kawuli (kawuli) wrote,
kawuli
kawuli

Proof that the spirit has not died: Chapter 2

Proof that the spirit has not died (12483 words) by kawuli
Chapters: 2/7
Fandom: Hunger Games Trilogy - Suzanne Collins, Hunger Games Series - All Media Types
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: Creator Chose Not To Use Archive Warnings
Characters: Original Female Character(s), Original Male Character(s)
Additional Tags: Alternate Universe - Canon Divergence, District 9 (Hunger Games), District 6, Normal people make the rebellion happen, Minor Character Death, Canon-Typical Violence, (actually not as bad as canon)
Series: Part 3 of These are truly the last days: Panem's rebellion from below
Summary:

"If the step were not being taken, if the stumbling-forward ache were not alive, the bombs would not fall, the throats would not be cut. For every bomb is proof that the spirit has not died."
--The Grapes of Wrath

The die is cast, the spark set, the flame growing. Zea finds herself swept up in a world she never dreamed of; Sara has been dreaming of setting this fire for years. What can a few people do against the Capitol? Much more than they ever expected.


Zea wakes up, slowly for once, nobody shaking her awake to give her something else to do. It’s dim here in the back of the cave, hard to tell time, but she’s pretty sure she slept a while.

She sits up and looks around. Milo’s asleep, and Lucerne, and other than them the place is empty. Zea stands up, stretches, her fingers brushing the low ceiling, and heads out.

Virgil’s sitting at the mouth of the cave, his injured leg stretched out in front of him, newly bandaged.

“You okay?” Zea asks.

Virgil shrugs. “Guess I ran around on it too much last night, started bleeding again. The Peacekeeper fixed it up.”

Zea nods, looks around absently. “Guess there’s probably no chance of coffee?”

Virgil chuckles. “Nah, there’s ration bars and water and that’s about it.”

Zea sighs, goes over to the box of bars and pulls one out. “This is gonna get old fast,” she says. Then bites her lip because she shouldn’t be complaining about boring food, that’s not even so different from long days cutting. She’s alive, more or less safe, and that ought to be enough.

Still. Ration bars taste like they’re made from wheat chaff and mud. Hell, maybe they are.

“Where’s the others?” she asks, chewing resignedly.

“Alister and Sara are on watch. Durum’s setting snares, maybe he’ll get lucky and we’ll have real food again.”

“Here’s hoping,” Zea says. “I didn’t know he could do that.”

Virgil shrugs. “Says he used to do it when he was a kid, out in the Depots. Nobody much cared since the rabbits got into the grain otherwise.”

“Huh.”

“Sit, Zea,” Virgil says. “There’s nothing to do just now, and you’re making me antsy.”

Zea stops pacing. Hadn’t realized she’d started. She sits down next to Virgil and starts pulling her hair out of the braid it’s been in since—

“What day is it?” she asks.

Virgil chuckles. “Saturday,” he says.

“We got here…Thursday?”

“Yeah, Thursday morning.”

“Damn.” Zea stares out past the trucks, down the road toward the rest of the world. It feels like no time at all and yet the world’s completely changed.

“I can’t believe they’re dead,” Zea says, suddenly.

Virgil sighs, feels around for a stone, flings it at the opposite wall. It ricochets off, and Zea follows it till it lands in the grass.

“Takes a while,” he says. “Find yourself thinking you’ll see them, thinking you wanna tell ‘em something.” He shrugs. “Takes time.”

Zea doesn’t ask how he knows, and he doesn’t say.

They’d be…north a ways by now. Past Platte, out west towards Ten maybe, the way they were last year. High Plains country, big skies and wide open and nothing breaking the horizon but the elevators at the Depots, few and far between. This little ravine suddenly feels too narrow, too closed in. She’s in the wrong place, with the wrong people, doing all the wrong things, and Zea’s used to change, used to moving on just about every day, but there was always a pattern, and a crew, and a plan. If there’s a plan now Zea sure doesn’t know it.

Doesn’t know if anybody does. If anyone’s noticed that war or no war, the sun still comes up in the east and people’ve still gotta eat.

