Tue, 15 December 2009 - 9:36 pm

Unmasked

This morning, I was pulling on some clothes when Nugget appeared by my elbow. She’s good at that – suddenly being there without anyone seeing her arrive. She’s a pair of big eyes looking up through a tangled nest of dirty-blonde hair. Not even Bree and Mira’s influence has been able to convince her to keep her hair brushed and neat. She still doesn’t speak but she had something to tell me this morning. Her own way.

She tugged on my sleeve, making me hurry awkwardly because I was still getting my pants on. She was very insistent, pulling and pulling until I followed her out of the little room Matt and I share, still stamping my boots on. It’s rare to see her so eager to share something, so I didn’t mind entertaining her. Matt was off finding out if there was anything for breakfast, so it was just me.

She led me outside and pointed at the diesel-soaked car. It sits in the middle of the yard, looking lonely with all the other vehicles parked a little way from it, shunning its fuel-soaked presence. Then the little girl tugged me onwards and over towards where the water filter tank was sitting. Everything looked normal until we came around the tank and I saw someone fiddling with the pipes. At first, I thought it must be Conroy, but then I remembered about the injury and bedrest. It couldn’t be Conroy. My feet stuttered to a stop. He stood up and turned around.

“Warren?” I was so surprised that it took me a moment to notice the gun. I yanked Nugget behind me and gave her a shove without looking around. “Go get Thorpe,” I told her. “Now.”

She ran off in a patter of slapping footsteps and I stepped sideways so he couldn’t get an angle on her. Warren’s eyes narrowed as he looked at me and he wetted his lips nervously. His jaw tensed and I could see him counting up his options. They were sadly few.

Warren. The one cutout we never thought capable of the sabotage because he was so badly injured. He’s only had one usable arm since we escaped from Haven, thanks to the bullet in his back. Since Masterson removed the bullet, his arm has been in a sling. We’re not even sure he’ll ever be able to use it fully again. Possible nerve damage, the doctor said. Now I think Warren let us believe that to hide what he was doing.

We were stupid. It only takes one arm to knock someone out. It only takes one hand to point a handgun at someone, too, but he wasn’t even pretending anymore. The sling hung limp and empty around his neck, his left hand propped against the side of the tank by its fingertips while the right pointed the gun at me. I stared at him and swallowed, and suddenly regretted sending Nugget off. I was alone with him and that made both of us vulnerable. He was the only one of us with a weapon. I knew his secret. I looked him in the eye and there wasn’t any doubt any more: we both knew he had been behind the sabotage. There wasn’t any point in questioning it.

“Why?” I asked him. I didn’t really have much to lose by that point and I wanted to get him talking. Anything but focussing on the gun. Any delay would do.

“Because you had no right.” That was apparently the wrong question, because it made him lift the handgun higher, pointing at me more intently.

“No right to do what?” I didn’t want to ask, but we were in the subject now and I wasn’t sure how to get out of it.

“To leave. To take from Haven. We helped you, we gave you everything you needed.”

“Not everything. And Haven took from us, too.” It occurred to me a little bit late that it might not be smart to argue with the guy holding the gun. Maybe I should appease him, agree with him, perhaps even apologise. Maybe that would have been the smart thing to do. The problem was, the threat of the weapon was making my heart beat too fast and loosened my tongue.

“What did Haven take from you?” His tone didn’t believe me at all. This wasn’t going well. I wondered just how long it was going to take Nugget to get Thorpe. I needed the big fella to come and fix this. I wondered if he would think to come armed.

“Our vehicles, our tools, all our supplies. Our personal gear. Everything we had when we arrived.” Well, he did ask.

“Not everything. You kept your secrets. You conspired against Haven the whole time you were there.”

“We did not. The whole place is a lie, and we wanted something better. Why shouldn’t we go and find that?”

“It’s not up to you. It’s not your right. The General knows what he’s doing.”

“Yeah, I think he does. And that’s the saddest part about it.” I was getting angry, and a part of me was aware that it was a reaction to the fear. I wanted to be smarter about it. But I couldn’t stop my mouth – it was running away on its own.

“It’s what?”

There was a little metallic click and for a moment I thought he’d fired. I thought that was the trigger and I was shot. I was waiting for the bang and the pain, and the flare from the barrel, but it didn’t come. There was no bullet punching through me. My heart felt like it was trying to beat me into submission, stop, stop. No more.

“You ungrateful bitch!”

I had to rein it back. I had to do something, even though I couldn’t move.

I saw his gaze flick over my shoulder and knew there was someone coming. There was a surge of hope in my chest that almost broke painfully free. I didn’t dare look around, couldn’t take my eyes off the man in front of me in case I missed it. In case I missed when he shot me. I couldn’t lose my grip on this moment. I had to say something, anything.

“So, what were you doing? Messing with our water? Not happy with hurting people, you want to have a go at killing us all?”

“Love to know, wouldn’t you?”

I heard footsteps and the light changed around us. Shadows stretched over the scene, darkening and softening it at the same time. More than two pairs of feet approached – who had Nugget fetched? I saw Warren look even more nervous and hoped that it wouldn’t tip him over into something stupid. A tiny part of my brain wondered how many bullets the handgun’s clip could hold. How many of us could he do away with if he needed to?

“Put it down,” a voice said from behind me. Thorpe. I couldn’t see a little shadow, so I didn’t know where Nugget was.

“Get away from her.” That was Matt, with a tremor in his voice sounding like he was barely holding onto his self-control. I hoped silently that he wouldn’t lose it; that wouldn’t help anything right now and I think we all knew it. But he was there; I was surprised by how much that mattered.

“Warren, stand down.” Jonah. He sounded furious and firm, giving the order in that way that makes you want to snap to attention and obey. Maybe it would appeal to Warren’s military training. I could only hope.

“I don’t take orders from you,” Warren said. I suppressed a sigh; the military angle wasn’t going to work, then.

“Warren, there’s no way out of this,” I said before any more men could growl at each other. “Put it down. It’s over.”

“So you can kill me?”

“We don’t do that.”

“Really? And I’m supposed to just believe you?”

“You know us. You’ve seen us. We don’t do that.”

Warren was quiet, belligerently moving his gaze between us.

“Put it down,” Jonah said.

Then something moved behind him. I had to make an effort not to look at it – someone was creeping up there, aiming to catch him off-guard. I didn’t want to alert him. I didn’t dare move and was nearly vibrating with the tension.

I could see it rising in him: a wave of frustration and anger, covering the desperation caused by the situation. It was coming, any second – that moment when he made the final decision. Fire or give up. Fight or submit. Die now or later. Some part of me was peripherally aware that there were weapons behind me – I was in the middle, sure to be caught by one side or the other. The ground was looking like the perfect place to be, but I still didn’t dare to move.

“Warren, please.” It took me a moment to realise that the words were mine. I wasn’t above begging. “Please don’t do this.”

His glances roved around the group behind me, but his aim hadn’t moved an inch. His gun was pointed at the centre of my chest, as if there was a wire stretched between me and the weapon, pulled taut. It felt like every breath tugged it closer to firing. He focussed on me and I stopped. I had no more moves to take. It was his turn.

Share
Tags: