Infiltration Part1.9 – The Art of Horror

Amity never thought she could sweat so much at this time of year. Her nerves were getting to her – which was something she dared not express to anyone. But at least now she could confidently say that her work on the tent was nearing completion. All that needed to be done now was the assembly.

Knowing it was the best place to store such materials for now, Amity kept the cloth and poles in Macy’s tent – meanwhile Macy herself had gone to meet with the scouts out east for some medical chemicals. There were still some things Amity needed to retrieve from her bed at the girls’ main tent – one of those things being the notebook.

There was still a lot that needed to be copied over from the MDA. With its battery capacity, Amity wasn’t sure how long she would be able to work with it before it died; she could only hope that she got at least an hour out of it. And with Macy’s work keeping her from watching the girls, that meant Toni and Cynthia were on their own to watch everyone else – which they did without complaint.

This meant the girls’ tent was empty. Nobody would see Amity with the MDA if she went to copy her notes in there.

It was only once she got into the tent when she turned the device on. She proceeded to pick the notebook out from under her sleeping bag and pull the pen out of the pocket of her new pants as the MDA’s tiny disk spun. The device beeped twice once ready – at which point Amity picked it up and scrolled through her stories with the directional pad.

The newly-branded woman rested her head on one of the tents’ supports as she looked through several documents she had written over the years. Among them were her alien series, her detective series, some almost-autobiographical oneshots, and some romance bits she was ashamed to admit she had written – and which would no doubt be the last thing she copied to paper.

Once again she thought about the wrist-aches this was going to cause and wished her fellow nomads still had access to printers. The Domain would, but it wasn’t like she knew – or cared to meet – anyone from the Domain.

Suddenly she remembered the two new women and almost wanted to ask if they could lend a printer. She shook the thought out of her head and carried on.

She continued scrolling and clicking through the filesystem on the device. There was folder on here that she wanted to copy over more than any other: Kraykozen Chronicles. These so-called chronicles were part of her alien series – which she had worked on perhaps more than any other series of hers. It was certainly her favorite project to work on.

Scrolling through a little more, she found the first story she wanted to move over. Starting from there, Amity flipped the book open, readied her pen, and started jotting down the manuscript one letter at a time.

The battery on the device was at one hundred percent when Amity had begun – and within minutes it dropped a percentage, draining from the stress of keeping the light on and scrolling down line by line. There were times she struggled to get a good glance at the words on her screen and times where she had made a typographical error and needed to figure out what she was trying to say in the first place: a typical problem when sometimes she used this device when barely awake. Still she dotted every I, crossed every T, left no stone unturned – and by the time she finished her first manuskript, her device’s battery sat at eighty-two percent battery and her wrist ached in at least eighty-two places. She had assumed her hands would be used to this kind of abuse, but handwriting was not quite the same as pushing buttons.

Onto the next story.

Part of the fun of rewriting was re-experiencing the stories she had made long ago. Some of the plot points made her chuckle, some made her smile, some made her screw up her face, but all of them brought her back to those times when her fellow men and women were still hopping from one spot to another – and wherever they stopped, Macy let her sit in her tent to type away at the MDA. Their current settlement didn’t give her the level of nostalgia she had for their old home, yet the act of simply copying her old documents over almost made her feel like those days were with her again. On this transitory day from childhood to adulthood, she had one last chance to be a kid again.

She wondered how she did it all. Without a real keyboard, touchscreen, or handwriting feature to speak of, Amity was limited to using the virtual keyboard – which she had to traverse with the handful of buttons beneath the screen. With the way she was writing then, she had no reason to complain about handwriting the bulk of her work onto paper.

Story done. Sixty-seven percent. Next one. This one was a lot scarier than the others.

“Isn’t that Miss Macy’s?”

Nearly jumping off the floor, Amity looked up to see Cynthia glowering down at her. The little girl’s angry, condescending scowl turned into a satisfied smirk, perhaps following the realization that she had caught her former partner in a vulnerable state.

For a moment all the color drained out of Amity’s face. She wanted to scream, yet doing so would have drawn more attention to the fact that she had blown Macy’s secret. It was only after remembering to breathe when her surprised expression turned to one of smug annoyance. “What does it matter to you?” she challenged. “She barely uses this thing anyway and she said I can use it if I feel like it.”

“Really?” asked Cynthia. “Well, what are you doing with it?”

As soon as the girl asked, Amity turned off the device’s screen. “Nothing you need to worry about. Just don’t tell anyone I was using this thing, okay?”

Cynthia gave a little shrug. “Well, alright,” she declared. Then, changing the subject, she continued. “Toni sent me here to let you know that the boys are here with our meal.”

At that, Amity almost wanted to roll her eyes. She spoke no words as she reactivated the MDA’s screen.

“Bailey is out there!”

Amity stopped, pulling her face away from the screen to see that Cynthia’s smirk was gone. “Are you really going to hold that over me?”

“Yes I am, because it’s true,” said Cynthia. “Come on; you’re already slacking and your future husband is out – ”

“First of all, I’m not slacking – I already finished weaving the cloth!” Amity interrupted, her face going red at the words future husband. “And second: I’m about done with this thing, anyway, so shut up.” As she spoke, Amity held down the power button until the screen went black. From there, she slipped it and her notebook under her sleeping bag before coming along with Cynthia to go outside.

And there she saw Bailey with a few other boys and their scout leader, handing out their usual soup-and-bread meal. Amity scratched her stomach like she was hungry – when in truth she was anything but.

“Oh, there you are,” said Toni with a sigh as the two girls returned. She eyed Cynthia. “I told you she was in the tent.”

Cynthia stuck her tongue out at the other student worker.

In the midst of their banter, Amity turned her head to where the boys were, watching as they continued handing portions out to the girls. Squinting ahead, it took her a moment to witness Bailey among the group; her heart skipped a beat. Absentminded to the conversation happening right next to her, she started walking toward the boys, readying herself to line up.

Practically inch-by-inch, the line shrunk. Amity, along with Macy’s two workers, were the last to get their meals before the boys were set to depart. Once Amity had her meal, she promptly stepped aside for the other two to get theirs – at which point she took a few steps further to Bailey.

The bread made a loud crunch when she stuffed it in her mouth – which was enough to get his attention. Her cheek filled with the stale sustenant substance, she dropped the rest of the bread in her vat of viscous miscellany before giving Bailey a quick, “Hey.” Her words were muffled as she struggled to speak around the bread.

“Hi,” he responded, looking over his shoulder, a little amused to see her behind him as he bent down to organize some cups that had already been returned. He opened his mouth to speak again, then paused as he looked up and down Amity’s frame.

No doubt he had taken notice of Amity’s new outfit: heavier and more similar to the brownish fittings that Macy often carried with her. Compared to the other girls in the area, she definitely stood out – so much that he obviously struggled to recognize her in the new getup.

“Oh – hi! It’s you.” He turned his own back to the rest of the scouts when he faced her. “You’re the one who –” He paused again, trying to correct himself mid-sentence. “– you’re Macy’s student who just turned fourteen, right? Amy?”

The remains of her bread slid down her esophagus. “It’s Amity,” she corrected, giving a nervous chuckle.

“Right – right.” The boy gave yet another pause. “Were you, um…wanting to help us pass stuff out to the rest of camp? Because we’re about to get moving after we eat here.”

It took Amity til just then to realize all the boys around her had settled down to eat their bread and soup while it was still warm – a surprise, as she thought they were rqeuired to at least get everyone else in camp some rations before taking some for themselves. She didn’t dare bring the point up as Bailey grabbed some for himself. With a shrug, she replied, “Sure. I’ve been thinking about the kind of work I’m going to be doing, anyway – now that I’m done here. Miss Macy always talks about being a mommy or some kind of babysitter.”

Her talking about being a mother almost made him cringe, but instead Bailey gave a nod. “Mister Theo might have something you can do,” he replied, then immediately regretted it. “Sorry – what kind of work did you have in mind?”

“Hmm… you pick,” she said. “I was really wanting to see if I could get a boy’s input!”

At that, Bailey rolled his eyes. “I know what you’re trying to do, Amity, but I really don’t have anything that I need help with.” He went back to his own small cup of soup.

