They're demanding full control of raid interception decisions..."
It was an extremely warm day. In Hobart, Autumn was the time of year that winter coats were pulled from hiding, layered up with scarfs and gloves. Alex was still finding it difficult to adjust to Brisbane temperatures. A t-shirt in late May was a thing he'd usually associate with madness. Here, it was a given.
"Obviously, a compromise will have to be reached, as they have a very limited knowledge of the patterns..."
It was hard to believe that a year ago he was still in Tasmania.
The leader of a very small group of children.
Still the best friend of Seb.
Soon to meet Kiara.
"It is starting to look as though arrangements will be reached sooner than we originally..."
It was strange. On the one hand, he felt as though he had known Kiara his whole life. Then again, it was still somehow difficult to believe an entire year had passed since those days. They felt like yesterday, yet years ago. If this was the speed at which a year passed now, surely it would only be a brief blink in time before his life was through.
Always remembering, of course, that it was nothing short of a miracle he'd survived the last year.
"And then, there is of course, the issue of the allied soldiers. The army is of the strong stance that all soldiers found should be exterminated without question."
Alex perked back to attention at this. Mrs. Burn's plump face was contorted into an expression of distaste as she relayed this news. She shuffled through some paper, scanning through for a new note.
He piped up before she could move to a new topic. "But half the point of business is to exterminate soldiers; why is that a change?"
A few of the others at the table suppressed laughter at this, not so subtly. Alex scowled at them, taking offense.
He couldn't have been the only one there who was missing something.
"This is referring to after our victory. Any soldier found in the country should be captured and killed immediately, in order to prevent a revived attempt to invade the western world." Mrs. Burns seemed to hesitate while relaying the idea; she was clearly against the very thought.
Alex, however, nodded in approval. "Seems wise."
Mr. Wrightley sent his son a worried glance, folding his arms and leading forward. Without even needing to speak, he had the undivided attention of all at the meeting table. "To an extent, perhaps. Else, simply punish the leaders, or those who have committed murder-"
"So, all of them," pointed out a hard faced woman named Miranda, who sat across from Alex's father. Alex suppressed the urge to nod in agreement with her.
Mr. Wrightley paused, considering this. "I just feel as though doing so would be genocide. How would it be any different to what they're doing now?"
"Motivation! It wouldn't be genocide, it would be revenge."
At this, the table broke out into heated chatter, everyone trying to get a word in. Alex surveyed them, annoyance building in him rapidly.
He couldn't for the life of him understand why anyone, least of all his father, should even care about the welfare of the soldiers. They had waltzed into other countries, torn down the governments, and set about murdering all the inhabitants. If a person entered your house with the intention of murdering your family, you would place a bullet between their eyes, not agonise over how they felt about it!
Without pausing to think about what he was doing, he stood up in his seat, placing his hands on the table in front of him. The noise faded away as quickly as it had aroused, some people looking at him curiously, others with thinly veiled scorn for the youngest member of the board.
Unperturbed by this, Alex spoke. "Showing any sympathy for them is only going to seem weak on our behalf. Not only could it encourage further attacks, but it would be a disgrace to the memories of all who have died at their hands. If we start saying we'll show mercy, it'll just spiral out of control. I mean, some people already not only think we should spare them, but that we should help them, show compassion. But why? What possible end would that achieve?"
At this, Mr. Hendrick rose in his own seat, facing Alex. "Who thinks this?"
Alex was a little startled at the question; the look on the older man's face was quite stern. He waved his hand to indicate it was of little importance, but Mr. Hendrick kept his eyebrows raised.
Finally, Alex muttered, "Well, Kiara, but..."
"And what are her reasons for thinking so?"
Why did it matter? It was an idea so obviously ridiculous that it should have been immediately laughed out of the room. "I don't really understand, you'd have to ask her."
"Go get her, then."
Alex hesitated, unwilling to obey this command. "I know it's a stupid way to think, but does it really matter? It's not like she's hurting anybody..."
Deflated, Alex turned around to leave the room. He hated himself for it, but it wasn't a good idea to try and argue with one of the head seniors.
As he located Kiara sitting against a wall with Declan, the two of them watching Louise tell an animated story, he promised himself that if Mr. Hendrick showed any intentions of embarrassing her, he would jump in. Just because she had the wrong attitude didn't mean she deserved to be punished for it.
