Archive for July, 2014


 

            Jace was trying to hide his worry from those around him, not that they would notice anyways – they were all still in a great deal of shock. Sophia, who seemed to be the most together of them, still didn’t seem to fully realize that her dog was walking circles around her, trying to get Sophia to run and play with her. Every once in a while the dog would nuzzle its head into Sophia’s hand and she would absent mindedly pet it as she walked but she never looked at the dog, never acknowledge it was there or called its name. She just stared blankly ahead and walked.

Occasionally Sophia turned to Jace and seemed startled that he was still there. She would make brief eye contact with him and force some conversation or ask a question. But it was as though she was not fully sure that he was real, as though part of her might think this was just a bad dream from which she would wake any minute now and fine herself just waking up for the day. Every time it was made clear this was the reality she seems startled by it.

The others in the group where just as poorly off, if not worse. Most of them couldn’t bring themselves to make conversation. Without the link Jace wondered if they could even speak. This seemed a little odd to him, most people still that dependent on the link wouldn’t have been seen as rebellious enough to be sent out of the society. Most people that dependent would have been sent for reprograming. This just made Jace all the more curious as to what their thoughts had betrayed in them. Something radical must have been going on inside their heads to lead to this fate?  What it could be was more terrifying than what it wasn’t. If they still conformed to the social protocols then only extreme criminal desires would have them excommunicated like this. He hoped that the criminal desires weren’t at an extreme end of that spectrum.

Then again, they might simply still be stunned, like Sophia unable to believe that they weren’t just dreaming. Jace wasn’t in this state of denial. He knew what he was walking into. Or thought he had at least, but the drop point was not where he had anticipated it would be. They had moved it about a day’s walk east of where the survivors had been spotted, assuming Jace was remembering the terrain correctly. The ground here was much more hostile than the first drop point. Open land with little shelter. If they failed to find cover before the first acid rainfall they wouldn’t survive long enough to make it out to where the others were.

After walking for what must have been hours the group came to a ridge.  The ground in front of them dropped down a few feet into a small stream which was flowing through the rocky ground on either side. The sun was starting to set in the sky and Jace couldn’t bring himself to take another step. He tried to remember if this stream was classified as drinkable or not. He wracked his brain, trying to remember the maps he had studied, missing the instant knowledge of the link for the first time. Before he could remember the answer, another member of the group approached the ridge, saw the water and jumped down into it before Jace could try and stop them, try to explain that the water might not be safe to drink. Like the rest of them, this young man was only focusing on the thirst he had after walking all day in the sun. After taking a sip he waved the others down to join him. Slowly, one by one, they jumped down from the ridge and followed this man’s lead.

“So, should we join them?” Sophia’s voice was faint, her throat clearly torn up and dry. Jace looked down at those splashing and drinking from the stream below. There was no redness on their skin, no indication that there was still acid in the water at least. No one seemed to have any instant negative effects from the water at least.

“I don’t see why not” he replied hesitantly.

With that Sophia joined the others jumping down from the ridge and the dog followed her. For the first time since they had left the drop point Sophia seemed to become aware of the dog’s presence as it splashed along beside her. “Oh Silver, there you are. Good girl.”

Jace watched for a few more minutes. Still hesitant to go down with the others, the water might be acid free but there were plenty of other slower moving toxins and pathogens which could be present in it. Things which wouldn’t affect you for days or weeks after, things which he doubted they would be able to find the remedies for out in the middle of nowhere. After a few more moments though the thirst he was experiencing got to him. He joined the others below.

The water was cooler than he was expecting, and not overly deep. It barely came up past his ankles in this little stream. He bent down to scoop up a handful of it. It was clear, no discoloration, a good sign. Jace finally brought the water to his lips and let it pour into his mouth, tilting his head back as far as it would go. The water tasted crisp and clean. Jace re-cupped his hands and scooped up another handful of water to take another drink. It might just have been how thirsty he was but this was some of the freshest water he had ever tasted.

After a few more sips Jace joined in with the playful spashing of the others, cleaning the dirt and dust from the walk off his face and arms as they went. It felt good to get cooled down after the long hot day they had.