A little taken aback by his rude reaction, Amity took a turn to pause. “I wasn’t really trying anything,” she corrected, fully aware that what she said wasn’t entirely true. “But c’mon – you really have nothing?”

It took him a moment to think on it. “How about this?” he began. “If you’re up to it, you can help me set up my tent when I have to do my move in a few months.”

Amity smiled and took a slurp of her meal. “Cool,” she said. “So, I’m sorry – I’ve just been bothering about work I can do; how’re you holding up now that you’ll be fourteen in a few months, too?”

Where part of Amity expected him to sigh upon being asked, Bailey seemed to perk up a little. “Just really tired, actually,” he responded. “Sam actually caught me sleeping by the fire earlier, but he knows Theo let me.”

“Did Theo actually let you?”

“Yes! Yes he did. And once I got up, I came over to the other guys so we could hand out rations today, so here we are. I kind of forgot today was your birthday, though – so happy birthday.”

She couldn’t help giggle a little. “Thanks.”

“So what does that mean about you?” asked Bailey. “Are you trying to find work because you’re not working for Macy anymore?”

The fact that he didn’t bring up the possibility of her taking Macy’s place made Amity want to heave a sigh of relief. “Yeah, I’ve gotta find work elsewhere. Maybe I’ll join some workers’ group if I’m that desperate. Hopefully I won’t get to that point.”

“You were one of Macy’s top workers, though,” he pointed out. “So you should be fine. Actually…what’s gonna happen to those newcomers now that you’re not there to help out?”

Amity was almost embarrassed that word about Esther and Mira had reached this boy’s ears. Even with that in mind, she knew it would have been rude to ignore the question. “Not much should really change there. Toni and Cynthia might struggle a bit since one of them has stitches that they need to look at, but Toni’s experienced enough that she shouldn’t have any trouble.” Part of her wanted to take those words back; Toni may have been experienced, but was she able to stitch such deep gashes by herself?

“Toni’s now the oldest, isn’t she?” Bailey took another slurp of his meal.

“Yeah, she is,” Amity replied. “May God be with her.”

“What do you mean?”

Amity huffed some of the hair out of her eyes. “It can just be stressful being the oldest after awhile. Everyone expects everything of you, a lot of the things you used to like doing get pushed to the side. Like I almost forgot about half the stories I made.” She flinched after saying that; that wasn’t meant to be said out loud.”

“Stories?”

“Um…yeah.” She started to blush. “Just, y’know – little things I write.”

Seeing as she averted his gaze, Bailey quickly realized she was getting uncomfortable for her. In an attempt to change the subject, he pointed to her cup. “Hey – you might want to finish that. We’re gonna need to move to the center of camp in a bit.”

Yanked away from the awkward derailment their conversation had taken, Amity’s face returned to its normal color. “Oh, right,” she said, looking down as the still-mostly-full cup stared her in the face. Though she was hardly hungry, she made an effort to chow through most of it in a few minutes’ time.

All along Bailey was silent, scooping up what remained in his cup. After the shared silence, deliberating each word, he started to speak again. “We could hang out after this,” he said. When Amity looked up from the cup, wiping some of the residue off her lip, he continued. “I kinda want to hang out now that we’ve talked a bit. Maybe I can take care of a few things.”

“Like getting to know me?” asked Amity with a slight smirk.

Bailey stammered. “Yeah…” Seeing the little amount of broth at the bottom of her cup, he asked. “Are you, uh…finished with that?”

She took a look down at what remained. “I guess so.”

“Cool,” said Bailey, giving a nervous, yet satisfied smile. “Just pour yours in my cup and I’ll take care of it.”

With barely a word, she did as he said.

Bailey issued a brief thanks before tipping the cup down his gullet.

Amity nearly choked on her tongue as he drank the broth. She almost wanted to close her eyes, but kept them open, wondering whether or not he would gag on the residue of their early lunch. When he finished, the biggest reaction she managed to see out of him was a light shudder.

For some reason she nearly found herself going just as hot as when he had asked about her stories. “Did you… like that?” she tittered.

“Not really,” he admitted. “But hey – thanks for letting me finish this, anyway.”

“Don’t mention it, I guess. I just hope you don’t have broth breath whenever we meet up later.”

From there, Amity went along with Bailey and the other boys as they made their way to the center of camp, carrying the vat of soup and a basket of bread along with them, taking extra care not to trip or drop anything – especially the large vat. Amity did not envy the task given to the two kids assigned to carry the large metal container around for the hot fluid.

By now the sun was barely visible, which made them all want to groan. Amity had hoped it wouldn’t rain again, but sure enough, a light drizzle had cast down on them by the time they set everything up near the fire in the middle of camp.

While the boys dispersed rations, Amity cleaned the used cups and silverware that Bailey was organizing earlier.

Once she had finished cleaning most of the dishes, Amity was told that she could go back to take care of whatever else she needed to do on her birthday.

“Oh yeah – where are you gonna be setting up your tent?” asked Bailey.

“I don’t really know yet,” Amity admitted. “It should be around the east near where I already was. Should be easier to spot when the cloth is brand new anyway.”

Bailey chewed his lip. “Well alright,” he said with a shrug. “But if I go into the wrong tent and I walk in on someone getting dressed, I’m gonna complain!”

That was enough to elicit a snort from Amity. “I’ll see you then!”

In her time with Bailey, the fledgling had almost completely forgotten about the MDA she had left under where she slept. Realizing this, she swore under her breath and made a run back to the tent.

Once there, out of breath, she witnessed someone almost stepping on her sleeping bag, their foot only narrowly avoiding the cushion. It took everything in her to keep from screaming, her heart pounding, leaping up to her throat in the heat of the moment.

Hoping not to cause any drama, Amity swept up her sleeping bag, taking the MDA, notebook, and pen underneath in one fell swoop, rolling it all up before heading outside without a word. Once outside, she ran into Cynthia and Toni.

“Hi again!” said Cynthia.

Seeing the way Toni smiled yet said nothing, Amity hesitated to ask if Cynthia had spoiled her secret about the MDA. Her brain stung with the thought that she might have done that – and the urge to smack the girl upside the head grew ever more overwhelming.

“Congratulations!” Cynthia said again. “We’re gonna miss you having you around, Amity!”

Whatever anger had built up in her throat over the last few seconds immediately went away. “O-oh!” she stammered. “Oh, thank y–!”

Cynthia and Toni cut her off as they pulled in for a group hug. While Toni smiled and showed as much support as she could, it was inherently obvious to Amity that this was Cynthia’s plan. Still, it was not unwelcome – even as she held the sleeping bag in one arm.

For the first time in what felt like years, Amity felt a sense of warmth among the girls, no longer seeing them as nuisances, but rather younger siblings she had grown up with. The fact that Cynthia and Toni had gone out of their way to congratulate her – in spite of the many times she had lashed out or insulted them – made her return a smile brighter than any they had seen from her in months. In a lot of ways, their simple gift made her feel bittersweet about the road ahead.

Her grip on the makeshift bed loosening, Amity froze when she heard a flurry of papers sputter beneath her. The two girls followed suit, stepping back to see what she had dropped. Toni bent down to examine the notebook and MDA while Cynthia grimaced, stepping back as if she anticipated shouting.

As always, Toni wavered her words. “Are these yours?” she wondered as she picked the three items off the ground.

Having held her breath for what felt like an entire minute, Amity huffed through her nostrils and nodded. “You’re not supposed to know about the MDA, and neither is anyone else, but yes.”

“She’s not using the MDA for anything bad!” Cynthia declared, hoping to cover up as much as she could. “I think.”

Amity’s eyebrow twitched as Cynthia spoke. As Toni helped gather the woman’s things, Amity attempted to explain herself. “I just have a lot of projects I need to copy to the notebook.”

“What kinds of projects?” wondered Toni.

Admittedly, Amity never suspected anyone would take interest, but so far both girls had expressed a desire to know more. Amity almost had to struggle not to show her agitation. “Well,” she began. “It’s a story I’m writing.”

“Oh – like a book?”

Amity nodded. “I figured I may as well do something I like with my literacy that doesn’t involve telling the difference between water and acid. And you know how bored and annoyed I’ve been with work lately.”

