This meeting could have been going better if the Director didn’t speak a thousand words a minute. At the very least Sam could have been given a better way to track down his demands than through a basic MDA. Still he didn’t complain; he never complained.
If nothing else, the deputy was glad to at least be in the same meeting as the sujourne. For as meager as that sounded and as little to do with them that this actual meeting had, there was at least now that feeling that Persson trusted Sam to some greater extent than he did before.
“I may even put James on the case,” Persson tutted. “By now he has probably gotten tired of being my personal bodyguard, anyway.”
Giving a painstaking one-line-at-a-time scroll through his list of instructions, Sam struggled to make a proper response. “Sir? That’s already a lot of people ‘on the case’ – whatever that means. What would happen if those robots manage to make it to this part of camp while everyone who normally helps around this area is ‘on the case?’”
Persson leaned back in his chair. “I guess you are right. Never mind, then!”
For once a grunt came not from Sam, but from Faust. The noise was loud enough to direct everyone’s heads toward him, except for Sam’s. Quickly realizing he had just made that noise out loud, he promptly apologized; meanwhile Sam took another look through his list of demands.
- Look over cleanup
- keep track of findings; report to dir
- accom for damages
- lookat bluprints + confirm them
- put these people ‘on the case’:
Even with an additional ten demands to follow, the list seemed small, considering everything the Director had been saying – but assuming Sam hadn’t just stopped listening to his demands at one point, this should have covered everything. One omitted factor made Sam scratch his head.
“Where do the sujourne fit into this?” he asked.
To his surprise, Bertha spoke up. “I was wondering the same thing, Director. It sounds like you just want us to do the same work as everyone else.”
“More or less,” Persson admitted.
Sam wasn’t sure, but he thought he could see Rouken’s fist tighten when the Director said that. Hoping to avoid a conflict, Sam cut back in. “So what exactly are each of them going to do?” As he asked, he began to worry that not even the sujourne knew what they were meant to do here.
The Director paused, then pointed to each one of them. “The girl can keep an eye on the scouts, the little boy can make a map of this place while we’re setting things up, and the other boy can help clean up.” With a nod, he added: “Rouken knows what he’s going to do.”
Even if the sujourne’s chief did know, he didn’t look entirely pleased with the way Persson was operating things around here.
“Okay, then,” Sam said. “Is there anything else?”
“Not that I can think of right now!” Persson replied. “But now that you have everything you need, you know what to do.”
Some part of Sam felt like he still didn’t know what to do, but seeing everyone else getting out of their seats and heading toward the tent exit, he decided to get up, as well. He caught a glimpse at Faust, noticing the way he sneered at the Director on his way out – as likely all the sujourne would have done if they all had that same lack of restraint.
With all the new changes of plans, the area just outside the Director’s tent was more bustling than ever before – almost as if everyone in camp had come here for lunch despite lunch already being served that day.
Just to make sure everything was in order, Sam looked down at his list of demands from the Director once again. He couldn’t think of much else to add, unless checking in with Faust was among one of the things he could have added to his list. Before he could do such a thing, he noticed Faust in a conversation with the other sujourne, who had huddled up away from the tent. Though he couldn’t tell what the conversation was, the looks on everyone’s faces painted a near-perfect picture of what Sam felt about this meeting, as well.
When their conversation was finished, Faust turned his head and shot a glance at Sam. There was definitely a flickering fire in those eyes, and Sam hardly needed to imagine why. As the sujourne started heading in the direction of the town ruins, Faust broke off from the rest of the group to head toward Sam. Sam almost had to choke back laughter from the pouty look on the boy’s face.
It felt like forever before Faust stopped and sighed. “Is that always how he assigns jobs to people around here?”
Sam felt like he needed to take a look and see if there was anyone else listening in on their conversation before he made any sort of response. “More or less,” he replied. “Your chief didn’t look too pleased about it, either.”
“No, he wasn’t,” Faust said, shaking his head. “He was pissed off. I’m not going to say the reason why because I don’t really know either, but he was pissed off.”
