Read Enclave Online

Authors: Ann Aguirre

Enclave (21 page)

“I hope we didn’t get you lost,” she said.

Fade shook his head. “No, I recognize that, actually.”

“That” was a building, oddly shaped with a walkway that wrapped around it. Unlike most, it looked like rotten wood, long since given way and hanging in chunks. He continued north from there, following the water until we came to a short red structure. It had a few letters painted on it, but most had peeled away, leaving only the cryptic message OLEA L U GE. I didn’t know what it meant, but Fade seemed sure of himself. He went to the side of the building, where steps led down to a door. The windows here had all been barred with heavy black metal.

He rapped urgently as the day grew brighter. I still didn’t like being out in the sun, so I got out the glasses that shaded my eyes. It grew progressively warmer until I could feel it prickling on my skin. Fade banged on the door forever and then pulled a string that dangled from the top. We stood outside for a long while.

“Go away!” A female voice shouted eventually.


At last part of the door slid open, just enough for the person inside to see us. “Who are you?”

“My father knew yours. You’re Oslo’s daughter? We came to see you.”

She spoke a word that I didn’t catch as the sliding metal clanged shut. I heard the sound of her unfastening many bolts and chains, and then the door swung open. “Get inside, quickly.”

We did as she asked.

She led us down endless flights of stairs to a solid metal door. She unlocked it and as we went in, I took in the place with wide eyes. Everything was clean. New looking. She had relics that looked as if they had just been made the day before. I recognized some of the items: sofa, chair, table, but the rest puzzled me. She also had a whole room devoted to supplies.

“It’s been a long time,” Fade said. “You’ve changed.”

His smile held layers that I didn’t like. Of course Pearl had changed. It had been at least six years since he’d seen her. She was his age, or a little older, and she was
. Clean. Her pale hair shone like stars, and her eyes were green as the water we’d marveled at only moments before. And her skin, her skin lacked the sickly pallor that was my legacy from a life underground. Instead it glowed with delicate warmth.

Pearl took in his scars. “So have you. Where did you go?”

“Down below.”

“Ugh,” she said. “I’ve heard they’re little better than animals.”

Funny. I thought the same thing about most Topsiders I encountered. Tegan touched my hand in silent sympathy, and I set my jaw.

“They’re not so bad,” he said. “At least, not all of them.”

I stepped forward and pasted on a false smile. We were in her home, after all. The least I could do was be polite. “I’m Deuce, animal from the underground.”

She had the courtesy to display chagrin. “I’m sorry. I don’t get many visitors.”

“Do you never go out?” Tegan asked. She had to be wondering why gangers hadn’t snatched Pearl yet.

“Not often. I have just about everything I need here.”

Fade nodded. “Your father left you well supplied.”

Apparently his hadn’t, or I would never have met him. All of a sudden, I wanted to know more about him, more than Pearl or anyone else would ever know. But this wasn’t the time or place. I’d had my chance to ask questions, and somehow I still didn’t know as much as I wanted to about him.

“Yes,” Pearl said. “I’m lucky. His great-grandfather built a bunker down here, a long time ago. They were scared of the world blowing up, or something.”

The word “bunker” was unfamiliar to me, but I didn’t ask for a definition, as I might have done from Fade, if we’d been alone. I had the inexplicable impression that I shouldn’t show weakness in front of Pearl, as if it might incite her to a feeding frenzy like a Freak. Tegan watched her with wary eyes, I think for different reasons. She simply didn’t trust people; I wasn’t sure she would’ve trusted us, except that we’d fought together, and that tended to create faster bonds.

“I was hoping you could help us,” he said.

She smiled. “For Stepan’s son … anything.”

Encouraged and plainly pleased, he went on, “We need to sleep and then we’d like to look at his old maps, if it’s all right.”

“I have them boxed up. I don’t have much room, I’m afraid, but you’re welcome to my bed. They can bed down on the floor here.” To us, she added, “You have blankets?” Her courtesy was false; it tasted like bad meat.

She didn’t want Tegan or me sleeping on her floor or under her roof. Fade didn’t seem to notice. He followed her into the other room, where they spoke in low voices. She told him how lonely she’d been. In the silence that followed, I knew he was hugging her and they were sharing childhood memories.

Since Tegan didn’t have her own blanket, she had to share mine. That meant lying close and wrapping up together. I didn’t mind. It reminded me of sharing space in the brat dorm. It cured some of my homesickness.

“I don’t like her,” Tegan whispered. “Why are we here?”

I explained what the library was and why we wanted to go there. She listened with a frown building between her brows. When I finished, she asked, “Does it matter why anything happened? I thought you were leaving and going north. That’s what I want—out of this place.”

“We are,” I said. “But we want to find answers first. I thought if we knew what happened, we might be able to prepare better for what’s out there.”

“That makes sense,” she acknowledged.

I lay back and gazed at the gray ceiling. “I don’t know anything about this world. Well, nothing but what Fade tells me. And sometimes he doesn’t seem sure either because he’s spent years underground.”

“I might be able to answer some questions,” she said.

After thinking a bit, I settled on, “Your mom wasn’t a ganger?”

“No. She and my dad were part of a small group that managed to stay hidden. It wasn’t just us, at first. But people got sick. My dad died first. My mom was the last to go. And then it was only me.”

Fade said his dad got sick too. A common thread?

“There was a disease in the enclave, a long time ago. The elders told us about a time when nearly everybody died of it. Do you think it was the same thing?”

Tegan shrugged. “Maybe.”

“Do you know why you didn’t get it?”

“I wish I did. When the Wolves had me, I asked myself why I didn’t die too.”

Her mind surprised me. In the enclave, I’d never questioned why some brats lived and some died. There seemed no pattern to it. Sometimes brats I thought were small or frail, like Twist, would wind up thriving. Sometimes a strong, hardy one died in his sleep. The world made no sense at all.