Zea’s never much worried about the rest of Panem. Never much thought about how it all ran and what kept it going. Depot schooling was haphazard, so long as kids could read equipment manuals, calculate some spreading rates maybe, nobody much bothered about the rest. Zea reads better than most people, legacy of Mom’s collection of whatever books she could get off crews passing through, trade for something she’d already read or a loaf of homemade bread or a few cabbages from the garden.

Zea never felt the lack, really, wasn’t like she was going to get anywhere besides up and down the district, spring to fall, planting and harvesting. Now she wonders. The world seems a lot bigger just now, even if she can only see to the other side of the stream.

Where Durum’s picking his way across, squinting in the light.

He waves, waits till he’s close enough not to have to yell to say “G’morning, sleepyhead.” He laughs, looking up at the sky. Sun’s well past noon.

“Had a pretty busy night,” Zea says. “Don’t know if you heard.”

“Oh sure,” Durum says. “Folks from Eight called down to say thanks. Say they’ll have the district, soon enough. Sixes sent ‘em some of that fertilizer you stole, they’ll keep the track down a while with that.”

That makes Zea smile. They did something out here that mattered to folks in Eight. That’s worth something, anyway.

Worth getting her crew killed over?

How can anyone ever know that?

“Sounds like we’ve got off easy so far though,” Durum says, turning solemn. “Lot of fighting in Six and Eight, and they firebombed Twelve.”

Zea blinks. “What do you mean, firebombed Twelve?”

“It’s gone,” Durum says. Shakes his head. “Couple hundred people got taken to Thirteen.”

“Thirteen?” Zea asks, confused.

“You didn’t tell her?” Virgil asks.

“Guess not,” Durum says. “Zea, Thirteen’s got people and weapons and hovercraft and everything. They’re helping us take out the Capitol.”

As if she wasn’t confused enough already. “You didn’t tell me,” she says.

Durum shrugs, comes to sit next to her. “Guess it never came up,” he says.

“Never came up!” Zea’s annoyed now. “What else haven’t you told me? Why don’t you tell me anything?”

“Hey now, girlen,” Durum says, soothing, but Zea doesn’t want to be babied. Not anymore.

“I’m not your kid,” Zea snaps. “You gotta quit keeping secrets. I want the whole story.”

“No,” Virgil says, “You don’t.”

Zea scrambles to her feet and strides to the other side of the cave. Turns around to glare down at the two men. Smug assholes. “I do,” she says. “What’s so bad you don’t want me to know?”

“Zea, it’s a war,” Durum says, quiet. “There’s body counts. There’s strategy. None of us know more than we have to, it’s too dangerous.”

“Dangerous? How’s knowing what people are planning dangerous?”

“What’d’ve happened if you’d got picked up in town the other day?” Durum asks, still quiet and reasonable.

“I’d’ve got shot like Emmer and them.”

“Maybe. They’d’ve made you tell them everything you knew about us first, though.”

“And before you say you wouldn’t tell them,” Virgil adds, his voice icy and clipped, “You oughta know the guy we had talking to railroaders before you came on got found in an alley without an intact bone in his hands.” His eyes bore into hers. “He didn’t tell them anything, because I’m here talking to you. But nobody’d blame him if he had.”

Zea shivers. Knots her hands behind her back without really thinking about it. “You don’t trust me?” she says, but most of the anger’s drained away.

“Course we trust you,” Durum says. “That’s why you’re here. We just don’t take risks we don’t have to.”

“So why’re you telling me now?”

“Because it’s not secret anymore, they’re out helping in Six and Eight. Hovercraft are, anyway.”

“Why there and not here?” Zea asks. “Be a lot easier to bomb rail lines from hovercraft rather than driving all damn day.”

Durum smiles a little. “They’re closer to Eight and Six, easy enough to get out and back, outrun the Capitol. They get caught out in the middle of the plains, well, harder to get home. Hovercraft are harder to replace than trucks.”

“And we’re easier to replace than pilots,” Virgil says. “Though they won’t say that, doesn’t sound so nice.”

Zea stares between them. Looks down at the ground, up at the roof of the cave, across the stream, and it’s trees and walls and rock and she can’t see.

