Authors: Jason Halstead
Tags: #coming of age, #action, #science fiction, #robots, #soldier, #dystopian, #colonization
Krys swallowed and nodded. He’d thought
about that already. It wasn’t a thought he wanted to spend any time
on. “Let’s go. Fina, grab some stuff on the way.”
“Good luck!” Mig called over to them.
They all looked and saw everyone wave or
call their goodbyes before Mig led them off to the northeast,
deeper into the forest. Krys swallowed down the lump in his throat.
He was alone now. Well, alone with three other people. Good people,
he supposed, but he didn’t know any of them very well.
“You ready?” Janna asked with a touch less
roughness in her voice.
Krys rolled his shoulders and nodded. “Let’s
Janna rushed over and pulled out a makeshift
sack with some of her personal effects in and grabbed a pineapple.
“We need food, right?” she asked as she held it up. “Not like I
have anything else.”
Another tree fell behind them. “Good idea,”
Krys said. He motioned for the others. “Come on, guys, let’s go
east. Hopefully we can meet up with them in a couple of days.”
“Then what?” Fina asked.
Krys pressed his lips together before
answering, “Then we figure out what happens next.”
“This sucks,” Krys muttered under his
breath. Mr. Strain had taken his group to the northeast, which
meant Krys had to head either southeast or south. South was open
grounds filled with crops. Beyond that was open grasslands with
some occasional coverage from stands of trees. Not a good place to
hide from an army.
And the army in question sounded like it was
“We can move faster along the edge of the
forest,” Angelo suggested.
“I can’t imagine those tanks moving any
faster out there,” Janna responded while wiping her palms against
her pants to get some dirt and moss off them.
“Oh, good point,” Angelo said. “We could do
it until they follow us, then we jump back in the forest?”
“I thought they’d stop at the camp,” Krys
said. “Investigate it, at least, and buy us some time.”
“Why didn’t they?” Fina asked. “I could use
“At least we’re pulling them away from Mig
and the others,” Angelo pointed out.
Janna scowled at him. “I’ll see how good
that makes me feel when they line us up and shoot us.”
Krys’s eyes narrowed. They’d said they would
try to use each other to distract the soldiers. Would Mig come and
help them? Or if he did, would it help or just get them all
captured? The tanks were too fast. If Mig gave up what lead he had,
they’d all be caught. He bit his lip and glanced at the others.
“Keep going,” he said. “I want to take a
peek and see how they’re coming so fast.”
“That’s stupid!” Janna snapped. “They’re too
fast. You won’t be able to get away from them.”
“Mr. Strain and I trained for this. I can do
it,” Krys said.
“You’re just a kid,” Janna snapped. “No
Krys stiffened. He didn’t need to be
reminded he was the youngest. By a lot. Fina was the next closest
to him and she was twenty-one. She was one of the first people born
in their village, but unlike most of the others, she’d decided to
stay. None of that mattered, though; he was young but he was also
more active and more interested than any of them were. Any except
Mr. Strain, that is.
“Yeah, so that means I’m probably faster.
And remember before—they didn’t kill the kids, they captured them
“Krys, they shot first and captured later,”
Fina said. “I saw, okay? I was there when Dieter was carrying Emma
and we were running away. He told me to keep running no matter
Krys bit his lip and nodded.
“They killed him!” she continued. She took a
deep breath and stared up into the leaves of the trees. She shook
her head and blinked the tears down her cheeks. “Shot them both,”
Krys glanced at Angelo and Janna and saw
them both watching Fina. They looked away and continued walking
through the ferns and bushy underbrush of the forest. “Look, it’s
not like I’m going to stick around for them to catch me. I just
want to see. Maybe figure out how they’re following us so
“You took the locator out of the picker,
right?” Janna asked.
Angelo grunted and looked down at the
machinery in his arms. He frowned and held it away as though it
might bite him.
“Yes,” Krys said.
“Are you sure?”
