Authors: Inna Hardison
Tags: #Young Adult Dystopian
To my boys. May you always have magic in you.
May 6, 2236, Woods Outside of Reston
He knew he was grinning like an idiot, running out towards the big fire, screaming “Brody!” at the top of his lungs, and he didn’t care. Brody, his Brody was alive after all. He always hoped he was, but when Janet told him about tracking Brody to that hotel, where he supposedly put a bullet in his head, and then his tracks disappearing altogether, it fit with all the rumors in Waller. He had to let him go then, and reluctantly, he did. But there he was, a few meters in front of him, staring at him now with a strange look on his face. He heard the others following behind him, but slowly, carefully through the dark.
The younger boys lined up flanking Brody, guns drawn. He put his hands up, so they wouldn’t accidentally shoot him.
The guns were lowered immediately. So he was right. Brody was in charge here. And then Brody pointed his own gun straight at his head, “That’s far enough, Zoriner. Bruner, search him, thoroughly, for anything he can use as a weapon.” One of the larger boys walked over to him and patted him down. He took his screens out of his pocket, and a small knife. That’s all he had on him. Everything else, including his gun, he stupidly left in his backpack in the woods.
He was standing only a few steps away from being able to put Brody into a headlock, few steps from being able to hug him for all the years he thought he was dead. He was staring at his best friend in the world, who was still pointing a gun at him, not finding any words now. He heard the rest of his group coming out of the woods, and the boys running to them, guns drawn again.
“Search them for weapons and bring them all here.” The stun guns, Ella’s knife and med kit were dropped in a pile behind the fire. He watched as the boys moved Ams and Laurel away from Ella. He couldn’t see Drake anywhere. The girls were holding hands, fear written all over their faces. He flinched when they put a slave band on Ella, Brody not looking at any of it, staring at him, gun still pointing at the middle of his head.
“On your knees, Zoriner,” and he walked the few steps to him, so the cold metal of the gun pressed into his forehead. This wasn’t a stun gun, but an old school weapon, ones that made holes in you, instead of just stopping your heart. He remembered Brody’s uncle, Andy, restoring these back in Waller. He used them to barter for moonshine and food. They were thought of as valuable, when they worked. He was pretty sure this one worked.
“No,” he shook his head, looking Brody in the eyes. There was no way he was going to die like this, by the hand of his best friend, and on his knees. If Brody wanted to shoot him, he would have to do it looking him in the eyes. Brody clicked the safety off with his thumb, and he saw Ams running towards him, screaming something. He shook his head at her, begging her with his eyes to stop, but it was too late.
“Grab her and tie her up at this tree, hands and feet. I don’t want her moving at all,” Brody barked at the boys. They dragged Ams to the tree just to the right of where he was, he guessed so she could see whatever Brody would do to him, and tied her up. They couldn’t hurt her. They had to know what she was. She didn’t protest or scream at them. She was staring at Brody as if he had just kicked a dead body.
“On your knees!” and he pressed the barrel of the gun harder into his skin.
“No, Brody. You’ll just have to do it like this,” he said quietly, so only Brody would hear him. Without any warning, Brody pointed the gun at where Ams was tied up and pulled the trigger. He saw a spray of dirt and leaves just at her feet. She screamed.
“This is the only warning you’ll get, Zoriner. I only miss on purpose. On your knees.”
He dropped to his knees then, hands laced behind his head. He looked up at Brody, trying to find something of the boy he had known his whole life in his face, “You win, Brody. You can do with me what you want. Please, let her go. I am begging you, as someone who used to be your friend. Let her go.”
“I’ve no idea who this Brody is, Zoriner. I don’t have your kind as friends. Bruner! Tie him up over there, same as the girl,” and he pointed to a tree just opposite of where Ams was. He could see her face more clearly now in the firelight. He mouthed “I am sorry, Ams,” hoping she could read his lips. She looked angry, and afraid, but there were no tears. He had to save her. He hoped he could save her. The one called Bruner tied his hands and feet to the tree, pulling so roughly on his arms, he thought he would break something. He couldn’t move anything but his head, and he couldn’t move that enough to not see Brody and Ams.
“Take the slave girl and the Replenisher to Astor. I’ll deal with these two. Go. I’ll send the memos myself. No comms. ECH only. Dismissed.”
One of the boys stepped forward, “Sir, there are two of them. Protocol calls for at least two.” The boy looked uncomfortable.
Brody just nodded to him, “Anders, I need you over here. You’re with me. The rest of you are dismissed.”
He didn’t even turn around to see if the boys did what they were told, as if he was so accustomed to being obeyed that he didn’t need to. The one called Anders stood by the fire, gun drawn, unmoving. Brody was going through all the screens they took from everyone, and scanning the last bits, it seemed. He’d know that Drake was supposed to be with them. Where the hell was Drake? He hoped the giant tripped on something and was now hiding in the woods, waiting for the right moment to save them.
Brody got up from the pile he was digging through, walked over to him and punched him in the stomach, hard. He couldn’t breathe for a bit after that, couldn’t speak either.
“You are making me wish you had put a bullet through your head, Brody,” he finally spat at him. He knew it was the worst kind of thing he could say to him. It didn’t matter anymore. He meant it. Needed him to know that he meant it. Brody blanched and turned away from him. So he did know who he was.
