Chapter 7

Ry slept that second day.  He slept because his mind and body shut down, finally, slaves to the exhaustion he had held at bay too long.  And he slept to escape.  To escape the pain and the thoughts and the memories and the hunger.  And yes, to escape the fear.  Not fear for himself, that didn’t bother him, not much.  But fear for Thomas, for what the Strikers might do to him if they thought he’d helped Ry.  Fear for…but he wouldn’t, couldn’t…and so, he slept.

Yet escape from one hell meant slipping into another, and even as he felt his mind and body shutting down, he was afraid of the dreams.   He couldn’t control dreams and at times they were worse than reality.  But when they came, they weren’t of Thomas or Evey.  They weren’t of blood and death and smoke and screams.  They weren’t of Nova and Celeste.  Instead, they were of guns.  But not the cold, harsh metal objects that he aimed at the nameless, faceless individuals he was told were his enemy.  Not the ones he shot every day, taking lives of men, women, boys and girls who no doubt had been reaped and trained and armed and taught to kill against their will just as he had.  Those were the guns that were evil.  The ones that made him evil.  The ones that killed indiscriminately, destroying innocents, guilty of no more than bowing to orders.  Just like he had.

But it wasn’t those guns.  The guns in his dream flooded him with comfort.  They curled into his hand with warm familiarity, promising protection.  But it was more than that.  They promised relief.  Justice.  An end.

He jerked awake, disoriented, the sun slathering the land with evening haze.  His hand, clutching the pistol, shook.  He stared at it.  Which kind of gun was it?  He lifted it, staring at the black mouth of the muzzle.  If he pulled the trigger now, what would come out?  He placed the barrel against his head, felt the cold.  He closed his eyes.  Felt the promises.  Relief.  An end.  His finger twitched against the trigger, his breath ragged.  All he had to do was pull, just a little further.  The pain would be gone.  He wouldn’t be able to hurt Thomas anymore, wouldn’t be able to hurt anyone anymore.  Surely, he deserved death.  But had he earned the right to die?  With one move, he could gain relief.  He could find an end.   His finger tightened.  But not justice.  Not the right end.  Desire and duty battled in him until his hand shook uncontrollably.  With a cry of rage, he flung the gun away.  He stared at it, lying in the dust, its promises still contained inside.  Waiting for the right time.  The relief wasn’t for him.  He was charged with carrying those promises, not with receiving them.  It was his curse.  It was his redemption.  He covered his face and sobbed.

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

Ry followed Thomas and Evey to the mess tent.  The idea of food twisted his still queasy stomach, but he tried to eat, to make Thomas happy.  The breakfast was more palatable than dinner the night before and he managed to choke down half of it.  He glanced at Evey.  Her food was gone, polished off in minutes and she was absently licking her fingertip and picking up crumbs.  When Thomas turned around to talk to another  Drover, Ry slid his plate over to Evey.  She looked up, raised a brow.  Ry put a finger to his lips.  For a moment, he felt like a kid, trying to pull a fast one on the nanny or cook.  And for almost a moment, he wondered if Evey felt it, too.  For just a heartbeat, she met his eyes, a faraway look.  Could she be recalling her childhood, too?  Then she dropped her gaze, shrugged, and pulled his half-eaten food towards her.  He didn’t smile, not quite.  But he allowed himself a slight twinge of satisfaction.  It was a step.  He picked up his mug of coffee.  Now that was good.  It was bitter, but somehow the hot acidity soothed his stomach.  He glanced hopefully towards Evey, thinking maybe if she didn’t want her coffee, she would return his gesture.  She steadfastly ignored him.

“So who do I talk to about the guns?”  His comment clearly caught Thomas off-guard and the other boy blinked at him.

“What about them?”

“About the fact most of them are still usable and shouldn’t be thrown out.”  Evey snorted and mumbled something that included a phrase about Privs thinking they knew everything.   Neither boy paid any attention to her.

“What are you talking about, Ry?”

“Most of those guns are still perfectly good.  They just need cleaned, maybe some minor repairs.  We’re limited on resources, right?  Why limit ourselves even further when it’s not necessary?”

“How do you know that?”  Ry hesitated again, just as earlier.  Thoughts flashed through his mind, pictures, books, snippets of conversation, hours of research.  Faces coupled with waves of seething hatred.

“Who do I talk to?”

“I would say either the Weapons Master or Halding.  But the Weapons Master is the one who slated the guns for disposal in the first place.  I doubt he’d take kindly to a…” Thomas fumbled.

“Priv,” Ry supplied.  Thomas frowned.

“A fresh little Drover coming in and telling him his business.”

“Even if I’m right?”

“Especially if you’re right,” Evey said.

“Then what about Halding.  That name sounds familiar.”

“It should,” Evey scoffed, “He’s your Staffer.”  Ry suddenly felt incompetent.  He didn’t know the ranks, didn’t know the names and titles. He looked to Thomas.

“It’s difficult to get an audience with a Staffer.  What with them being in charge of ten Tents, each with at least twenty Drovers, they don’t have much time for individual meetings.”   Ry let out a breath.  Thomas was good at providing him with critical information without being obvious about it.  He hadn’t made Ry feel inadequate, hadn’t called him on his ignorance or even pointed it out.  He’d slipped the important information in so casually.  Ry nodded, hoping it conveyed sufficient gratitude.

“I guess I will just have to make myself important enough for him to notice me, then.”  Ry expected the derisive snort before Evey gave it.  Any other comment was prevented, however, by the sound of the horn, signifying breakfast was over.  Ry filed out of the Mess Tent with Thomas, Evey and their fellow Drovers.  Each Tent had a designated gathering area a short distance from the Mess Tent, and Ry followed the others from 9, and tried to stand in the same, official position they all took.

Two boys, barely older than Ry, strutted around shouting orders and making corrections to those whose stances were off.  They ignored Ry, but as they walked by, he noted the title “Striker” on their uniforms.  Another rank, most likely lower than Staffer.

“Listen up, cupcakes,” one of the Strikers yelled.  “Today you’ll be divided into three groups.  You will be working on hand-to-hand combat with Tents 1, 4 and 8.”  That was all of the instructions the Striker gave.  The next few minutes were a jumble of numbers, names, shoving, yelling and dividing while the two Strikers grouped the 24 boys, girls, men and women from Tent 9.  They were told where to meet the others they would be working with, and herded in the appropriate direction.  As his group started moving off, Ry glanced around to locate Thomas.  He met the other boy’s green eyes, wondered at the concern he read in them.

“Move!” the Striker pushed at Ry, forcing him to walk in the opposite direction from the way Thomas was walking.   And he realized, with a rising panic, that Thomas was in a different group.  He would not be there to help or explain or defend.  Ry was on his own.

 

– S.D. Bullard

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

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~ by sdbullard on October 12, 2012.

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