Wednesday, 9 September 2009 - 8:28 pm

The path we tread

I was released from kitchen duty today. I can’t say that I’m sorry to be out of there. Maybe I’ll be able to face meals with a braver stomach now.

A pair of army cutouts appeared just as the dorm was pulling itself out of bed and towards morning duties. Stella growled at them, but it’s still cold enough that we’re all sleeping fully-dressed, so I’m not sure what the fuss was about. Those women who noticed them gasped and started to think about being shocked, while I rolled my eyes and went to see what was going on.

They had come to take me to see the General; I had been summoned. He has an office up in one of the admin buildings, looking exactly as it did in the time Before. Polished wood desk, maps on the walls, books on the shelves, and a carpet that looked like it had been cleaned recently. He hasn’t let the bomb or its fallout touch him here. He stood up, smooth as you like, and shook my hand over the desk. I felt like I was there for a job interview.

We sat down and he started off with pleasantries. How was I feeling, how was I settling in. How was I finding everything. It felt so weird that I had no idea what to do with myself for a second.

Suddenly, I wondered if my little chat with the other Seekers at dinner had upset things. Was I in trouble? Over that? It was ridiculous; we’re not in high school. Once upon a time, the idea of being in that kind of trouble would have put snakes in my belly, but not any more. His mouth kept moving and I was bracing myself for a reprimand and a sharp comeback. I would never have dared to think about that Before. Everything’s fine, I told him, and the trouble never came.

Finally, he came around to his reason for calling me into his office. Nothing to do with last night’s dinner: he wanted to ask me about our radio. His men have been going through the equipment they requisitioned from us (I bristled both at the mention of our lost gear and his euphemism for it) and they had questions about the radio. What we used it for, if we heard anything other than their signal.

I expected them to ask these kinds of questions when they picked us up, but they didn’t. Perhaps it’s just that I was unconscious for that; did they ask the others about it? Are they filtering us in here one by one and comparing our answers? Or is my pricked paranoia just spinning tales?

We scanned the air waves as often as we had elevation and power, I told him. That’s how we found the signal that brought us here.

“You didn’t picked up any other transmissions?”

I had to make a decision then. To lie or not to lie. To trust or to protect. I looked him in the eye and thought about the ones we’d left behind. Kostoya with his amazing discoveries and waterworks. Fix-it Conroy. Little Nugget and Estebar. Pregnant Sally with her dangerous baby and fierce doctor. Some of them would be better off here. Here would be better off with some of them. And some would be damaged by such a meeting.

“Yours was the only one we found,” I told him.

I went with my instinct. I don’t know enough about this place. I don’t know what they’d do to Sally or her baby. I don’t know how safe the children would be or if they’d be separated from those who are caring for them. I don’t know if Tom would be taken away from Janice. And with all they’ve taken, I’m not inclined to give them anything yet.

I can only hope that they can’t hear the University from here. If our friends are transmitting, trying to find us, they’ll reveal themselves. They’ll reveal my lie. It hasn’t happened yet, so I guess all I can do is hope the General stays in the dark about it.

Oblivious, Haven’s head went on to ask about the ground we’d covered and I went to the map on his wall to point out our route. I skipped by the University but there didn’t seem to be any reason in lying about the rest. It’s not like we’ve discovered much of value along the way, apart from each other.

Looked at on the wall like that, it was a torturous route, with bad turns and double-backs and wild detours. That was our journey. We always got where we were going in the end. I guess that’s all that matters, and now I wonder if we really have stopped. Our journey doesn’t feel over, not yet.

I didn’t tell him that part, just where we’ve been. He seemed surprised, so I smiled at him and said, “That’s why they called us Seekers.”

He looked over the places I had pointed out once more, then said that I should report to the infirmary. Report. Like I’m one of his army cutouts, without a will or a mind of my own. I didn’t argue, though I wanted to; it just didn’t seem worth it.

At least I might be able to make a difference in the infirmary. Simon the medic could use an experienced hand there, he said. It’s startling and a little bit frightening that I qualify as ‘experienced’. I don’t feel experienced; sometimes, I barely feel competent.

That’s where I spent the afternoon. Being shown where things are and what they’re all for. I haven’t seen this much medical equipment since we left the hospital, all those months ago. We’ve come around in a big circle but the view is different this time. Not all of this stuff works, partly because there’s no-one left who knows how to use it, but there’s hope here.

Not many patients right now, but hope.