Read Enclave Online

Authors: Ann Aguirre

Enclave (5 page)

I glanced at Fade, who lifted a shoulder. I guessed that meant I should do the talking. “We found him in an emergency shelter, and he says he has important news.” That was an exaggeration, but I didn’t want to admit I hadn’t been tough enough to leave him. The Hunter’s number one tenet: “The strong survive.” I’d proven myself soft today, when it came down to it, and who knew how Fade would tell the story.

“I do,” the brat wheezed. “They sent me from Nassau.” He named the closest settlement, three days in the tunnels if you were fast and strong. I couldn’t imagine why they’d chosen him. “They sent me because they could afford to lose me,” he went on.

That, I could believe. It sounded like a decision our elders would make.

“They had no Hunters to spare. We’re surrounded by Freaks and they hoped if I got through, maybe you would send help.”

Unlikely. Though College traded with Nassau, we had no terms of alliance, no policy of rendering aid. Each enclave governed itself and survived—or not—according to its own strength. But Silk had wanted information on whatever had the Freaks so stirred up; this counted. Maybe I could use this as my defense when I was accused of weakness and dereliction of duty.

“They’re all over Nassau too?” Silk asked, her face somber. “Our elders do need to know this. Thanks for the news.” She turned to Fade and me. “As for the two of you…” She smiled.

Yes, I could see we were going to be sorry.

“Since you thought it best not to follow your orders and we now have new information, you can check it out. You’re going to Nassau.”

I froze. “Just us?”

didn’t like Fade. I saw it in her eyes. “Do you have a problem with your orders, Huntress?”

“No, sir. What would you like us to do there?”

Her smile turned ugly. “If they are present in such numbers as the brat reported, I don’t expect you to kill them. This will be recon. If you can, find out what’s causing this behavior shift. In the old days, they attacked the enclaves nonstop and then they learned to fear us—our weapons and our traps. Discover
they don’t fear us anymore. It may be important.”

“What about him?” Fade lifted the boy in his arms.

Silk shrugged. “He’s served his purpose. Even Nassau doesn’t want him back.”

Part of me wanted to suggest giving him food and water, having the medicine man look at him. I froze beneath the weight of her cool eyes. With a flicker of distaste, she handed the brat over to the guard, who handled him as if he were already dead. I bit my tongue until I tasted blood. I had to be tougher.
to be. Or I’d never make it as a Huntress. Rarely, people lost their jobs. They couldn’t take away my marks, but they could make me cover them with cloth armbands. They could still make me a Breeder.

A good portion of the enclave occupied that role. It kept our numbers up. Far fewer became Builders or Hunters, and the new blood
heard about our Breeder heritage from the older ones.
Maybe you should be a Breeder after all,
they’d say. It did no good to point out,
but nearly everyone comes from Breeder stock.
Defending the claim only threw fuel on the fire, and there were always those elite few whose sire and dam had been Hunters before age rendered them unfit.

So I said nothing. The brat was crying again, but this time Fade didn’t comfort him. He stood beside me, silent for his own reasons, and I had the unmistakable feeling—it buzzed about me like an insect—that I’d disappointed him. I felt sad and sick and scared, because tomorrow we had to go to Nassau. I didn’t think Silk expected us to survive. I might’ve been the best of the last group, but I wasn’t irreplaceable. She wanted me to know that—and if I lived, to come back cowed and ready to follow orders, no matter what.

“Are we dismissed?” Fade asked.

“Yes. Be on time tomorrow,” Silk said smiling.

He took my hand in a painful grip and dragged me through the warren of partitions. I didn’t know where we were going, until we stopped at a random living space. By the way he stepped inside, it had to belong to him. One simply didn’t treat anyone else’s home with such disrespect.

For that reason, I stood outside the curtain until he said, “Get in here.”

It wasn’t the politest invitation I’d ever received. Frowning, I stepped in. His space looked more or less like mine. We all had the same amenities. “What?”

He dropped onto a crate, elbows on his knees. His face held an emotion I couldn’t read and had never seen, but it hit me in a raw place. My skin prickled. I needed to go wash up and take care of my weapons; my club especially needed a good cleaning. I was in no mood to spend another minute with him. He’d been nothing but trouble since the first moment Silk stuck me with him.

“They’re going to kill him,” he said hoarsely.

And how I wished I didn’t know that—or
. As a Huntress, I wasn’t supposed to. I should care about the greater welfare of the enclave. My job existed to keep our citizens safe. Protection didn’t extend to brats we found in the tunnels, unless they were like Fade, strong enough to survive on their own. We couldn’t afford to feed and care for weaklings.

“I know.”

“That could be me.”

“It couldn’t,” I pointed out. “You’re not defective.”

He glared with black eyes that burned like coals, lunging to his feet. “That’s disgusting.”

When he stepped into my space, I didn’t back away. “Then why do you stay? I’ll tell you. Because it’s better than being
out there

“Is it?” he asked. “How would you know?”

I flushed at the implication that I was ignorant and inexperienced, but I didn’t back down. A Huntress wouldn’t. “If you had anything better waiting, you’d be long gone. You hate it here, and you hate all of us too.”

of you. At least, not until today.”

“Because of the brat.”

“Get out,” he said, wheeling away from me. “I was stupid for thinking I could talk to you, for thinking you’d understand anything.”

Grinding my teeth, I shoved through the curtain and out into the warren. A passing Builder leered at me. “You know you can get in trouble for visiting a boy’s personal space. But if you do something for me, I won’t tell anyone.”

today. Yes, I’d broken a minor rule by going in without a chaperone, but I was in no mood for this. “I wasn’t in there long enough for anything to happen. If you shut up and walk away,
now, I won’t shove your nose through your face.”