Toni clearly took amusement with Amity’s choice of words. “That’s one way of putting it.”

“So wait,” Cynthia cut in. “Are you trying to become the next Edgar Allen Poe? How long have you been writing, anyway?”

It had been so long, she needed to think about it. “Since I was eleven. I’ve made four different series of stories, as well as a few smaller ones in between. And I just finished copying one story from the MDA onto the noteobok.”

“What story?” Toni wondered, clearly getting excited. “What is it about?”

Amity cast a slightly concerned, yet contemplative glance at the oldest of Macy’s servants. “Let’s go sit by Macy’s tent and talk about it.” By now the rain had stopped, so she had no trouble setting herself along the grassy floor. Once settled, she sat straight up with the two girls on either side, flipping through to the first page of the piece she wanted.

“So I don’t have a final name yet cause I keep changing the title,” she confessed, “but this story is about badass aliens – called Kraykozen – who have to save the Earth, but they also need to do so while keeping everyone in the dark about the fact that they eat humans.”

Where a moment their wide eyes showed interest and enthusiasm in Amity’s hobby, the only emotion on display was shock and a little bit of disgust.

“What’s really cool is how the aliens eat. They don’t have necks, so what they have to do is spit out their stomach and then absorb their food with an acid – ”

Cynthia screamed. “What the hell?!” she said. “You went from nothing to insanity just like that – just what the hell?”

Rather than argue her case, Amity appeared almost bewildered by this reaction – to see that, just as well, Toni was too shocked to say much. “What’s wrong? Too outlandish?”

“Aliens that spit out their stomach? That’s disgusting,” Cynthia replied. “And you could have said it was supposed to be a scary story.”

Amity rolled her eyes. “Well, sorry! But I happen to think scary stuff is cool, for lack of a better word.”

“There’s nothing cool about the stomach thing,” Cynthia proclaimed. “It won’t work for whatever audience you’re going for.”

A flash of fury sparking in her eyes, Amity whipped to face Cynthia. “I write for myself, damn it!” she argued. “What, do you want me to make the aliens cutesy – turn them into cat people with giant ears and manga eyes – just so I can appeal to whatever bullshit audience you’ve got in mind?”

“Calm down!” Cynthia and Toni said in unison. The three of them went completely silent, holding their breaths, before letting out a unified sigh.

Cynthia thought for a moment before speaking up again. “Have you ever tried writing other scary things?”

“No; this is supposed to be like my premiere horror project.”

“Can we read it?” Toni piped up, leaning in to catch a better glimpse at the text.

A touch claustrophobic, Amity pulled the notebook closer to her chest. “Why?” she asked, then relaxed a little. “Well, I guess you’re less squeamish than she is.”

“Hey!” Cynthia shouted.

“I don’t mind.” Toni scooted in a little. “I promise I won’t criticize.”

“Well, alright.” With that, Amity cast a look at Cynthia, who puffed up her cheeks as if she couldn’t figure out what to say.

“Alright, I’ll keep my mouth shut!” she said, holding up a promissory outfacing palm as she spoke.

Amity nodded before gradually removing the booklet from her chest. “Well, alright; scoot in.”


“I think we got this stuff just in time,” Sam noted as he and Esther finished the last of their soup. “Sometimes it feels like the boys here barely have enough leftover once everyone gets their rations. Have you talked to any of the boys around here before, actually?”

“I haven’t,” Esther admitted. Unless a nonchalant thank-you-for-the-cup counted as conversation.

“You’ll probably get to later, then.” As they started on their way back from the central campfire, Sam continued talking about what they would do in regard to the passageway. “I swear – once I check in with some other guys, we’re going to talk to Persson about our plans to excavate, and we’re bringing you with us once we do.”

“What’s the plan after we excavate?”

“Well,” Sam began. “We’ll probably set some scouts there just to keep watch in case we need to, make sure they’re well-equipped, move some of the scouts’ tents closer to the passage entrance, and hopefully find an easier way to get there that doesn’t involve a raft.”

“That last one would help,” Esther quipped, eliciting a chuckle out of Sam. “And you’re going to do that tonight?”

“Whether the Director wants to or not, we’ll find a way to make him let us,” Sam assured.

It wasn’t long before they were at the medical area again. “Suddenly I’m wondering if Mira’s doing any better since yesterday,” Esther mused. “All we talked about earlier was Shafer suddenly showing up this morning.”

Her comment was immediately followed by the sound of screams and laughter from within the tent.

She and Sam exchanged a glance.


Amity cast her audience a sidelong smirk. The little amount of light shining upon her profile mixed gave her the edge she needed to tell her story as Cynthia and Toni stood behind her, practically gesturing at the audience when to react.

“They say they came from space,” she began, staring into the pages of her notebook. “And when they arrived, they came with one mission: to devour all humans! Eat everything and leave nothing behind!” The story had undergone some changes – at least for the time being.

How awful!” “That’s disgusting!” “Did they eat everyone?

“Nobody was spared,” she continued. Cynthia hid her mouth behind her hands at the same time a unified shiver crawled down the other girls’ spines. “The aliens traveled from one town to another, destroying every one that they came across. Entire cities crumbled in their wake – and while the Domain claims that they exterminated the aliens long ago, some say these space monsters live among the androids of the Domain to this day!”

You’re lying!” “No – I think she’s telling the truth.” “How can that be true?” “It makes too much sense!” One of those voices came from behind Amity.

“One may pop up anywhere you go, ready to snatch you when nobody else is looking. They might find you in the forest, they might find you in the outskirts – but their favorite place to gather is in the tunnels underground. If ever you hear the tick…tick…tick of their spindly-spidery footsteps, you’ll know they are nearby.

“And perhaps worst of all is the way they eat their prey.” Pulling one of the girls out from the crowd, she traced a hooked finger under her volunteer’s chin. “First they start at the throat – but if they can’t get that close, they’ll shoot their venom in your eyes!” She motioned to the girl’s bespectacled gaze, making her flinch as Amity near-poked her eyes out with her two fingers. “And after they’re done watching you roll around in pain, their cybernetic attachments start to generate a fire, preparing to cook you alive as you – !”

“What is going on in here?”

Everyone flinched when they heard Sam’s voice, turning around to see Esther and Sam approach – the former stepping forward to speak as the latter stood just outside the entrance.

Amity went silent for a moment, then gave them a grin: the exact opposite reaction Toni and Cynthia had expected. “Oh – hi Miss Esther, Mister Deputy! We were just talking about –”

“Talking about Amity’s new story!” Toni interrupted.

Cynthia added onto that: “It’s just a work of fiction. But Amity – Amity’s gonna be the next Edgar Allen Poe one day!”

“I never said that! You did!” Amity argued, hissing as she spoke. The top of her face went red and sweaty as if she didn’t want anyone knowing she was writing in the first place. Though judging by some of her audiences’ reactions, only half in attendance seemed to know who Cynthia was even talking about.

“Did Poe write about aliens who eat people?” Esther inclined, tilting her head as if she were legitimately curious.

“No he didn’t!” an older girl – about Toni’s age – shouted from the audience. “And there’s not any aliens out there either, Amity! You’re just trying to give the little ones nightmares.”

Amity did not let the others’ words have a visible effect on her. “No one is going to get nightmares from a silly story.” Cynthia and Toni exchanged an almost confused glance behind Amity’s back, but did not say anything.

By now, it was obvious that almost everyone’s gaze was locked on Amity for the exact wrong reason. The silence was the worst part, making her wish for the shocked gasps, yelps, and squeals she had managed to elicit a moment ago. Growing more nervous by the second, she inhaled, exhaled, then closed the booklet. “Y’know what? Forget this.” And without another word, she wrapped her things back up in the sleeping bag, keeping the MDA from view along with the now-buried notebook. “I’m not supposed to be here, anyway.”

Esther and Sam, stepping out along with her, could practically feel the steam rising off the girl’s face. “Hey – wait a minute,” Sam inclined, beckoning her over. “Don’t just walk out, Amity – come on.”

The girl struggled not to roll her eyes as she obeyed his command. “Yes, Sam?”

“Everything going alright?” he asked. “Did you get the tent finished, get all your other things done, said your goodbyes to Macy?”

