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Unwind, p.33

Unwind, page 33

 part  #1 of  Unwind Dystology Series


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Page 33


  "How much do you hate them?" Cleaver asks again.

  "Totally and completely," answers Lev.

  "And how much do you hate the people who would take parts of you and make them parts of themselves?"

  "Totally and completely. "

  "And how much do you want to make them, and everyone else in the world, pay?"

  "Totally and completely. " Someone has to pay for the unfairness of it all. Everyone has to pay. Hell make them.

  "Good," says Cleaver.

  Lev is amazed by the depth of his own fury—but hes becoming less and less frightened of it. He tells himself thats a good thing.

  "Maybe hes for real," says Blaine.

  If Lev makes this commitment, he knows theres no turning back. "One thing I need to know," Lev asks, "because Julie-Ann . . . she wasnt very clear about it. I want to know what you believe. "

  "What we believe?" says Mai. She looks at Blaine, and Blaine laughs. Cleaver, however, puts his hand up to quiet him. "No—no, its a good question. A real question. It deserves a real answer. If youre asking if we have a cause, we dont, so get that out of your head. " Cleaver gestures broadly, his hands and arms filling the space around him. "Causes are old news. We believe in randomness. Earthquakes! Tornados! We believe in forces of nature—and we are forces of nature. We are havoc. Were chaos. We mess with the world. "

  "And we messed pretty good with the Admiral, didnt we," says Blaine slyly. Cleaver throws him a sharp gaze, and Mai actually looks scared. Its almost enough to give Lev second thoughts.

  "How did you mess with the Admiral?"

  "Its done," says Mai, her body language both anxious and angry. "We messed, and now its done. We dont talk about things that are done. Right?"

  Cleaver gives her a nod, and she seems to relax a bit. "The point is," says Cleaver, "it doesnt matter who or what we mess with, just as long as we mess. The way we see it, the world doesnt move if things dont get shaken up—am I right?"

  “I guess. ”

  "Well, then, we are the movers and shakers. " Cleaver smiles and points a finger at Lev. "The question is, are you one too? Do you have what it takes to be one of us?"

  Lev takes a long look at these three. These are the kinds of people his parents would hate. He could join them just out of spite, but thats not enough—not this time. There must be more. Yet, as he stands there, Lev realizes that there is more. Its invisible, but its there, like the deadly charge lurking in a downed power line. Anger, but not just anger: a will to act on it as well.

  "All right, Im in. " Back at home Lev always felt part of something larger than himself. Until now, he hadnt realized how much he missed that feeling.

  "Welcome to the family," says Cleaver, and gives him a slap on the back so painful, he sees stars.

  36 Risa

  Risa is the first to notice somethings wrong with Connor. Risa is the first to care that somethings wrong with Lev.

  In a moment of selfishness, she finds herself aggravated by it, because things are going so well for her now. She finally has a place to be. She wishes this could remain her sanctuary beyond her eighteenth birthday, because in the outside world shed never be able to do the things shes doing now. It would be practicing medicine without a license—fine when youre in survival mode, but not in the civilized world. Perhaps, after she turned eighteen, she could go to college, and medical school— but that takes money, connections, and shed have to face even more competition than in her music classes. She wonders if maybe she could join the military and become an Army medic. You dont have to be a boeuf to be in a medical unit. Whatever her choice ends up being, the important thing is that there could be a choice. For the first time in a long time she can see a future for herself. With all these good thoughts in her life, the last thing she wants is something that will shoot it all down.

  This is what fills Risas mind as she makes her way to one of the study jets. The Admiral has three of his most accessible and well-appointed jets set aside as study spaces, complete with libraries, computers, and the resources to learn anything you want to learn. "This is not a school," the Admiral told them shortly after they arrived. "There are no teachers, there are no exams. " Oddly, its precisely that lack of expectation that keeps the study jets full most of the time.

  Risas duties start shortly after dawn, and it has become her habit to begin her day at one of the study jets, since at that time of the morning shes usually the only one there. She likes it that way, because the things she wants to learn make other kids uncomfortable. Its not the subject matter that bothers them, its the fact that Risas the one studying it. Anatomy and medical texts, mostly. Kids assume that just because she works in the medical jet, she knows all there is to know. It disturbs them to see her actually having to learn it.

  When she arrives today, however, she discovers Connor already there. She stops at the hatch, surprised. Hes so absorbed in whatever hes reading that he doesnt hear her come in. She takes a moment to look at him. Shes never seen him so tired—not even when they were on the run. Still, shes thrilled to see him. They have both been so busy, there hasnt been much time to spend together.

  "Hi, Connor. "

  Startled, he looks up quickly and slams his book closed. When he realizes who it is, he relaxes. "Hi, Risa. " By the time she sits down beside him, hes smiling, and doesnt seem quite so tired. Shes glad she can have that kind of effect on him.