Krys opened his mouth and hesitated. Was he?
“My dad showed me all sorts of stuff on them, including the
locator. I know how to fix just about anything we’ve got from
working with him.”
“We don’t have much of anything,” Janna
pointed out. “But I can’t figure out how else they’d know.”
“Then let me go see if I can find out!”
“No,” Fina said. “I’ve lost one baby
already. I don’t want anyone else getting hurt.”
Krys bristled and was about to snap back
that he wasn’t a baby when he caught the glare from Janna. She
always bordered on being rude but something about the way she
looked at him convinced him to keep his mouth shut.
He turned to glance at the highpicker again
and then snapped his fingers. “Put it down! The picker, I
Angelo set it down so fast he nearly dropped
it. He jumped back, staring at it with wide eyes as he said, “What?
Is that how they’re doing it?”
Krys pulled the control pad for the picker
and connected the power cell to it. It flared to life, allowing him
to bring up the on-screen controls for it. A moment later, the
rotors began to spin and in seconds it lifted off the ground and
hovered in the air.
“We don’t have time for this!” Fina
Krys turned the pad towards her and
displayed the viewport on the screen. “It’s got a camera—we can see
it from here.”
“Oh!” Fina said. She glanced at the others
“I think I might know how they were tracking
us, too,” Krys said. “The picker was powered on but in sleep mode.
It still emits a signal to notify the system that it’s ready for a
“A command to do something,” he explained.
“I guess they could use that ping to figure out a direction to
“Is it still doing that?”
Krys shook his head. “Not while it has a
mission. Right now I’ve switched it to manual controls, which is
basically the same thing.”
“So we should go now?” Fina asked.
“I’m not sure this is how they’re doing it,”
“Better safe than sorry,” Janna agreed. “We
can move a little.”
“Better yet, let me move the picker,” Krys
said. He sent it up high enough to clear the underbrush and then
tilted it forward so it gained speed and began to move through the
forest. He sent it south and out towards the open ground.
“How will we know?” Angelo asked.
Krys frowned and saw the others looking just
as mystified. “We’re back to me going and watching.”
“No!” Fina said a little too loudly.
Angelo hushed her while Janna glared.
“You want to go?” Krys asked the young
She clamped her mouth shut and shook her
“Look, they’ll follow the picker if I’m
right, so I’ll be safe hiding in a tree or something.”
“I’ll do it,” Angelo offered.
Krys frowned and looked at the others.
Fina’s chin was trembling as she wrestled with her waking
nightmares. Janna shook her head after a long stare with the big
man. “You’re too big,” she said. “Too easy to spot.”
Krys nodded. “You sound like a herd of vison
moving through the brush.”
Angelo harrumphed. He looked at Janna and
said, “You’re not any better.”
“No, I’m not. I’m a farmer,” she agreed.
“Can’t you see what they’re doing through
the camera on the picker?” Fina asked.
Krys realized they’d switched the direction
of the conversation and she hadn’t followed them. Angelo blinked,
confused at her question. Krys had to fight to keep from chuckling
at the man’s confused expression. “Sorry, this is confusing. If I
send the picker to watch them, we won’t know if they’re following
it because they see it or because they’re using some other way of
“Oh! I get it. So you have to watch them to
see if they’re following it, even though they can’t see it. That is
Krys kept himself from pointing out how
obvious it was and nodded instead. “And we’ve lost a lot of time
and distance just talking about it.”
“You’re sure about this?” Fina asked.
“Fina,” Janna growled. “Stop and think for a
minute. Who’s been working the hardest and coming up with the most
ideas and plans for all of us?”
Krys’s eyes widened as the surly farmer
stood up for him.
“Krys and Mig, that’s who,” Janna continued.
“We’ve all been moping about how lousy things are and about what we
lost. Those two have been working on keeping us alive. Mig got us
together but since then Krys and Mig both have made sure were doing
the right things and keeping food in our mouths.”
