It was like being a kid again! After playing the adult for what felt like forever, Amity was going back and straight into the Director’s tent. She may as well have been told to stand in the corner.
Sam was here. The Director was here. Worst of all: her uncle was here. She and Bailey were left to sit, squaring off against the three of them – in this tiny mess the Director called an office – while the Director sat in his own special chair and the men behind him were left standing at his side.
“If I am to be understanding this predicament correctly,” the Director began, his fingers interlacing as he rested back in his chair, “then the two of you led Toni into the tunnels with you to be captured, presumably to engage in coitus in front of her.”
Both Amity and Bailey flinched in their seats. “Sir!” Sam interjected. “Even I know that’s not what happened!”
From behind Sam, Shafer looked down at the Director’s head with a mildly amused smirk.
For some reason Amity felt as if the Director was entirely correct in his assessment. There wasn’t much of a reason for them to not think that – and even though Toni could have offered some further insight, Amity didn’t feel she deserved it.
“Is that true, Bailey?” asked Shafer, eyeing the scout with an unblinking stare.
“Yes, sir,” he said. “I swear it is.”
Knowing what the boy risked by lying to him, the scout leader pressed further. “So if you weren’t doing that, then what you were you doing with my niece?”
Amity could already feel some heat rising between both of them.
“We were –” He hesitated. “– making out.”
“You kissed her,” Shafer commented, leaning on the Director’s desk. “And you did it while on guard duty, too.”
“She kissed me!” Bailey blurted.
In milliseconds her face went from red-hot to ice-cold as she flicked her gaze to her boyfriend, gawking in disbelief. Her body stiff as a board, she stopped breathing, made nary a sound, wondering when embarrassed tears would start flowing out. Everything went silent as the only sound she could make out was the blood pumping in her ears.
Sam and the Director exchanged a quick glance as Shafer bit the inside of his cheek and nodded. “We’ll discuss this later, you and me.” And with that, Shafer tightened his lip, letting the other two take over.
Her uncle’s words to snapped Amity out of her frozen panic, the hysterical background noise in her mind subsiding as she returned back to the equally-hysterical reality that she had written for herself.
Slightly unsure how to follow from what the scout leader had just laid out, the Director ran a hand through his long beard and remained silent for a moment. All the while Sam followed along, keeping his breath still as he awaited the Director’s next words.
“So,” he began. “We have a scout leaving to bring someone into the passageway where nobody else was allowed, managing to bring a third wheel along, going into parts unknown with the third wheel dragging behind, and losing the third wheel when one of the machines we thought we had taken care of springs to life and takes it off.”
That was more or less true. Both kids nodded.
“I would think both of you know better!” the Director chided. “You, scout, for bringing people into parts unknown – and you, miss, for being the adult in the room who did nothing to stop it!”
“Sir,” Sam spoke again. “Amity only just became an adult.”
“Right you are,” Persson commented. “Which is why I believe it only appropriate for her to receive punishment like a child would.” Before Amity could ask what on Earth that even entailed, the Director turned to her uncle. “Shafer – as her parental figure along with Macy and as his mentor, I trust you will come up will come up with a suitable punishment for young Miss Amity and Bailey?”
Sam cast an uneasy look at Shafer and Shafer gave a light nod. “I’ll discuss with both of them,” he said.
Resisting the urge to groan, Amity swallowed hard and took a deep breath. She and her uncle never had a particularly close relationship – even after her parents had passed her on to him – and she had hardly any idea what to expect for a punishment when most of the punishments bestowed upon her over the last several years had been from Macy.
In her nebulous state of mind, the girl failed to realize that Sam and the Director had started muttering some words to each other in front of her and Bailey. It was only when Sam mentioned something about the camp’s “position in assisting” her that Amity directed her gaze to them – at which point the Director visibly rolled his eyes beneath the deputy’s willful gaze.
Seeing the Director behave so casually to what was otherwise a serious situation left Amity with more questions leaving the tent than she did going in.