“Maybe it was to make you stronger,” I suggested.

“It did.” She rolled on her side to face me, her eyes angry. “That’s why I’ll be watching that girl. I won’t give anyone a chance to hurt me again.”

I was glad she’d said it. Now I didn’t have to wrestle with the uncomfortable suspicion that I didn’t like Pearl simply because she knew more about Fade than I did. We listened to them talking until Tegan fell asleep. Rest wouldn’t come for me, though. I kept waiting for something—a bad something—and expectancy coiled me tight.

Eventually, I slept. I dreamed of Stone and Thimble. When I woke, I wondered what they were doing, whether they missed me at all or if they still nursed righteous indignation about my exile. I missed them, regardless. They had been my best friends from the first.

That morning, I also discovered we’d been right to dislike Pearl. Her voice carried from the other room; I’m sure she didn’t know I was awake.

“You can stay as long as you like, of course, for old time’s sake. But I don’t have enough food to provide for your friends. I’m sorry.”

Fade said, “Don’t worry, we won’t be long. I just need to finish looking over these maps.”

So he was already working on finding the library.
I started to sit up, and then froze at her next words.

“I wish you wouldn’t go,” Pearl said softly. “I’ve thought of you often. I know your father wouldn’t want you to leave me alone.”

There was something off about her, something
, and not just because she was trying to talk him into abandoning me. I thought being by herself might’ve driven her crazy. I didn’t like the way she looked at Fade.

His tone was gentle, almost conciliatory. “You’ve been fine all these years. Deuce can’t make it without me.”

I set my jaw. I didn’t want him sticking with me out of pity. With Tegan’s knowledge of the surface, and my ability to fight, we’d probably be fine. I almost said so, but then I’d have to admit I was pretending to be asleep so I could listen to them.

“Safe doesn’t mean fine. I’m
, Semyon.”

“Don’t call me that,” he said. “He died in the dark. And maybe what I meant when I said that about Deuce is I don’t
to do without her.”

My heart made that funny little turn again, as if I were frightened, but it was better and warmer than that.

“I see.” Her voice went sharp and hard, covering hurt or some darker emotion. “Then whenever you’re ready to go.”

“I’m set. Thanks for your hospitality and the use of your father’s maps.”

I sat up then and nudged Tegan. Her hair tumbled into her face, making her look younger than she had before, too young to have suffered what she had with the gangers. Maybe she’d never be Stone or Thimble, but I already knew we would be close friends.

“I think we’ve outstayed our welcome,” I muttered.

She assessed me and then whispered, “Did you hear him?”

Mutely I nodded, and her smile made me feel both pleased and ridiculous. It shouldn’t matter that he’d picked me, but … it did. From her expression, she knew it. I wondered that she could trust us, even a little bit. Maybe, like Jengu, she didn’t trust anyone completely, but we were better than anything she’d known since her family died.

By the time he came out of the back room, Tegan and I were ready to go. We both mouthed the right words to Pearl, but she just wanted us gone. I’m sure she felt rejected by Fade, but she hadn’t spent long nights in the tunnels with him, or guarded his back when Freaks were determined to eat him. All she had to offer were maps, and he didn’t need those forever. Apparently, he
need me. I quietly savored the feeling.

Outside, the night was chilly. My breath puffed from between my lips and I blew it out several times to make sure it wasn’t a coincidence. The shirt I wore had an extra bit of fabric at the back so I tugged it up and was pleased to find it covered my head. Tegan did the same, as we wore matching clothes, just in different colors.

Fade guided the way back toward the water. I heard it and smelled it before I saw it. Instead of going down toward the wider body, he turned toward a narrow channel that angled into the land itself.

He read the puzzlement in my face and explained, “If we follow the river, it’ll take us nearly all the way there.”

Another new word. River.
I stored it away. “You memorized where the library should be?”

“If you’re ready, we’ll go find it.”

“And maybe some answers,” Tegan added.

Together, we set out on the next leg of our journey.



The trip took half the night. Where the river twisted and turned, so did we. This part of the ruins was quiet, a place where the spirits of the dead ghosted on the wind and whispered across my skin. So much had been lost. I marveled at the size of it all and tried to work out the purpose of the buildings we passed.

I liked the gentle light of what Fade called the moon. Tonight it had swelled from when we first came Topside.

“Will it get bigger?” I asked.

He followed my gaze upward with a faint smile. “Yes. It turns into a perfect circle. Sometimes it’s silver and sometimes it can glow almost orange. Other times it’s golden, but never as bright as the sun.”

I didn’t like the sun. Neither Tegan nor Fade seemed bothered by it as I was, but I hated the thing. I thought it might well burn me up, if given the chance. When it set fire to the sky, I wanted to hide, or I might end up like a chunk of meat on Copper’s spit, all the juices crackling out of me. I tried to hide the worst of my fear because I didn’t want them to think I was weak.

Tall, abandoned buildings surrounded us. Green covered the sides, growing in along the stone and rock. Parts had crumbled away from lack of care, showing the insides. I had the wild idea we could climb up, as if over the bones of a great beast. I had to pick my way carefully, avoiding enormous holes and sunken bits of rock. The plants had grown wild here for so long, they had reclaimed the whole area: Tall ones Fade called trees and long ones he named grass that flowed in the wind as if brushed by invisible hands.

Eventually we came upon an enormous structure built from gray rocks. It too had been claimed by the green; a web of leaves wound up the sides. A vast number of broken steps led up to the gaping doors, and two giant stone monsters guarded the entrance. I eyed them warily. We all stopped and stared. Unlike the others, this place had an air of majesty, even in its disrepair. I could tell great things had happened here.

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