh.  A laugh devoid of all humor.  The sound was more chilling than the whine of the bullets.  Ry rolled to his side, reached over and grabbed the other boy, shaking him.

“Thomas!  Thomas, come on!  We’re getting out of here!”  Thomas dropped the shotgun and grabbed Ry’s wrist.

“It’s no use, Ry.”  The boys locked gazes.  And Ry could see it wasn’t.  Could see it there, in his friend’s eyes.  There was nothing reflected in them.  No light.  No life.  No hope.  Pistols to the back.  What did it matter?  Ry had never had hope from the beginning.   But Thomas?  Ry had known the moment was coming.  Had known it would be soon.  But it wasn’t until he saw the glaze of defeat in Thomas’s green eyes that he knew his moment was upon him.  For if Thomas Wild had no hope, there was no hope to be had.

———————

Ry pushed a cup of coffee into Thomas’s hands, then dropped to the ground beside him.  Thomas stared into the fire, the light flicking against his face, casting garish shadows on his profile.  He held the cup, but didn’t drink.  Didn’t look at Ry.

“Thanks for getting me out of there.”  Ry looked away.  Not at anything in particular.  Just away.   The next few minutes would not be easy.  They may be the hardest in his life.  Looking at Thomas would only make it harder.  Weaken his resolve.

“Wasn’t your time, man.  That’s all.  Not either of our times.”

“You’re a good friend, Ry.”  Ry swallowed.

“You get in trouble for ignoring orders to move to the back?”

“Striker Brooks gave me a tongue lashing that would make a lesser man run into enemy fire with glee.  I think it really burned his boots that I didn’t get myself killed.  Would have justified his order and gotten rid of the biggest pain in his panties all at the same time.”  Thomas tried to smile, but it seemed to slip off his face and fall into the coffee.   Ry took a breath and glanced around the camp.  Their Drove was busy nursing the wounds of the day and trying to block out the memories enough to get a little sleep.  No battles at night.  It seemed to be an unspoken agreement on both sides.  Neither had the technology to efficiently massacre the other in the dark.  Leave the butchery for the light of day where you could see the blood, gore and death with unhindered clarity.

“I’m leaving, Thomas.”  He had planned out the words so carefully all this time, and now they rushed out of him like the bullets from his gun.  Three bullets.  Rapid, painful.   But he had to say them.  He caught Thomas’s movement in his peripheral as the boy turned to face him.  He could feel the heat of the incredulity, the horror in the stare.  He kept his gaze trained on the fire.

“We both knew from the beginning I wouldn’t last through this war.  We both knew I would go eventually.  I never would have made it this far, this long without you.”  He turned.  That part was true.  He had to make Thomas believe that part was true.

“But I can’t stay anymore.  Not even,” he swallowed, tried to steady his voice.  “Not even for you, my friend.”

“Ry, you can’t go.  Are you insane?  You know what they do to those who go AWOL.  You saw what they did to Benton.  What they did to…” he stopped, the word stuck in his throat.  Evey, Ry’s mind supplied.  Thomas hadn’t been able to say her name since.  An image of Benton’s body flashed in his mind.  Torn, mutilated, dragged through camp as a message: traitors were worse than enemies.  His gutted body hung in their camp for three days to discourage any who might consider going AWOL.  But Evey…

“We never saw her.”

“But we know!  They told us!”  Thomas threw the coffee cup into the fire and covered his face with his hands.  Ry should leave now.  Now, before he lost his mind and stayed.  Thomas took a ragged breath.

“You can’t leave, Ry.  They’ll find you.  They always do.  No one in the history of the war has gone AWOL and survived.  If you leave, you’re as good as dead.”

“If I stay I’m as good as dead.   At least this way it’s on my terms.”  Thomas looked at him.  Defeated.  Betrayed.

“You are all I have left, Ry.  I’ve lost everything.  My childhood.  My family.  My freedom.  And…” Evey, Ry thought again.  And the thought nearly tore him apart.  He had to look away.  Away from the empty shell that was his friend, away from the hurt and betrayal.   Thomas was right; he’d lost everything.  Yet he would stay, because it was his duty.  And there was honor in that.  That’s why Thomas was the better man.  Why he had always been the better man.  And why Ry had to go.  He stood.

“I’ll cover for you,” Thomas’s voice was flat.

“Don’t.”

“I’ll tell them you were killed.”

“Don’t.”

“Please don’t go, Ry.”

“Good-bye, my friend.”  He turned, walked out of the fire’s light.  And as he went, Thomas’s whisper followed him like a ghost.

“Good-bye, my brother.”

– S.D. Bullard

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~ by sdbullard on July 30, 2012.

2 Responses to “Chapter 1”

  1. wow! I LOVE the first chapter! is this a hunger games story? JUST KIDDING! 😉 I like messing with you!

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