By the time she, Bailey, Sam, and her uncle had finished their meeting with the Director, Rouken was up next. Amity felt herself a proper child standing next to him, so dwarfed by his immense stature that she almost wanted to hide behind Bailey.
“Hey,” said her boyfriend, squeezing her hand. “You haven’t said a word in a long time. You okay?”
The past five or ten minutes had felt like she was merely a ghost that had been forced to carry out autonomous work while her brain droned off to think of everything and nothing both at once. Now back in her shell, the cold attitude most had suspected from her returned, displayed thoroughly upon her countenance.
“Yeah – totally fine,” she huffed. “I’m just beaming with the info that I’ve already been scolded and called a baby by the goddamn Director. Except he really can’t scold us, because he doesn’t give a shit about what we do – just that you and I don’t go around causing him to have to call us into his tent like that.”
As they both walked behind her uncle, Bailey winced and looked over at Shafer, noticing that he didn’t seem to be paying any attention to the conversation at his backside.
“Well,” he began, his voice fully accusatory and ready to rip deep into his girlfriend. “He only says that kind of thing as a formality. You do know that, right? Why do you think he doesn’t give a shit?”
Amity did not know that. Nor was she sure that was even feasible.
“That’s not true and watch your language,” Shafer demanded from up-front, his tone catching the teens off-guard. “Don’t make me change my mind about the punishment I have planned, scout.”
“Change your mind?” Amity mouthed. Those three words made her raise an eyebrow, made her contemplate letting her uncle change his mind if it meant being able to see if there was any grain of truth in Bailey’s claims. If everything the Director did was only for the sake of formality, she did not want to know what would happen to him if he was taken out of the formal role. Even now as she looked back, spotting Sam among the few who stood outside the Director’s tent, knowing Rouken was in there with the man who had stood at the helm for the last three years, she hoped that what Bailey had said was false and that her uncle was right.
From just outside the Director’s tent, Sam let out a sigh as he turned to glance at the three newcomers. The woman among them had fallen asleep and the young boy was scribbling away at a large document, leaving just Faust – who, among all of them, certainly looked the least bored.
“How’re you liking this place so far?” Sam asked.
It took Faust a moment to realize someone was talking to him. The hair on the back of his neck stood up as Sam took a seat at his right side, completely casual, though far from charismatic enough for Faust to simply shrug off the slight invasion of his personal space. It took another moment for him to respond with a shrug. “That depends on what ‘this place’ means. The camp? It’s fine. Kortrik? Hell no.”
At that, Sam cocked his head. “I take it you’ve been through it?” he asked.
“No,” the young man stated. “Well, yes. You wouldn’t get it. I’ve definitely been through hell, though – if that’s what you mean.”
Whatever brief silence had befallen the two of them was cut short when a bout of laughter erupted from the Director’s tent. Sam sneered, almost wishing he could shut them up. “Do you have any idea what they might be going on about in there?” he wondered, hoping to change the subject.
“I kinda thought you’d know,” Faust replied. “I thought you being the deputy, the Director would have said something to you about it.”
“No, he didn’t say anything to me.” As the words spilled out, he sensed growing suspicion on Faust’s part.
“Really?” he wondered. “Rouken doesn’t tell us shit half the time, but that’s ‘cause he has a lot of things that he keeps secret between himself and camp directors like your boss – and also cause Tarren and me are just a couple of kids who wouldn’t be able to understand what’s so important about what he’s got to say, anyway. Bertha probably doesn’t even understand his topics of discussion, either.” As he spoke of her, Faust swore he could see the sleeping woman stir.
“You and him are kids?” Sam asked. “You look older than those kids who just walked out.”
“I’m sixteen,” Faust said. “I know you guys are dumb enough to think fourteen is old enough to be an adult, but around Rouken, Bertha, and Tarren, I’m still considered a kid. Probably will be for awhile, as long as I’m living under Rouken’s shadow.”