She looked up, pleasant and unsuspecting, as Alex approached her. "Hey, what's up?"
He didn't crouch down. "Kiara, Mr. Hendrick wants to talk to you for a second in the meeting room. Do you mind?"
Kiara's smile faded, replaced with an expression of confusion. "Why?"
"I'll tell you in a second."
Kiara and Louise exchanged concerned glances, and Louise touched her friend lightly on the arm as she stood up.
Alex took her hand and squeezed it as they walked. "It's nothing to worry about," he assured her, keeping his voice low.
The room fell silent when they entered. Alex hesitated by Kiara's side, and then returned to take his assigned place.
Kiara looked around self consciously at the faces turned her way, and Mr. Hendrick shot her a warm smile. "Kiara, hi. It's been brought to our attention that you have a few ideas in regards to the treatment of soldiers, post war. I was wondering if you could expand on those a little?"
Kiara shot Alex an accusing glance, and he grimaced apologetically. "I don't really know what to say about it," she began carefully.
"You think they should be cared for. Please explain."
She looked like a deer caught in headlights. "I... I just don't think we should... kill them all."
The room waited patiently, and she tugged on the bottom of her shorts. "It's... like, they don't all deserve it." She seemed to realise how pathetic this sounded, because she widened her eyes at Alex in a plea for help. He simply shrugged at her. It was almost painful to watch her struggle in the spotlight, but he had no intention of clearing up her case. The less passion she poured into her speech, the better for her.
"How would you argue that, Kiara?"
Her drained, pale face flushed bright red. "Well... you just need to look at some of the soldiers. They've been forced into this, and a lot of them don't want to be doing what they're doing, but they'll... they'll just be killed if they don't. In the Hobart attack, Alex and I had a soldier refuse to shoot us, even though he had us right there. In Darwin, a soldier my own age risked his life to help me escape. Just last month, a few of us... we were saved by a soldier turning against another one."
She scanned her audience in an attempt to determine their feelings. Alex did the same, and found that his colleagues betrayed little to no emotion. Eventually, she finished with, "Do you think they deserve to die?"
The self righteous part of Alex was begging him to argue against this, to point out that such a small percentage of good amongst the bad was barely worth acknowledging, that there was no easy way to determine who deserved death, and who deserved reprieve. But he couldn't do that to Kiara; she was having a hard enough time standing up there without it.
"And what would you propose we do?" Mr. Hendrick, to Alex's surprise, looked less scornful than genuinely interested.
Kiara seemed to notice this as well, because when she spoke, it was with renewed confidence. "Give them a time to get out of the country, and only inflict punishment if they refuse. Look after their injured, and send them back when we're ready."
Miranda let out a scornful laugh, causing Alex to jump. "And why would we do that?"
Kiara paused for a moment, and then shrugged. "Because we're better than them?"
To Alex's surprise, this did not incite an uproar. Instead, the room fell silent, each person considering this. Alex had to prevent himself from sighing.
Finally, Mr. Hendrick nodded at the girl. "Thank you, Kiara, you've given me something to think about."
The meeting adjourned, Alex stood and caught up to Kiara, who had her arms wrapped around herself, gritting her teeth. When she noticed him at her side, she hissed, "Why did you have to drag me into that?"
"It was an accident, I'm sorry. I don't think it went so badly, though, do you?"
"I looked like a dickhead."
"Well, I think you looked beautiful."
"Alex!" she turned on him, folding her arms. "I made an idiot out of myself; I don't think I even made any sense."
Alex smiled and put his arm around her waist. "You did not make an idiot out of yourself. Anyway, it was probably for the best. You don't want to get caught up in those sort of debates. Get involved with some of those people, and they will make you look like an idiot."
Her eyes snapped up at this indignantly, and she went to speak, but Alex cut in hurriedly. "Not because you are, but everyone's so opinionated in there, and they've been doing this for years now. They just know more about it than you."
Kiara tried to smile, but then freed herself from his arm. "Maybe."
With that, she went to join Louise, leaving Alex standing alone.
Early the following week, Kiara went to locate Alex after lunch, but found that he was nowhere in sight.
"He's not the only one missing," Louise pointed out when Kiara told her of the situation. "I've noticed tonnes of the senior faction have disappeared. I haven't seen Mr. Wrightley, or Mr. Hendrick, or Mrs. Burns..."
