Authors: Amie Kaufman
My vision flickers, the taste of metal in my mouth growing overpowering. Suddenly I’m not seeing fog and mud and emptiness; I’m not even seeing the wisp. An entire building flashes into existence, and between it and me, a high chain-link fence. And just beyond it, a figure in black clothes and some kind of mask, staring expressionlessly through its visor at me.
I drop to my hands and knees, blinded, choking on metal and flinching as the impact jars the wound in my side. When I lift my head again the vision is gone, but my hand encounters a sharp object digging into my palm. My fingers close around it. All around me rises a quick, frenzied susurration, like the wind through grass, or aspen leaves quivering in a storm. But Avon has no grass, and Avon has no aspen trees.
Everything goes black, and then the whispering is gone as abruptly as it started. Suddenly I hear Romeo shouting at me, his voice urgent. I open my eyes to find his face close to mine, gripping me by the shoulder.
“What’s going on? Get up!” He’s drawn his gun; he thinks I’m faking.
“Don’t know.” I slide the thing I found into my boot with a shaking hand. I can’t stop to examine it now; whatever it is, it’s regular, plastic, man-made. There’s no reason this would turn up here on its own.
“Stay here, I’ll get you some water.” He starts to release me, but I grab at his chest, gripping a handful of his shirt.
“You drugged me,” I gasp, my vision spinning away like the fog eddying around us. My body’s shaking, shivering in his grasp like I’m on the verge of hypothermia.
“I—what?” Romeo peers closer. “Why would I—Stop, calm down.” He grabs hold of my shoulders again and gives me a tiny shake, my head snapping back as though I’m too tired to lift it.
Something in my mind is screaming to be heard, something—something about his hands, gripping my arms, supporting me. Both hands.
If both hands are on my shoulders, then where is the gun?
There, on the ground by his feet. I flail out for the old-fashioned pistol, only a few inches from my fingertips. My shaking fingers fumble with the grip, clumsy with whatever drug is coursing through my system.
Romeo spots the movement. Somehow, despite drinking from the canteen himself, he’s unaffected; he gives an inarticulate cry and lunges for the weapon. “Goddammit, Jubilee—give it a rest for five seconds!”
“Never,” I gasp, dropping to the spongy, wet earth, too weak to stand without his support. Whatever he did to me, it’s getting worse.
Slowly, the sound of whispering is overtaking my hearing once more. I reach for Romeo, but I don’t know if I’m trying to get the gun back from him or hold myself up. He shoves the pistol into his waistband, out of my reach, and my vision clouds again.
It isn’t until I feel arms wrapping around my waist and a heartbeat by my ear that I realize I’m slipping out of consciousness, and Romeo’s carrying me the rest of the way back to his boat.
She’s back in the alley again, holding a burning firecracker, eyes watering with the effort of not letting go.
Beyond the ring of boys shouting and jeering at her, through the shifting clouds of smoke from the gunpowder, she sees a tiny light dancing and bobbing. It winks at her, surprised, hovering just out of reach. The girl stands frozen, staring, until the firecracker explodes in her hands, singeing her fingers. The ball of light vanishes in the flash, and the girl is too shocked and deafened to feel the pain in her hand until her father sprints into the alley to carry her away to the hospital.
THE WARM LIGHT OF OUR
docking lamps welcomes me home as I coast into the harbor, the rock swallowing me up. Hidden behind the stone walls of the cavern, the lamps hang along a string, bobbing lazily like a row of will-o’-the-wisps—though these lights lead to safety rather than danger. A weight presses down on my shoulders as I ease the currach forward. A weight exactly equal to the trodaire curled up in the bottom of my boat. Jubilee is on her side, still unconscious, her hands bound once again. Whatever took her down in the swamp seems to have passed, and I can’t risk leaving her unrestrained.
Her dog tags have fallen outside her shirt, and I see the metal glint in the lamplight as she lies unmoving. Without them, you might almost forget she’s one of the trodairí. Without them, she’d look halfway human, like someone who might listen for half a second before pulling a gun on you. Until she woke up and tried to kill me, that is. But when there’s no hope to be found anywhere, even the tiniest chance is worth taking.
I can’t let McBride and his followers find her, or they’ll have her head on a spike before I can blink. But I can’t let her go either. She’s too valuable. Maybe the military will trade for her and give us resources we need, like food rations or medicine.
And maybe, just maybe, I can convince her not all of us are the lawless villains she and her kind believe us to be.
If Jubilee Chase can be convinced to stop shooting, anyone can.
The currach catches the current slowly swirling through our hidden harbor, drifting toward the dock. I stow the pole and let the water carry us the rest of the way, risking a glance away from my prisoner and up at the vaulted stone ceiling stretching high above us, stalactites hanging down. It drives the soldiers mad, trying to work out how we hide so many people right under their noses out here in the swamps.
From the air, this place looks like a couple of rocks no larger than one of their buildings on the base. From the water, only the trained eye can see we’ve disguised its size with woven camouflage, made it less prominent, rerouted the channels leading up to the base so there’s no easy way to approach by boat without knowing the way. You could get here by foot from the base if you were determined enough, but it would mean hours of slogging through mud and waist-deep water. The stone hides us from their heat detectors, and Avon’s atmosphere wreaks havoc with imaging drones and search gear. The leading theory among TerraDyn scientists is that the ionization levels interfere with their equipment, but all we know is that it forces them to search for us the old-fashioned way, with boats and spotlights. Though there are pockets of resistance all across the planet, these caves harbor a significant percentage of TerraDyn’s most-wanted list.
