This week we return to my dystopian young adult future series as Sara begins to question her past.
I must have fallen asleep eventually because I open my eyes to see light streaming in through the window, it’s well past dawn. My sheets are a mess, almost entirely on the floor, and I leave them there as I get up and stretch. The house is always spotless, even if I have to stay up half the night to make it so. I won’t have Aaron living in filth but that same tidiness doesn’t apply to my room, my sanctuary.
There’s art displayed on the projectors on the walls. Some of it’s mother’s, most of it’s mine. I used to spend hours just drawing and painting, anything or nothing, just creating for the sake of it. I used to be good at it. These days I can never seem to find the time.
The first thing I do is check my infopad, there are some messages, a few interesting tidbits on some forums, but no jobs or at least none I want to take. There won’t be many with the Core on Eden now, with everyone keeping a low profile, I’ll need to find another way to make money, maybe I should take Garrett’s offer as uneasy as I’d feel working with him.
Even without a job, on Eden, there’s no such thing as a day off. It’s breeding season for the vaktas, the planet’s main source of meat, and I’ve promised I’d help out if I can. Aaron needs a haircut too and he insists I do it, every time, even though I’m a butcher with a laser. I’ll probably come to regret skipping breakfast but I’m not hungry, sometimes the very thought of food in the morning makes me sick. It may be the most important meal of the day, but it’s not one I need right now. This time I take the other speeder, the family’s speeder, and the only one anyone knows I have. It’s grey and rusted while dad’s is still white and gleaming. I could sell his old gear and bring in a fortune, maybe even enough to leave this rock, but I don’t want to lose the only connection I have to him, not yet at anyway.
I’ve no air conditioned armour on and no protection from the heat, but vaktas live underground, in caverns and burrows where it’s always cool. They’re smarter than we are.
The vaktas come out to the surface at night and while they’re not predators, you don’t want to face an angry, charging monster like that on your own. I’ve never seen the worst a vakta can do with its tusks or its clawed hooves but I’ve heard the stories and they’re enough to keep me cautious.
There are a dozen speeders and some bigger vehicles parked by the Locke’s Town vekta pen, and I guess there must be twenty people down there, easily, but no sign of Garrett’s speeder. I don’t know if I could face him again so soon. I spot Shawn’s speeder though, and set down beside it. Kicking off a storm of dust in protest.
“You’re late,” he calls, I hadn’t seen him beneath the canopy of rock stretching over the mouth of the cave. He’s the reason I volunteer for this every year, I really am that pathetic. Swooning over a boy when I could doing something so much more constructive or hell, even hacking Aaron’s hair to pieces.
“Wouldn’t want to disappoint you,” I call out, “besides, it means all the men have worked up a sweat by the time I get here.”
He grins, “you like that?”
I walk over to him, barely realising where my feet are taking me or how close I am. I’m never like this, never so forward. Not without my armour.
“You look a little weak,” Shawn says as a I approach, his voice brims with concern though I can’t say for sure whether it’s real or mocking, “maybe you should sit down for a bit.”
“Just a bad night’s sleep, I can look after myself.”
“I’m going to need proof of that.”
Sweat is rolling down my back, I feel like I’m the Wicked Witch of the West; about to melt into a puddle at any moment, but I grab him and plant a kiss firmly on his lips.”How’s that?” I ask, noticing my voice is embarrassingly high pitched. Aaron can probably hear me back home.
His words are cut off by a sound I recognise all too well. A gunshot coming from Locke’s Town, that in itself wouldn’t be unusual but it’s followed by another and more after that.
“Come on, we need to tell the others,” Shawn runs into the cave and I pelter after but it’s soon clear they already know. The vektas are anxious, their long curved snouts stuck into the air – it’s where their ears are – they’re listening for threats while the herdsmen try to calm them without much success.
“Shawn,” someone shouts, his father. A well liked man by the name of Walter, and one of the best shots on the planet. He’d be the sheriff of Locke’s Town, if Locke’s Town had a sheriff. “We’re taking the vektas further into the caves, I want you to go with them. Sara, you’re coming with me.” He cuts off Shawn’s protests, “she’ll be fine. Now go look after the herd.”
“She doesn’t even have a gun,” he protests and I feel a little annoyed despite the danger of the situation as another shot rings out.
“I can look after myself,” I say again, “your dad knows what he’s doing.” Does he, really? I don’t voice my concern, I want to know what this is about. For Aaron’s sake, but mostly to satisfy my own curiosity. The things a kiss does to a girl, now I’m throwing myself into harm’s way and sending Shawn into the caves but I don’t know whether I’m doing it for his sake or for mine. I’ve seen him shoot, he’s almost as good as his dad, almost as good as I am.
He stares between the two of us for a moment, unable to process being ordered to hide while I go into town, into harm’s way. Is it because I’m a girl, or is it because I’m me? Maybe he just doesn’t want to be left behind but after a moment, he shakes his head and stomps off. It’s been no more than a minute but our kiss is already history.
My eyes follow the back of his hair, watching the sway of that ponytail that delights and infuriates me at the same time. Shawn doesn’t look back and his dad is calling me to follow. “What was that about?” I ask as we set off, heading for our speeders.
“I been hearing stories about you, what you do. You see I got talking to that lawman out in the station when he swung by this morning. He told me about this armoured fella who took a hundred credits off of him for sending some poor bastard off with Kgill’s men. Only I reckon he wasn’t a fella.”
My heart’s beating so loudly I’m amazed he can’t hear it as we mount our speeders and he kicks off, I follow him and voice comes in through the radio.
“Now I know one guy who had armour and guns like the one he was describing on this whole planet and that was your dad. And if I know Jacob, which I’d like to think I did back in the day, he was planning for the future. With you.”
We’re heading away from Locke’s Town, away from the sound of gunfire, but my mind is too scattered to say anything.
“There’s no way he’d let his talents die, no way he’d have kept all that stuff with him just to rust. He taught you to shoot, didn’t he? He taught you to fight?”
It wasn’t a question, not really. I knew father had a history with Walter but had never found out what that was, maybe I finally would.
“Where are we going?” it’s all I can say.
“Your dad wasn’t the only one with a few guns on him.”
Our speeders turned into a short gorge, there’s a vault dug into the cliff and the door opens as Walter hops off his speeder. I haven’t seen him use an infopad, meaning access must be tied to his DNA and his proximity to the door. But stepping inside, I’m still surprised it hasn’t been robbed a dozen times over. Who has the money to put in a security system like this on Eden?
The lights flicker on and I find myself surrounded by row after row of guns, enough to supply a small army. There are what seem to be hover packs along the back wall and a ship, an actual spacecraft capable of leaving Eden behind and heading out for the stars.
“You could have left,” I breath, “you could have left at anytime.”
“Yeah, yeah. I could but I promised your dad, I wouldn’t. It’s his ship, most of stuff in here is,” he tosses me a rifle and I grip it, it’s old, but it can kill well enough. “No time to go back to your house but there’s some armour in the back, go see if any of it fits.”
“What about you?”
“I don’t care if they see me. Now go on, get dressed.”
I have so many questions but there’s so little time. I walk past the ship and it opens. It’s attuned to me just like the door was connected to Walter but I’ve never been here, I’ve never seen this ship before.
My dad was clearly no miner, but what does that make me?