Bonnie, who had been watching television nearby with Declan at her side, poked her head over the top of the couch. "What are you looking for Mrs. Burns for?"
Louise looked away from her, trying not to allow her annoyance to show on her face. Kiara, who hadn't managed to bring herself to dislike Bonnie even out of loyalty to her friend, shot her a wide smile. "Bonnie! You'd know; we've lost Alex."
Her face brightened at this, and she glanced at Louise with a knowing smile. Declan was looking up now, curious to hear what Bonnie had to say as she replied. "He didn't tell you where he went?"
Louise scowled, an expression that could not quite make her angelic face unappealing. "No, Bonnie, he told us where he went, we're asking you for the sheer hell of it."
Her smile broadened. "Well, it's a pretty big secret, I was just making sure he hadn't been spreading it. He can't just go around telling the world. I mean, I know what it is, of course-"
"Well, aren't you privileged," Louise snapped.
Declan shot Kiara a weary look, and she felt a pang of sympathy towards him. The two girls behaved like this whenever they came into contact, and unfortunately for him, he was more often than not present when this happened. She directed her attention to Bonnie. "Come on, we won't tell anyone."
She smirked at Louise, as though it was her who had made the request. "Nope. You'll find out soon enough."
'Soon enough' ended up being that night, at dinner.
As the crowd began to enter into the dining room, cries of surprise rang out. Kiara and Louise pushed their way through to the front, eager to see what the fuss was about.
The usually empty tables were filled with so rarely seen bottles of wine and beer, with bowls of chips and chocolates places every few chairs along. The candles that were usually stored in case of a blackout were burning cheerfully, dripping wax onto red, green and blue tablecloths that had been dredged up from who knew where.
Against the wall, the stereo from the recreation room was set up, with speakers attached. Dangling from the roof was an array of streamers and blinking fairy lights, which sent multicoloured flashes of light over the people below.
The decorations were simple, but so unusual for the resistance that they seemed spectacular. If the adults were delighted, it was nothing compared to the reaction of the children, some of whom had never seen such festivity.
When everyone had entered, the lights were turned off, allowing the candles and ceiling lights to take full effect. Suddenly, Kiara felt arms around her waist, and she jumped. "Looks good, doesn't it?" Alex's voice whispered into her ear. The sensation sent shivers through her body, and she grabbed onto his hands tightly. Before she could reply, a hush went through the crowd.
Up by the speakers, Mr. Wrightley, Mrs. Burns and Mr. Hendrick were facing the group, holding up their hands for silence. After waiting a few moments, Mrs. Burns smiled brightly at everybody and clasped her hands before her. "After months of waiting, and negotiating, I'm pleased to announce that the Australian army has agreed to form a coalition with the resistance!"
At this, the crowd went into an uproarious cheer, drowning her out before she could continue. Alex squeezed Kiara so hard she found it difficult to breathe. She wriggled around in his grip to face him, and found his lips against hers.
Over the din, Mrs. Burns continued valiantly. "As you are all well aware, the army has many precious resources. What you may not be aware of, however, is that today it was revealed upon the signing of an agreement that the main job of the army over the last seven years has been weaponry production. This is on no small scale; they have managed to produce millions of handguns, rifles, shotguns, and more."
At this, Kiara pulled away from Alex, who was positively beaming as Mrs. Burns made her point. "With this, we now truly have the means to shut down the Final Decimation; to arm every resistance member, every army member, every civilian. All who value their lives and their freedom now have the means to fight along with us. With this, we can form an army of our own; a formidable force to be dealing with. Our country can now stand together as one, and force out these intruders. We will not take this lying down!"
This time there was not just cheering, but squealing, whooping and whistling. The music was turned on, and people began to push through the crowd to find their seats.
Alex and Kiara held hands as they searched for a chair, grinning at each other in shared excitement. Once they were seated, Kiara leaned forward and grabbed Alex's knee. "How long have you known?"
His eyes crinkled. "Since this morning. We weren't allowed to say a word to anyone; we spent all day figuring out how we'd break it to you all."
The resistance wasted no time in breaking into a party. Everyone fifteen years and over were given full access to the alcohol on display; the younger children made do with the junk food on hand, enough of a rarity in itself to stop them complaining.