“I’m going up the hill,” she says, turns and walks out.

As soon as she crests the hill, catches sight of the long horizon—even if it is uneven, too many hills, too many trees—she feels herself relax a little. It might be unfamiliar, all of it, but at least here she can see. She stops, takes deep breaths one after another, then walks forward.

A few paces further she heads a whistle from over her head and looks up. Sara’s grinning down at her from a perch high up in a tree, and Zea can’t help smiling back.

“Hey there,” she says.

“Come on up,” Sara calls, “Weather’s great.”

Zea stares at the tree. They had an old shade tree at one of the Depots growing up, but it’s been years since Zea climbed anything more than a ladder.

She finally manages to haul herself onto a low branch, start making her way up. Sara’s laughing when Zea gets up, breathing fast. Zea scowls, halfheartedly, and finds a more or less comfortable perch.

“You just get up?” Sara asks, glancing at Zea and then back out over the landscape.

“Yeah,” Zea says. “You?”

“Couple hours ago,” Sara says. “Lucerne and Milo needed a break.”

Zea nods absently. Then, curious, asks, “Did you know about District Thirteen?”

“Sure,” Sara says. “It’s their radio codes we’re using.”

“Nobody told me,” Zea says, and she hates how whiny it sounds when she says it out loud but there it is.

Sara looks over again, shrugs one shoulder. “You didn’t have to know,” she says. “I didn’t know till Joe taught me the radio.”

“It didn’t bug you?” Zea asks, “Not knowing before?”

“I’m used to people having secrets,” Sara says, and there’s a bitter edge there Zea doesn’t understand and doesn’t want to push.

Zea sighs. “Just seems like I’m the last one to know anything,” she grumbles.

Sara reaches over and squeezes her shoulder. “It’s okay,” she says. “I get it, it’s nice to finally not be the rookie.”

Zea raises an eyebrow. “I’m the youngest one on my rail crew,” Sara says. “The jokes can get a little old.”

Zea shifts a little. “Emmer was newest on our crew,” she says quietly.

Sara takes a deep breath, blows out through pursed lips. “Yeah,” she says. It’s quiet for a minute before she starts again, hesitant. “They picked up some folks I knew in Six. People I used to work with.”

Zea looks over, surprised, then embarrassed for being surprised, for being so caught up in herself she hadn’t asked. “I’m sorry,” she says, not knowing what else to say.

Sara looks over, mouth lifting at one corner. “A whole district got firebombed, it’s hard to feel too sorry for myself,” she says. Tilts her head a little. “Still. It’s different when it’s personal.”

Zea nods. Squints out toward the horizon, north to where things flatten out. Searching, she’s just not sure for what. Waiting for the world to make sense again. She has a feeling that might take a while.

 

Alister calls Sara down late in the afternoon. Zea stays put, looking out over the surroundings, keeping herself alert trying to find every road in and out. Virgil makes his way up, finds a lookout spot somewhere, presumably.

It’s quiet. Quiet and still, breeze just tickling Zea’s cheeks. Clear skies here, a few clouds south and east but nothing that’ll come their way—and then she sees it. Far out to the northwest, moving fast, three hovercraft streaking across the sky.

“Virgil!” she calls.

“Yeah, I see ‘em,” Virgil calls back. “C’mon, let’s make sure things’re hidden as best we can.”

Zea scrambles down, drops from high enough her ankles sting, follows Virgil down the narrow path.

“Hovercraft!” Virgil calls once the camp’s in sight. Alister and Sara duck out of the cave, followed by Milo and Lucerne. They’ve covered the trucks with burlap, but apparently since Zea left they’ve been out cutting branches too, because Sara and Milo are scrambling up onto the cars and pulling leafy limbs up for an extra level of cover.

Zea and Virgil reach the camp, and Zea heads over to help. Virgil’s limping again, cursing and slowing.

“We got this,” Milo says, looking at Virgil. “Go sit.”

Virgil scowls, but heads for the cave. Zea helps Lucerne pass branches up to the top of the semi, where Sara’s spreading stuff out. It isn’t long before they run out, and Sara scrambles down.

