Author: LauraRaptor PM
All of North America has been unified as The Free States of North America. Three young women start their new lives within a militaristic society. With their skills and beauty in a world of plague, spies and war, they become members of W.A.S.P.Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Friendship - Chapters: 17 - Words: 55,967 - Reviews: 4 - Favs: 3 - Follows: 3 - Updated: 08-13-12 - Published: 05-11-12 - id: 3021408
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
I'd never seen Gwyneth angry, not once. She was always so cool and collected and almost always smiling. To see her turn on a dime made everything we were doing seem real all at once. No longer did it seem like an adventure to the mysterious Outlands, this was serious. I curled up beside Raina and offered a spot beside us to Fateema who declined, preferring to sleep alone on the other side of the cubby hole that the people here called a room.
Morning arrived with the sound of gunfire and screams. I jolted awake and Gwyneth put a finger to her lips to tell me to be quiet. "Stay here. I will be right back," she whispered, slipping out the door. She wasn't gone more than thirty seconds when Raina was on her toes, sneaking to the door.
"Come here," I hissed at her. "What are you doing?"
"I want to see what's happening," she said so casually I was speechless, and before I could protest she too was out the rickety door and down the hall.
"What do we do?" Fateema asked, crawling over to where I was left sitting. I could only shrug my shoulders, debating whether we should be up and moving too.
"It's men," Raina said as she ran back into the room. "The women on the roof are shooting at men who are trying to get in. Fateema, you need to help them!" I looked to Fateema who stayed planted on the floor, shaking her head.
"I can't," she whispered.
"But you're the best shot out of any of us," I said. "They need your help." Fateema still protested, refusing to budge from the floor.
"Fateema," Gwyneth said from the doorway, gun in hand. "Up, let's go. You two," she said, pointing at Raina and I. "I want you at the stairway in case anyone makes it through. Let's go. And remember, Simone, Greta, and Joy."
Raina and I were at the door and Fateema still sat on the floor, refusing to move. "We don't have time for this," Gwyneth said, her tone snippy and rushed. "Those men are here for one reason, and it's not a tea party. If they get through I guarantee they will do things that deserve their heads. Move it." I knew what she meant, I knew what the real danger was when Raina told us there were men at the stairs.
Still Fateema sat there, tears in her eyes. "Don't you get it?" I screamed at Fateema. "If they get in they're not going to steal anything, they're after our bodies! Move your ass! We need you!" Finally something clicked in Fateema and she was up and moving towards the door. She looked terrified, but allowed Gwyneth to lead her towards the roof while Raina and I ran towards the stairs.
Five women were at the edge of the crumbling stairway, hiding behind an old couch, makeshift guns in hand. "What can we do?" Raina yelled over the gunfire.
"Here," a muscular woman with dark hair said as she passed knives to Raina and I. Even with all the noise around us I could tell her accent was thick and French.
"Merci," I said, trying to make it sound authentic. The woman's eyes widened for a split second, but it was more than enough to betray herself. This was the woman Gwyneth was looking for, or at least knew how to get to her.
There was no time to dwell on it, the task at hand was keeping the men out. I looked at our targets, men with wild hair and ragged clothing. They used the rubble on the streets to their advantage and it was hard to pick them out. I kept my eyes on the stairs, waiting to see if someone made it through the barrage of bullets.
One man made a break for it, a scrawny man dressed all in plaid with wild hair. I held my knife, small as it was, steady in my hand, waiting for him to ascend the stairs. Just as he almost made it his head jerked back and he was on the ground. One of the women on the roof had put him down, and I wondered if Fateema had gotten over herself enough to help.
The shot must have scared off some of the men who tried to approach, several ran in the other direction and one was put down as he ran away. Maybe that caused those who remained to go for glory, the men that remained charged the stairs all at once. The muscular French woman took one out with a bullet as he ran up the stairs, but her shoddy gun jammed and was rendered useless. Two more were taken out by the women on the roof, but one managed to make it up the stairs and he was coming right for us.
He was unarmed, but I knew that didn't make him harmless. He ran right for me and I let my body react. My left shoulder dipped as I shifted toward him and I was able to duck under his arms while slamming my shoulder into the center of his torso, knocking the wind out of him. Without hesitating I raised the heel of my right palm up, slamming it up under his jaw. I could hear his teeth slam together when I hit him. He went down like a sack of bricks. The men left on the ground, seeing their dead on the stairs and the one I'd knocked out that was now being dragged away, unconscious, by two women, decided it was not worth their lives to continue and they took off running in the other direction.
