Chapter 2

Ry kept moving several hours after sunrise.  He had walked away, striding with slow purpose, until he crossed the edge of camp, and left the ring of firelight.  Then, he had run.  And never looked back.  If he had looked back, he would have gone back.  That was the one thing he couldn’t do.  So, he ran.  Away from death.  From the sounds of bullets and screaming, from the smell of blood.  Away from Thomas.  From the memories.  But, no.  He couldn’t escape those, no matter how fast he ran or far he went.   He couldn’t escape them because they were a part of him.  And he needed them.

He didn’t know how far he had gone before he found a grassy area, where the weeds were tall enough to hide the form of a prone man.  He slid into his hiding place, belly to the ground like a snake.  Like a coward.  He tried to calculate how far he may have gone, whether it was far enough.  How far could the sound of gunfire still be heard?  He had known this once, had read it.  But these were not the memories he needed.  He didn’t think it could be more than a couple miles, and surely he had surpassed that.  But as the sun heated him, he was certain he could hear the shots, hear the screaming.  He shoved the heels of his hands against his ears, squeezed his eyes closed.   It was no good.  The sounds echoed in his mind, the crimson of blood splashed across the inside of his eyelids.  Thomas’s gaze seemed to infuse every sound and sight.  Then another face flashed across his thoughts and he couldn’t breathe.  Evey, he made his mind say her name.  Would have forced himself to say it out loud if he wasn’t in hiding.

But he had to be quiet.  He had no idea when they would send someone after him.  He only knew they would come.  And it would not be to escort him back.  If he was lucky, it might be a day before anyone realized he was gone, maybe two.  Thomas wouldn’t give him away, he knew.   He wished he hadn’t gotten into a confrontation with Brooks the previous night.  He would be in the forefront of the Striker’s mind now, meaning his absence may be noticed sooner.   Brooks would be more than relieved for Ry to be dead.  But having him go AWOL?  He would take that as a personal affront, and wouldn’t rest until Ry’s gutted, battered corpse was hanging in the camp.

It was funny, really.  Brooks had been friendly towards him, at first.  Two years ago, when they were equals.  Two kids on a bus, being driven to the middle of nowhere, to the living hell that would be the rest of their lives.  Brooks had been a couple years older, seventeen to Ry’s fifteen, and had taken it upon himself to cheer the younger boy.  Ry had been hard to cheer.   But Brooks, clean and fresh had kept up an ongoing chatter, determined to keep Ry from sinking into despair.

Of course, that had been before Brooks found out.  Before they all found out.  Once they knew about him, they all looked at him differently.  All except Thomas.

************

Ry plunged down the steps of the bus, stumbling, desperate to get away.  Away from the stuffy confines of the bus, the hot air, the blond kid, Lee, who seemed determined to be his best friend.  Ry wrapped his arms around himself, wishing he had something to hold on to.  But that wasn’t how it worked.   You didn’t bring anything with you from home.  You had no more home.   The Drove you were assigned to became your home.  And they would give you everything you needed.  They had promised.  Lee slapped him on the shoulder.

“This way, Ry.  We check in over here.”   Ry shrugged away from his touch, then slumped after him, looking down.  Groups of new recruits stood in clumps, talking, laughing.  Kids as young as he was, men and women older than his parents, and every age in between.  Some looked dejected, but most stood with an air of readiness, confidence.  And why not?  They had chosen to be here, volunteered.  Not like him.  Reluctantly, he followed after Lee.  The older boy’s cheeriness might have been grating, but he was the only person in this forsaken place Ry knew at all.  And he seemed to have a basic idea of what he was doing.  So, Ry followed.  He stopped several paces behind Lee, waiting for his turn to give his name and sign over his life.  His cursed name.  His cursed life.

Ry kept his gaze down, staring at the dirt by his boot.  He didn’t want to look at anyone.  Didn’t want to talk to anyone.  He wouldn’t be around long enough to make friends.  And any he did make, would only hate him once they knew who he was.  Better to keep his head down.  If he could just shake Lee, he would be fine.

An unnamable urge made him glance up, suddenly certain someone was watching him.  Probably because someone was.  It was a boy, close to his age, standing a few yards away and smiling at him.  Smiling like he knew Ry, like he knew some secret about him.  Ry wanted to glare at him, and tried, but it seemed to bounce right off the boy and fall to the dirt.  Ry looked more closely.  There was nothing extraordinary about him.  Medium height, medium build.  Auburn hair shaved close, green eyes, dressed in the same tan pants and shirt as the rest of his comrades.  He stood with his feet splayed, arms folded across his chest.  Ry wanted to look away, but there was something in the other boy’s gaze that held him, some look Ry could only describe as being real.  What did he want?  Ry managed to pull his gaze from the boy, started to glance away, but a movement caught his attention.  A girl stepped up next to the boy, glanced from him to Ry.  Her hair and eyes were the same as the boy’s, her structure more delicate.  She was beautiful.  But where the boy’s gaze was open, and kind, her eyes narrowed in a cold, appraising look that only made her more attractive.  Ry did look away then.  Beauty like that didn’t belong in a place like this.  He didn’t deserve to see such beauty.

“Name?”  The rough voice pulled his attention forward.  A bald man of indeterminate age sat at a table, eyes hidden behind dark glasses.  But Ry could feel his gaze through them, could feel the question drilling into him.  It seemed like such a simple question; why did it have to have such a complicated answer?

“Name?” the bald man barked again.  Ry stepped a little closer.  Lee hovered by his shoulder.  Blast him from one end of this war to the next.  Ry could feel others behind him.  How many were in hearing range?

“What is your name, boy?” Ry knew he couldn’t stall much longer.  For some reason, he found himself glancing back at the green-eyed boy.  He was still watching.  Still smiling.  Blast him, too.

“Orion Astro,” he muttered.

“Astro,” baldy dragged his finger around the page until it landed on the scribbles that haunted Ry.  “Tent 9, under Staffer Halding.  Pick up your uniform at the end of the table, mess tent is the long one in the middle.  Dinner when you hear the horn blow.  Your Staffer will have your orders.  Any questions, they go to him.  Move along.  Next?”  Ry slid towards the end of the table.

“Astro?”  He heard the incredulity in Lee’s voice.  He kept his eyes down, waited for the uniform to be pushed into his hands, before turning slowly and lifting his gaze to meet Lee’s.  The blond boy, who had smiled at him so reassuringly just moments before, stared at him now in horror, as though Ry had somehow tricked him.

“Orion Astro?  But that means…” Ry held his look now, refusing to answer, refusing to back down.  “You’re a Priv?”

 

– S.D. Bullard

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~ by sdbullard on August 5, 2012.

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