|April Cartwright Smoke
Author: leyezuh PM
When a concussion leaves April clueless, her friends spring to the rescue; trouble is, she can't remember them either. A tale of self-discovery in a time of war, set in the future. Please R&R!Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Fantasy - Chapters: 2 - Words: 8,777 - Reviews: 1 - Favs: 2 - Follows: 2 - Updated: 04-30-12 - Published: 04-19-12 - id: 3014812
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
April Cartwright forgot the sun.
It didn't happen all at once, but gradually, over time. She was sure - positive, really - that at one point, the earth was warm. Balmy light filled up the sky and danced across her skin.
But that wasn't life, not anymore. In fact, there were only two things that she knew to be absolutely true: one, she was not well. And two, she was not free.
Twice a day, armed guards would slide trays of pureed food through the invisible cell wall. It looked so strange, almost like there was nothing there at all. But she knew from experience that even so much as a soft brush against it would elicit a wave of electric shocks.
Other than that, there was nothing. Not even a utensil to cut up her vegetables, (at least, she thought they were vegetables, all colorless and mushed) or to give herself a lobotomy. It was a terrible thought, but she considered it just once or twice. Her head was mostly empty anyway; it'd hardly make a difference.
Reflexively, her fingers twitched to the matted spot at the back of her hair. A shooting pain greeted her in response, and she wondered thickly if perhaps someone had beaten her to the punch. For as long as she could remember, the wound had been there. Someone must have stitched it closed ages ago, but still, come each night it would seep and ache and bleed.
A concussion. It must've been, she thought, her head throbbing and hollow. Bits and pieces of nursing school stuck in her memory like shrapnel, all of it vague, but she didn't trust a thing. The world was dark and cold, so what was the use trying to stick around?
April closed her eyes.
Only one recollection greeted her- the same one, over and over again. The only fully formed memory she had left, pristine and clear.
It began in the dead of night. She was running, faster than she'd ever run before. Her legs hit the ground with such force that she wondered for a second whether her bones might shatter outright. Still, even that pushed her forwards.
There wasn't time. Late, already late. She caught sight of her watch and cussed: two forty-two in the morning, and very, very late.
Overhead, searchlights combed the tangles of grass, from the underside of a patrol hovercraft. It was Sergeant Ford- it had to be. It was always him, after the pair of them. He'd even caught them once or twice, for being out past curfew or vandalizing public property, but that couldn't happen again. Not tonight: it was too important.
The minute hand on her watch leapt forward. Two forty-three. Two minutes until all of this was moot. Ford was going to ruin everything, as usual.
A burst of static cut through her thoughts, and then a voice. Her partner-in-crime, in the very literal sense.
Where are you?
Running, obviously, she wanted to say. But answering would take breath, and that was in short supply. Up ahead, the grass receded into a valley, and then disappeared into nothing. It was just a straight shot off the edge of a cliff, after twenty yards of barren land.
There was nowhere to hide. She'd have to make an all-out break for it, exposed.
His voice drawled lazily through her head. No really, April, take your time. We've been planning this for weeks, timed it to the damned minute, and you're going to show up late. This is just fantastic, really.
Even running for her life, she couldn't help but roll her eyes. "Ford!" She hissed, without further explanation. He could figure that one out for himself, surely.
His anger resonated in her communicator-contacts, and she had to blink the world steady. He just kept on.
Is he chasing you now? Shit, you can't answer, can you? No. You're running, I can hear you breathing. God, you sound like an obese platypus. What have you been eating?
"For christ sake," she sighed, mid-sprint, "just put up the net!"
The net? We haven't tested the net!
The land was disappearing underfoot- no time. "Net!"
Ford was further back, and her mind could barely keep up. Was she actually outrunning a hovercraft? She chanced a look over her shoulder.
No, not exactly. He was drawing up short, preparing for the drop off.
Just like they thought. Even in a hovercraft, nobody was going to go over a cliff willingly. Hoverports malfunction all the time, and then what? Falling, certain death- nobody was that stupid.
She took a deep breath and dove over the edge.
For just one, brilliant second, April was flying. The wind caught up in her coat and whipped at her face, combed through the wiry tangles of her copper hair.
Then gravity hit, and with it, the harsh grip of ropes. Fifteen of them, to be exact, layered one over another in a perfect net. It caught her and sliced at her skin, forced the air out of her lungs, and spit her out into his arms.
March. For as long as she could remember, he'd been her closest friend. It'd even served as a source of jokes amongst their classmates, over the years. 'There goes April, always tagging along after March' - things like that, oft accompanied with a wink and a nudge.
There was never anything romantic between the pair of them, but she could see how people might make the mistake. She loved him, certainly. Completely. And with his good looks: a short crop of cornsilk hair, wide shoulders lined with the lean muscle of overuse, an angled face and bright blue eyes - well. People always assumed.