"Who were they?" Raina asked as she handed back the tiny knife to the beefy woman while others went about clearing the stairs. I chose to hang on to mine for the time being.
"Wild Ones," she said as she surveyed the ground. "Men descendent from the first put here. They took to the highways, preying on those who are new to the Outlands. I'm Rose," she said as she extended her hand. "And you?"
"Simone," Raina told her, and then pointed to me and added "and that's Greta. Our friends went to the roof."
"That was some fighting, Greta," Rosa said as she looked me over. "Where did you learn?"
"A girl learns what she has to sometimes," I said, trying to stay coy. As Gwyneth said, we were here to learn. I didn't want to overstep my bounds and reveal too much. The last thing I wanted was to get so close and then ruin everything.
"Is everyone okay?" Gwyneth asked as she and Fateema made their way back down to our level.
"Yes," Rose told her, and extended her hand to Gwyneth. "These girls were a big help. Were you the ones who took the shots from the roof? Our girls can't shoot worth beans, they're just there for show. It must have been one of you two, yes?" Rose tried to hide her accent, but it kept slipping through. Gwyneth didn't show the slightest look of recognition or interest, her face was a blank canvas.
"That would be my friend Joy," she said and pointed to Fateema who was looking positively green behind her. "She's a natural, I must say." Fateema just nodded and excused herself from the gathering. My gut wanted to tell her off for being soft, weak even, but out of Raina, Fateema, and I she was the only one to take a life. So far, at least.
"I'm going to go check on Joy," Raina said and pushed her way through the women who had gathered around the staircase. Most had come to see the end result of the battle that had been waged, but many wanted to meet us, the new girls who had helped them fend off the Wild Ones.
"Rose, I appreciate the thanks, but we really must join Simone and make sure Joy is okay," Gwyneth said as she ducked through the crowd. "Come on, Greta, follow me." I did as I was told and went back to the closet space we were calling a room to see how Fateema was holding out. By the sounds coming from the makeshift lavatory I could tell they weren't going well.
"She okay?" I asked Raina who was leaning on the piece of wood that separated the toilet from the rest of the room.
"I don't know. You remember how things were with that pilot and it's not like she saw him, well you know," she whispered to me. I didn't say it out loud, but in my head I prayed that when my time come I wouldn't react like this. My mind, my gut, had to be stronger.
"Gwyneth," I said, trying to block out the sounds of Fateema losing last night's dinner in the bathroom. "That Rose woman, you think she's who we're looking for?"
Gwyneth gave a light shake of her head. "No, she's too sloppy. She's too beefy, forgets herself too easily. Her accent slipped over and over." I sighed, disappointed. I thought I'd done well in sniffing her out. "But," Gwyneth said, and my ears perked back up. "But I'm certain she'll lead us to who we are looking for. Your friend Rose is no doubt a desk jockey who longed for adventure and they finally let her have it, given her age. She'll slip up, trust us too quickly, and lead us right to our target."
We waited until Fateema was feeling more herself and when she finally convinced us she was feeling better we made our way back out into the building. We were going to go see about food, with this morning's events Gwyneth assured us people would be happy to share. That was our official reason to socialize. In truth we were going to get closer to Rose and then find out what she might know.
The dining area was smaller than the one back at the Hive, and the walls felt like they'd give way at any moment. Gwyneth told us the home gave out meals in exchange for work and since we'd already done our fair share of work today it was no surprise when we were welcomed with smiles and bowls of lukewarm broth. Women offered us the few seats in the room but before any one could say anything Gwyneth politely declined, instead insisting that the seats go to a few of the older women who were also looking for a place to rest with their lunch.
I knew with this many women around it was a good moment to see if anyone knew were to find the woman from earlier, Rose. I looked at Gwyneth and I could see the wheels spinning in her mind about how to approach the subject without raising suspicions, but then it hit me.
"Has anyone seen Rose?" I asked. "I still have the knife she lent me and I'd like to return it." Ever so slightly I saw Gwyneth's shoulders relax just a touch and I knew I had done right.
"She's in room 512," one of the older women who was sitting in one of the seats that had been offered to us told me. "I suspect she's resting after this morning's excitement."