Pondering Faust’s words, Sam hesitated to open his mouth again. “It sounds like you don’t entirely respect him.”
Sam cringed at the deputy. “Are you serious? Of course I respect him – and Tarren and Bertha. When it’s just the four of us out there, we can’t afford to let little disagreements get in the way.” That said, he kept his scowling gaze on Sam a moment longer before changing his tone. “What is it, mister deputy? Is there something you want to tell me about the Director?”
Not terribly far away, Tarren had taken a listen in on what Faust and the camp deputy were talking about and he couldn’t help but smile a little. His reaction did little to boost Faust’s ego or even propel him further than he had already gone, but the fact that Tarren had noticed was enough to steer the situation further off-course than it had already gone. It wasn’t until Tarren spoke when the conversation really started to move forward. “Yeah – something you wanna tell us?” he called.
“Tarren, shut up,” Faust retorted, his scowl still present, unchanging, his eyes swimming with an intensity that demanded Sam’s attention. By the time he returned his gaze back to Sam, Faust continued. “I’ll tell you this now about Rouken: I wish he would have turned us the hell back when we were told to come to Kortrik.”
“You really hate this place, don’t you?” Sam muttered, eyes still locked on the boy. “Did it do something to you?”
Faust wrinkled his nose. “You could say that, sure.”
“Don’t you think that’s something the Director would want to know? Or maybe I would want to know?”
“Like I said earlier,” Faust said with a scoff. “You wouldn’t get it.”
Once again Sam had the upper hand and he took his chance. “Oh yeah? Try me,” he offered.
“Why? Because you’re the deputy and I have to tell you?”
“No – because you look like you want to get it off your chest.” When that didn’t work, Sam added, “The Director is going to need to know it at some point. Who knows? Your chief might even be telling him about what’s bothering you right now.” He wasn’t sure, but Sam thought he could see a sliver of Faust’s bottom lip recede into his mouth as he proceeded to bite down on it.
“How about I ask you another question,” Faust began after a long silence, shifting himself to sitting upright. “What do you know about cryogenics?”
“Not much,” Sam confessed. “Just that they haven’t really been in popular use since the US was still fully established here.”
Faust nodded. “Right. And do you know if Autorise has reinvented it or not?”
“Reinvented?” The deputy couldn’t keep himself from chuckling. “Autorise invented those systems in the first place, didn’t they? If anyone has them still, it’s gotta be them – so it didn’t need to be reinvented.”
“Don’t be a smartass,” Sam said with a grunt, then followed with a sharp inhale and soft exhale. “Okay,” he continued. “So basically nobody’s managed to reverse-engineer the Domain’s systems – and now that the Domain is a global superpower, it’s not like they’re going to give that tech to just anyone. I’m just holding out hope that they haven’t totally destroyed the blueprints to make that kind of tech.”
Eyeing the teenager suspiciously, Sam tilted his head, uncertain where he was coming from but feeling as if he had a strong enough idea at this point. “So you wanna be frozen?” he prompted.
“Til all this shit’s over,” Faust replied. “Maybe go so far in the future that my brain ages so much that I’ve forgotten about everything that’s happened.”
“What? What happened?”
Faust shot another cold stare, which immediately warmed up slightly. “I might tell you later.”
“Still better than never,” Sam said, fully aware of the fact that he was coping with what little information he had. “Well, what do you think is going to happen now that you’re all here?”
At that, Faust could only shrug. “Could be anything. This is the first city I’ve been to with Rouken and either we end up milking these ruins dry for everything they’re worth and make nothing out of it, or we change the landscape forever, make it a great city, and then maybe someone reverse-engineers cryosis before I’m dead.”
“Is that really his name, by the way?” Sam wondered. “Rouken?”
Faust snorted. “Is your boss’ name ‘Director?’”
From just in front of Sam, two men walked out of the tent; it took the deputy a moment to realize one of them was the Director – who he had not seen beyond his tent since they set up camp.