He cracked a crooked smile. "Rough day, sweetheart?"
"Obese platypus?" she spat back, as he set her on her own two feet. "When's the last time you heard an obese platypus breathing? Or any platypus, for that matter?"
But he only stood, beaming with pride. The net had worked perfectly, of course. He designed it, and his inventions always worked in the end, testing be damned.
She gave him a quick squeeze hello and extricated herself from his limbs, stealing a glance back at the net. Positioned at the lip of the cave, it was left open just enough to catch her, if she jumped in the right place. Anyone else would probably fall to their death, but she landed fine (with some help).
They'd made their roost in the cliff face, over the edge. It was an easy enough hike down, but she hadn't had time to take the scenic route. Eventually, her eyes began adjusting to the low-light of the cave.
It was nothing much, just a few square feet and a bit of space to stand, cramped and close. The air was still steely and acidic with hovercraft fuel, even down this low.
Before she could say another word, he clapped a hand over her mouth. Both of them froze up at once, like a reflex.
That's when she heard it: the tinny hum of an idling engine. Ford was still there, at the ledge.
They could do nothing but wait, staring into each other's eyes as the seconds trickled away. His watch hung low on his wrist, and she could see the last minute, fading fast. They were about to miss their chance.
In all the rush, she'd nearly forgotten about the knapsack slung over her back, which was miraculous considering how heavy it was. Frozen, her shoulder began to scream under the weight of it.
Gradually, the sound disappeared into night.
"Is he gone?" she whispered.
He shrugged, reaching to steal her bag. "Beats me, but this is our only shot." The contents spilled out on the ground between them: a first aid kit, a bottle of red wine, and - most important of all - two portable fireworks. Thin tubes of metal, hollowed out and filled with a cascade of sparks.
They each took one, watching the last few seconds come to pass.
For a second, April was sure that she could hear the engine again, lying in wait, but it didn't matter. "Now or never?" She asked, trying to rally her own sense of confidence.
He flashed a sort of smile that really wasn't quite fair. That look could put her at ease in any situation, convince her anything was a fine idea. Even now, the knot of nerves loosened in her chest, as the pair of them counted down together. Three, two...
Her fingers searched the metal tube and found a release switch. It flushed with warmth beneath her thumb, a small warning of the explosion cradled safely inside. Taking aim at the horizon, April closed her eyes. Fireworks weren't like guns; it was best to set on off without looking, unless you'd rather be blind. She had already learned that lesson the hard way- it didn't bear repeating.
In place of 'one', March repeated, "Now or never," and then he took her hand and held the both of them steady.
She pressed the switch and the sky filled up with light, in every direction. At least, the was the plan. 2:45 in the morning, bright as day. Enough to blind someone, if they didn't know it was coming.
It wasn't just them, of course. All around the city, there were hundreds, maybe thousands, of people doing exactly the same thing. Stealing out into the night and firing flares up into the early morning sky.
The firework kicked back in its tube until it'd emptied out completely, going cold. She let it fall over the edge and stole a glance up at the horizon.
The sight was beautiful, really: a million pinpricks of light, glittering bright like jewels overhead. Every firework was gold - they'd planned that bit, too - but the way all of them swirled together, shifting over one another like spiderwebbed cracks on the black night sky... it was like nothing she could've imagined.
"Mission accomplished," March whispered.
Well, not exactly. There was only one way to know that for sure. Her fingers twitched to her temple. Every communicator-contact came outfitted with a basic radio transmitter, but only people clever as them could trick the thing into playing out loud.
April settled against the cave's back wall and March crowded in close to hear, as she searched the prickly static channels for a signal. The station was always changing, so it was a bit hard to find. Keeping out of the mainstream was such trouble, especially with officials like Sergeant Ford afoot, always hot on their heels.
Just when she was beginning to doubt they'd find it so late, an all-too-familiar voice cut clear through the waves. It was a woman, strong but winded. "Good evening, everyone. We're still running-" she broke to catch her breath, "but all in all, I would say the mission's a success, supposing we make it to- wait... yup, I can see the hovercraft now."
Her hand flitted through the dark and found his at once, offering up a reassuring squeeze.
It'd worked! Weeks and weeks of planning, all verified by their fearless leader herself: Julianna Diamond, public enemy number one.
"We did it! And you helped," Julianna breathed. Her gasps leveled off, which meant she must have made it back safe and sound. The thought sent a flicker of relief through April's entire body. "Thank you. Stay tuned for the all-clear."
That was all. Her voice cut out and dissolved back into static. April turned the volume low, waiting for the break in white noise that meant she could head home.
Now came the hard part. Waiting, for hours.