They head for the cave, breathless, and wait to hear or see anything to tell them the hovercraft are getting closer. It doesn’t come. “Guess they’re not coming this way,” Zea says, after a bit.

“Or they’re cloaked,” Alister says. “Don’t know why they weren’t.”

Lucerne laughs, “They got nothing to worry about out here,” she says. “Better to remind us district folks they’ve got all the power. They’re showing off.”

Alister shakes his head slowly. “I guess,” he says, dubious. He turns toward Zea. “Where did you see them?”

“Northwest,” she says. “Could’ve been over by the rail lines.”

He nods. “They’re probably patrolling by air now,” he says. “Plus it’s faster to bring things in to fix the lines that way.” He pauses. “You don’t know what kind of hovercraft they were, do you?”

Zea shakes her head. “They don’t teach us that out here.”

Alister shakes his head. “Well, I don’t know, but we better stay quiet anyway. Zea, Virgil, you head back up.”

Zea nods, looks over at Virgil, who’s bleeding again. Alister looks over at the same time, sighs. “Okay, Zea, you head up, Virgil needs to quit running around and messing up my stitches.” There’s a hint of amused aggravation there, instead of the usual calm authority. Maybe he has a personality after all.

 

Zea’s coming back to camp the next evening after another watch shift with Virgil, when she hears the argument. Virgil glances over at her and raises an eyebrow. They walk a little quicker until they get to the mouth of the cave.

“I’m telling you, it’s too risky,” Milo’s saying, hands on hips.

Lucerne’s right up in his face, one finger jabbing him in the chest. “You think we’re going to be able to just sneak in and out of the City every time we need food and fuel? You think they aren’t gonna notice?”

Alister’s standing to one side, watching. Sara’s sitting a little ways away, looking amused.

Milo glares. “You think you can just walk up to somebody and get them to join the rebellion? What kinda fantasy world are you living in?”

“Worked for you, didn’t it?” Lucerne snaps. “Worked for Zea.”

“You knew us!” Milo yells. “This is some Depot family you never met!”

Lucerne shakes her head. “Have a little faith,” she says. “People are joining all over. Eleven’s ours, so’s Eight, half of Six is on fire, the city here’s giving the Peacekeepers all they can handle and weren’t half those guys with us to start.”

Milo glares. “And if they run to the PKs?”

Lucerne shrugs. “Then they’ll be looking for us. Which they are already. But if they don’t, we have a sure supply for as long as those diesel tanks last, and we’re not running equipment so it’ll take a while.”

Milo steps back, runs a hand through his hair. Alister takes advantage of the silence. “It seems to me it’s worth the risk,” he says. He looks over to Zea and Virgil. “Zea, why don’t you go along? It’s about the least intimidating we can be.”

Zea feels a little insulted at that, and it apparently shows enough to make Milo grin at her. “Don’t worry,” he says, slapping her on the back, “We know better.”

Zea gives him a flat look. It’s hard to tell whether Milo’s being sarcastic or patronizing or both. He shakes his head, chuckles. “Okay, okay,” he says, “Have it your way.”

Lucerne nods. “Then it’s settled. C’mon Zea, let’s go.”

 

It’s one thing to agree with Lucerne that this is what they should do—and Zea does agree—but it’s quite another to drive up to a Depot in a stolen Peacekeeper pickup and hop down to stand in a deserted yard, hoping there’s not a gun pointed at her head.

Lucerne whistles, piercing in the silence, and pretty soon the door of the house opens and a man walks out, sun-lined skin, grey hair under a cap. He comes down the steps toward them and stops several paces away.

“Who’re you and what’re you doing here?” he asks, wary.

Lucerne steps forward. The man crosses his arms, looks at her. “I’m Lucerne,” she says, “And this here’s Zea. We’re looking for some fuel, something to eat.”

“Where’d you come from?” he asks, impassive.

“Well,” Lucerne says, takes a deep breath. Zea bites her lip and hopes. “We’ve been staying out in the hills, making trouble for the Capitol. Us and some friends.”

The man’s eyebrows go up, the only part of him that moves. “That right?”