Kiara herself couldn't stand wine, but she pushed past it. She'd never had the opportunity to get drunk, or even tipsy, and she was dying to experience it. Unlike her, Alex took to the beer like a professional, chattering away tirelessly as he did so.
By her third awful drink, Kiara was beginning to feel the effects of the alcohol. She placed the empty glass on the table and held her hands out before her, surveying them as though she'd never seen them before. "My fingers are kind of numb," she remarked, and she was surprised to find that the statement sounded like it was coming from a distance, as though someone else had spoken it.
Alex laughed easily and began to massage them. "That's normal... I think," he added, giggling again.
Normal or not, Kiara was fascinated. She was suddenly overtaken by an irresistible urge to drink more. God knew, she wasn't going to get another opportunity to try it anytime soon, if ever, and damned if she was dying without knowing what it felt like to get drunk.
She poured herself another generous glass and, pausing to take a deep breath, tipped it down her throat, doing her best not to pause to taste it. Her throat burned, her mouth tasted like it was filled with petrol, but she felt accomplished, exhilarated. She looked at Alex proudly, who was laughing. "You might want to slow it down a bit; what's your limit?"
She shrugged, picking up another bottle eagerly. "No idea."
Alex let out a delighted cry. "What, you've never drank before now?"
She lifted the glass to her lips, raising her eyebrows at him as she took a large sip. "No. What of it?"
He lifted his own bottle of beer and clinked it against her glass. "It's kind of sexy," he said, nodding before he drank.
She wracked her brains, trying to think of a time in the past where Alex had used that word on her, but she couldn't come up with one. In fact, she wasn't sure if she had ever been called that before. Sure, she'd gotten all the innocent words, like pretty, and beautiful, but nothing powerful like that.
Suddenly, she felt sexy. She placed her glass down on the table, leaned forward and kissed Alex, grabbing the back of his head to pull him into her. He froze, surprised at first, and then gave into it, cupping his hands around the back of her neck. She kissed him again, and again, until her lips began to feel raw and she pulled back for air.
He gasped, and then pushed a strand of hair behind her ear. "What brought that on?"
Kiara shrugged, and then broke into a pleased grin. "I just liked hearing that." Her voice sounded thick, so unlike usual.
A funny look had come over Alex's face, however. He narrowed his still smiling eyes and leaned in. "You are sexy, though," he said, as softly as the music would allow. "Sexy, and hot, and gorgeous, and stunning, and perfect."
This time, when he kissed her, she felt as though she was falling; her head felt as though it was filled with lead, suddenly too heavy for her neck to support. He pulled back a little and smiled against her lips. "Oh my; Miss. Kiara is getting drunk."
Before she could reply his easy smile had hardened as he looked behind her. She followed his gaze and saw Louise, dragging with her a guy who looked as though he'd be in his early twenties. He was clearly quite tipsy, but he seemed amiable enough, and if he noticed Alex's contemptuous stare, he didn't show it.
Louise glanced up at him as though to make sure he was presentable, and turned back. "Kiara, you haven't met Connor yet, have you?"
He lifted his chin, apparently aware that he was expected to make a good impression, and held out a hand a little too enthusiastically. "Alexander did well," he said in a form of greeting. "Pleasantly surprised."
Kiara wasn't entirely sure whether to take this as a compliment, but when she felt Alex stiffen behind her she stopped trying to decide. She looked at him and widened her eyes, pleading at him not to start an argument for Louise's sake. For once he seemed to take heed, and forced a stiff smile. "I'll be right back, guys."
As he retreated, Kiara found herself awkwardly facing the other two, unsure of what to say. Connor was watching Alex's back with an amusement so frank she almost felt obliged to say something. Louise, however, hadn't noticed; she was staring across the room. Declan and Bonnie were leaning against the wall in deep conversation, each which a glass in hand, and standing so close together that the topic of conversation was easy to ascertain.
Kiara looked back to Louise, ready to offer some comfort, or agree with a snide remark. Instead, she startled to find her friend attached to Connor at the face, arms and legs, kissing him with such exaggerated passion that she had to avert her eyes out of shocked embarrassment.
It took Declan a few moments to notice the overtly sexual display, but Kiara could tell the moment his eyes fell upon it; naked surprise fell upon his features, followed by an almost bewildered devastation. It took him less than a second to regain his composure; the slip was so fleeting that Bonnie didn't appear to have taken note of it, as she was still inching closer to him.