Sam thought the reason why was obvious, but he refrained from asking any further. “Don’t worry too much about it,” he said. “With any luck, once we get Kortrik running again, we’ll have someone else as mayor.”
Faust couldn’t help chuckle at that. “I don’t know if this place even had a mayor back when it was still working. Going from Director of a camp to a mayor of some place that’s barely put together doesn’t sound like an upgrade. And I don’t think your Director is smart enough to know that.”
Though he refused to make any direct reaction to the boy’s last comment, Sam couldn’t help but smirk.“I promise not to ask him about his future plans, then.” Quips aside, he remembered one more thing: “Do you have any idea where you’re going to be cleaning up?”
“No,” Faust grunted.
Sam rolled his eyes. “I guess he expected I would take care of that, too,” he muttered. “Okay, well: there should be a spot to the southeast of the ruins. There’s a bunch of bricks laying around near the base of a broken tower. I don’t know if anyone’s there right now, but that’ll be a good place to start .”
“A tower with lots of bricks. Got it.” By now Faust had started walking on his way over to the ruins. “Still sounds pretty boring.”
To that, Sam could only shrug. “Sorry, man; it’s the best I’ve got.”
Looking like he might fall asleep right there, Faust sighed. “Whatever. I’ll do it.” Without another word, he left the deputy to his business.
It was only after the sujourne had started making their way out when Sam remembered the women at Macy’s tent. As far as he was concerned, Macy only needed one of them.
The deputy took one last look over in Faust’s direction before heading back to the Director’s tent. From what little he could make out from the now-faraway figure, Sam wondered if there was something about the boy that the Director was keeping from him. Whether that information was supplied through Rouken or some other means, it didn’t matter; any information he could get would be good.
Sam walked in to see that Persson had already stepped straight out of his chair. He a almost couldn’t remember the last time that had happened.
“Something else on your mind, Sam?” he asked.
“Just a couple things,” Sam began. “What do you know about that Faust kid?”
Persson perked up. “The older boy?” To Sam’s disappointment, the Director could only shake his head. “Seems like a lost cause to me. I don’t know why Rouken keeps him around.”
After the trash-talking Sam and Faust had done behind the Director’s back just now, Sam had not expected to be doing the same to Faust. “Really now?”
The Director shrugged. “Maybe he has some special talent. But he doesn’t contribute a thing to the sujourne!”
Whether or not that was actually true, Sam couldn’t help wincing a little at the Director’s words. Sam pondered a few of his own before letting them out. “Does Rouken really speak that poorly of Faust?”
“Oh, Rouken has never said anything about the boy,” Persson confessed. “But he just has a nasty attitude and I can’t tell what his role is in the group.”
Just as those words left the Director’s mouth, Sam wanted to smash his head against that same brick tower Faust was walking toward. Instead a simple “I see,” was all he said, before taking a deep, inaudible breath and changing the topic.
“I think now may be a good time to check on Macy’s women and see if Esther is good enough to work yet.”
“Is the other one still not?”
Wondering how bad the Director’s memory and judgment could possibly be, Sam shook his head. “I really doubt Mira is good enough yet to do any serious work. I think I saw her wearing crutches still last time I saw her.”
“Unfortunate, but understandable.” The Director stroked his beard. “Yes, I like the idea of Esther going to do some work out there. I’ll let you decide.” Though immediately after speaking, he looked as if he regretted laying such a burden on Sam.
“I’ll go get her, then,” Sam assured. “Thanks.” Just as quickly as he had entered, Sam left the tent and proceeded to make his way back to the two women. Even with all the noise around him, nobody seemed to pay him any mind, and he wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Every other place in camp was getting ready for the possibility of an invasion, explosion, or general devastation when local forces failed to apprehend these alien enemies. Almost every district around camp was more chaotic than ever before – with the only exception being the girls’ district, which had its own dramas to worry about.
For Toni, she hoped more than anything that her own dramas with Amity were over. All the other girls were outside, leaving her and Cynthia to redress and gather up everyone else’s worn-out clothes for the week.