  "Youre up early. "

  "No, Im up late," he says. "I couldnt sleep, so I came here. He glances out one of the little round windows. "Is it morning already?"

  "Just about. What are you reading?"

  He tries to push it out of view, but its too late for that. He has two books out. The bottom volume is a book on engineering. Thats no surprise, considering the interest hes taken in the way things work. Its the book on top—the one his nose was in when she arrived—that catches her by surprise, almost making her laugh.

  "Criminology for Morons?"

  "Yeah, well, everyone needs a hobby. "

  She tries to take a long look into him, but he looks away. "Theres something wrong, isnt there?" she asks. "I dont need to read Connor for Morons to know that youre in some kind of trouble. "

  He looks everywhere but into her eyes. "It isnt trouble. At least not for me. Or maybe it is in some ways, I dont know. "

  "Want to talk about it?"

  "That," says Connor, "is the last thing I want to do. " He takes a deep breath and shifts in his chair. "Dont worry, everything will be fine. "

  "You dont sound too sure. "

  He looks at Risa, then looks at the hatch, making sure theyre still alone. Then he leans in close to her and says, "Now that the Goldens are . . . no longer around, the Admirals going to be looking for replacements. I want you to promise me that if he asks you to help him, youll turn him down. "

  "The Admiral doesnt even know I exist. Why would he ask me for anything?"

  "Because he asked me," Connor says in an intense whisper. "And I think hes asked Emby, too. "


  "All Im saying is that I dont want you to be a target!"

  "A target for what? For whom?"

  "Shhh! Keep your voice down!"

  She looks again at that book he was reading, trying to piece it all together, but there just arent enough pieces. She gets close to him, forcing him to look at her. "I want to help you," she says. "Im worried about you. Please let me help you. "

  He darts his eyes back and forth, trying to find an escape from her gaze, but he cant. Suddenly, he bridges the small distance between them and kisses her. She did not expect it, and when he breaks off the kiss she realizes from the look on his face that he hadnt expected it either.

  "What was that for?"

  It takes a moment for him to get his brain functioning again. "That," he says, "is in case something happens and I dont see you again. "

  "Fine," she says, and she pulls him into another kiss—this one longer than the fi
rst. When she breaks it off, she says, "Thats in case I do see you again. "

  He leaves, awkwardly stumbling out and nearly falling down the steel steps to the ground. In spite of all that just went on between them, Risa has to smile. Its amazing that something as simple as a kiss can overpower the worst of worries.

  * * *

  Levs troubles appear to be of a different nature, and Risa finds herself frightened by him. He comes to infirmary call that morning with a bad sunburn. Since hes a fast runner, hes been assigned messenger duty. Mostly, it involves running back and forth between the jets carrying notes. Its one of the Admirals rules that all messengers wear sunscreen, but it seems Lev is no longer bound by anyones rules.

  They make small talk for a bit, but its awkward, so she quickly gets down to business. "Well, now that your hair is longer, at least your forehead and neck seem to have been spared. Take off your shirt. "

  "I kept my shirt on most of the time," he says.

  "Lets have a look anyway. "

  Reluctantly, he removes his shirt. Hes burned there as well, but not as badly as on his arms and cheeks. What catches her attention, however, is a welt on his back in the faint shape of a hand. She brushes her fingers across it.

  "Who did this to you?" she asks.

  "Nobody," he says, grabbing the shirt back from her and slipping it on. "Just some guy. "

  "Is someone on your team giving you trouble?"

  "I told you, its nothing—what are you, my mother?"

  "No," says Risa. "If I were your mother, Id be rushing you off to the nearest harvest camp. "

  She means it as a joke, but Lev doesnt find it funny, "Just give me something to put on the burns. "

  Theres a deadness to his voice thats haunting. She goes to the cabinet and finds a tube of aloe cream, but she doesnt hand it to him just yet. "I miss the old Lev," she says.

  That makes him look at her. "No offense, but you didnt even know me. "

  "Maybe not, but at least back then I wanted to. "

  "And you dont want to anymore?"

  "I dont know," says Risa. "The kid Im looking at now is a little too creepy for my taste. " She can tell that gets to him. She doesnt know why it should, because he seems proud of his new creep factor.

  "The old Lev," he says, "tricked you into trusting him, then turned you in to the police the first chance he got. "

  "And the new Lev wouldnt do that?"

  He thinks about it, then says, "The new Lev has better things to do. "

  She puts the tube of burn cream in his hand. "Yeah, well, if you see the old one—the one who always thought about God and his purpose and stuff—tell him we want him back. "

  Theres an uneasy silence and he looks down at the tube in his hand. For a moment she thinks he might say something that brings a hint of that other kid back into the room, but all he says is, "How often do I put this on?"

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