"Thank you," I said with my most gracious smile. "I'll return it to her later, I don't want to disturb her if she's sleeping." A few of the older women clutched their chests and smiled, muttering things about how it was nice to see such well mannered young women in a place like this and how more girls should be like us. Gwyneth beamed with pride and after finishing our lunch we excused ourselves to go over the game plan.
"That was quick thinking," Gwyneth said to me once we got back to our room. "Good job you held on to that knife. At least someone thought ahead." It was clearly a jab at Raina and I had no idea why the two had started bashing heads since we got here, but I definitely wanted to stay out of it.
"It might have been weird if we both held on to them," I said, trying to diffuse some conflict. "I can go alone or someone can come with me, whatever you think works best."
"Give it an hour and you and I will head upstairs," Gwyneth said and then turned her focus to Fateema. "And you," she said, her voice cold. "The first time I can understand. Today though? Pull your shit together. If it happens again there won't be a ride back to the Hive for you. That's all I'll say on that subject."
The shock in the room was palpable. While Gwyneth had been a tough teacher she'd never threatened us or scared us like she had since we reached the Outlands. It was like her refined mask had cracked around the edges. Was this the real Gwyneth? Or was this her way of keeping us safe here? I knew Fateema needed to stomach things better, but even I didn't think snapping at her was the answer, and threatening her could only make it worse, couldn't it?
"Mattie, I'm going to come with you to see Rose," Gwyneth said after she had taken some time to cool off. "If she asks, you three and I met along the highway a month ago and I've brought you here because there might be friendly faces to the Republic's cause. Let's go."
Gwyneth was out the door again and I followed, offering Raina and Fateema a quick glance in apology to how they were being treated. To my relief they both gave smiles back and didn't look afraid, but I couldn't help but worry a bit, still.
We found the room that the older woman had directed us to and Gwyneth knocked lightly on the door. "Hello?" She called out in a sweet tone. We heard shuffling inside and finally the door opened, revealing the masculine Rose behind the door, her face wrinkled with sleep.
"Why hello," she said groggily. "Greta, right?" I nodded and Gwyneth introduced herself, of course calling herself Janelle.
"I forgot to give this back to you," I said and held out the knife for Rose.
"Oh keep it," she said. "I have a bunch laying around I've picked up along the way, I wont miss that one."
"That's very nice of you," Gwyneth said with just the slightest hint of an accent. "Is there anyway Greta or I can repay you? You never know when a tool like this can come in handy out here."
Rose thought for a moment and then looked behind us quickly. "Come on inside, we'll talk."
If the room we were staying in was barely a closet, Rose's room couldn't be more than a pantry. All three of us had to duck and I couldn't believe the room was big enough for Rose to sleep in. Without windows the room was lit by tiny stubs of candles, creating a dark red glow in the room.
"Where did you ladies say you're from?" Rose asked, her eyebrow slightly raised and her French accent betraying her with every word.
"Bordeaux," I said readily. "There is no sense in lying," I said in fluent French with an accent to match my choice in southern French home. "My family is Scandinavian, but moved to France before the joining of the Free States." Rose looked pleased with this, pleased with me.
"Janelle found Joy, Simone, and I on the road about fifty kilometres south of here," I continued. "It was sheer luck, or so I thought."
"I'd heard through the wire that there were three girls wandering highway twelve and I was in the area. Allied or not, I know enough of what's out there to know I should step in," Gwyneth said, picking up my story with ease.
"And what were you girls doing to find yourselves in the Outlands?" Rose asked, her tone concerned.
"It was our first assignment," I said glumly. "We were posing as first year Filter students in the Police Filter and thought it would be easy. We were just being ourselves and getting into the system. Someone must have tipped us off, it was less than a week before we found ourselves at the gates of the Outlands, black sacks on our heads."
"You were lucky you weren't killed," Rose said with a sympathetic tone.
"I believe their age and gender had a big part to play in that judgement," Gwyneth said, her voice reeked of pity. "And luckier still that I found you so quickly."
"And what of the other two?" Rose asked. "The black girl is an excellent shooter, yes?"
I nodded with great enthusiasm. "Joy always had an impeccable shot," I said. "I feel bad for her though, it's a gift she wishes she could renounce."