Placing Toni’s still-soaking clothes with the rest of the girls’, Cynthia grimaced. “They still feel cold,” she mumbled.
Toni sniffed. “You think so?” she mumbled, her nose still clogged. “Because I’m cold all over.”
Most likely unsure how to take that comment, Cynthia declined to say anything further. The two of them moved from Macy’s tent back to the main tent – where, as it seemed was becoming the norm more and more every day, nobody was there but the two of them.
Before the scouts had discovered those robots in the passageway, it seemed Amity was going to be the only person to leave – her and her alone. Even then, her departure was never meant to be anything more than a minor hindrance to anyone who wanted to see her again after her birthday. With the newfound machines in the tunnels becoming the talk of the entire camp, Amity was probably off doing work for the scouts down there – and with this stake she had wedged in their relationship for seemingly no reason, Amity may as well have gone to live her life in the tunnels at this point.
The girl’s shoulders slumped as she took in a deep, shaky breath, catching the attention of Cynthia – who remained quiet still.
By now Toni had gone on for autopilot so long that she was hardly aware of the bedsheets she had gathered from the other girls’ beds. “Do you remember Zoe?”
The youngest assistant tilted her head. “Who is that again?”
“She used to be the oldest assistant,” Toni explained. “When she left, Amity became the oldest.”
Suddenly Cynthia perked up. “Oh! The brown-haired one?” she said with a gasp.
Hearing Cynthia’s reaction gave Toni some much-needed elation. Her lips turned up in a smile. “Yes, that one!” she giggled. “She was around for years; it felt like she was one of the assistants for as long as I can remember. When I was eight, she became an adult – and a year later we never saw her again.”
“She didn’t die, did she?” Cynthia asked, her voice raised to such a level that Toni turned to look her in the eye, seeing a genuine flash of concern in her blue-eyed gaze.
Feeling a little amused by the sudden concern, Toni hesitated for a second before responding with: “No. At least, I don’t think she did. But at some point when we were all traveling through the hills and swamps and half of us went on that split, we went to Kortrik when she and everyone she traveled with went some other way.”
“I hope she’s okay,” Cynthia muttered, then groaned. “I wish you hadn’t reminded me of her; now I’m all worried!”
Now that she had said all of this out loud, Toni suddenly felt a little worried, as well. “Still, that’s not why I brought her up,” she insisted. “I brought her up because…” She blinked, unsure how to say the next part. “Because when she left, things felt different.”
“Different than what?”
“Different than when Amity left.”
“Amity didn’t really leave, though,” Cynthia corrected. “She’s still around.”
Suddenly Toni understood why Amity tended to lash out at her and Cynthia. “No!” she clarified. “She’s not! She’s barely the same person anymore and it’s hardly been a week!” In the midst of her tirade, Toni had dropped some of the sheets in her hands. While down on her knees, she felt Cynthia’s shadow towering over her.
The younger girl looked down her nose at the clambering assistant. “Just stop worrying about her!” she shouted. “She’s a busy woman now.”
Toni got back over her feet, Cynthia’s head now at the same level as her abdomen. Beyond her intent, she started bending over the younger assistant. “She’s barely a woman – now stop arguing with me about it!”
It took Toni a moment to remember to breathe again. By the time she did, Cynthia had already walked away and returned to retrieve all the sheets Toni had not already fetched herself.
An apology started to build in the back of her tongue, but she dared not let it go free. Knowing they likely had a limited amount of time before the other girls returned, she sighed and picked up the rest of the sheets – at which point she and Cynthia started heading back to Macy’s tent, only to realize she and the other girls had gathered up in front of their usual area not far from the tents. Along with them, Sam had apparently just come along.
It looked like Macy was going to need assistance from one or both of them at any minute. As Toni and Cynthia walked by in the distance, almost trying not to be spotted, Macy continued chattering on with Sam. Toni almost flinched when Macy caught a glimpse at them, but her worries were all for nothing, as the woman proceeded to pay them no heed, as if she and Cynthia were invisible to her.