“Okay, but Krys is just a kid! No offense,
Krys, but I can’t imagine what this must be like for you. Losing
your friends and family and—”
“Stop,” Angelo said. “He’s gone through what
we all went through. Janna’s right. Krys has kept his head on
“And coming through like he has through what
happened? As far as I’m concerned, he’s no more of a child than you
or Angelo are,” Janna agreed.
Krys cleared his throat. “Okay, this is
weird. I’m standing right here. Can we stop talking about me?”
Angelo walked over and put his beefy hand on
Krys’s shoulder. “Just be careful, okay? You run hard and fast if
they don’t fall for it.”
Krys nodded and handed Fina the infopad.
“You know how to control one of these, right?”
He pulled out his smaller infopad and tucked
it under his arm so he could hand the satchel to Angelo. “All
right, Fina, keep it moving south and away. I’ll go look and try to
catch up after I see what they’re doing.”
“We’re heading east?” Janna asked.
Krys bit his lip and nodded. “East, to the
Pyrus Mountains. If you don’t run into Mig’s group, head south to
where they meet the Shatterplates. Wait there.”
“What if they don’t show up?” Fina
“Then you do what you need to do to
survive,” Krys said. “I’ll join you, but if it takes me awhile,
keep sending someone back to find me. Find a cave and lay low until
the sun rises again.”
“How are we going to survive that long?” she
“Caves should have water in them. If not,
find a stream. For food, do whatever you need to. Raid a village or
try to find some natural berries or nuts or something. You’ll find
a way, and if you don’t, I’ll be there to help.”
“You’d better get going,” Janna said.
“Good luck, Krys,” Angelo added.
Krys nodded and smiled. He waved to each of
them and turned back to the west. With a deep breath and a shrug of
his shoulders, he took off at a jog towards the growing sound of
Lily stood among a row of ten other
students. She was in the front row of five since she was younger
than the rest and shorter than all but two of them. Guards,
standing at attention for the spectacle, stood at both sides of the
stage. They weren’t traditional honor guards; these soldiers were
dressed in full combat armor that reminded her of the biomechs and
some of the soldiers she’d seen when they’d taken her from her
home. They held their rifles across their bodies without wavering,
adding to the silent threat.
President Ondalla walked out onto the stage
and was greeted with cheering that grew slowly. Lily stood as stiff
as she could but she looked over the standing students and staff of
the station and she could see that a lot of the cheering was
forced. Children taken from Venus only made up ten percent of the
student body of TLC-1; the others were from Mars, Earth, lunar
bases, and other agricultural and habitation stations. The
revolution was over before Lily and the people of Venus even knew
it had begun.
As Lily studied the students—her peers and
classmates—she realized that history texts could be written and
names could be changed, but her memories and the memories of others
would not. They would know what happened. She wondered how many of
them still woke up in the middle of the night screaming for a
friend who was taken from them in a burst of dirt and fire.
“Thank you, students and faculty. Thank
you!” President Ondalla addressed the gathered crowd. Not all of
the station’s population could fit in the auditorium that had been
built into one of the outer rings, so it was being filmed and
broadcast throughout both the station and the other human
settlements throughout the solar system.
When the applause died down, President
Ondalla continued. “I want to congratulate you all on being the
first in a new age of young adults who will reap the benefits of
our centralized education system. I know, it’s school and you’re
thinking how boring and miserable it is.” He paused and received a
smattering of laughter from the older kids and staff of the
station. “I remember being young and eager to get into the world
myself. But let me assure you this educational approach has been
studied and received the approval of scientists, doctors, and
working professionals throughout the entirety of human-colonized
He waited for a moment and was greeted with
more applause. Lily could barely see his face but she was pretty
sure he was smiling for the cameras. She was certain he believed
what he was saying and she had no reason to doubt it, but he seemed
too stiff to her. Or maybe she was still feeling defensive after
her meeting with him the day before.