“Yep,” Lucerne says.

He glances back at the house. “It’s just me’n my brother out here now,” he says. “Peacekeepers got called up to the city. Doesn’t seem like anyone’ll notice if we let you use that diesel instead of waiting for the harvest crews.”

“We’d be thankful,” Lucerne says.

“And there’s not much in them grain bins, but there’s a little. Corn and beans.”

“Doesn’t have to feed a whole district,” Lucerne says. “We’ll make do.”

“My daddy used to run a Depot, back when that meant something,” the man says, thoughtful. “He’d be glad to see all this.”

“My folks too,” Lucerne says, “Dad got killed in the war but my mama, she taught me a thing or two.”

The man nods, as if that’s what he was waiting for. “Lemme get my brother,” he says. “Tanks’re behind the barn.”

Zea takes a deep breath, lets it out. Lucerne turns toward her and smiles. “See now,” she says, “that wasn’t so hard.”

By the time Zea’s pulled the truck around, the brothers are filling sacks. Corn and beans, it won’t be exciting but it’ll be better than the dwindling supply of ration bars. Zea fills the truck’s tank, the two barrels loaded in back, then helps load sacks.

Lucerne steps forward to shake hands when they’ve finished. “I’m Eldon,” their host says. “And my brother’s Clarence.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Lucerne says.

Zea steps forward, shakes hands. “Thanks so much,” she says.

“You’re welcome,” Eldon says. “Come on back if you need more.”

“You take care now,” Lucerne says, going around the truck to climb in.

Zea hops up into the driver’s seat, starts the engine. Full tank, feels good.

Lucerne waves as they drive away, then looks out toward the horizon. “See,” she says, “Way I figure, nobody much loves the Capitol, they just gotta get over being scared.”

Zea smiles. “Easier said than done,” she says.

“Most things are,” Lucerne shoots back. “Anything worth doing sure is.”

“Guess so,” Zea says, and concentrates on finding the overgrown road back toward camp.

 


 

Sara stretches, rolls her shoulders, sits back against the base of a tree, looking east. The sun’s hot on her back and it’s a struggle not to get drowsy. She’s got the radio next to her, long antenna stretched into the trees, on low. It’s a lot of nonsense, mostly, coded messages disguised as gibberish. A few clear sentences: more bombings in Eight, something about the Mockingjay and making propos they’re managing to broadcast into the districts. Sara sighs. If people aren’t pissed off already, how’s a kid in a costume gonna change their minds? They play the audio, a little later, the girl snarling and furious, and sure, it’s nice to hear someone else as mad as she is, but Sara’s been wanting to set shit on fire for years now. Welcome to the club, kid.

And then there’s a blinking light on the box, which means someone’s calling her on the coded channel. She flips over, and it’s D-9 repeating, calling. So she signals back D-9 and Sara, and waits.

Intercepted signal. Train leaving D-2 00h destination D-6.

Copy Sara signals back, half-smiling. Will intercept.

Much obliged comes back, clear, they don’t have codes for pleasantries.

Joe? Sara asks, because that sounds like him.

Yep. Take care. Sara smiles.

Will do. D-9 out.

So Joe’s still out there, tracking train movements and everything else. Good to know.

She heads over to find Alister, who’s pacing, watching toward the northwest. Toward the tracks.

“We got an assignment,” Sara says, trying to sound serious.

Alister raises one eyebrow. “Do we now?” he asks.

“Train coming through leaving Two at midnight. We’re supposed to keep it from getting to Six.”

Alister nods, checks his watch. “Head down, send Lucerne and Zea up, we’ll take Milo with us.”

Sara can’t help grinning. Alister shakes his head. She heads down the hill.

Milo and Lucerne are waiting, ready to head up for their shift. “Milo, you stay for a minute. Zea, can you go up with Lucerne?”

“Sure,” Zea says, “What’s up?”

Sara looks at Milo when she answers. “We got a train to stop tonight. Me and Alister and Milo’re gonna head out later.”

She glances over at Zea, who’s trying not to look nervous. “He’ll come up in a bit, but Alister wants to talk first.”