Once they were at Macy’s, Toni almost wanted to continue the conversation, but she wondered why they should even bother with that. Once one of them inevitably started yelling like the embittered brats they were, Macy or Sam was sure to come right in without a word.
Gathering some of the dirty laundry in a pile, the oldest looked up to see the MDA docking station that their mentor had left hidden away in the back – or at least as well-hidden away as such a heavy piece of machinery could be. For what felt like a few seconds but more likely had equated to a few real-world minutes, she wondered what it must have taken for Toni to gain the confidence, desire, and tenacity to ask Macy for an MDA when the only people allowed to have them were adults – and privileged adults, at that. What level of discipline must it have taken for her to be able to keep that a secret for as long as she did?
Now that Toni actually did know about that device and the fact that Amity had been writing on it this entire time, what were the odds that Toni would be granted permission to use one, as well? Moreover, did Zoe have one for herself, or was Amity such a special case in that that Macy would’ve only ever allowed her to have such devices to herself? There was only one way to find out for sure without letting Macy know that Amity – only at the very end – had managed to blow her secret, and that one way was on the other side of camp.
But maybe she could ask Macy. Amity would be the one in trouble for blowing her secret literary endeavors. Perhaps later on, Cynthia wouldn’t be allowed to have an MDA despite all the begging she might have to do – so maybe Toni would be the last lucky girl to use an MDA as Amity had.
Before she could truly begin to contemplate asking, the woman in question walked right through the tent entrance – though, surprisingly, not with Sam, but with a smile on her face nonetheless.
“Good thing I saw the two of you earlier,” the older woman said, beaming. “Sam is talking to the ladies right now. Given Mira’s recent condition, it’s possible the two of you may be working with her soon.”
Knowing Amity probably would have loudly groaned with that information if she was still here, Toni sniffed.
“Does that mean she and Miss Esther are going to be working with us at the same time?” Cynthia asked, her head tilted as she struggled to meet the old woman’s gaze.
Macy chuckled. “Most likely not. What with all the work happening in the outskirts, I think Sam may have something completely different for her to do. Speaking of…” She paused and took a look at the clothes and sheets the girls had brought with them. “I think I will be able to take care of everyone for now. You two have obviously been busy with laundry. Why don’t you go clean that all up, since you seem so eager to get it out of the way?”
Struck as if they had just been offered a lucky break, both Toni and Cynthia nodded. “Yes, Miss,” they said in unison.
Now that they had a plan for the time being, Toni and Cynthia were left alone as Macy went back to the other girls. Before Toni could even ask, Cynthia blurted: “Wanna get the water?”
Toni almost flinched when the younger assistant spoke. When she cast a glance at Cynthia, she saw a cat-like smirk on the girl’s face. She had forgotten that Amity was usually the one to suggest Cynthia fetch the water, but now that it was just two of them, Toni realized, she would need to have that same energy Amity always brought when forced to be in the same room as the two of them, lest she end up being the one who did all the menial labor.
Cynthia’s smirk wasn’t going anywhere. Realizing she had let this happen, Toni sighed and nodded. “Alright. You remember how to organize everything, though, right?”
“Of course I do!” Cynthia said with a snort. “Now go.”
Toni did as instructed, leaving Cynthia to her work. There probably would have been more work involved in the process of fetching water now that the scouts were overworked now more than ever – but it still was better than having to go fetch it from the lake.
Understanding this, Toni went to retrieve the bucket from the women’s tent. It was only when she reached their tent when she heard Sam’s voice, and realized he was still busy with the two women.
“You’ll be working with one of the sujourne we brought along the other day,” he explained, Toni assumed, to Esther. “He’s going to be cleaning up.” From where she stood outside, Toni was unable to make out the words following that.
“Excuse me?” Toni called from outside. “I need a bucket.”
Within seconds, Sam opened the tent flap. “Oh, hi Toni,” he said before turning his head to the two women. “Do you know where that is?”