“Yes, yes, and yes,” Amity assured. “I just need to put the tent up and then everything will be done.”

Ignoring the fact that her second yes was only mostly true, Sam asked again. “Are you sure it’s all okay?”

“I’m fine, Sam! I even got some plans with Bailey now thanks to you.” She gave the deputy a light smile. “But if you would please, I need to finish this one last thing and then I’ll be all good for the day!”

He gave Amity a cold stare that almost made her retract – then finally gave in with a slight shake of his head. “If you say so.” With that, he let the girl go.

After having held her tongue through most of that conflict, Esther spoke up again. “Could I go check up on Mira right now?” she asked. “You’re not going to need me until you do that excavation, anyway.”

Barely given a chance to reply, Sam was interrupted when Amity whipped around and cut in to their conversation. “What, is it time for you to kiss your girlfriend, already?!” she shouted.

Right as the left-field comment sprung from her lips, Amity noticed that some of the girls from a moment ago were now standing at the tent’s flap. As she witnessed their shocked, disturbed, and appalled reaction to what they had just heard, Amity swallowed hard. With a nervous twitch, she turned back around and fled to Macy’s tent to fetch the rest of her things.


Aw yeah, I got it done at the end of the month!

Discord is open, as always.

Infiltration Part1.7 – Monarchs

“What are you doing in here?!” Mira shouted.

Suddenly awoken from her spot beside the bed, Esther raised herself, only to bump her head on the bed’s ledge. The blow made her ears ring as she still struggled to assess what was going on.

Through it all, Shafer barely reacted as Esther rubbed the spot she had just hit. “I’m keeping watch,” he answered from where he sat, a hand at his side and legs crossed. “We still ain’t sure if you ladies are trustworthy yet, so I’ve gotta keep an eye out.”

Esther retracted her hand from her scalp, relieved to not see any liquid. In a less panicked state, she turned her head up to Shafer. “Wait – you were watching us sleep?”

Shafer nodded.

There would have been a lot more shouting, screaming, scratching, and biting at that point if the women in front of Shafer were not artificial. Instead the Autorian visitors sat in silence, sensing an immeasurable distance between themselves and their own invasive guardian despite him being practically within arms’ reach.

“Well,” Esther began, her voice monotone, yet firm. “We’re awake now and we’re not going back to sleep.”

“I can see that,” Shafer said, nodding again.

“Leave.” Mira spoke. Esther whipped her gaze around to see the still-disabled woman’s untwitching countenance hyperfocused on Shafer, her green stare completely still, refusing to ask again or even blink as every part of her screamed for the man to follow her command.

Shafer followed along. Mira continued to stare.

A smirk ran along his face as he gave in, picking himself off his seat. “If you insist, Missy – I’ll just be outside.” The man spoke not another word as he let them be, taking his chair with him and placing it just beyond the tent’s flap – which he proceeded to zip closed.

Only once Shafer left the room did Mira finally blink again. Following this retraction of her partner’s state of supposed fury, Esther asked, “Are you okay?”

Mira turned her head to Esther, avoiding eye contact and blinking rapidly almost as if she were fighting back tears. “I guess I’m okay,” she replied. “But what was that? He’s just allowed to come in whenever he wants?”

“Is that a surprise to you? It seems like that would be the case, since the people here are keeping us close under their watchful eye, anyway.” Esther paused. “And if you didn’t have to worry about your leg and this place had some kind of military district, I’d be surprised if we weren’t harbored in the military district instead of the medical tent.”

It was a good point, she knew. Her lips pursed, Mira beckoned Esther over; Esther obliged without a word.

“I already do not like that man,” Mira whispered. “After the threats he made on my part while he dragged me into camp, I’m hesitant to believe he would want anything more than to kill us while we sleep.”

In some ways, the idea that he would kill the two of them before they had a chance to meet with the Director seemed so silly an idea that Esther almost had to feign sarcasm. “Right – you said yesterday he threatened you, but – ”

“I alluded to it,” Mira corrected.

“Right,” Esther said again. “Let’s just wait for now, okay?” Her ear almost seemed to twitch at some noise from outside. “At least we know this: if he shoots a gun at us right now, the girls are going to hear and I don’t think he wants that kind of attention from children.”

Mira said nothing.

“MORNING!!”

Amity awoke with a start, the wind knocked out of her at the same time hear ears started ringing. In her panic, she lifted herself out of her lying position, looking here and there to find only Cynthia nearby – who stood by with a smile on her face.

Feeling as if the girl had just tied her stomach in literal knots, she resisted the urge to punch that smiling face. “What was that about?” she snapped, rubbing her belly when she noticed the large slab that Cynthia had anchored on top of her. On further inspection, this slab appeared to be some kind of book.

“Happy birthday, Amity!” said Cynthia. “Miss Macy said she wants to see you once you’re dressed – and she also wanted you to have this.”

Amity opened it up to find all the pages were completely blank. “It’s a…journal?” Suddenly she factored in the weight. “It’s really thick – damn!”

“I wouldn’t know anything about it; Macy just said you should have it. What would you need a journal for, anyway?”

Her thoughts still buried in sleep, it took Amity a moment to remember why she would need such a heavy collection of paper: something few people had in such quantities. Once she did remember, she still hesitated to reply. “I have my reasons.”

Because it was her birthday – specifically the day of her transition into adulthood – people would make a big deal whether Amity wanted them to or not. Suddenly she remembered that tent she still needed to finish sewing together, cursing at herself when she realized she could have done that the day before. If it wasn’t finished by the end of today, she was probably never going to forgive herself.

The materials that made up Amity’s project were placed in a stack in Macy’s tent. As luck would have it, she, Toni, and Cynthia needed to meet up with their mentor today – as with Amity’s graduation from the medical area, there followed a large sleuth of tasks that would be left unhandled unless the other two assistants agreed to pitch more of their time in.

Once they were properly dressed, the three of them left all the other girls to their devices and made it over to Macy – who proceeded to run them through their tasks for the week. After that, Macy opened the much-needed discussion of Amity’s approaching leave.

Perhaps disrespectfully, the first question raised was who would be replacing Amity, if anyone. Amity did not wish to offer any ideas for potential new pupils.

She was barely listening by the time she heard Cynthia blurt out one of the names she wanted to hear least. “What about Miss Esther for now?”

A bolt of electricity flashed through Amity’s blood. “We’re not doing that!” she argued, her unblinking eyes locked on the youngest girl’s. Toni and Macy seemed to disappear from the conversation entirely as the tent went almost completely silent, save for the electronic hum of the MDA station. “You’re not going to force me to be her mentor.”

Just as quickly as she had vanished, Macy returned. “Oh, don’t make any assumptions about that,” she said, waving her hand. “I will be the one who teaches that woman, if things were to come to that.” She paused. “Did you truly think you would replace my position by the end of the day?”

“Well, no,” Amity replied, then cast another annoyed glance at Cynthia – who sat back without further argument.

Again the tent went silent, Macy keeping an eye on the now-adult Amity. The girl had certainly blossomed in the time she had spent as one of Macy’s assistants, sticking through wherever their camp’s Director decided to carry them all next. And now, just as they had reached their supposed final destination, Amity needed to make her own move into adulthood. It was not a position that most specialists often found themselves in.

An empathetic hesitance to her countenance, Macy stepped up to the young woman. “You aren’t feeling too troubled about all this, are you, dear?” asked Macy. “I know this must be a dizzying day for you, Miss Amity – lots on your mind?”

Caught slightly by surprise, Amity tilted her nose in the air to meet the older woman’s gaze. “Not really,” she lied, eyes locked with Macy’s. “Just a few things I want to talk about once we’re alone.” She resisted the urge to eyeball the other two in the tent as her mentor seemed to draw closer. She could sense the other two peering at her, knowing there was much more locked behind those tight lips; Amity resisted the urge to look back as Macy took a step back herself.

Macy, Cynthia, and Toni continued discussing task reassignment, with Amity only piping in when directly called upon. More than anything, Amity hoped her departure would be the kick in the pants Toni – now to be the oldest – needed to finally start taking initiative and acting more assertive with all the other kids. It had certainly helped Amity’s growth when Zoe – the oldest before her – made her departure almost three years ago.

