Chapter 5

He heard the first engine about an hour before dawn.  For a moment, his heart stuttered.  Not yet.  Then the detached calm he had learned to feel in the face of battle kicked in.  He crouched, making his profile as subtle as possible, scanning the dark terrain until he found a place to hide.  He curled behind the rock, body pressed against its cold, and worked to still his breathing.  He listened, straining to follow the growl of the motor, to trace its path in relation to him.  To judge its direction.  Towards the camp, not away from it. That was a good sign. Vehicles were even more limited than weapons.  They were barely used.  Two reasons; that’s all Ry knew of.  To take provisions to the camps.  And to hunt down and bring back the AWOL corpses.

It hit him then, and the emotion was so overwhelming it took his breath away.  He curled into himself, fighting against the immobilization, trying to focus on the sound of the truck.  But he couldn’t.  It was too intense, driven home by the sound of the engine, by the knowledge of what it meant.  It wasn’t fear.   Fear he could handle.  It was pain.  The last time he had heard that sound was when the truck had come back from hunting Evey.  Had driven into their camp and presented them the bloody stump of a hand; the only part of her body not mangled beyond recognition.

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

Ry wiped his hand against his stiff, tan shirt and held it out awkwardly, taking half a step towards her.

“Hi.” It sounded lame even to him, but he wasn’t sure what to say.  She arched one brow at him, then turned a disgusted look on her cousin.

“Really, Thomas?  The Priv?”

“Play nice, Evey.”  Thomas seemed to find a little too much amusement in the situation.  With another glare, Evey sighed and slapped her hand into Ry’s.  Her fingers were smooth, slim and gripped his with a fierceness that radiated her revulsion.  Ry tried to ignore it.

“Hi,” he said again, “I’m…”

“I know who you are, Orion Astro.”  She tugged her hand away, but, surprising even himself, Ry gripped it more tightly, refusing to relinquish it back to her.

“Actually, I prefer ‘Ry’.”

“Oh?  Is that so? Well, let me ask you something, Ry,” she stepped into his space, her face inches away from his.  He could count the freckles on her nose, see the flecks of gold in her eyes.  She had stopped pulling on her hand and he was aware of it still in his, pressed close to his chest now.  He flicked a glance down at it, noting the odd scar that ran across the knuckles of her four fingers.  He felt her breath on him when she hissed out her next words.

“You know that money they paid you in gratitude of your voluntary service to the Drove?  You know where that came from?   Not from their pockets, no.  They fleeced the people in your town, people who are barely getting by as it is.  Hardworking people, who have to scrape just to keep their kids alive so they can be reaped at the next Call-Out.  It’s their money that you slipped in your fat wallet.  So don’t go thinking you’re just like us because you put on that uniform and cut your hair.  You aren’t fooling anyone.  No one wants you here.”  The words echoed so closely those of Greenon and Obermire’s.  But coming from Evey, they didn’t leave him feeling hollow, or angry, or superior.  They made him feel unworthy, and filled him with a strange longing.  He realized he wanted her approval.  The thought surprised him, but he didn’t have time to analyze it.

“I don’t know,” he was eager to keep the conversation going, hostile as it was.  “Thomas doesn’t seem to mind.”  She snorted.

“Thomas is a sucker for lost causes.  Believe me, we all wish you hadn’t come, and none of us will shed a tear if you get shot.”

“Evey.”  Thomas’s voice was reproachful.  She had crossed some line.  She tugged her hand again, and this time, Ry let it go.  She spun, sparing her last glare for Thomas.

“I’m going running.  Have fun with your new pet.”  Ry watched as she jogged off, refusing to look back.

“All in all, I think I’d rather be a worthy cause than a lost one.”  Thomas moved to stand beside him.

“I don’t suppose you could forget about that whole exchange?”

“I think it’s pretty firmly implanted in my mind.”  He twitched the fingers that had been clasping hers, flicking away the feel of them and a strange intimidation buzzed through him.  Not that he was afraid of her, but rather afraid of the odd effect she seemed to have on him.  Afraid he might like her a little too much.

“She hates me.”

“For now,” Thomas said.  “At the last Call-Out, the Priv family in our town sent someone.  He ranked out pretty quickly.  Cleaned our people out.  We’re still trying to recover, and now they sent someone else.  Our families are suffering the brunt of their volunteering, and Evey takes it very personally.”

“But you don’t?”  He shrugged.

“I know there is nothing more I can do for my family than what I’m doing.   And I accept it.  That’s the difference between us.  Evey will do all she can, and more, but she can’t accept when it’s not enough.  She can’t stand for the people she loves to be hurting and know there is nothing she can do about it.  Feeling helpless tears her apart.  And she expresses it in anger.”

“I didn’t know, you know?”  Thomas raised a brow.

“Know what?”

“The money is taken from the town people.  I didn’t know that.”

“There are a lot of truths about the war you won’t know as a Priv.”  His voice held no condemnation.  In fact, Ry thought he detected a trace of pity.  Thomas clapped him on the back.

“Don’t sweat it.  You’ll learn.  And don’t worry about Evey, either.  She comes on strong, but she’ll mellow out about you.”  Ry looked at him, and he must have looked hopeful.  Thomas grinned.

“I’m not saying she’ll ever like you, but eventually she’ll quit giving you flak.  She’s good people, really.  You just have to give her a chance.”  Ry thought he’d give her as many chances as she’d let him.

“I think you need to be having this conversation with her.”

“Are you kidding?  And risk getting shot?  Look, I like you, Ry, but there’s no way I’m taking on Evey for you or anyone else.  I love her to death, but she scares the snot out of me.”

 

– S.D. Bullard

Chapter1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

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~ by sdbullard on August 26, 2012.

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