By the time they were done and ready to move on the sun had dipped even lower in the sky and there was little light left. Down a ways on the banks of the stream there were a few trees and the ridge above swooped over the top in a “C” shape overhang, providing some shelter. Jace saw this place and went to the ridge to start pulling down dead branches and began making a fire. Some of the others, once they had their fill of the water, came and joined in his efforts.

Sophia and Silver were the last to come join them, by this time they had managed to get a fire started which proved to be a necessity as the sun dipped out of sight and the air grew cold. Their soaking clothes deepened the chill and they all gathered around the fire to dry off before they slept.

“Tha…nk you.” A quiet unsure voice came from somewhere to Jace’s right. He looked up to see the face of the first young man to jump down into the stream. So at least one of them could speak, that was comforting. A fellow rebel was always welcome in Jace’s eyes.

“Without you I’m sure I’d still be sitting where the dropped us in shock. And without her,” the man nodded to Sophia and Silver. “Her dog had nudged me until I was willing to follow.” Silver had done this with many of the others too. Jace assumed that like any animal given the chance to come out here Silver would have just run off. The main reason those with pets were allowed to bring them was because they were unwanted in the city and were known to abandon their owners when presented with the chance of freedom at the drop point. For many this was the last heart wrenching blow needed to break them into begging their way back on to the bus. Silver was different.

 When the doors had unlocked Jace was among the first to stumble out. From many of the other compartments dogs and cats had sprung out and wandered off, their owners stumbling out after them, some realizing that their pets had gone, others too stunned by the bright sun and change of surroundings to notice. Silver on the other hand had nudged opened the door and sat inside waiting for Sophia to exit. She had sat with Sophia until Jace had approached jerking Sophia out of her train of thought. Silver had some up and sniffed at Jace as he and Sophia talk. As soon as Silver was convinced Sophia was going to follow Jace Silver had been the first to run over to the nearest person and encourage them to come along, sometimes nudging their backs licking their faces or pulling at the hem of their pants. Silver had stayed with a few of them after Sophia and Jace had given up and this young man was one of those who Silver had wrangled into following along at the last minute.

Even now Silver was at Sophia’s side, licking her drying and enjoying the heat given off by the fire. Sophia in turn was running her fingers through the dog’s long hair, doing her best to comb through it and prevent it from matting or tangling as it dried. They two of them had a strong bond, something the likes of which Jace hadn’t seen before. Sophia looked up at Jace just then and smiled. She looked truly happy and at peace for the first time. Hopefully things would stay that way.

Sophia got up and walked over to where Jace and the young man were sitting, “What are you boys talking about over here Jace?” Her voice had a teasing laugh to it, though she could all but guess the answer. There wasn’t much to be talking about at this time.

“Ummm… this fella and I..” Jace started

“Name’s Sidney, you can call me Sid everyone does, or did I guess.”

“Yeah Sid here and I were just talking about how much of a help your dog was this morning Sophia.”

“Soph, please. Only my mother calls me Sophia.” Soph replied. “Was she really?” by this time Silver had wandered over to join them and Soph patted the ground beside her telling Silver to sit. “I… I hadn’t really noticed.” She admitted, bashfully.

Sid launched into his story about the morning making Sophia smile and laugh. The three of them talked until the ambers started to burn down. Sid got up to tear off a few more branches to get things up enough to provide a little light while Sopha settled down with Silver, using the dog as a pillow. Jace stayed sitting up and watching.

Some of the others had struck up a conversation but a few still had not found their voice. With every new greeting that hit his ears Jace relaxed a little, but the longer the few stayed silent the more he worried about what desires they might have buried in their subconscious that would have been considered dangerous enough to banish them.

Eventually he couldn’t keep his eyes open any longer and with the crescent moon high in the sky overhead he let down his guard and let himself drift off. The last thing he remembered seeing as his eyes closed was Sid, looking around and walking over to the water’s edge again, bending down as though to scoop more water up into his mouth, though from where Jace lay with his eyes closing it never actually seemed like Sid took a drink.