Thinking about Zoe made Amity sigh; that woman hadn’t been seen by anyone since the split just a year after her adult life began. Perhaps if this settlement in Kortrick truly was to become the next big place that some were hoping for it to become, then she and Zoe might meet again – but so far their wandering tribe had had no such luck with any other location, giving Amity little hope that it would happen this time, despite whatever Sam or her uncle told her.

As promised, Amity stayed behind once the other two girls had left, now standing to Macy’s eye-level. It had been a few days since she and Macy were the only ones in the same room, completely sealed off from the rest of the world for just a bit. Even her Uncle Shafer was hardly around to provide such luxuries.

Rather than have Amity speak immediately, Macy started with a question of her own. “I’m surprised; did you leave that journal in your bed?”

“Yeah,” Amity replied. “Cynthia just gave it to me without really explaining what it was for. Was there something you were wanting to tell me?”

Macy chuckled as if she expected the woman to know – and, in all honesty, she did know, but needed validation. “It’s about all the things you’ve written on the MDA I’ve been lending you,” Macy clarified, lowering her voice on the last few words. “You still haven’t let anyone else know about that, have you?”

The fledgling woman shook her head. “No, nobody’s caught me using it.”

With a smile, Macy turned around to the docking station and pulled one of the devices out: a slab covered in tired gray-blue plastic. The nubs on the buttons had worn out over time due to excessive use on Amity’s part.

“Well, this week will need to be the last time you use it,” said Macy as she handed the MDA over. “That is why I gave you the booklet; it was the biggest one I could find and it has more clean paper than I have seen in anyone’s possession – not since Director Persson’s predecessor.”

While part of her wondered where Macy would have found such a voluminous collection of what was considered a somewhat rare material beyond the Domain’s borders, she sought not to question it.

“I also have a pen here you can use to copy all the things you wrote down on the device – just in case you lose or break your own. But once the week is over and you have fully moved out, I will need the MDA back.”

Only a week? In that time, Amity would be lucky if she hadn’t developed carpal tunnel from all the text she had to copy over. Would she even be able to keep the text legible?

On top of that, she still needed to finish the tent. That would most certainly need to come first – especially when she was so close to finishing it as it was. Once finished, she would probably place it somewhere at the northeastern side of camp, albeit this was a little close to the ruins for her liking. Thinking about ruins made her wonder why she needed to make the tent when the possibility of living in stable architecture was well within their reach.

Despite all the thoughts swimming in her head, Amity nodded her understanding to Macy. “I’ll get it all done,” she said. “But if I get wrist cramps, it’s your fault.”

Macy couldn’t help chuckling at that last remark. “Very well, then. If you’re going to be busy, I’ll go take care of the other girls.” As she retreated to the opening flap of her tent, she uttered a few last words: “Good luck, Miss Amity.”

A light breeze blew in as her former mentor stepped out.

In the time it took for her to remember what she was doing, Amity had nearly dropped the MDA in her hand. She swore at herself and proceeded to turn it on, flipping the switch as the non-lit screen came to life. Once about a minute had passed, she traversed through the system menu and read the notifier beneath all the text files:

File Storage: 129kb / 2048kb.

All of that was text. Basic text, no properties or metadata. No special formatting outside of the manually-inserted characters. Her head started to hurt when she realized how many words that amount of data actually took up. Her wrist started to hurt just as much.

So long as Shafer kept his promise to stay out of the passage for the time being, Sam could breathe easy for the day.

“They weren’t too happy, but what’re you gonna do?” Shafer said upon his arrival. “I’m just happy they didn’t smack me.”

Sam, meanwhile, had half a mind to ask the scouts’ leader about the message he had found – but seeing the man here now, all Sam could muster was a barely-related question: “Did Macy get you the MDA back?”

“That she did,” said Shafer, nodding. “Thanks again for sending the message out.”

His brain itched with the desire to ask, but still nothing else came out, providing an awkward silence between the two men. With few words beyond that, Sam left the scout leader to watch over his boys.

Perhaps the Director would know something about those highwaymen – or anything contained within Shafer’s message. Sam only hoped the Director wouldn’t tell Shafer that he was snooping through the MDA.

The last time he and Persson had met up, the Director expressed a need to see both of the newcomers at the same time on that very day, only to be more than slightly disappointed when nobody was willing to bring Mira over in her condition. It would have been a simple procedure, according to the Director, but apparently it was not simple enough to warrant anyone’s support.

A plate of half-finished breadcrumbs and jelly decorated Director Persson’s desk as Sam walked in, himself standing tall and clad in a tightly-knit outfit compared to the loose shawls around the Director’s limbs and torso. Sam almost questioned if Persson was even ready for their meeting before the commander in question beckoned him in. The desk smelled as if Persson had spent the night on top of it – which Sam told himself was impossible; the Director wouldn’t succumb to using strewn-about papers as a mattress!

Before Sam, the slouching man urged both of them to sit down, his nimbly body barely taller than Sam’s. Scratching a beard that made his chin appear almost three times larger than it actually was, the Director sat at an unusually-tall seat behind his desk, viewing his right-hand man from an egoistic vantage point above the mess as Sam took his seat at the chair in front.

“So, then!” the Director began, noticeably jittery where he sat. “Sam, my boy – have you seen the two new women at all this morning?”

“Not yet, no,” the deputy confessed. “Last time I saw them was last night – and that was just so I could get to know them. Shafer was looking after them for Macy this morning, but now they’re awake and he’s back with the scouts out east.”

At that, the Director drummed his fingers on his chair’s one arm. He didn’t seem to be listening to anything beyond the first handful of words. “And is there some fear that maybe you will catch Miss Esther’s cold?” he asked. “I don’t think Rand has caught anything from her, so what fear does a deputy have?”

Despite the many multiple reasons Sam could argue that his status in camp did not have an effect on his immunity to disease, he let that point roll off his shoulder much like the Director had just done with his explanation. “Well, I can’t imagine they’re too happy right now,” he tried explaining. “Most women would probably kill a man if they caught him watching them sleep. Shafer told me he managed to do his job without a scratch, but they can’t be in any mood to talk after that.”

“I hear they’re in that mood right now!” the Director argued. He gave Sam that condescending smile: the same one he cast down whenever he referred to Sam as a boy, despite the mere seven years between the two of them. It was that same look which suggested the Director was transmitting an unheard message to the person in his line of sight – and if that message was not properly deciphered within the next hour, the position of deputy was about to become that much less desirable.

Sam took a moment to respond with a silent message of his own, gaze unblinking and lips forming a straight line as if he were a wildcat stalking a rabbit. For a moment he almost felt as if he might actually pounce, but returned to reality when he blinked again.

The Director was no stranger to compromises – and, feeling the need to push his luck, Sam made an offer. “How about I just bring Esther?” he finally said. “Mira is in much too poor a condition after that accident she had with my trap, but Esther hardly seemed sick at all yesterday and I’ve already told them you wanted to see them soon.”

“No Mira?” the Director prodded. “I’d think someone with a lucky name like Mira would keep away from traps – but I suppose if the woman is hurting, then far be it from me to put her through more pain by walking her over!” With that, he lowered his seat a little, slightly reducing the strain on Sam’s neck. “Go bring Esther, then; I don’t believe I’ll be busy by the time you return.”

“Wait – there’s one other thing,” Sam ejaculated, then paused as if realizing he had just spoken out of turn.

Caught a little off-guard, the Director paused, sitting back in his chair. “And what would that one other thing be?”

Still Sam hesitated. “It’s about a message I found on Shafer’s MDA.”

“Still snooping through people’s devices?” Persson couldn’t help sneering. “Go on.”

The man gave a deep breath before explaining everything from Rouken to the highwaymen. “He told me Rouken might be coming back soon, so that’s why I went through the MDA. But now that I’ve read this stuff about highwaymen and how Shafer was apparently planning on going through the passageway before I told him not to do that yet, I feel like there’s something I’m not being told.”

Another smile crossed the Director’s face – this one much less condescending than the last, yet still enough to slightly bother Sam. “That’s because there is,” the Director confessed, lowering himself again. “Sorry if it disappoints you, but yes – Rouken likely will be coming back soon. By that point, you will hear everything you need to about those highwaymen from his mouth. He will know more than I.”

