Chapter 3

The sun glared down, enough of the rays finding their way through the tangle of grasses to make Ry sweat.  It seemed to be directly overhead.  Must be midday.  He knew he should sleep, knew he needed it desperately.  He had been marching or in battle from dawn until dusk the previous day, then spent the night running.  His body was exhausted.  He understood this, even if he didn’t feel it.  He rarely felt tiredness anymore.  Not since this hell began.  He had trained himself not to feel it.  Had tried to train himself not to feel anything.  Thoughts of Thomas and Evey flashed through his mind and he flinched.  It hadn’t worked.

He flipped over on his stomach, using his arms as a pillow and shut his eyes.  He breathed in the smell of warm dirt.  Sleep had never come easily in this lifetime, the one where he was just one more bit of the Drove.  It was harder to control his thoughts when he was sleeping.  He didn’t like the tricks his mind played on him in his dreams.  He feared, now, his dreams would be of Thomas and Evey.  He wasn’t sure he could bear that.

He tried to clear his mind, focused on the sun on his back, the scent of the dirt.  But it wasn’t Thomas and Evey that flitted through his mind as he drifted off.  Instead, two girls stepped across the boundaries of his sleeping thoughts.  Two girls he hadn’t seen in a long time, that he never let himself think about.   The first, near his age, slipped in quietly, subtly.  Dark hair, dark eyes, dark smile.  Everything about her was darkly beautiful.  And distant.  She held the world at arms’ length, her aloofness a deterrent to all.  All except Ry.  Only Ry could break through her hard demeanor, let in the light and glimpse the warmth she guarded so tightly.  Only he could make her smile, make her laugh.  No, not only.  There were two who could reach her and be reached by her.

He saw her now, the other girl, so small as she danced through his memory.  Her little face was a mirror image of the other girl’s, but her coloring was fair.  Blond curls, sparkling blue eyes.  Where the older girl was all dark mystery, the younger was the embodiment of joy and light.  They stood together in his dream, light and dark, holding hands.  His world.

He jerked himself awake, the memory searing his mind like a hot coal, burning him.  He hadn’t thought about them for so long, hadn’t allowed himself.  He’d tried to block their faces, their voices from his thoughts.  Even their names.  Now, still half in the grasp of sleep, he spoke them aloud before he could stop himself.

“Nova.  Celeste.”  The familiar taste of them made his throat ache, his eyes sting.  The memories hurt too much.  He curled into himself.  They had been his life, his world, but that was before.  Before he was sacrificed on the altar of family stability.  Before he became one more nameless, faceless, past-less Drove member.  Back when he was a Priv.

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

By the time Ry found Tent 9, it seemed everyone knew his name.  Or, at least, his background.  Which meant they all knew as much as they needed to know about him.  They all had an opinion.  And it wasn’t likely to change.

He pushed the flap to the tent open.  Dirty green canvas, dirt floor.  Hot.  Stuffy.  Twenty-four cots were crammed together, twelve on each side, touching so their occupants would have to climb in from the base.  A path ran down the length of them, three feet wide at most.  At the opposite end of the tent, several feet away from the cots, there was a lone bedroll curled on the dirt.  Clearly set apart from the other beds.  Without anyone having to tell him, Ry knew it was meant for him.  The message was clear: anyone who had been a Priv in a former life, was lowest of the low here.

What did he care?  He had already lost everything that mattered to him.  All he cared about was escaping, getting out of there.  Getting back to them.  He swallowed back the thought of them.  He wouldn’t think of them now.  Not until he got out.

Two guys were sitting on the end of cots near the tent’s middle.  When they saw him, they stopped talking and stood.  They came toward him, single file, because there was no room to walk side by side.  They were both older than Ry, mid-twenties he would guess.

The first stopped directly in front of him and leered.

“You must be the little Starboy, right?”  Ry met his gaze, but didn’t answer.

“That’s what ‘Astro’ means, isn’t it?  Star?  Well, let me tell you something, Twinkle.  No one wants you here.  No one needs you.  And no one’s going to cater to you.  You’re a fallen star now, and that makes you nothing but a rock to be kicked.  Here, you’re nothing.  We’re top dog, and you are the pebble under our feet.”  He moved in closer, his breath hitting Ry’s face.  “Welcome to Tent 9, Starboy.”  Ry wondered if he should mention stars weren’t made of rocks, but kept his mouth shut.  The man wore his ignorance like a badge of honor.  Why strip him of his idiocy?  It was the one thing he seemed to have going for him.

The thug smiled in smug superiority, obviously secure in the knowledge that his brilliance had left Ry speechless, and pushed past him.  Thug number two stepped up, eager for his turn.  He smirked at Ry for a minute, then, apparently unable to think of anything as eloquent as his counterpart, simply knocked the clothes out of Ry’s hands.

“Stupid Priv!”  Ry nearly applauded his grasp of language.  That had almost been a complete sentence.  Thug number two shoved past Ry hard enough to make him stumble into a cot.  Pain arced across his shin where it connected with the wooden support.  The two thugs left the tent, chuckling at their own cleverness.

Ry stared at the heap of clothes, blending into the dirt.  Would he blend in like that in time?  No, he was a Priv.  He would never fit in.  He walked past the clothes, back to the bedroll and looked at it.

A Priv.  It was a joke.  And not a funny one.  If his life was privileged, the word needed a new definition.

“Lance Greenon and Filip Obermire.”  Ry spun at the voice.  Somehow, he’d known who it was before he looked.  Though Ry had never heard his voice before, he knew it was the boy with the green eyes. He stood there, still wearing that knowing smile, holding Ry’s clothes.

“They think they’re pretty hot stuff, because they volunteered for the Drove five years ago, so they aren’t Call-Out fodder.  You’ll learn to ignore them like the rest of us.”  Ry stared at him, not sure what to say.  Why was this boy talking to him?  Didn’t he know who Ry was?  What he was?  So, he said the first thing that came to mind.

“You know, a Drove is what they call a group of asses.”  The boy blinked at him, his smile slipping for a moment.  Then he laughed, the sound so warm and infectious, Ry found himself fighting a smile.

“Well, that sounds pretty appropriate.  You’re alright, kid.  What’s your name?” And there it was.  He didn’t know.  And now Ry would lose the one boy who might have been an ally.  But it was best to end it now.

“Orion Astro.”  The boy walked over and shoved Ry’s clothes into his hands.

“No, not your Priv name.  I heard that already.  I mean, what do I call you?”  It was Ry’s turn to be taken aback.  So he did know.  He just didn’t, apparently, care.

“Uh, Ry.”  The boy reached out and shook Ry’s hand.

“Welcome to Tent 9, Ry.  My name’s Thomas Wild.”

 

 

– S.D. Bullard

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

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~ by sdbullard on August 11, 2012.

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