Read Enclave Online

Authors: Ann Aguirre

Enclave (7 page)

I did.

“I’m sorry you didn’t get to sleep,” Fade said. “But we have to move on.”

He was right, of course. The corpses would draw more Freaks. I ripped the bottom of my shirt, used my daggers to cut strips and tied off the wound around my biceps to stop the bleeding. More precise treatment had to wait.

“It doesn’t matter.” I snagged my pack and leaped down from the platform. We had another two days of this to get through. And then it would get worse. “Have you been to Nassau before?”

“Once.” He broke into an easy run.

“What’s it like?” We probably shouldn’t be talking, even in whispers. But my curiosity got the best of me, and words took my mind off the throbbing pain.

Fade shrugged. “Like any settlement. Like yours, but worse.”

That damped my desire to ask further questions. We’d been running awhile when I realized I still wore his watch. Though I couldn’t be sure, I thought we’d been moving for about an hour. My eyes felt grainy and dry; my head ached. It only made sense to run as far as I could before I had to rest. An hour later, I stumbled.

“This has to be far enough,” I said. “I have to sleep.”

We stood in a tunnel that showed little sign of use in recent years. There was no lingering smell from Freak occupation. I hitched myself onto the stone ledge, which was wide enough for me to lie down on, if I curled onto my side. Far from the comfort of the stuffed rag mattress I had at home; that was a cozy nest by comparison, but right then I thought I could sleep anywhere.

“My watch?” He held out a hand.

I took it off, head spinning with weariness. This time, exhaustion would keep my mind from working too hard. “Sorry.”

After wrapping in my blanket, I propped my head on my arm, curled my knees toward my chest, and closed my eyes. I didn’t care if Fade watched me. The dark tide of sleep took me.

I dreamed of the thin-faced brat with his blind white eyes. Unlike in life, his neck twisted at the wrong angle. He staggered toward me, arms outstretched.
I trusted you
. His pale fingers shone like bones twisting in the air.

They killed you.

You
killed me.
He was nearly on me now, and I was frozen by the white of his eyes.
And now, you can’t kill me again. Can’t kill the dead.

Fade woke me. It felt like only an instant, but it must’ve been longer. He wouldn’t have bothered me unless my time was up. A hard breath shuddered through me as I became aware how cold I was, even beneath the blanket. Fearful sweat made my shirt stick to my back, and when I tried to pack my gear, my hands shook.

“You were whimpering. Want to talk about it?”

I closed my eyes. How embarrassing. I felt like the baby he’d accused me of being, the first time we met. But I didn’t want him to think it was something minor, like a Freak attack or being away from the enclave.

“I dreamed about the brat.”

Fade nodded. “That would do it. You good now?”

“Almost.” I had a little water to steady myself and then I got to my feet. “Another eight hours?”

“That would be best.”

Though I’d believed I was tough, considered myself as strong as any veteran Hunter, I thought that day would kill me. We took only minimal breaks because the Freaks had the scent of my blood. They hunted us through the tunnels, their numbers growing. Movement became a test of will, putting one foot after the other, until I wasn’t thinking about anything at all.

I ran in time to the pounding of my heart. With each step, my weight grew. More than once, I stumbled over broken ground. Fade never paused. I don’t know if that meant he trusted in my strength or that he’d leave me if I dropped. Either way, I wouldn’t test it. I could go as long as he could.

Eventually we stopped; we’d put in our eight hours and we needed rest. Fade found us an empty metal shelter, like the one where we’d found the brat. Unlike his, this one hadn’t been overturned. It simply sat abandoned on the metal lines.

We took turns using the facilities down the track a ways, and then combining our strength, we managed to pry the doors open and slip inside. They slammed shut at once, lending the illusion of safety. This would help, for sure. Freaks didn’t tend to consider teamwork. If one of them couldn’t open the door, they’d look for other ways in, and it would be noisy.

In addition to chairs, this box had benches bolted to the floor. I scanned the place for possible threats, but other than webs and dust, I saw nothing that could hurt us. My arm throbbed fiercely, the ache biting toward my shoulder, and I flinched as I dropped my bag.

“I need to look at that.” Fade stood beside me, indicating my wound.

Sinking down, I gave a jerky nod. “Go ahead.”

He unwound the makeshift bandages. I craned my neck so I could see too. Four parallel marks scored my shoulder, red, bloody, and puffy. I swore, recognizing the early signs of infection. Let go, this wound could cost my arm and then my life. Back at the enclave, tending it would be no problem. Out here, well, fear shivered through me.

Like he didn’t know the danger, he joked, “And here’s your first battle scar. How about it, new blood?”

“Hurts.”

“I know. I was lucky. I got blooded on my first patrol. Wasn’t quite fast enough and the Freak hit me.” He pulled his shirt up to show me the scar on his ribs.

“Was that with the guy who died?” Awkward way to ask, but I couldn’t think of any other.

Fade shook his head. “I’ve had two partners. The first was venerable. I learned
so
much from her. Eventually, they had to pull her off duty. She died of old age.”

“When?”

“A year ago.”

“And then you got the new blood. Who wasn’t as good as Silk said he was.”

“Pretty much.”

“So you’ve been hunting for two years.” That made him roughly two years older than me, give or take. A lifetime in field experience.

“That sounds about right.”

Well, while he’s in an answering mood
 …

“How long were you on your own?”

“You mean outside a settlement, living like the wild boy?”

I didn’t know what that meant exactly, but I did know we’d had to teach him civilized behavior. “Yeah.”