Sam may as well have not asked the question at all. With nothing left to say, he nodded. After further discussion on the general state of the camp, Sam left the Director to his work – whatever work that was. The deputy rubbed his forehead as he stepped out.

Looking around him, this camp of theirs felt like a miracle. The fact that they had found the ruins of a once-prosperous town and were now on their way to rebuilding it was nothing short of a work of God. Yet with these successes, the Director sought little more than to continually expand upon every single opportunity thrown at him – not for the betterment of the camp, but for the change to achieve further recognition or further pleasure. Perhaps it was his childhood upbringing in the Domain which had planted this greedy seed in his belly – a seed that had sprouted into a parasitic beanstalk that now drove his actions. It would explain the erratic thought patterns.

Compared to the Director, who was Sam Jacquard? The camp’s second-best: a worn-out, yet still shining figure who overachieved for the good of his people – in the hope that they would all one day live a life without the Domain’s fingers digging into every wild orifice it could find. The Domain served to spread its genes through what remained of the United States until everything was just as homogenized and inbred as artificially possible – and hearing the way Persson talked about the newcomers and thinking about how little he had helped since everyone had moved to Kortrick, Sam couldn’t help drawing parallels.

As he walked, Sam shook his head. He couldn’t go to Esther with these thoughts in mind.


Discord is open for all!

Infiltration Part1.6 – Unfortunate Origins

With the evening closing in, it was time to pick up some rations. A few of Macy’s kids – including her apprentices – lined up to take bits of what the men had gathered through the course of the day. All they had for now was stale bread and rabbit soup; if one was lucky, they might actually find a chunk of rabbit swimming around all the little vegetables.

Being such a new settlement, their camp still had a long way to go before any crops they had planted would become viable – especially when winter was set to come within a few months. The scavenging they did now was the best they could do; Macy could only bite her tongue for the children who whined about wanting more food – especially those among them who were going through growth spurts. The girls liked to claim that the boys probably snuck food out for themselves while hunting. Nobody ever challenged such claims – but at the same time, almost no one took such claims seriously; the boys sure didn’t, at least.

Along with some other girls, Amity, a small crate in her hands, was tasked with bringing eight cans of the soup and some bread slices back to the other girls. Of all people, she was also assigned to give one of the cans to the new visitors. This insistence that she be the one to carry out such a task led her to believe that Macy was either testing her patience or had come to despise her in her late adolescence.

Stuck in line, Amity took a moment to look around. Bailey wasn’t here. That boy was usually standing around and handing out rations along with some of the others, but today she couldn’t see him anywhere. For a moment she thought – she hoped – it was just the lighting that was making it difficult to see where he was, but once close enough to the front of the line, it became clear that he was not there. Amity huffed the bangs out of her face He must have been on guard duty or something of the like.

With an annoyed twinge, Amity took the rations she needed and headed back to her home district, not waiting for anyone else to catch up. All those who hadn’t come along to pick up rations were left unsupervised for the past ten minutes – so in a way, her being the first to return was not exactly something she took pride in; it just meant she was the first to have grabby hands going for the cans and bread when she came over. On top of that was the fact that she needed to still reserve one of the cans for the two women.

Once there, she made sure to deliberate on who received which can. As per usual, it took a minute to get everyone to stay still – but once they all did, the process of passing the rations around became that much easier. Things improved drastically once the others from the rations area arrived.

Taking a deep breath, Amity took the last can and bread slice over to the visitors’ tent. Half-expecting to see them gone, she was almost disappointed to find that they had not run away.

“Hi,” she began. “It’s dinner time, so the girls and I got you both some soup and bread to share.”

Mira gave a quizzical tilt of her head. “I guess that would explain why all the noise stopped.”

“Oh, God – ” Amity began, suddenly in a panic. “None of the girls came in here, did they?”

A little bewildered by her sudden change in tone, the visitors assured Amity that nothing of the sort had happened. “Okay – good,” she said with a sigh. “Anyway – I’ve got it right here. You’re going to have to share it and I’ve only got one spoon.” Right after saying that, she remembered Esther’s cold and hoped it had gone away or Mira was immune enough to not catch it from using the same silverware.

Amity almost wanted to tell the women to enjoy, but instead proceeded to leave the room without a word.

It was almost immediately after stepping beyond the bound of the tent when Amity froze, nearly bumping into a man she had expected to meet with soon, but not right this moment.

“Mister Deputy!” she said with a stutter. “Or, sorry – Sam! Sorry; I was just taking care of the newcomers – ”

Catching her as she was about to trail off, the man gave her a warm smile. “Don’t worry; I was actually just about to talk to them!”

Stepping away from the light of the setting sun, Amity got a better look at her deputy: a man who had stepped into his position within the last year, with this move into Kortrik being his biggest undertaking yet. Comparing his workload of the last two weeks to her own, Amity half-assumed his blonde hair would have either receded or grayed out by now.

She was stalling. “Sorry, I’ll just get out of the way.” Not wanting to draw his attention away from the task at hand, she proceeded to return her now-empty box over to the girls’ tent – and was caught by the elbow.

“Now wait a minute,” he said, pulling her back. “Before you go: I heard tomorrow is the big day – is that right?”

A little shocked to be pulled back like that, Amity slowly turned on her heel. “Well, yes – yes it is, if you’re talking about my birthday.”

“Right, right,” Sam confirmed. “So how’re you with the adult plans? Macy told me you were looking for someone to get together with.”

The fact that Macy had told anyone about that made her go a little more red than she cared to admit. “Well,” she began. “I already have a good idea who I want, but he’s…clueless.”

“I guess it should be him to ask first,” Sam acknowledged. “But if he’s clueless, what do you do?” He gave a rhetorical pause and she shrugged, eyes directed at her feet. “Well, who is it? Maybe I can make him less clueless.”

His offer made Amity’s ears grow hot. She almost started to wish she had never said anything to the deputy at all – but now that she was here, there wasn’t much she could do. Just to be safe, she took a look around them, over her shoulders and behind Sam, making sure none of the girls were listening in, when she leaned in. “It’s Bailey.”

Not surprised, Sam nodded. “He’s a bit busy with his own work under Theo these days, but yeah – I think you two could have some good chemistry!” He tapped his foot in contemplation. “I’ll tell you what: if I see him at any point today, I’ll nudge him your way.”

The mild burning on Amity’s ears grew to a searing degree. She started to stammer. “Okay—!” she said, trying to smile. “Thanks, Sam!” Thinking about these new adult priorities, she suddenly remembered that tent she still needed to finish. “Right – okay, I’m gonna get back to work. Nice talking to you!”

From inside the tent just by Sam, the gynoids were perhaps more clueless than the boy Amity and Sam were just talking about, completely oblivious to their discussion. Rather than poke their noses where they weren’t welcome, they took their one spoon and went back and forth, handing the silverware over to the other when one of them took a mouthful of the soup for themselves.

Both gynoids sat on the floor – Mira tiring of the bed provided for her, but still bringing the blankets to cover her lower appendages – and slowly processed what they were taking in.

Whatever the luocans used for medicine probably had a better taste than this concoction they were meant to call their dinner, but they didn’t complain. It wasn’t like they had anything to compare it to. “I know some people enjoy this,” Esther began. “But are you enjoying this?”

Mira hesitated, swallowing a spoonful. Her tongue was left with a minor tang that the Domain’s supplements could never provide, but there was nothing here that could outright intrigue or captivate her. “No.”

“I think they’ll want the spoon and can back by the time we are done.”

“I’m not surprised,” Mira replied. “Do they clean the cans, too, or should we do that?”

“I don’t know.”

Esther took another mouthful of their dinner before Sam walked in completely unannounced, the open flap practically inviting him inside. Esther and Mira turned their gazes toward the deputy with an air of unfamiliarity, noticing how he stood shorter than Macy and had a necklace chain around his neck, but the pendant on the end was hidden behind his shirt. All this coincided with a young, yet firm countenance that demanded the newcomers’ attention.

When he spoke, his voice did not boom, but almost seemed to croak as if he were trying to make up for a lack of bass in his diaphragm. “Are you the two new people I’ve heard about?”