“I think one of your group is missing. Drake, wherever you are, I know you can hear me. Here is what’s going to happen. Anders here will keep hitting this boy till his insides turn liquid, until you come out with your hands up, unarmed, and walk over to the fire.” He nodded to Anders and stepped away from them, watching Anders. After the first few punches he wished it was Brody hitting him. This kid whaled on him hard, not even giving him enough time to breathe. After a few more punches, he felt one of his ribs crack. Brody turned away then. At least he had the decency not to enjoy it.
He was coughing up blood, could taste it, and his vision was going blurry at the edges. He heard Ams screaming, but it seemed too far away, softer, too soft to make sense with how close her face was. He knew he was going to black out, could feel it coming, and tried his best to hold on, and then the punching stopped. He saw Anders slump to the ground at his feet, and then Drake shooting Brody and he was down too, Drake, looking paler than he’d ever seen him, still pointing the buzzing stun gun at the prone form. Not for the first time he was grateful that this giant of a man moved like a ghost. He could close his eyes now, so he did.
He woke up to the gentle touch of Ams’ small hands smoothing the hair out of his face. He felt the bandages around his ribs, restricting his breathing. He registered the fire, and tried to stand up. Ams was holding him, and he knew he’d fall if she let go of him now, so he sat down, slowly, carefully, and finally his head was clear enough to remember all that had happened since he ran out of the woods so carelessly, so stupidly, risking everybody. Ran out to Brody. He scanned the camp looking for Brody and Drake. Brody was probably dead, of course. He remembered Drake shooting him.
“Where are they, Ams?” It hurt to talk.
Ams handed him a thermos of warm tea, “I’ll go get them. Drake took that boy away from the fire for a bit. He didn’t want you to see him when you woke up. He thought you might kill him, and I think you should. But we need him to get Ella and Laurel back. That’s what Drake said. The other one, Anders, he is dead, Riley. Drake killed him, only I don’t think he meant to, because he seemed sad about it afterwards. Nice friends you have.”
So Brody wasn’t dead then. That was okay. He could fix that.
“Try not to move, Riley. I’ll be right back,” and she was gone, light steps running into the woods.
He closed his eyes and tried to picture his old Brody, the one who cried telling him about Samson, the one who always got him in trouble in school, and the one who tried to get his father to whip him with that belt instead of Riley. The boy he had spent every day with after Ella was gone. And he could see him like that, as a little kid at first and then a bit older, stealing Andy’s moonshine. And he saw him looking at Trina as if she were made of magic, and later still, sobbing into his hands at Janet’s house after he thought he would cast him out like the rest of Waller did when the feed of his parents’ treason came out, looking very much ashamed after that. And Brody, pressing the gun to his head, forcing him to kneel, punching him.
He opened his eyes, watching the three shapes moving towards him. Brody looked unharmed, not a scratch on him, less some redness on the side of his face. His hands were tied behind his back. Drake shoved him right up to where he was sitting and pushed him to his knees in front of him. He looked angry when he did it, nothing of the gentle giant in him. The redness on Brody’s face was probably from Drake then. He couldn’t blame him for that. Brody sat up as straight as he could and looked up at him, face hard. And he thought then that maybe Brody really did want him gone, dead gone. For knowing the real Brody, Zoriner Brody, someone he seemed to have gone to a lot of trouble trying to forget.
“Untie him, Drake.” He didn’t know how to explain it to Drake or to Ams that he needed to do it this way. That he needed to know for sure who this boy was more than he needed to be safe, and that if he was right about Brody wanting him dead, he could use it to get Ella and Laurel back. Drake shook his head at him, sadness written all over his face. He probably thought he would try to fight him.
“Stand him up and untie him, please. You can point your gun at him. And Ams, please help me up.”
She did, and he was standing, swaying lightly at first, staring at Brody’s face.
“Drake, give me your gun, please, and a few minutes of privacy with him. I promise I won’t kill him.” Reluctantly, Drake handed the buzzing weapon over and took Ams back towards the woods.
He waited for them to be completely out of earshot, and not taking his eyes off Brody’s handed him the gun, handle first.
“Finish what you started,” he said flatly, quietly. Brody shook his head, not reaching for the gun.
“Do it, Brody. Finish it. I know why you think you need to. I am the last of them who knew you then, truly knew you. No more shame after this. I am okay with it. I just need your word that you and your crew will let everyone else go, that all four of them will be safe. I need your word, Brody. I still believe you will keep your word.”
Brody just kept shaking his head, “I can’t, Riley. I can’t get everyone out. I wish I could, but I can’t. You shouldn’t have run out to me like that. I can’t fix this now, not for any of us.”
He switched the gun off and threw it on the ground, Brody watching him, his jaw working hard. He put his hands out in front of him, but there wasn’t anything to tie them with. It didn’t matter, not after what he just said. He didn’t think he would run. He could have done that when he offered him the bloody gun easily enough. The gun was still lying lifelessly on the ground, so he kicked it away towards the backpacks, not knowing what to do or say now. Brody hadn’t moved.
“There are slave bands and ties in the pile by the bags. I won’t run,” his voice strained, quiet.
He walked over and found a slave band, but it felt wrong to put that on Brody even now, so he settled on one of the old ties, plastic, not metal. He tightened it around Brody’s wrists, hard enough to bite into the skin to hurt, enough for him to know he was a prisoner now. He still didn’t move, didn’t even flinch at the pain, just stood looking at him.