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!”
“How much closer do you want us to get?” Roland asks with a worried look on his face as he peeks through the small amount of foliage that is standing between him and the Domers that he was following. Sure, he and the rest of his people were a good forty meters away, but that just didn’t feel like enough to Roland. Not when he was looking at people he didn’t know. And especially not when said people had a lot of guns.
Astrid lets out an annoyed sigh before she fires back, “Well I said I wanted us to talk to them.”
Roland frowns as he continues watching the Domers who seems to be a lot more acclimated to the forest than the last few groups were. Most of their group is still outside of earshot, but the occasional bits of conversation can be heard if the wind blew just right. After a few seconds, Roland says, “Well we don’t know if we can trust them yet.”
“And how are they going to gain our trust from over here?” Astrid asks pointedly, “We can’t even hear what they’re saying most of the time.”
“Well, this isn’t the best place for us to draw close to them,” Roland points out. He scans the area between him and the Domers and shakes his head. They are currently in one of the sparser parts of the forest and there wasn’t much cover for anyone. The Domers definitely picked well when they decided which way to go because they would make some great time through these woods.
Astrid gives Roland a quizzical look before she says what was on her head, “Not if we were sneaking around, but it’s the best place for us to make ourselves known.”
“They have a lot more guns than we do,” Roland reminds Astrid. Shaking his head, he looks over to the rest of his people who are watching his argument from behind him. Seeing that no one else was going to help him, Roland eventually argues, “We can’t just give up our position like that. What would we do if they opened fire?”
“I think we should get closer,” Haley announces steadfastly as she shifts from where she is currently sitting. They had all been in the same position for a while now thanks to their keen vantage point where they had been all been watching the Domers from. Haley never liked stalking prey, but she never went as far as to tell anyone that. Instead, everyone knew how much she hated it because of the pain that you could see on her face. She couldn’t sit in one place too long anymore or else her joints would get all stiff.
“And what would we do if they see us?” Roland asks the whole group pointedly. He can see that they had all grown tired of watching the Domers and they wanted to meet them.
“Then we can wave hello,” Astrid declares mischievously.
Roland can’t believe that his whole team would ignore his withholdings and he quickly starts to fire back, “Now hold on—”
“Nope, we’re doing this!” Astrid cuts him off with the same playful look in her eyes. She then gives Roland a hard shove and sends him careening through a bush and then down the small steep hill that they had been watching the Domers from.
“Six o’clock!” Roland hears one of the Domers call out as he slides to a stop at the foot of the hill. He instinctively rolls behind a nearby tree and he waits several beats for the Domers to open fire on him.
“We saw you, now come on out!” Roland hears another voice beckon. This voice belonged to the one that the others called Maverick.
“See? They’re friendly!” Astrid calls down to Roland just loud enough for him to hear.
“Well we could have figured that out without pushing me down a hill!” Roland fires back. He glances around the tree he is hiding behind and sees that the Domers are beginning to spread out.
Astrid laughs before she says, “Now what’s the fun in that?”
“Are you okay?” Haley asks as she sticks her head through the foliage the others are hiding behind.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Roland assures her, “It’s Astrid that I would be worrying about now though.”
“Oh yeah, because you’re so threatening down there,” Astrid mocks.
“Oh, I’m going to get you back good for this one,” Roland warns before he calls out to the Domers, “We just want to talk!”
“Sure you will,” Astrid teases before she and Haley both dip back out of sight in their natural blind.
“Who are you?” Maverick demands, this time a lot closer.
Roland looks up to the sky and shakes his head. He couldn’t believe that Astrid would do something so reckless. Fortunately, she seemed to be right and these Domers weren’t hostile, but that didn’t make things right. Sighing, Roland replies, “My name is Roland Dixon, I live out here.”
“You’re one of the Savages?” Maverick asks. His voice sounds like it came from the same place, which means that he stopped. Roland frowns, wondering if his response might have put up a red flag.
“I’m no ‘Savage,’”
“Then come on out. Slowly.”
“Not until you call off your team,” Roland retorts with a loud laugh. He glances around his tree far enough to see a few of the Domers that are trying to circle around him.
“Oh, nice call,” Astrid compliments from her bush, “We were wondering if you saw all of them.”
“Aren’t you all so helpful today,” Roland snaps, he didn’t know why, but it seemed that his team suddenly didn’t care if he was in danger.
“Alright, fine,” Maverick replies, much to Roland’s surprise.
Rolande then watches as most of the Domers withdraw, but he can’t help but note that several of them are still circling around him. Frowning, he calls out to Maverick, “I can still see the rest of your guys circling around,”
“Jason, get over here!” Maverick shouts toward the wayward Domers.
“You’ve got your team, I’ve got mine,” a guy’s voice calls from the other group.
“Our best bet of staying alive is by staying together, Jason!” Maverick reminds the one who must be the leader of the other group. There is some rustling near where Maverick before he starts shouting, “Get back here! You’ll die out there on your own!”
“I don’t care what you think,” the one called Jason retorts.
There is some more rustling before Maverick warns, “We won’t be able to save you when you get attacked by the hybrids.”
“We are more than capable of saving ourselves,” Jason snaps before a gunshot sounds from his group, “Now leave us alone!”
“Get down!” Maverick calls out and there is a lot of noise as all his people dive for cover. A moment passes before he yells, “You can’t possibly think this is a good idea!”
“Damn you!” a girl cries out before a long spurt of gunfire sounds from the other group.
“Danni, knock it off!” Maverick demands before he continues in a softer voice that Roland can just make out, “No, don’t shoot back. They’re not our enemies.”
“What’s going on out there?” Roland asks Astrid and the others as he presses himself against his tree.
“It looks like the Domers aren’t getting along,” Warren answers after a few beats.
“I can tell that much, what’s going on though?” Roland presses.
There is a rustling in the bushes and a rifle flies out toward Roland. Roland catches the rifle, which was surprisingly well thrown, and then Julius warns, “It’s not looking good, stay hidden.”
“Tyson’s hit, boss man,” Roland hears a voice report before another spurt of gunfire sounds from the other group.
There is a hushed whisper from someone before Maverick says, “I’m not shooting at them and neither are you.”
“I always knew Danni was going to snap,” a girl’s voice sounds in judgement, “Tyson says he’ll pull through, he says he isn’t hit bad.”
“Maverick, you and your people should just let them go,” Roland announces, “They clearly can’t be reasoned with.”
“You, shut it, I don’t need advice on how to run my team!” Maverick cautions Roland from continuing further. More gunfire sounds,
Roland shakes his head as he rolls his eyes. He initially thought that the one named Jason might have been the jerk, but now it seemed like the one named Maverick might be the egotistical tyrant. Sighing, Roland opts that his best bet would be if he pressed the matter, “My team can give you some cover fire if you need it. They won’t shoot to hit anyone.”
“It would be best if we fell back,” a girl offers in a voice that is barely loud enough for Roland to hear it over the cracking of gunfire.
“But we don’t know who we can trust, Sylvia,” Maverick argues.
The girl, Sylvia, laughs before she points out, “Well, that Roland guy and the friends he says he has aren’t shooting at us, so that’s a good start.”
“How can I know that I can trust you?” Maverick eventually calls out.
“I think you’re just going to have to trust me on this,” Roland answers as a few bullets tear into the tree he is still behind. Gritting his teeth, Roland demands, “So do you want our help or not?”