Kiara found herself shaking her head, unable to stop herself through her buzzing consciousness. She could see what was about to happen before it began, and though potential courses of action to stop it raced through her mind, it was a lost cause. Declan and Bonnie were kissing before she had even managed to take a step towards them; Bonnie's chin lifted, and her fingers tracing his arms, while he was stiffer, more robotic in his actions.
Not willing to watch anymore, Kiara walked away, trying to talk herself into a clear head. Giving up on that attempt almost as soon as she started, she, she helped herself to yet another glass of wine, and found that she barely even noticed the taste now.
Not far from where she stood, a group of small children were dancing in a clearing, jumping around in a ring in a total lack of coordination. The fairy lights above them cast a variety of colours over their skin, changing their faces from red, to green, to blue to purple. Kiara was fascinated.
"There you are. Why did you disappear?" Alex was holding out a glass of water towards her, the black mood that had been threatening to overtake him earlier obviously banished. She wrinkled her nose at it. "I don't want that, thanks."
He grinned wryly. "Oh, trust me, you do."
She shook her head, breaking out into giggles for no apparent reason, Louise and Declan suddenly forgotten. "No, Alex, I'm not thirsty."
"Look, if you don't drink enough water, you'll get a hangover. That's when-"
"I know what a hangover is, Alexander!" her voice went high halfway through the sentence, as though her tone was climbing a mountain. Had she meant to do that? "I'm not that sheltered."
He went to reply, but then she held up a hand, shushing him. He watched her in bemusement as she stared off into space for a moment, paying close attention. She then looked at Alex excitedly. "I know this song. It was my childhood!"
Alex looked up too, and smiled when he made out the tune. "I know this one, it's-"
"It's Khe Sahn!" Kiara was thrilled. "I can't believe it. I haven't heard it in so long."
"I think... I think I know most of it." Alex announced, sitting up straighter. "Speed and novocaine... so I worked across the country from end to end, trying to find a place to settle down, something... something, nah, nah-nah..."
"It's 'where my mixed up life could mend'," Kiara corrected, bursting out with laughter.
Alex didn't let this stop him. "But the nightlife nearly drove me 'round the bend!"
Kiara couldn't stop herself from giggling, and Alex wrapped her in a hug, rocking her from side to side energetically. "What's the matter with my singing?"
Gasping for air, she tried and failed to worm her way out of his grasp. "It's almost as bad as mine, that's what."
To put an end to her struggling, Alex bent over and, in one swift motion, scooped her up. After taking a few moments to regain his impaired balance, he planted her in the middle of the growing ring of dancing children, hopping in beside her.
As the instrumental started, he pulled her into a ballroom position, steering her around in a small circle. "What are you doing?" she cried above the music, attempting desperately to match his easy movements.
"I'm trying to waltz, but you're ruining it." he replied. Running out of patience, he lifted her off the ground, and continued to dance with her, all the while flashing his charming, good natured smile.
Suddenly, he put her back down on the floor, and broke out of the ring, to jump onto a nearby chair.
"WELL, THE LAST PLANE OUT OF SYDNEY'S ALMOST GONE!" he bellowed, drawing the attention of several nearby people.
"It's only seven flying hours, then I'll be landing in Hong Kong!" This time, it wasn't just Alex singing; some people behind Kiara had begun to join in. Two girls grabbed Kiara's hands, dragging her into the circle. She was content to jump around in a circle with them; this was far more suited to her dancing abilities.
All at once, it seemed like everyone in the room was drunkenly singing, or shouting, along to the song. Kiara was compelled to join them, adding her own weak voice to the deafening roar of the room.
With this, Alex jumped down from his chair and joined the children, inserting himself between one of the girls and Kiara. He even managed to make jumping like a maniac look graceful, or perhaps that was just the alcohol in her.
Before the end of the song, he was kissing her again, and there was no more music, no more singing, no more dancing; he was all she knew, and all she ever wanted to know again.
When Mr. Hendrick approached Kiara on a cool June day, Alex was nowhere in sight. Perhaps it was a coincidence, or maybe Mr. Hendrick had planned it. If so, then he had marvellous foresight.
Three weeks into winter, Queensland had fallen into an uncharacteristic chill. The cool air penetrated even into the depths of the resistance. Where days earlier people were walking about in shorts and shirts, jeans and jumpers were lugged out of hiding.