“I’ll get it,” Esther said. “Is there anything else I need to know about the job I’m going be doing?”
Lowering his voice, but not enough to escape Toni’s earshot, Sam replied with: “Just be self-aware around him.”
“Got it.” With that, Esther fetched the bucket, then walked out to hand it to Toni. “You’ll be working with Mira now,” she said. “I think you’ll get along nicely!”
For some reason Toni felt like Esther was trying to cover something up – but by the time she could even think to ask that, Esther was well beyond earshot. With a sigh, Toni took her bucket and proceeded to head to the scouts’ area.
To her surprise, she didn’t have to try very hard to avoid the other girls. By now Macy had taken everyone else out to a more discreet location, each child bearing a cloth in hand. Toni assumed they were sewing and began to wonder if it was a good idea to do that outside – but then considering how still the wind had stayed throughout this day, it seemed as good a day as any to do it outside. Hopefully the scouts wouldn’t blow anything up, and thereby spook one of the girls into messing up their pattern.
With so many people occupying the ruins, there were not as many scouts in their district as usual, but – as if to make up for this fact – plenty of adults from around camp had taken their place, if only for a few minutes at a time. Toni worried for a moment that the adults had moved the water pot, as well – and gave a relieved sigh when she saw they hadn’t.
Even better: the water was just barely warm enough to be steaming. That in mind, Toni proceeded to take a scoop of the liquid for herself. It was only right after doing so when she realized someone might not have liked her doing that without asking. She looked over her shoulder to see a man watching by.
“Go ahead, miss,” he called out with a grin. “Plenty for everyone.”
It had been so long since she’d last done this simple task that she’d forgotten if she still needed to get permission from someone before just taking water. Even still, she couldn’t help letting out another sigh before heading back.
Though she struggled a little to not get herself wet, she managed just fine, returning to Cynthia without tripping or making a mess of things. It was only when she got to Macy’s tent when she struggled with getting the flap open, but that was quickly resolved once Cynthia opened it up for her.
“Did you ride a turtle to get there?” Cynthia quipped.
“Oh, stop. I wasn’t gone that long,” Toni said, rolling her eyes.
“Whatever,” the younger girl replied, sticking her tongue out. “By the way: I found something in your pockets!” Before Toni could ask what, Cynthia held up what initially looked like a key. It took a moment for her to realize it was one of the drives from that dark office room.
“What the –?” Toni blurted with a flinch. “Where did you find that?”
“In your pocket.”
“That’s impossible – or, I thought it was.” Of all the things that had happened so far these past twenty-four hours, this was the most bemusing. “I thought all of them fell out of my pockets when –!”
“This one has two parts,” Cynthia cut in, demonstrating for Toni to see. She pulled the device apart near the midsection, where a round peg went into a round hole. The part with the round hole ended with a trapezoid shape on the other side. “This part where they meet up was caught in the clothing. Plus: this thing is tiny!”
Both because of derision or her cold, Toni snorted. “Do you think it would even work, then?”
“I dunno. Does it matter, though?”
“Miss Esther might want to see that.”
“Miss Esther isn’t here now. And she might not be for awhile.”
Toni pursed her lips. “That’s right; damn it.”
Cynthia seemed a little surprised at Toni’s language, but continued nevertheless. “Maybe we can find something that can use these.”
“I doubt it,” Toni said with a huff. She then proceeded to take the drive pieces out of Cynthia’s hands and putting them back together. “I appreciate you finding this and not destroying it, but I don’t know what I’m going to do with it other than give it to Esther.” Though as she looked at the drive, she couldn’t help wondering if she had seen the trapezoid-looking shape before. It clearly went into something – but what that thing was remained to be seen.
“So, what now, then?” Cynthia wondered. “Are we going to clean the sheets now or what?”
Toni had almost forgotten about that until Cynthia mentioned it. “Right. Let’s get started.”
I’m back, I’ve written a plan for the rest of the serial, and as always, Discord is open!