Swallowing, Esther nodded as Mira confirmed that they indeed were who he thought they were.

“Good!” he replied, eyeing Esther. “So you must be Esther – and you’re Mira.”

Seeing the bandages along Mira’s leg, Sam almost couldn’t help grimacing, but he continued. “My name is Sam and I’m the deputy around here under Director Persson.” Turning to face Mira, he cast a guilty look. “I should probably apologize to you, Mira – since I’m one of the guys who set up the trap you got caught in. You’re not hurting too bad though, are you?”

Feeling like she had answered this question ten times today already, she shook her head.

“Great. And I guess now that we’ve gotten that out of the way: some basic questions. I guess first, just to start, I’ve heard a few people refer to the two of you as partners; what exactly do you both mean by that?” As he spoke, he turned his head toward Esther as if she were the only one who could answer the question.

A little confused on his motivation for asking, Esther answered accordingly. “We are partners in the sense that we were sent outside the border of one of the Domain’s cities, set to be partners out in the wilderness now that we were abandoned among the Disconnect. Then we both got in a chase with those two men on the buggy and here we are now.”

Sam immediately lit up when the Domain was mentioned. “Oh!” he stated, “Well, to follow up on that: both of you are Autorian?”

Mira could only purse her lips in agonizing silence as her partner acknowledged and confirmed this information.

“I see.” The deputy paused, clearly contemplating his next words before they passed his lips. “Well, I want you both to know that having two people like you come into camp is not unprecedented, as a lot of people around here either used to be Autorian or have family who was or still is Autorian. Among those people, some of them were kicked out of the Domain, but it’s more likely that left of their own volition.”

Even with that said, the man felt the need to sigh, preparing to set a heavy burden on the two women. “But now that we know for sure that you’re both Autorian, we’re likely going to keep you here in the medicine and education district for a bit longer under Macy’s watchful eye. We’re also gonna have some guys watch over you for the time being. This is just to make sure we can trust you.”

At this point, Sam normally would have expected some form of protest, but the women did no such thing. Were it not for the talk they had with Amity after the girl had patched up Mira’s leg, they might have inquired further as to what Sam really meant by keeping them in this district.

“I hope that all makes sense and I hope you all understand,” said Sam, to which he received a unified nod from the ladies. “Great. I’m gonna have to come back to bring you each to the Director when he has time.”

For a moment the man paused as if there was something he had forgotten. “I also remember hearing something about a passageway that one of you found? Something just east of camp?”

“That was me,” Esther claimed. From there, she explained to him everything that she had told Mira about the passage – from the robot to the generator to the fact that a suspicious number of lights were still activated. The only thing she didn’t mention was the data she had retrieved from the robot – as fragmented and incomplete as it was.

By the time she finished speaking, Sam stood by in silence, looking off in the distance, once again caught in a veil of contemplation. “And how deep do you think this thing goes? Was there an elevator or anything that you found like that?”

Esther didn’t remember seeing an elevator, but she wouldn’t have completely ruled that out. Still she answered honestly. “Not that I remember. But there was so much that I would be surprised if there wasn’t one somewhere.” The fact that the sednium power generator had vents that led elsewhere was enough to prove to her that this place was more complex than one or two levels.

Still looking away, Sam nodded. “Okay. I’ll tell Shafer about this.” As he spoke, he started to turn away. “Thanks for the info, Esther. And you, Mira – take it easy on that leg, okay? Until then, stay out of trouble. Was nice meeting you both!”

The women said their goodbyes, almost all tension from Esther’s claims disappearing along with him. All at once, the stress that came with listening to her partner talk about their Autorian background seemed to dissipate.

Mira shook her head. “You are so lucky.”

Dawn’s rays had just barely started shimmering through the translucent fabric that shielded him from the elements. Earlier to rise than most, Sam made his way out, leaving the camp’s capital district without a word to anyone – not even his commanding Director.

Wary of the passage Esther had told him about the day before, Sam wrote a message on his MDA to be sent to Shafer’s device. At this point the device was over by the station at Macy’s tent; hopefully by now Shafer had received Sam’s message.

This deputy position of his wasn’t as cumbersome as he had first anticipated. Part of it was guard duty and part of it was supervision where Director Persson could not take care of that task himself, but otherwise his job required very little of him – at least very little that he didn’t want to do. So far the only source of aggravation had been the Director. Perhaps he should have expected that, though.

Along his morning walk, he stopped by the bonfire near the middle of camp, not expecting anyone, but surprised to find one of the guard boys sitting by, completely unarmed and nearly nodding away. Sam made hardly a sound as he took a seat, himself, enjoying his chance to take in some warmth before heading out to the rest of the camp. Looking to his right, he noticed two deer over the nearby hill, startled and making an immediate dash into the forest the moment he glanced at them.

He himself was nearly startled when the boy at the fire mumbled something. “Deputy Sam..?” he asked through a yawn. “What are – what time is it?”

Sam couldn’t help chuckling. “Dawn time.” He took another look at the boy. “Oh, Bailey – what’re you doing here and not in your tent?”

Straightening himself into a more proper sitting position, Bailey – hardly a month away from fourteen years of age – split his jaws in another yawn, clearly struggling not to fall asleep again. “Just wanted to get a bit warm after my work tonight. And if it’s only dawn, it can’t’ve been that long since I got here.”

The boy’s deputy almost reached into the pocket in his jacket, only to remember his Mobile Documenting Agent wasn’t there to show him the exact time. “Well, as long as it’s alright with Theo, I’ll let you be.”

With that, Bailey unstraightened. “Thanks, Sam. What’re you up to right now, anyway?”

“Just the morning walk,” he replied with a shrug. “I guess you could say I came for warmth, too, but I think I’ve had enough for now.” Picking himself off the ground, Sam brushed some of the dirt off his pants. He then almost immediately sat back down, remembering a promise he had made to a girl just the day before.

“Actually – I’m wanting to know: have you made any plans for your upcoming adult life?”

A little surprised to hear the deputy asking such a question and slightly annoyed that he had to answer when his mind was still so fuzzy, Bailey almost hesitated to reply. “I have some thoughts,” he answered. “There’s nothing serious yet, since – since all I want to do is just hunt and guard things for the rest of my life.” He gave a shrug. “It might sound boring, but that’s what I wanna do and I’m already doing it.”

“I suppose that is fair,” Sam acknowledged. “But what about your family – the one you haven’t started yet?”

If Bailey were drinking something at that moment, he might have choked and coughed up whatever he had in his cup. “I,” he stammered, “I don’t know about that yet.”

“You haven’t thought about any of the girls lately?” Sam prodded, almost teasing. “You know, Amity Shafer turns fourteen today. She’s available and she’s skilled – been helping Macy since she was seven!”

Bailey pondered it for a moment. “I still don’t know about that,” he confessed. “I don’t talk to her much.”

“Then start talking to her! You already know where she lives, anyway.” At this point, the deputy almost seemed to go into a full-on uncle mode, filling the role that Bailey’s father could never fill himself.

For a moment, the only noise between Sam and Bailey was the occasional sizzling pop and crackle from the fire in front of them. It took longer than Sam kept track of for him to hear a heavy huff from Bailey.

“I’ll think about it.”

It wasn’t a confirmation, but it was at least something. Once again Sam picked himself up and cast a smile on the boy. “There you go! Just be patient with these things, alright? Anyway – let me know how things go if you ever decide to try it out with a lady around her; I’ve gotta get going.” With that small goodbye, Sam continued on his walk.

Of every tent he passed by, only one of them indicated consciousness – and that might have only been because somebody was talking in their sleep. He waved to the occasional guard he passed by, but otherwise the entire trek through was quiet, umbrageous – no words spoken other than the voices bouncing in his own head.

If he was correct, Shafer and the handful of scouts he supervised would be looking through the outskirts just east of camp – through what remained of Kortrik. The information Sam had received in regard to the passage was of great concern – hence he did not want anyone going down there just yet, no matter how much they thought they knew of the place. Hopefully this time they would listen.

But before he went to the outskirts, Sam needed to pay a visit to Macy’s tent. By now the woman was likely sewing up some of the children’s damaged clothes.