When I reached for my club, the boy ran. Apparently he had some brains. Sure, he’d probably report me, but it was my word against his. And since I was heading off for Nassau tomorrow—and might not make it back—minor disciplinary action for uncivil behavior didn’t bother me much.

After stopping in my space for clean clothes, I went to the female facilities, a part of the enclave curtained and off-limits to males. A constant trickle of more or less clean water came from the metal tubes arrayed in this area. We didn’t know who had planned this place, but we were glad for the running water. Anything we drank, we boiled, but this was clean enough to wash in.

At this hour, nobody else was around, and I honestly preferred it that way. I didn’t like the way some girls compared bodies. My body was a machine, plain and simple. I worked it to stay strong; I fed it to keep it running.

I got undressed. It was cool in here and the water was cold too, which made it worse. Taking a scoop of soap from a pot on the floor, I washed up quickly beneath the unsteady trickle. If I turned the wheel, I could get more at one time, but then I’d hear about it from Twist, who monitored our resources.

By the time I finished my shower and dressed in my spare outfit, my anger had cooled slightly. It wasn’t fair to be angry at Fade; he couldn’t help his crazy outlook. As we were told from the time we were brats, where you were raised made all the difference. The people in Nassau had some wild ideas for sure; they didn’t have a breeding schedule like we did, so they looked … strange when their trading parties visited, and from their smell, they didn’t care much about cleanliness either. We always offered to let them wash up in our facilities, but they’d smile with black teeth and say, “Why bother? We’re just going to get dirty again on the way back.”

But it had been a long time since we’d seen any of them, apart from the brat.

And Fade came from even farther away. At least, I assumed he did. It wasn’t like he’d told me—or
, as far as I knew.

I just wished he hadn’t involved me. If only I’d refused to follow him, if only I’d stayed in the back ways, where we’d been assigned. We never would’ve found the brat, and we wouldn’t be going to Nassau tomorrow. But the second Hunter tenet wouldn’t let me do that, either. First, it was, “the strong survive.” Second, it was, “trust your partner.” My bad luck to be stuck with Fade.

No point dwelling on it—I had chores to do. First, I washed my filthy clothes and hung them up to dry. By the time I finished caring for my club, cleaning and polishing it, so the Freak blood wouldn’t stain the wood, I felt almost resigned. We could’ve been punished worse for disobeying orders. At least we had a chance of surviving this run, so long as we were quiet and careful.

I went to try and relax a little before bed. Thimble and Stone found me in the common area, after their shifts ended. I sat watching random Breeders and Builders play some stupid guessing game. The Hunters socialized elsewhere, but I didn’t feel like facing them. Fade might be there, for one thing, and I didn’t want to see him at the moment. On another level, I wasn’t sure what they thought of me. I was still new blood, and a troublemaking one at that.

“Is it true?” Stone whispered.

I didn’t bother asking what they’d heard. “Probably.”

left your patrol route?” Thimble asked, incredulous.

It was worse than I’d thought. “We did.”

Part of me wanted to lay the blame on Fade. I wanted to say,
It wasn’t my idea. He ran off, and it’s my job to follow him.
But I hadn’t objected. I hadn’t yelled,
Where are you going? Our route is
My instinctive response had been to help whoever was making that noise. I could tell myself I’d been investigating a possible Freak presence, but Freaks didn’t signal. They just attacked. So out there, I’d made a choice and now I had to live with the consequences. Stone and Thimble wore identical looks of shock and disbelief.

“Why?” Stone finally asked.

Because I’m weak. I’m not a Huntress. I have a Breeder’s heart.
But I’d never say it aloud. That left me with no answer at all. Thankfully, they didn’t press.

Thimble patted me on the arm. “At least we got news from Nassau. The elder Builders had been wondering why we haven’t seen any trading parties in a while.”

They couldn’t know about the brat. Or maybe they did—and didn’t care. Like I wasn’t supposed to. I shouldn’t be thinking about his thin little face or his white eyes.

“Is it true you’re being sent there?” Stone wanted to know.

“It is. Recon only.”
. I guessed my misgivings showed on my face.

“Oh, Deuce,” Thimble whispered.

When they hugged me from either side, I didn’t fight at all.



In the morning, at the briefing, the other Hunters refused to meet my eyes. With Fade as a partner, I’d never earn their respect or share in the tight bonds I’d always admired. To make matters worse, I’d compounded the problem with my tardiness, leaving my patrol route and bringing the Nassau brat back instead of following orders. Jaw clenched, I let Silk’s voice wash over me until I heard the customary words:

“Is everyone clear on their jobs today? Then good hunting.”

The others headed off, but Silk stepped in front of Fade and me, blocking our path. “It’s a hard three-day hike. I’ll expect you back in seven days. If you’re not here, I’ll assume you’ve been eaten and promote two likely brats to take your places. Is that clear?”

“Yes, sir,” I muttered in unison with Fade.

“Do you have provisions ready?” Silk asked.

Water, dried meat, a blanket, a map of the tunnels, my spare outfit, and my weapons—if those counted, then yes. I nodded. Satisfied with our responses—and that we were suitably cowed—Silk stepped aside. I’m sure she knew that if we survived, she’d have no more trouble with us deviating from our assignments. Next time, I’d keep Fade on task if I had to hit him from behind and drag him.

Heart heavy with dread, I led the way to the barricades. The guards didn’t taunt us, but since they’d been on duty yesterday, one smirked at me. I wondered if he’d been ordered to kill the blind brat personally. Not wanting to think about it, I broke eye contact first and vaulted over the first barrier.

Rules exist for our protection,
I told myself. But I couldn’t kill the sick sourness in my stomach. Maybe Stone was the lucky one after all, even suffering through loss of the brats. He didn’t have to deal with punishments like this.

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