"Can't stomach death, can she?" Rose asked, but before I could reply she answered her own question. "No, I could see it on her face. Poor child." Gwyneth and I nodded in sympathy. "No need to dwell on that, raids here are few and far between. We make a show of being well armed and most leave us be."
"The place has certainly improved since my last visit," Gwyneth said, offering a smile. "That was oh, almost two years ago now."
Rose looked impressed. "An how long have you been here?"
"Three years myself," Gwyneth said, but looked proud of this. "I report in if I find anything. There are a lot of political prisoners here who are very lonely. It doesn't take much for a pretty face to step in and trade comfort for secrets."
"Ladies, I appreciate the visit very much," Rose said as she stood, ducking to avoid hitting the ceiling. "It's nice to see friendly faces once in a while, we must talk again. As of now, I am still tired from today's excitement. Perhaps we will talk more tomorrow."
"I would like that very much," Gwyneth said as we showed ourselves out. "Please come talk to us any time."
We were barely inside the door to our own room when Gwyneth started singing my praises. "Mattie you were perfect!" She said and grabbed my shoulders. "Really perfect! I knew you had it in you."
"What happened?" Raina asked, her face filled with excitement.
"We have an in!" Gwyneth said. "Rose bought everything, hook, line, and sinker. You three are from Bordeaux and were trying to infiltrate the Police Filter as students. Follow Mattie's lead in everything she says and you'll do fine."
I could feel my face glow red with embarrassment. I wasn't use to such glowing praise, and wasn't expecting it from Gwyneth who just this morning had ripped Raina and Fateema to shreds over their apparent shortcomings.
I would need to get use to the praise soon, since Rose did start visiting us, taking meals with us, and talking with us. After every interaction Gwyneth would sing my praises and I would feel the heat rise in my face. Worst of all, I feared Raina and Fateema growing further away from me with every encouragement Gwyneth sent my way. They gave half-hearted smiles when I tried to make sure they were okay, but mostly they kept together while Gwyneth kept pulling me to her with praise and rewards.
As the days turned into weeks I felt like all this time spent with Rose, eating gruel and weak broth, and helping patrol our crumbling home was a total waste, but Gwyneth never looked happier or filled with more strength and resolve. "We're so close," she would say after every conversation with Rose, even though after a month she was still the only French person we'd ever come across.
Everything seemed to rush forward all at once. It was early one morning, I'd completely lost track of the days. I couldn't sleep, wracked with worry that we were failing. I had crept out of our room, throwing on an old sweater one of the women had let me use and climbed up to the roof. The mists and fog of November laid thick over the barely risen sun. The lone sentry on the roof nodded to me, but ultimately left me alone and I found a hidden, empty spot at the back of building, hoping to be alone with my thoughts. I wished for a way to asked Gabe what I should do. He had always known the best course of action, and again when I really needed him there was no way for me to reach out to him.
"Greta?" Rose familiar and almost motherly voice said as she approached.
"Rose," I said with a bit of surprise. "What are you doing up here?"
"I could ask you the same, but I have a feeling our answered would be the same," she said as she sat down beside me.
"To think?" I asked.
"To think," she confirmed. For a long time we sat in silence, enjoying each others' company in the rising sun. I hadn't realized it until now, but part of my apprehension about everything was because how much I truly liked Rose and enjoyed her company. She felt like a mother figure, her age lines wise and comforting, her strong arms reassuring.
"Greta," she said after some time. "I think there is someone I want you to meet. Just you." I looked at her and she confirmed my suspicions. "Your friend Janelle, there is something I don't trust behind those grey eyes. As for the other two, I don't think they're ready. You, you're strong and true."
"Thank you," I said, and I really meant it. It wasn't like the praise that Gwyneth dished out. There was nothing unnerving about what Rose said, and I felt filled with pride.
"I want you to meet me tonight," she said, her voice barely above a whisper. "See that intersection there, the one that isn't cracked?" I nodded and she continued. "After the sun goes down, meet me there. Got that?" I nodded and Rose said nothing else, excusing herself with a nod and left me on the roof.
My stomach clenched when I realized what was happening. I had grown to like Rose and upon realizing that I now knew I had to betray her. I had to make a choice, tell Gwyneth what happened on the roof, or sneak out and possibly betray everyone I knew. My heart told me to do one thing, my head another. I spent a long time on the roof that morning, the sun rising high in the sky before I decided to make my way inside and make a decision that would determine the rest of our first mission as members of WASP.