Beyond the medical and girls’ large tent, he made it over to Macy’s little shelter. Her silhouette perched atop the silhouette of a chair indicated to him that she was more than willing to have him come in. With that, he shook one of the tent poles before unzipped the front flap and stepping inside.

From the other side, the old woman cast a smile. “Well, hello Mister Deputy!” she said with a chuckle. “I take it you’ve come for the MDA?”

He let out a chuckle, himself. “You know it.” As he stood by, he glanced down at the pair of pants Macy held in her lap, its cotton well past its prime, with some holes puncturing through one of the legs. Near the legs, he noticed a disturbing amount of blood – as well as some patches Macy had tried sewing, though they did little to hide the bloodied clothing.

“I see you’ve taken an interest in Mira’s new-and-improved pants,” said Macy, an air of regret falling flat in her voice. “The girls really tried earlier to get these blood stains out, but it don’t look like they’re coming out now.”

“Oh,” Sam replied. “I guess if she doesn’t have any pants, that would explain why she covered herself in a blanket when I saw her.”

“Mm-hm!” Macy replied. “She and Esther are a bit weird, but it’s nothing to fret over – though Mira sure is an aloof one. Sort of reminds me of a man I used to know.” She held he gaze on Sam.

A little discomforted, Sam returned her gaze with a confused leer. “What – you mean me?”

Macy halfway rolled her eyes. “No, Sam; I said another man. Silly boy.”

Had he not known this woman all his life, he might have taken that as insult. “Cute,” he replied. “But anyway – I’ll just be taking the MDA if you’ve got it all charged up and ready.”

“Sure,” said Macy.

Without another word, Sam reached for the station where all the MDAs were stored – all twelve of them. It was the camp’s only means of communicating wirelessly with others – and the only way to do so without potential Autorian interference. Sam did find it odd that Macy was the one in charge of this tower, but that was likely not to last, as there were others who worked on the station more often than Macy did – where she was a mere host of its current dwelling.

Opening the flap at the front of the device, Sam booted the MDA on.

“By the way – when you see Shafer, could you tell him to come over when he’s done with the scouts? I need someone to watch the ladies in their tent.”

A little taken aback, Sam, eyes glued to his still-booting device, hesitated. “Watch them in their tent? Like, he’ll be watching them sleep?”

It sounded a little strange when said out loud, but Macy confirmed this. “Yes – just so we can be safe.”

He cast a look toward Macy and blinked, then shook his head and gave an amused roll of his eyes. “Well, alright then! I’ll tell him when I get there.” As he spoke those last few words, his device finally loaded beyond the boot screen.

It took a moment for him to load his messages – only to find that he had received new data from Director Persson (as to be expected) and a few others, but nothing from Shafer. Looking down the list, he didn’t receive confirmation that Shafer had even read his last message.

“Hey,” he began. “When was the last time you saw Shafer around here, anyway?”

“Oh – he’s been in the fields all night,” Macy replied, then hesitated to speak further. “I actually haven’t seen him since he first talked to the ladies.”

Sam blinked again. “Oh – oh God.” The last message he has sent was in regard to the passage. If Shafer hadn’t received the message, then – “I’ve gotta go.” In a hurry, he left the scene.

At this hour, most of Shafer’s scouts were probably still waking up. So long as Shafer wasn’t in a hurry to get things moving, Sam could stop the scouts from going down to the passage yet. The fact that Shafer wasn’t able to answer the message gave Sam more anxiety than he cared to admit. Returned message or no, he was not going to be responsible for their own men getting lost in the passage.

Going up over the hill and around the river, Sam peered here and there, trying to find any tents that the scouts had set up. It took a few minutes of running around for him to find them – and to find, to his relief, that a handful of people were awake, including Shafer.

The deputy gave a deep sigh as he made his way over. Not wanting to waste any time, he shouted for the man’s attention. “Is anyone down in the passageways?”

“The passageways?” asked Shafer. “You’re talking about the one those two women went down, right?”

By the time Sam could reply, they were already close enough that they no longer needed to shout. “Yeah – those.”

“No, sir,” replied the scout leader. “We’re thinking of doing it today, but we don’t have to.”

“Don’t,” Sam insisted. “I tried getting a message to you yesterday, but after talking to those ladies, I think it’s best that we all make some plans before we go down. There’s some things they told me about that they found down there which are really strange – stuff that I wouldn’t suspect would be there if the place has really been untouched for as long as you’d think it’s been.”

There was a flash of disappointment on Shafer’s face, but he did not protest. “Whatever you say, mister Deputy.” The last two words came out almost condescending. Shafer was fortunate that he had held his position as the scouting head for a longer time than even the Director had held a position in power; Sam’s predecessor wouldn’t have taken kindly to being talked to in such a way.

Shrugging Shafer’s mild sarcasm away, Sam attempted to back up his position. “Once the ladies wake up, I’m fixing to take Esther to Persson so we can get a few things settled, maybe even make plans for what to do when we get down there.”

“You should probably bring her into the passage at some point,” Shafer added. “Ask her about that place she went in. See that she didn’t uncover anything that might be a detriment to us. Maybe ask what the hell she found in that room in the first place.”

“That’s not a bad idea at all,” Sam admitted. “If we’re going to put this outsider to good use, may as well take the opportunity before she starts demanding more recognition or some form of compensation from the Director.”

Now awash with relief, Sam, now smiling, let out an elated sigh. “If we can get back to business, though: is there anything else you’ve found since yesterday’s storm? Nobody else wandering outside?”

“Nope – got no one out there. Just those two ladies and that was it.”

“I see,” Sam returned. “So now that you and the scouts aren’t going to be headed to that passage, are there any top-priority tasks for you to handle today?”

“Top-priority? Not really.” he shook his head. “Why’s that?”

“Macy has another task for you.” Half-expecting a groan on Shafer’s part, Sam paused after speaking, then continued when he received no such reaction. “She wants you to go into the ladies’ tent and watch them. Not just sit outside the tent, but actually watch them inside.”

Raising an eyebrow, Shafer hesitated to reply. “She wants me to watch two women while they’re sleeping.”

Sam pursed his lips. “Yeah.”

Hardy able to contain himself, the scout head cracked a smile. “Good thing I’m not a pervert. Sure – I guess I’ll do it. I take it that means you’ll be looking after the scouts once they wake up?”

“That’s the idea,” Sam admitted. “So I’ll come back in about two hours?”

“Sounds like a plan to me.” Shafer nearly let the deputy go before he realized one more thing: “Oh, but before I forget!” he exclaimed, startling Sam as he took a device out of his pocket. He took a moment to flip the lid open and dial through, making sure what he had there was in order. With a nod, he closed the lid and handed the device to Sam. “If you could, I have a message that needs delivering.”

Back to Macy’s area for Sam, it seemed. “Is it another thing for the sujourne?”

“Yeah,” he admitted. “We might be getting Rouken here soon.”

With that in mind, Sam almost felt the need to treat the device with more care than he otherwise normally would have. Slipping it into the inner pocket of his jacket, he acknowledged Shafer’s concerns. “I’ll make sure it gets there.”

With that, Sam wrapped up their meeting, taking a quick look through the messages in Shafer’s MDA once the man was out of eyeshot. There he found a new message saved as a draft:

Rouken,

I don’t have much to report for this week’s letter, other than to say that we made it to the remains of Kortrik and have set up camp. There are a few things that still need to be ironed out, but otherwise, we’re doing alright for ourselves.

The suspicious thing now is that right when we got things settled here, two girls from outside managed to find us. I don’t know if they were following us from somewhere or if it was just coincidence that they appeared when they did, but we haven’t seen anything else suspicious, which leads me to believe we will be alright for now.

So far we haven’t found anything in relation to those “highwaymen” you were talking about, but we might have just found a lead. One of the girls was actually someone we found in a passageway beneath the western side of the ruins. I’m planning on taking my scouts in there today. I’ll let you know what happens when we get in.

Phil Shafer

Sam closed the message with the mildest of confusion. This was the first time he had heard of these so-called highwaymen.


Did I just release two chapters within one week? I think I just did! Round of applause, cause holy shit!

Anyway — Discord is open for all. See you next chapter!