Zea nods. Lucerne goes over, puts a hand on her shoulder and they head up the hill.

Alister comes down a minute later. He goes to the transport, opens a compartment and takes out a map. “Come on,” he says, “Let’s see where we’re going.”

Sara’s seen railroad maps before, but never anything this detailed. She’d started making her own, marking bridges and tunnels, until Keita’d found it and set it on fire. Since then she’s built the map in her head, drawing it out in sections and then burning them when she was done. This map, when Alister unfolds it, is as wide as her outstretched arms, and only covers 9 and 10. Everything’s marked, including any number of things Sara can’t recognize.

She can find the tracks though, and the river, the stretch from the 10-11 junction to the City that runs nearest them. Alister points to a spot south of the tracks. “This is us,” he says. “We can get across the river here or here,” he points to places marked with bridges, “Or we can try to just drive through, there’s a few shallow spots, but I think for now we can use the bridges.”

Sara looks. “Isn’t this where we came the other night?” she asks.

Alister looks at the map, then at her. “It is,” he says.

“So probably we should go somewhere else,” Milo adds. “They’ll be watching right there.”

“Yes,” Alister says. He looks pleased. “Probably out here is our best bet.”

“That even a road?” Milo asks. “Who’d need to come out here?”

“It’s old,” Alister says. “I don’t know.”

Durum laughs, and Sara jumps. She hadn’t heard him coming. “Used to be folks living out here. Some logging, some tobacco, little corn in the river bottoms.” He squints down at the map. “Kicked all the people out, didn’t bother destroying the roads. Some of the last holdouts, up in here, I heard there was folks sneaking in and out till the first Quarter Quell.”

Alister looks thoughtful. “I guess they kept the roads for patrols, until they got everybody out.”

“Sure,” Durum says. “And in case they wanna get in here again, them bottomlands are good soil.”

Milo nods, serious, and Sara starts to wonder what makes dirt good before deciding she’s not actually that interested.

“Alright,” Alister says. “We’ll go late tonight. Sara and I will prepare some pressure detonators and the explosives. Milo, you’re on watch, send Zea back.”

 

When Milo comes back at midnight they’re ready. Zea hugs Milo, turns to Sara with a lopsided smile. “Be careful,” she says, pulling Sara close, warm in the cool night air.

Sara smiles as she steps back, brushes stray hair away from Zea’s face. “I will,” she says. “Don’t worry.”

Zea gives her a flat look, shakes her head a little.

Virgil waves, heads up the hill, and Zea follows.

“You take care now,” Lucerne says, stern, looking at each of them in turn. “I’ll see you soon.” It’s a command, more than anything. She holds Alister’s eyes, and he nods.

“Come on,” Sara says, impatient, “Let’s get going.”

Alister leaves the headlights off as he drives, on narrow overgrown roads Sara’s never seen. It’s silent except for the quiet hiss of static on the radio, waiting for any signal. Alister’s bent forward over the steering wheel, watching carefully in the dark. When they get near the river he stops. “I just want to take a look,” he says, “Stay here.”

He reaches across Sara to open a compartment in the dash, pulls out a pair of binoculars. Then he climbs out, walks forward a little ways to look, waits a few minutes, then turns around, climbs back behind the wheel. “Looks clear,” he says.

“You weren’t this worried last time,” Sara says, curious.

“They’ve had time to plan by now,” Alister replies, short. “They don’t know where we’re coming from, but the river’s the bottleneck from the south.” He pauses as they rumble over the bridge. It’s a low, unimpressive thing over a muddy little river, and Sara doesn’t really see how it’s so dangerous. “If it were me I’d have people watching in through here,” Alister continues, as they snake back under the trees. “They’re slow.”

“We did blow a bunch of ‘em up,” Milo says, sarcastic. “Maybe we got lucky and got rid of whoever’s the brains of the operation.”

It’s dark, but Sara’s sitting right next to him so she can see Alister’s jaw clench. Still, his voice stays level when he speaks. “Maybe so.”

