From AWOL…

Mathew woke us with a swift rap at the door.

“This is becoming a habit.” 

He smiled though I did not see much mirth. He’d come to tell us that we were going to meet with the leaders. They wanted to see this fabled Adam. We followed him through the compound that was well hidden in a canopy of trees.

As we walked, I noticed the people around us. Most of them were boys from about ten years upwards. A few were older, some by the look of it in their twenties. They would have been the ones who were the first to go AWOL. All of them had that certain leanness which spoke of having spent time in surroundings that were anything but comfortable. Peter was standing in the centre of the group.

“I’m sorry about your injury. It wasn’t meant. The boy who did it was jumpy. He’s had a hard time of it. I do hope you’ll forgive him,” he said apologetically.

I had to double-take to confirm that this was definitely the Peter who had accompanied us on our escape. It was the guy who had found the tunnels and who had found us refuge along the way. However, the one standing in front of me now was something else again. I found it difficult to put my finger on it, but he was different. He was standing there with the others and we were here. That was it! He was one of them not one of us. He must have seen the dawning realisation in my face.

“Yes, you’ve guessed,” he said with a touch of a smile on his face. “I’m sorry for the subterfuge.” 

He looked at his hands for a while and then back at the three of us. 

“I was the first to escape the Finals. Like you, I was a straight A student. That was until the final term when my grades began to drop, inexplicably. Like you, I was to be led off to disappear and like you, I escaped. We both had something they wanted yet couldn’t control.”

“Just what is that thing?”

“Imagination, free thought, integrity. Whatever you have, whatever we share, they will have it or destroy it. Now that we are all working together, we may have a chance to change things.”

I was dubious about my ability to change anything. I didn’t even know what I could change it into.

“The only good thing we could change about it is to get rid of it all,” Evie put in.

“Yes, Evie. And that would change nothing apart from making us like them.” 

Evie bridled at his words.

“So, what do you suggest then? Should we just not go in and have a little chat, say that we know what they’ve been doing and that, if they promise to change, we will forgive them?”

“It might not be as far off the mark as you may think. They have three weaknesses, three Achilles heels. Their weapons for keeping the margins in abeyance are the Incomings. They keep us weak whilst fortifying their citadels. We don’t yet know how they control the waters but we are certain that they are no longer anything to do with nature; they come too frequently and are a little too precise. The Family’s power supply is another thing. All the power now is generated by nuclear or fission and they will have their generating plants well hidden. Get to those and we have the keys to the kingdom,” he said with a note of certainty before he paused.

“What’s the last one,” Mathew asked.

“The last one is perhaps the most difficult. They have laboratories that they use to bring into being the next generation. That is how they get around the problem of having no breeding-age females around. Those of you who get through the finals then get the chance to donate your essence to the labs. It’s one big breeding programme aimed at weeding out the weak and sustaining the strong. But, only the strong ones who conform.”

“Where’s that?” I asked.

“That’s the hard part. We don’t really know.”

“So how are we ever going to destroy it if we don’t know where it is?”

“We capture somebody who does know. Your old principal for example. He’s more than just a teacher, he was one of the inner Family members. We think he took over at the Academy just to keep an eye on you. That’s why we put Mathew in there with you.”

I turned to Mathew, Smithies of old, and I marvelled at his dedication to the cause. All those years of humiliation, all those years of being on the endangered list; just for me. I hoped I was worth it.

“There’s another thing, how much do you trust Jamie?”

Jamie? I hadn’t thought about him since we left the library.

“Why Jamie?”

“I heard there was some trouble between you two.” 

His eyes shifted momentarily to Evie and then back to me.

I shrugged in response to this.

“How sure are you that the Jamie you met at the library is your brother?”

I was stunned by the bluntness of the question, a question that seemed to need no answer.

“You mean…”

I could barely conjugate my thoughts before Peter continued.

“Yes. We think that he is not the brother you would like to remember. We think that he has been changed. It all came together before the library fell. Jamie could not restrain himself any longer once you were in the vicinity. We think he tried to kill you once before, in the streets.” 

I remembered the incident and my recall stripped away at the shadows surrounding the sniper who had taken a shot at me. Peter saw my thoughts. 

“Yes, that was probably him. As we were escaping into the tunnels, he tried again.”

“What happened?”

“We got you out of there, but he will never give in. Neither will Grimes. They’re from the same pod those two; warrior stock. They’ll not be shaken off. Sooner or later we’ll have to face them.”

Just as he was saying this, one of the boys ran into the room.

“There’s something in the sky. It’s travelling really fast and it’s coming our way.” 

The first of the explosions provided the punctuation for the end of his sentence.   

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