She should've been used to it, after two years service with the underground network of radicals. ("I prefer the term 'rabble-rousers," March always said, with the hint of a smirk.) They'd been caught overnight in the cave twice before, on missions gone wrong. She wondered dryly why they hadn't bothered outfitting the place with some pillows, or maybe a couch. Compared to the net, furnishing the hideout would be a piece of cake.
"Do you think the other two are there?" March asked suddenly. It tore her from the reverie, and she noticed that he'd already popped open the wine.
Of course, there were three of them, in all. Julianna led the way, sure, but never without the other two in tow: Tipp Weston and Oliver David Williams. Her beau and her right hand man, respectively. The triumvirate of criminal fame.
She stole the bottle and took a sip. "I'll bet they were. They're always there," she answered, face contorting around the taste. It was too bitter, all wrong on her tongue. Still, it was his favorite, so she managed. Alcohol was never really her favorite, anyway.
When he took the wine back, she didn't complain. "They didn't say anything."
"She was probably manning the microphone."
Of course, April understood how he felt. Any word from the trio was close as they got to gospel, these days. A hurried thanks from one third of the group hardly seemed worth their trouble.
They'd really stuck their necks out this time - getting fireworks, breaking curfew. Who knew what Ford would do to them now, knowing full well they took part in the distraction that let the town's most wanted escape. Even while they spoke, the sky was quickly filling up with hovercraft. Tens of them turning into hundreds. It was beginning to make her uneasy. "Have you ever seen this many of them at once?" she asked.
March leaned back on his arm and drank down half the bottle before managing an answer. April looked at the horizon and then back at him again, all the searchlights reflected in his dark blue eyes. His voice was small when he answered, "Once."
Of course. It was a stupid question; she shouldn't have asked. Obviously, he'd seen that many ships before. So had she.
It was years ago. Two, to be exact, on the eve of her fourteenth birthday. Just after the election of Mayor Trinn, war split the town with blurred, bloody lines. There was debate that opposite candidate had won the election, but then again, people said that every year. No matter what happened, Mayor Trinn remained the mayor.
Riots built up in the streets and boiled over into the city. It got so bad that Trinn declared martial law, then evacuated herself and every government official to someplace else. Sergeant Ford ruled the town with an iron fist and a chip on his shoulder, wielding the police department like his own personal weapon.
Whispering under watchful eyes, people used to joke that there were two hovercraft to every citizen. Laughing without smiling, they'd say there were four officers per victim.
It was, without exaggeration, the worst two weeks of her life.
But that too had come and gone, and there was no cause to worry. Even if the number of ships in the sky was growing... it was no reason for her to be suspicious. Just routine police work. Reaction, nothing more.
She stole a glance over at March. It was clear right away that he felt the same, her exact blend of nerves reflected back in his face. The empathy put her at ease, if only just.
April reached up to touch a red gash between his eyes. In all the chaos, she hadn't noticed it before. "What's this, then?"
He didn't shy away from the touch, just winced a bit when her finger grazed the wound. Still, he recovered with a smile. "My forehead."
"You're hurt," she frowned.
"Not really." March was never the type to take help without putting up a fight, and he wasn't about to change now.
Lucky her nursing instincts got the better of her when she left the house that evening, and she'd brought the first aid kit along after all. Her fingers made short work of the bright orange clasps, and there inside was everything she could need: an intricate latticework of syringes and vials, sharpened surgical knives, and bright white pill bottles marked in careful handwriting. Acetaminophen, anticoagulant, cyanide.
She pushed on past without offering them a second glance. Another layer in, her fingers came across the spool of surgical thread she'd been seeking. She traced it to the end, and found the curved needle already attached. Just the size of a fingernail, painted silver.
His eyes widened at the sight. "Really, April, it's fine."
"You need stitches," she said, matter-of-fact. Before he could put up a fight, she bridged the gap between them to spread a glob of antiseptic in the cut, then set to work. Hopefully that'd dull a bit of his pain, though he'd never say a thing in either case, the prideful idiot.
They sat in silence while she sutured the wound, listening to the sounds of radio static tinged with the far-off hum of hovercraft engines in the distance. It was high-pitched and low all at once, like the buzz of cicadas.
When she was done, April ran a gentle finger over her handiwork. All in all, the wound took five stitches, which was a bit more than she'd predicted. The cut was deep and wider than she thought, but it'd tided up alright.
Without realizing she was speaking, she asked, "What happened?"
And because she was April and he was March, he answered, without a second's hesitance. "I broke the law."
The simple sentence left her smiling. "Again?"
"What was it this time?"
"Rations," he scowled. And then, when it was clear that wouldn't suffice, "It was Portia. She's been sick lately, you know, and the primary school diet's not helping."
"So you took it upon yourself to help." Classic March.
He only rolled his eyes, returning to the wine. "Can we skip the lecture, please?"
