Chapter Thirteen – Part One
West of Paradise, Galatia
“Something’s up,” Roland declares as he stands up from where he had just driven a stake into the ground for his small shelter. He lightly leans against his a-frame tent as he looks toward the ridge where he and Haley had stashed the cannon not too long ago.
“You know, the twins take longer than usual sometimes,” Haley reminds Roland as she stoops over the small fire that she had managed to start on her own. She adds a few pieces of kindling to the small flame with shaking hands and manages to knock over the small teepee that was currently burning. She lets out a discontent grunt before she continues to Roland, “They could have found something that they wanted to check out too. You know how they are, very easy to distract.”
Roland frowns, knowing full well that Haley was right. She usually was right about things like this, but that didn’t make it any less stressful for Roland. He was responsible for his people. If anything happened to them, even if it was as small as a splinter, he was responsible. After a few still moments, Roland takes a deep breath to steady his nerves and he watches as Haley struggles to save her fire from the brink.
As was the case with most of the things Haley did, starting a fire was quite the challenge and it ate at her. But, despite the difficulty, she refused to surrender. She told Roland on countless occasions that every time she finished something on her own, she celebrated it as a victory over what the Coalition did to her. It gave her hope of a better life.
After a solid five minutes, Haley’s fire finally comes back to life and Roland can see a slight smile tug at the corner of her mouth. Roland smiles in response to her victory and he then quickly does his best to look busy. There were times where it ate at Haley when he would just watch her struggle. She told Roland that his watching her made her feel like he didn’t trust her to do the task properly on her own, and Roland hated the idea of sowing seeds like that into her life.
“Fire’s lit,” Haley announces proudly as she rises from the small fire that is now going strong enough to be able to be left alone for more than a few seconds.
“Great, thanks,” Roland says affirmingly as he ties a knot on two sticks that he is using to create another a-frame tent with. Fortunately, he managed to find a task worth doing between when Haley saved the fire and now, so it didn’t look like he was scrambling to find something to do. He glances over his shoulder to face Haley before he requests, “Can you get me a ridge pole for this one?”
“Sure thing,” Haley nods as she briefly glances down to her fire. She quickly adds a few small sticks before slipping into the nearby foliage in search of a suitable branch.
Roland loses himself to the task of prepping the campsite for a long night in. He goes about building and setting up everything that he liked to have when he was camping and he takes special care of Haley’s fire as he does so. He wasn’t about to let it die, as he had done on a few occasions. As per the usual, Roland first sets up a few too many traps around the campsite in order to ensure the safety of his team. Once he left adequate markings to warn his friends of the traps, Roland shifts his attention back to the campsite itself. He quickly sets up a small clothesline that they would use once they had the time to wash their clothes and he even builds himself a nice structure that he would use if he managed to catch anything on the hunt he would go on soon enough in search of some game.
Once everything is set up, Roland takes a step back and he admires his handiwork. His father had taught him how to do a lot of things, and he had a special knack for building stuff. Especially when it came to building things out of seemingly nothing. Roland gloats to himself for a few beats when his eyes finally settle on the unfinished tent that he had sent Haley out to find the ridge pole for. She hadn’t returned yet.
“Rolls!” Astrid’s voice calls from up the hill a short way. Roland spins around and looks to her. When Astrid sees that she had Roland’s attention, she continues, “It looks like they’re sending out another group.”
“Of kids?” Roland asks, only partially interested in Astrid’s response. He starts walking toward where Haley had disappeared as he awaits Astrid’s response.
“Yeah,” Astrid affirms, “Looks like it’s thirty, as per the usual.”
“Any of them look friendly enough to contact this time around?” Roland asks. He still struggled to understand just what their intentions were since the kids that they sent out didn’t seem to do anything in particular.
The Coalition had been sending out Domer kids for about two years now. By and large, the various groups didn’t do half bad, when it came to survival, but they seldom stuck around the complex they left from. In fact, Roland and the Ki’etz twins had tracked one group to the deserts of Galatia. They were about to follow them in and warn them that they had best turn back when a massive sandstorm kicked up. Roland and the twins turned back at his request because he wasn’t about to risk their lives to save some strangers.
“Some of them do,” Warren replies, “But some look mighty mean too.”
“Think we should follow them from a distance?” Roland asks as he starts poking around in the underbrush. As per the usual, Haley didn’t seem to have left much of any tracks for him to follow. Shaking his head, Roland thinks, Man, that girl is always so light on her feet. I hope she never gets lost, we’d never find her.