 

The trees come right up to the tracks here. Alister stops well back, and they get out. Alister puts a finger to his lips for quiet, mouths “stay here,” and slips forward. Sara tries to stand still, but it’s hard—they’re here, she wants to get going. Milo drops a hand to her shoulder, heavy, and shakes his head.

Alister comes back, nods, and they unload detonators, shovels, a couple sacks of explosives. When they get to the edge of the woods they stop again. Just up a rise are the tracks, the access road on the other side. They wait until a truck goes past, bright lights glaring above their heads, but they’re hidden by the track embankment and the slope.

“Go,” Alister says, once the truck’s gone. They dig in, set explosives, and Sara starts wiring the detonators while Alister and Milo shift the gravel back over for some kind of concealment. She steps back once she’s done, and Alister ducks forward to check.

“They’re fine,” Sara says. “Let’s go!”

Alister takes his time checking anyway, then steps back and nods, and they duck back into the woods and back to the truck. She knows they have to leave, but Sara still wishes she could stay to watch. See the thing blow, see the train jump the track, slide down the hill. She can imagine it. But she’d still like to see it.

Alister is just as careful coming back, stops again to check the bridge, keeps his lights off, driving by moonlight. Sara keeps checking the clock. They left a little after the train did, and it might be going 200 miles an hour where they’re going thirty, but it’s got a thousand miles to travel and they’ve got seventy. By the time they’ve planted the explosives the train will be halfway through District Ten. When they’ve crossed the bridge, it’ll be crossing into District Nine. They’ll be back at camp before it hits their trap.

Except apparently the train’s in a hurry because it’s not quite five and they’re still fifteen miles from camp when the emergency frequency bursts into life. Milo looks over at Sara and they grin, pleased. Alister speeds up as it gets lighter, doesn’t take his eyes off the road until they’re pulling into camp. “Come on, let’s get this thing covered,” he says, still solemn, and it’s not until they’ve tossed burlap and cut branches over that he seems to relax a bit.

Durum’s sitting next to the radio, and he smiles as they come up. “Well done,” he says. “C’mon and eat something, tell me all about it.”

Alister stretches his arms to the ceiling, rolls his neck, but doesn’t say anything, so Milo starts. “Took us a couple hours to get there,” he says, “Alister here’s a good driver for not using his lights.”

“Lucky for you it’s near full moon,” Durum says, looking over. Alister grants the point with a tilt of his head.

“It’s a good spot, too,” Sara chimes in. “On a hill like that it’ll be even harder to move the cars that jumped the track.”

Durum nods, considering. “Well, good work,” he says, turning to dish food into bowls. “This isn’t exciting, but it’ll have to do,” he says, passing them around.

It’s something like soup, corn and beans and water, a little of whatever creature Durum’s managed to catch for some kind of flavor. Not exciting, but Sara’s hungry, so it’ll do.

As they’re finishing, Lucerne gets up. “Sorry, Lucy, did we wake you up?” Durum asks.

She shakes her head, yawns. “Nah, don’t worry about it,” she says, coming over. “I see you all made it back okay,” she adds.

“Yep,” Sara says. “Worked great, so far as the radio can tell us.”

“Good,” she says, walks past them to look around.

“C’mon, Sara,” Alister says, getting up slowly. “We’re on watch.”

Lucerne glares at him. “You been driving all night, boy, you need your sleep.”

“I’m fine,” Alister says. “We’ve all been up, no point messing up everybody’s schedule.”

Lucerne looks at Sara, who shrugs. “I won’t sleep anyway,” she says. “I wanna keep an ear out for damage reports.”

“See?” Alister says.

“Nope,” Lucerne doesn’t raise her voice. She doesn’t have to. “They just rode along, you were driving. Don’t you try telling me it’s the same thing.”

Alister stares at her, like she’s stumped him.

“You look beat,” Lucerne continues, “You were up early yesterday and you ain’t slept since. I’ll go with Sara, you get some sleep.”

Alister opens his mouth, closes it. “Fine,” he snaps. “Wake me up in a few hours, I’ll take over.”

Lucerne nods. “Good. Come on Sara.”

Sara follows her out, trying to keep a straight face. By the absolutely acid glare she gets from Alister, she doesn’t quite manage.

 

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