We call ourselves the Fianna. The soldiers think it has some simple meaning—“warriors” is how they usually translate it. But it’s more than that. Blood is forever, and though Earth was abandoned so long ago the generations are now uncounted, we remember our cradle. We remember Ireland, and her stories, and the bands of warriors who defended their home. And we carry on their traditions, and honor them. Avon takes care of us, hides us, and in return we fight for her.
The currach nudges up against the dock, and I yank my attention back to the present when I realize I’ve heard no challenge. The sentries are gone. The landing is empty where there should be guards, and abruptly my heart’s pounding again as panic sweeps through me. The military has discovered Jubilee missing. I shouldn’t have taken that detour—they’ve found our base and beaten me back here to rescue her.
I leave the trodaire in the currach, hands bound, and hurriedly tug a tarp up over her limp form to hide her from view. Then I scramble up onto the dock and toward the passageway. My wounded leg is aching as my mind pulls in a dozen directions all at once, tracing the path the trodairí would take, predicting which caverns they’d claim and which we’d hold, mapping a way to the weapons storage as I pull my gun from my belt.
But slowly one thing sinks in: if the trodairí had found us, this place would be swarming with copters and speedboats outside, not to mention ringing with shouts and gunfire. There’s only silence, until I make my way farther in and hear the low murmur of voices coming from the meeting cavern.
The crowd in there’s so big I can’t see my way to the front, but relief rushes through me as I recognize this noise as anger, not panic. It’s only the Fianna inside, and there are no soldiers here today except the one I left in my currach.
Our meeting place is a high-ceilinged bubble in the rock that we’ve hewn larger over time, stone softened and echoes muffled by rugs hung around the walls and crates of liberated military supplies stored along the edges. It’s almost impossible to round us up in the same place—there are always folks on patrol, on guard, asleep—but this is the biggest crowd I’ve seen in a long time.
They’re crammed in, perching on the crates, leaning against the walls and sitting on the ground. The cavern’s full, buzzing with tension. Then I hear McBride’s voice at the front, and I know what brought them together.
For ten years we’ve been hiding out in these caves, paying for the bloody rebellion my sister led. Too hungry to get organized, too sick and too bruised to care who was in charge. It’s taken a decade to come close to stability again, but the day my people could fill their bellies without fear of where the next meal would come from, there was McBride. He has the age and experience I lack, and his talk of fighting back and finishing what my sister, Orla, started makes my people itch for action.
Victory, to his faction, is beating the trodairí at any cost. Casualties are glorious sacrifices to the cause. Firepower is the only measure of strength. Because, futile though the fight might be, there’s a satisfaction in direct action that these people crave. It’s the easier path—I feel myself tugged that way too, sometimes. So did Orla. And that’s what killed her in the end.
These people remember my sister, and how she fought to the last and faced her execution fearlessly. Her death buys me their sympathy, and thus their attention, but every time McBride opens his mouth, I lose a few more of them. Nobody wants to listen to a teenager speaking for peace when their children are sick and their very freedoms are being bled away by TerraDyn’s harsh regulations. McBride knows it. I know it too. They all wish I were more like Orla.
Judging by the air of tension in the crowd, it seems he’s jumped on my absence to stir them up and inch ever closer to breaking the ceasefire. Only fear of retaliation and lack of resources has stopped McBride’s lieutenants from carrying out their own raids without the support of the rest of us. That, and I’ve got the key to the munitions locker—and I’m not about to let McBride get his hands on it.
I tuck my gun away and start to work toward the front of the crowd.
He hasn’t noticed me yet. His square, shadowed jaw is tense, brows crowding together as he calls out in impassioned tones, “How many times are we going to hide in our caves, watching while they take our loved ones away? How much longer are we going to wait for change?” He’s pacing back and forth at the front of the cavern, the nervous energy of his steps infecting the crowd, making them all shift on their feet and itch for action. “On one thing, Flynn Cormac and I agree: violence must only ever be a last resort. We are not the trodairí with their so-called Fury, their imaginary disease, their excuse for the shows of violence supposed to keep us cowed. But I say today we are
our last resort, and we are
the point of no return.”
My own heart beats hard as I listen in spite of myself. He sounds like my sister, except Orla’s eyes never carried that feverish gleam. When she spoke of last resorts, she meant it. But these people don’t see McBride as I do. They’re too desperate for change to recognize the madness behind his words.
“But what about Flynn, you’re saying. He wouldn’t want this. He’d tell us to talk to them, reason with them—but look where reasoning has gotten him! No sign, no word; I’ll tell you where it’s gotten him, why he hasn’t come back. This very moment he’s in a trodairí prison cell. They’ve got Orla’s little brother bound and bloodied, no doubt trying to beat our location out of him. We would betray the memory of his sister if we let them take him without getting an answer from us.”
I stop in my tracks. He’s trying to lead our people in an attack on the trodairí to free
. McBride’s only guessing as to where I am, but all he needs is one spark to ignite my people. And what better to win over the reluctant ones, those who’ve been listening to me, than a mission of rescue? Because rescue or no, once open war breaks out,
of the Fianna will have no choice but to fight for their lives.
The anger that surges up in me would impress even Jubilee Chase. I bow my head, letting my fists curl, riding it out. Waiting until I can be sure my voice will be strong and steady before I call out.
“McBride, I’m touched. I had no idea you cared so much.”
The heads nearest me snap around, voices rising in shock and relief. I push my way into the free space in front of McBride’s platform. He’s stopped in his tracks, staring blankly at me for a half a beat too long. Then relief floods his strong features, and he jumps down off the platform to approach me. “You’re alive!” he exclaims, and though he claps a hand to my shoulder, the eyes that meet mine are anything but warm. “I’d been imagining the worst.”
I’ll bet you were.
I reach for calm. “I had an opportunity to do some information-gathering, and I took it. No way to get a signal back without risking discovery.”