Astrid drops from a nearby tree and she rolls toward Roland before she rises to her feet. Dusting off her pants, she recommends, “I think we should get as close to them as we can. This group seems… different.”
“What do you mean by that?” Roland asks as he continues searching for any sign of Haley.
“I mean some of them are pretty green behind the ears, if we don’t show up, they might not make it.”
“You know that I’ve here to protect you all first and foremost.”
“I can’t just stay out of sight and let people die, not again.”
“We can follow them and intervene if need be,”
“I think we should be a bit more proactive this time around. As I said, something’s different about this group, and I don’t want to see any of them die.”
“What’s so different about them?”
“Well, there are a few of them that just seem…” Astrid trails off as she tries to find the right words.
“They seem like they’re smarter than the others that we’ve seen sent out,” Warren finishes for his sister as he approaches from behind. He frowns for a brief moment before he admits, “But even that doesn’t seem like the right word.”
“No,” Astrid agrees as she makes a face that shows Roland that she’s deep in thought. After several beats, she finally says, “Rolls, I think you just need to see them for yourself. I think they might be just the people we need to get our ship fixed up so we can get out of here.”
“Can we check on them tomorrow?” Rolland asks as he finally finds a footprint that he can tell belonged to Haley. He starts down the direction that the print was going and the twins follow him as a distance.
The twins murmur between each other for a short while before Astrid finally replies, “I don’t think that’s the best plan this time. Warren and I think we saw some hybrid activity to the north, and they were heading more or less our way.”
“Don’t the Domers have weapons?” Roland asks as he momentarily looks up. He thought for sure that he heard something like a twig snapping ahead of him. Curious, Roland continues looking toward where he heard the sound as he walks along the small game trail that Haley had seemingly followed.
“Weapons can only do so much for people who don’t know what they’re doing,” Astrid points out, “You know how much we struggled on our first kill.”
Roland frowns, knowing full well that Astrid was right, but also wishing that he hadn’t wasted so much time setting up camp since they would now have to leave it. Sure, the Domers that left the military installation were well trained, especially for killing hybrids, but there was a large gap between reality and training. Roland is about to say something when he suddenly feels something grip around his ankle and the next thing he knew he is hanging upside down and is spinning slowly.
“What ever happened to being away of your surroundings?” Astrid asks with a laugh as she and Warren look up to Roland.
“You were distracting me,” Roland shrugs—something that is rather strange looking when you’re hanging upside down. He frowns as the twins rotate out of sight and then he sighs when he sees Haley beaming at him predicament.
“I got you again!” Haley exclaims joyously as she prods at him with a stick.
“Yeah, yeah,” Roland chuckles as he rolls his eyes. Haley had a thing for slipping away just to scare or surprise Roland when he came after her. After so many times, Roland knew he should expect as much from her, but his drive to keep her safe somehow overcame his ability to learn. Despite her many strengths, Roland knew that Haley was probably the least capable to survive out here on her own, and he couldn’t stand to lose her.
“Oh and I got your ridge pole,” Haley announces as she prods Roland once more with the stick. She stifles a giggle before she adds, “It only took you all of two hours to realize that I was missing this time, you’re improving.”
“Was it really that long?” Roland asks, admittedly surprised. When he got into the campsite building zone, he lost track of time.
Haley rotates out of view and Roland is once again facing the twins. They are no longer laughing and instead they are whispering amongst each other. Haley then replies from behind Roland, “Yep, I was thinking about screaming or something to get you to come sooner.”
“So, what’s the verdict, Rolls?” Astrid asks nonchalantly. She seemed to have lost all interest in the fact that Roland is hanging upside down and was once again thinking about the latest group of kids leaving the installation.
“Well, I know that you two will be heading out after them with or without my permission,” Roland replies as he continues spinning. By now the blood had rushed into his head and his nose was getting a little runny. He is about to continue when he sees Haley cut the rope that he is hanging from and he falls to the ground.
“Alright, so let’s break camp then,” Astrid announces, knowing full well that that was what Roland was going to say.
Roland removes the rope from his leg, and he hands it to Haley who seems all too proud of herself. Standing, he then reminds Astrid, “We just need to wait for Nick and Julius to return, and then we can leave.”
“Well, we’re here,” Nick’s voice sounds from not too far away. Roland and the others look over to him and Julius as Nick asks, “So, where are we going?”
Roland wipes his runny nose before he replies, “The twins want us to help the Domers that are leaving the fort down there, so we’re doing that.”
Nick smiles and he excitedly announces his support, “About time we got some firsthand info on what they’re doing, let’s go!”
Chapter Thirteen Part Two is waiting, go ahead and read it!