“Sam, my boy –!” he called over. “We have some arrangements to make!”
The rest of the walk to her uncle’s tent with all the other scouts was just as silently awkward as Amity could have expected – or at least that was the case until a group of scouts walked within their vicinity. Almost every one of them looked over at Amity and Bailey, fully aware what they were doing in the caves. By now everybody had heard and everybody who knew was fully willing to share their knowledge of what was meant to be a private moment between the lovers.
Following single-file behind one of the scout leaders, several scouts walked adjacent to Amity, Bailey, and Shafer. Some of the younger ones made unflattering kissing faces at the two of them before Shafer turned his head around, scaring the boys out of their silent gibing as they continued to follow their leader.
Amity hadn’t been inside her uncle’s tent since they all moved to Kortrik – and even then, she was only there to help him set it up. In a lot of ways, this part of camp served as a parallel to the one Amity had come from – where instead of catering to girls, this spot in camp was meant to cater to boys. Unlike Macy’s tent, the scouts’ area was comprised of kids above the age of thirteen, since a lot of boys preferred to stay and become scout leaders for new boys that came in.
As she pushed herself beyond the culture shock, Amity followed her uncle’s command as she and Bailey took their seats in front of a large desk. Amity noticed there was not much that distinguished the interior of this tent from that of the Director’s – at least until she spotted one of those bug-like machines staring her in the face from the corner, its eyes unassuming and metal frame completely still.
Seeing her blank, unblinking gaze, Shafer snapped his fingers in front of her. “Hello? Ammy?” he said. “It’s not gonna kill you. Thing’s dead.”
“Are you sure?” she sneered. “Last time I thought one of those things was dead, it ended up eating Toni right in front of me.”
“I’m well-aware,” Shafer replied, leaning against his desktop. “Let me also say: aside from that girl being captured by one of those robot bugs, I completely expected something like this would happen. Most people who paid attention to you two would’ve seen you acting like horny dogs around each other.”
Even though he spoke with the best of intentions, it didn’t stop the oversaturation on Amity’s cheeks.
“But anyway – you two are going to need to be punished for what’s happened,” he continued. “So here’s my proposition. Amity: you’re going to move your tent next to mine – and Bailey: you’re going to help her with the move.”
With how much her wrists had been hurting from writing and with how much she still needed to move over, using her hands to once again build her tent after less than a week with it made Amity groan. “You’ve got to be kidding me!” She shot a glance at Bailey, who responded with little more than a blink.
Shafer blinked as well, clearly surprised. He could barely keep himself from scoffing. “Really now?” he replied, raising his voice. “So, what – would you rather just get some other boy to help you with the tent?”
“Why do I have to move my tent at all?” Amity asked.
“Amity.” This time it was Bailey who spoke, squeezing her hand as he said her name. “It’ll be fine.”
She shot a look at him to see a warm smile – and within seconds she calmed. “Alright, fine,” she said with a sigh. “Should we just jump on it?”
Holding his arms out as if he was walking over to hug her, Shafer gawked. “I thought you’d be thrilled. Yes – jump on it! Go!” With that, he started walking toward the two of them, herding them out as they got out of their seats and made their way to the exit. Once they were out, Shafer zipped the tent flap and left the kids to their devices.
“Well, what the hell,” Amity mumbled. “Whatever – I guess we’ll go get –”
She was interrupted when Bailey reached in to peck her on the lips. “Ammy,” he began, having clearly picked that up from her uncle. “Don’t you get it? He’s making us work together on purpose.”
“Huh?” After the trauma she’d endured over the last twenty-four hours, it took a moment for her to realize when something good was happening. When at last she made that connection, her face lit up with a bright smile. “Oh – oh my God,” she chuckled. “Please smack me; I deserve it.”
“Nah – come on,” Bailey began, beckoning her as he started on a path away from Shafer’s tent. “Like he said: we should be thrilled to jump on it.”