“There has been a lot of movement in the forests beyond the walls,” Stone tells Maverick the moment the door gently slides shut behind her.
“So, we’re looking at a lot of hybrids then?” Maverick inquires. For the most part, the Warden had always been very straight with him so he knew he could trust what she would say next. The Warden generally said everything in front of all the Stalwarts, but there were quite a few occasions where she pulled him aside to tell him something in her office which is tucked away in the administrative wing of Paradise.
“Not quite,” Stone shakes her head. She disappears into a side room off of her office and emerges with a few maps. Laying the largest map on the table in front of Maverick she starts pointing at various locations, “This is Paradise and this is where you’ll have the best chance to survive. Between here and there we’ve been seeing a lot of activity from the Savages, they’re the ones who took a shot at the gunship today. They’ve already shot down quite a few ships, so expect them to be heavily armed.”
Stone’s brief discourse worries Maverick and he does his best to not bombard her with too many questions. He mulls over all of his most pressing questions before he finally inquires, “What are they using to shoot at the gunships?”
“We don’t know for sure, but we do know that it shoots a large explosive round and that it has some sort of targeting system—their shots are too well placed for it to be anything else.”
“Where’d they get the weapon in the first place? Perhaps there’s more where that came from that we can use.”
“We don’t know for sure, and I doubt that a large weapon like that will be of too much use against the hybrids. Weapons like that are usually too slow to hit the hybrids, and that’s even if you have enough time to set it up before they get to you.”
“So we’ll just stick with small arms then,” Maverick surmises with a resolute nod. He continues nodding for a few moments as he scans the map before him, committing everything he can to memory. He isn’t certain if he will be provided with a map before being sent out, so this was his best bet.
“That’s why we trained you with them,” Stone nods. She rolls up the large map before Maverick has the change to memorize some of the more minute details as she requests, “I need you to take their cannon offline.”
“Isn’t our mission survival?” Maverick asks skeptically. The Warden and all of her soldiers had the capacity to bomb a rebel enclave from above, so the request seemed strange to him.
“There’s a reward in it for you if you take it out,” Stone replies mysteriously.
“And what might that reward be?”
Stone purses her lips before she hands him one of the smaller maps and changes the subject, “Here is a map of the area surrounding Paradise. You will have to map things out from there and you cannot remain—”
“Can’t stay within thirty kilometers of Paradise, I know,” Maverick interrupts as he takes the map and nods his thanks. He unfolds the map and sees that it is a lot less detailed than the larger one the Warden had shown him moments before, and he makes a mental note to transfer over all the details he could recall later on.
“I don’t have to remind you of what will happen if you fail to do so,” Stone asks as she gives Maverick a concerned look.
“Nope, I got it,” Maverick nods as he tucks the map he had been given into his back pocket.
The Warden nods before she presses the matter further, “And I can’t stray from protocol even if your team is still within the kill zone.”
He had been told that he would have one day to get fifteen kilometers away from Paradise before the kintics were released. Kintics, a savage creature that reminded Maverick of a cross between a wolf and a rat, were not something he wanted to be around. The creatures had chips implanted somewhere in their body to keep them within their fifteen-kilometer perimeter around Paradise which meant Maverick and the others would be home free once they were outside of that. Or at least as free as we can be with those hybrids out and about, Maverick thinks as a pang of fear nips at the base of his heart.
“Director Stone, we are ready for you,” a voice sounds from the PA speaker nearest the door to Stone’s office.
“Stay safe, Maverick,” Stone requests helplessly from her spot behind her desk.
“No promises, Warden,” Maverick teases as he turns and glances at the bookshelf in her office.
Maverick had been given a long leash and granted special privileges in Paradise, one of these was the ability to read whichever book he wanted from the Warden’s private stash. After he had earned the Wardens trust, she disclosed that quite a few of the books on the shelf had been banned and every known copy was destroyed. She had stolen nearly every book on her shelves at the risk of her own career. She had jokingly told him that she had gone on to burn a few of the books she stole herself because they were so awful, but she kept every volume that really spoke to her. Maverick smiles to himself as memories of several of the books come flooding back to him.
“I mean it, stay safe,” Stone repeats, “I’d hate to lose you.”
“I’ll do everything I can to keep everyone alive,” Maverick pledges to the Director as he turns and offers her a reassuring smile.
“Then I guess there’s only one thing I can do now then,” Stone starts as she reaches behind her desk.
“What is it?” Maverick asks as he rises to his tiptoes to catch a glimpse of what she is grabbing.
Smiling, Stone places a small knapsack on her desk and she replies, “It’s a little something to remember me by.”
Curious, Maverick returns to the Warden’s desk and he peeks inside of the bag. He is greeted with a collection of books, some of which he had read, and other that he hadn’t he doesn’t have the chance to look at all of them before the PA crackles to life once more.
“All Stalwarts, report to the main garage,” the PA instructs.
“I hope you get every opportunity to read every book a few times,” Stone smiles before she snaps back to her usual military façade and orders, “Now report to the main garage, you have a job to do.”
“Yes, Warden,” Maverick nods in a mix of acknowledgment and thanks.
“So…?” Sylvia prompts Maverick the moment she gets close enough to whisper and not be overheard by anyone else.
“So what?” Maverick asks curiously.
“What was so important?” Sylvia demands as she gives Maverick an exasperated look.
“The Warden just wanted to brief me on what we’re going to be heading into,” Maverick replies, doing his best to veil at least part of the truth from Sylvia.
Maverick didn’t want to worry her with reports of the ‘Savages’ that may be out to kill them, that seemed like a needless cause for worry to him. Their training had told them that their greatest threat was from the hybrids and from what he had heard so far, there were a lot more hybrids out there than there were people. With any luck, Maverick hoped he would never come across another living person outside of his team once they left Paradise. Sure, he yearned for some variety in his interactions with people but Maverick wasn’t convinced that anyone he met outside of Paradise would be someone he wanted to meet.
“Is it bad?” Sylvia queries.
“She says that there’s been a lot of movement around Paradise lately,” Maverick replies, admitting at least part of the truth. That was the thing with lies and cover stories, they were always more believable if there was at least a nugget of truth behind them. Sometimes the nugget was big, sometimes it was small, but it always had to be present. Not wanting Sylvia to ask any more probing questions that may rouse any more lies, Maverick continues, “So it’ll be best if we get out of the fifteen-kilometer radius sooner rather than later.”
“That would be a lot easier if they gave us a truck or two,” Sylvia mutters as she casts a longing gaze at some of the large armored vehicles that are parked nearby. There are so many vehicles in the garage they are in that Maverick found himself wondering if they would miss a few of them if he and his team did take one.
“Maybe we’ll be able to find some wheels when we get out of here,” Maverick offers in a weak attempt to appease his and Sylvia’s desire.
“They wouldn’t be of much use to us,” Anne cuts in, “The terrain is too rugged, and the foliage is too thick to get even the best of those trucks through. Our best bet is on our feet.”
“I’m sure we could find an old road we could follow,” Sylvia argues with a hopeful flame in her eye.
“If we find a good enough road and a car then I’ll give you every bit of food I got,” Anne declares her bet with a scoff.
“And if we don’t then I give you all of mine?” Sylvia quickly asks.
“Then I get all of yours,” Anne answers with a wink before she walks toward where the rest of the Stalwarts are gathered.