She had to bite her lip to keep from saying another word, because it wouldn't help, honestly. When he set his face like that, there was no changing his mind. She knew that all too well, from all the wasted years trying.
His little sister, Portia, was nearly twelve by now, but she couldn't so much as walk on her own. The doctors all swore she was a lost cause, riddled with disease and confined to her bed, wasting away from lack of appetite. She would've probably died years ago if it hadn't been for March, who fought against the odds even after his parents had thrown in the towel.
And honestly, she was better for it - still immobile, but away at boarding school, where tutors came and taught at her bedside. Everything was looking up, until the cutbacks started rolling in.
It was just small things, at first: wood, paint, fabric. Then rice, and shortly after, every sort of food. Since Trinn had laid laws about rations, mostly everyone had been fine - except for the sickly and the dying. The sorts of people that required a bit more were flatly denied in their hour of need. No exceptions.
March stabbed at the air, fuming about vitamin pairings and calorie-allowances. The sorts of things they teach in nursing school, stolen straight from her borrowed books. "That's the problem with laws like that- they turn ever person into a statistic, and nobody wants to help a number."
The stitches put a crook in his forehead, edging his eyebrow up just the slightest bit, like he was constantly skeptical. Still, the wiry black thread was in such stark contrast with his pale skin that it kept catching her eye.
When he noticed, he misread the expression as disgust, and flashed that unfair smile again. "Alright, give it to me straight: how terrible do I look?"
Terrible? As if he could manage that. Even if he wanted to, March could never look terrible.
In fact, she'd never really understood the allure of scars before, but sitting there just then, April was beginning to see what the fuss was about. It broke apart his perfect face, sure, but all the same, it gave him a sort of character.
Well, no - he had character. The scar just brought it to the surface. "Not terrible," she settled, without meeting his eyes.
Just then, the static between them dissipated into the warning signal. Two short beeps, so quick you'd miss them if you weren't paying attention. At least, that was the idea.
She scaled the volume up without a moment's pause, unwilling to miss a word.
"Good evening, everyone," the radio began. It wasn't Julianna's voice that greeted them, but Oliver's. That in itself was strange; he had the lowest tolerance for the fame they attracted, and usually hung back in the shadows. In fact, if it weren't for his tales of brilliance - hacking, heisting, double-crossing - no one would know of him at all.
"Hm," March said, but didn't keep on.
Oliver's voice got between them. "Thank you. From the bottom of my heart - all of our hearts - thank you. We don't have much time 'til they find our broadcast and stop this signal, so preemptive apologies if I'm cut short. The three of us just wanted to be sure that everyone knows the extent of our gratitude. To Red, Brick, Porcupine, Guy, and Canary, especially."
"And to Jameson," Tipp cut in, somewhere behind the microphone. There was a rustle and what sounded like a tug of war over it, but he just managed, "thanks for the whiskey!" before Oliver regained control.
"Apologies for that, too," he said. "Though it is a good point; we do appreciate the whiskey."
March tipped the bottle back, draining the last sips of wine. "Those can't be people's actual titles, can they? I mean, I know March isn't the most traditional name, but 'Porcupine'?"
"It's a codename," she answered, at once. All the better rebels had them - Angel, Bells, Garbage (though, admittedly, that one was particularly unfortunate). Real names rarely came to light, at least not until they were being spelled out on a headstone.
All the times she'd dreamed of being a name on their list of thanks. Some little shard of proof, that she cared - helped, even.
The firework residue felt like dust in her hands. She had helped, of course, not that anyone would ever know. Thousands of rebels all over town had spent their night doing the exact same thing. All of them reduced to criminal statistics. And only people with names got thanked, because really, who cared about a number?
"One last thing." It was Julianna, now, always desperate to have the last word. Her voice wrapped around the microphone and enveloped it like they were old friends, winning the world over with the cadence of her words. "As a gift, we wiped the police records office clean. They'll have to start from scratch, which means all you little delinquents out there are officially off the hook. Call it a thanks, from us."
She left them in static. April just let it go for a while, not quite able to formulate a coherent thought, until March reached over to gingerly press her temple. The white noise dissolved into silence, and finally, she resurfaced. "We've got clean records."
A bit of blonde fell in his eyes, but still they lit up. "We got no records. We are recordless, for probably the first time in our entire lives."
A clean slate. All their lives ahead of them, without Ford at their backs. She couldn't even get her head around the thought of it, not all the way, because it was too much. They'd spent years wreaking havoc, the law hot on their heels - and now, freedom?
But it was more than that. Every record was gone. Ford might've known them, but surely he hadn't memorized their entire history. He couldn't have. They could commit all the same crimes over again, and he wouldn't even know to expect them.
"Well we'd better get started then," she trilled, kicking her legs out over the cliff's edge. "Lots of catching up to do."
That's when he kissed her.