West of Paradise, Galatia
Maverick slowly scans the tree line for any signs of the hybrids. It had been at least an hour since he had seen the last one, but he still felt like he was being watched. He knew there was something hiding in the foliage waiting for him to let his guard down. He knew that the hybrids were better hunters than any of his training had prepared him for.
“Looks like that’s the last of them,” Anne announces from behind Maverick.
Maverick quickly peeks around the tree that he is leaning against and he eyes the girl for a few seconds. He can tell that she is felling just as tired as he was. Seemingly everyone was spent after their flight from the hybrid attack on their camp and the constant threat of additional hybrid attacks.
“You look awful,” Anne points out with a weak chuckle as she closes the remaining distance between her and Maverick.
Turning back to the nearest tree line, Maverick sighs. He felt awful. He was certain that he lost people and the fact that he had only found a few of his teammates so far gave him a sinking feeling. He hadn’t even been out here a whole day and he had already lost track of so many people. Sighing, Maverick finally asks, “The last of what?”
“Of our people,” Anne clarifies, “There aren’t any more tracks leading this way and no one remembers seeing anyone else that came this way.”
“How many people does that put us at?”
“Including you and me, six. That Warren Ki’etz guy makes a total of seven.”
“But that’s just out of those who came this way, there were people running every direction.”
“There’s twenty-one of us and we can’t even account for a third of that.”
“Seven is a good starting point though. Besides, there are only minimal injuries among them, so odds are everyone else is also doing pretty well.”
“The hybrids didn’t kill us off because they’re testing us,” Maverick points out forebodingly, “They’re seeing if we’re as threatening as Rolland and his crew.”
“And they saw that we can handle ourselves,” Anne assures him in return, “We killed at least five of them.”
“I won’t believe that we showed them anything until I see our final headcount…”
“Where to, boss man?” Warren’s voice echoes down from the treetops.
“Any idea where we can find more of our people?” Maverick calls back up to the unseen Warren. The kid had a knack for disappearing no matter how little of cover he had. This ability to disappear made Maverick nervous, but he was happy that Warren was on his side.
“I’d say our best bet is to return to camp,” Warren answers. There’s a rustle in the treetops and Maverick catches a fleeting glimpse of Warren as he passes between one tree to the next. Another moment passes before he reports, “Someone’s coming our way.”
Wondering if the approaching party might be hostiles, Maverick worriedly asks, “Any idea who?”
“I’d guess it’s Rolls and Haley. Astrid’s probably with them.”
“None of our people,” Maverick grunts just loud enough for Anne to hear.
“We’ll find them,” Anne pledges.
“At least we know Sylvia’s one of them,” Maverick sighs, “She’ll be able to keep whoever’s with her alive.”
“You think she might have run off to check out that spot on her map?”
“No… How’d you hear about that?”
“I’m a light sleeper,”
“No one is supposed to know about it—”
“I know, I know. I’ll keep it that way. But seriously, how can you be so sure that she isn’t doing to check it out? This would be her perfect opportunity. She even went that way.”
“Yeah. At least, I’m pretty sure she did.”
“Anyone else go with her?”
“The new guy.”
“Think she might have ditched us to check it out?”
“I’m beginning to,”
“Well, as you said, she’ll keep everyone alive.”
“So, the six of us plus Gideon and Sylvia is eight.”
“Eight out of twenty-one isn’t that great either,” Maverick reminds Anne.
“But it’s a start,”
“Looks like Rolland found a couple of your friends!” Warren shouts from the treetops, “And he’s with Haley and Astrid, as I expected.”
Running through his memories of Roland’s team, Maverick asks Warren, “That leaves two of your people, right?”
Warren’s response echoes down from seemingly everywhere, “Yeah, Nick and Julius. They should be fine though.”
“Those two should be able to keep our people alive too,” Maverick tells Anne, “Maybe we are better off than I thought.”
“There you are!” a new voice calls from above. Maverick quickly recognizes it as that of Astrid, Warren’s twin sister.
“Just had to babysit the Domers,” Warren’s voice quietly sounds in reply.
Maverick chuckles at Warren’s use of babysitting and he shakes his head. As sad as it was, he knew that he basically was being babysat. The sims that he had trained in didn’t do a justice to the ferocity of the hybrids. It didn’t do a justice to the fear that their mere presence caused. It didn’t do a justice to how fast they were.
Maverick knew that he had been lied to.
No, it wasn’t an outright lie, but withholding truths like this was basically lying. Maverick knew that he had been led to believe that the hybrids weren’t as dangerous as they really were and that wasn’t a mistake that he was going to make again.