“About four years, I guess.” Like the rest, I had a hard time believing that, especially now I’d seen what it was like out here. I wanted to learn his secrets to augment my own survival chances.

But he turned away, letting me know the conversation was over. Fade dug into his bag and produced a little tin. Unlike the one that had nearly gotten us in trouble with the Wordkeeper, this one was silver and faded. He pulled the top off and a strong smell hit me; it wasn’t unpleasant, but more … medicinal. After daubing some on his fingertips, he smeared it on my wound, and it stung, bad.

“What is it?” That seemed like a safe conversational choice.

“It’s a salve one of the Builders made for me. Great for cleaning wounds. But I have no idea what’s in it.” He smiled at me. “Probably fungus.”

That surprised me. Not that he had something good for cleaning wounds that might be made out of fungus, but that there was a Builder who liked him well enough to do special work. “Who?”

“Girl named Banner.”

I knew who she was. Thimble had talked about her, before my naming. Back when I was still stuck in the brat dorm, while Stone and Thimble had moved on, I used to be jealous of how much she liked her.
Banner showed me how to make a leather bag,
she’d tell me in the common room. And I’d roll my eyes, because big deal, who wanted to make a stupid bag? I was going to be a
Huntress
, and I told myself that every night as I trudged back to the brat dorm while Stone and Thimble went to their private spaces.

“Maybe she’d make some for me?” Once the stinging stopped, it felt better. I felt it cleaning and tightening the skin. I’d take clean scars over seeping wounds any day.

“I don’t see why not. I’ll introduce you.” The warmth in his tone said he liked Banner, unlike the rest of us.

I frowned. First Thimble, now Fade. I should meet the girl, if only to find out what was so great about her. And request some of that salve too. I didn’t kid myself this was the last injury I would suffer. Assuming we lived.

I cut another strip from my shirt. His fingers brushed mine when I handed him the cloth, and his touch was gentle when he wrapped my shoulder. Part of my hair had come loose from its cord, and Fade brushed my hair away, keeping it out of the knots he tied. I felt strange, like I should move away
right now
, but he did it for me. I watched without meaning to, without wanting to, as he put the salve away.

By that point, I felt almost too tired to eat. I went to lie down, but he said, “No way, new blood. Eat. Drink. You have to stay strong, because I’m not carrying you.”

“I didn’t ask you to,” I muttered.

Growling mentally over nearly making such a basic mistake, I got out my provisions. I went about it mechanically. He ate with a little more enthusiasm, but he’d been patrolling longer than I had. No amount of training could substitute for actual experience. I’d get stronger. I had to.

“We should both be able to sleep,” I said. “If they find us, we’ll hear them trying to get in.”

“Agreed. And if we don’t get a full night’s rest, it will cost us down the line.”

In reflex, speed, and stamina, certainly. I didn’t want to think about other costs. “Will another day of running get us there?”

“It should.”

“What will we do then?”

He shrugged. “Impossible to say until we scope things out.”

A moment later, he delved into his bag a second time and produced a silver square. Fade flipped the top of it, rubbed his thumb along the side, and a thin flame shot up. I scrambled back. “What’re you
doing
?”

“Remembering.”

“What?”

“Before.”

My patience ran thin; I didn’t care to drag his past out of him. “What is it?”

“A lighter.” For the first time, he volunteered information. “It used to be my dad’s. Like the watch.”

I paused amid dragging my blanket out of my bag. “You remember him?”

“Yeah.”

That rocked me. In the enclave, we barely knew who our sires were. Most of them died before we got old enough to recognize their faces, and it wasn’t like it mattered. All Breeders looked after us until we were old enough to take basic brat schooling.

“Fade,” I began.

“That’s not my name.” He sounded angry, but not at me.

“It is now. Maybe somebody gave you a different name before, but you
earned
this one. That makes it true.” With every fiber of my being I believed that.

A sigh escaped him. “Yeah. I guess. What did you want to ask me?”

“Where are you from, really?”

I figured he’d name one of the distant settlements. Most people thought he’d gotten lost and somehow managed to survive on his own in the tunnels until our patrols found him. I
didn’t
expect him to say:

“Topside.”

“Fine,” I muttered. “Lie to me. I don’t care.”

Nobody lived up there. Nothing grew. Water fell from the sky and scored everything. We’d all heard the stories from the Wordkeeper. Disgusted, I rolled up in my blanket on a bench that ran parallel to the exterior wall. From this spot, the Freaks wouldn’t be able to see me from the outside. They might smell us all around this car, but they wouldn’t see us, and they weren’t very bright as a general rule. I ignored Fade pointedly until I fell asleep.

This time, oblivion brought no bad dreams. I went where everything was dark and quiet, and I stayed there until I awoke naturally. Fade appeared to be asleep as I pushed the hair from my eyes. It had fallen out of the tail I wore to keep it neat.

His voice stilled me, no more than a thread of sound. “Don’t move.”

“Why?” I breathed.

And then I didn’t need to hear an answer. Movement outside told me all I needed to know. Freaks prowled around outside the car; I couldn’t tell how many from the motions, but they suspected our presence. They smelled us.

I jumped as one slammed against the glass, trying to see into the shadows within. I willed myself smaller. Another thud—a Freak climbed onto the roof.
How many?
I needed to know the odds if they started pounding until glass splintered everywhere.

Maybe if we’re really still, they’ll go away.

The moments felt endless while they snarled and growled and yelped outside. I resisted the impulse to cover my eyes like a baby brat in hopes the scary things would go away. Instead I listened and tried to gather information. Based on the noise and the movement, there had to be fifteen of them out there. Maybe more.

And we were trapped.

Nassau

 

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