Connor had gotten into the habit of sitting with the members of the minor faction, his arms wrapped affectionately around Louise at all times. Upon getting to know him, Kiara found that he wasn't of a remarkable personality; he seemed pleasant enough, but in any other situation she wouldn't have looked twice at him. He was attractive enough when sober, however, with green eyes and copper hair.
Declan and Bonnie also now considered themselves official, which caused an undeniable, though unacknowledged, tension in the group; Kiara had tried to bring up the conversation with Louise, but she was rebuffed with every attempt. She didn't care about Declan, Louise insisted; not since Connor.
Alex, on the other hand, was less than thrilled that Connor was hanging around. While they hadn't gone out of their way to annoy each other yet, both treated each other with an icy indifference, purposely avoiding conversation. Declan, of course, loyally shared Alex's opinion of Connor without even giving him a chance, often taking sharp digs at him during conversation. Kiara, who knew better, guessed that his actions had less to do with Alex and more to do with Louise, but Connor appeared quite hurt by them.
Things were awkward enough with Alex there; this night he was at an urgent meeting, leaving Kiara sitting between a stone-faced Declan, and Louise and Connor, who were kissing with undisguised passion. Bonnie had conveniently developed a headache, and had gone to lie down. Kiara was now feeling jealous that she hadn't come up with the idea first.
In a somewhat awkward attempt at conversation, she turned to Declan, who looked as though he was eager to take out his frustration on the next person to address him. "So, Louise told me you two haven't been on business in a while. Maybe you should ask for an assignment; it might do her good to be torn away from Connor for a day."
It took Declan a lot longer than she'd anticipated to reply. When he did, his voice had a dangerously smug quality to it, and he spoke in a voice so soft that the other two couldn't hear him. "I haven't told Louise yet, but we aren't going to be partners for much longer."
"I'm not going to be in the general faction anymore. Bonnie's helped me get selected as an assassin." Though there was a bitterly triumphant quality to his tone, she could tell he was genuinely pleased at this.
"An assassin?" This was news to Kiara. She had thought the only attacks the resistance organised were interceptions.
"For the big guys. The leaders; all the bosses at the top bossing around the allied soldiers. You have to be a perfect shot to be eligible, and I'm actually pretty close."
Kiara's eyes drifted to her friend, who was engaged in a tickling match with Connor, and her heart sank. "Well… what's Louise supposed to do?"
Declan shrugged, but he couldn't hide the flash of guilt that shot across his face. "I don't know. I'm sure something will be figured out. Alex will probably just try to recruit a family with someone her age."
He spoke about it so nonchalantly, as though partners were so easily replaced. Truth be told, she was only now beginning to appreciate the bond that partners formed through months and years of being responsible for the lives of the other. It was, in many cases, a relationship that appeared stronger than blood. She'd seen members of both the minor and senior faction retreat for weeks following the death or capture of a partner, crumbling in privacy for an extended length of time before allowing others to see them once again.
She hadn't understood at the time just how generous a welcoming gesture it was for Alex and Seb to separate their partnership in order to bring them into the group. They had severed a tie that had held strong for years, for someone that they didn't even know; a move that had ultimately cost Seb his life.
"You should tell her, Declan. So it isn't such a shock when it happens."
Declan straightened up and prepared to defend himself, but he was interrupted when a voice behind them called Kiara's name.
She turned around and was surprised to see Mr. Hendrick walking towards her. The surprise rapidly gave way to fear, and she scrambled to her feet to face him.
His brown eyes softened when he caught the expression on her face, and he held up his hands in reassurance. "There's no need to worry, I've just come to ask your opinion on something."
After a brief pause, she relaxed, though her heart was still beating faster than usual. "Okay, sure. What's up?"
He placed his hand on her shoulder, steering her. "At my desk."
She walked with him, aware of the curious stares of all she passed in the recreation room. He was right; in the business room, there was more privacy; just as many people, but far less people with enough free concentration for a private word to reach prying ears.
Kiara sat awkwardly beside the desk as Mr. Hendrick made himself comfortable. Finally, he clasped his hands before him and leaned forward. "Kiara, in September, the resistance is holding a worldwide meeting. Representatives from each state in Australia is travelling to Sydney, where they will be connected to all other representatives via radio."
Kiara nodded blankly. It was still completely beyond her why she should be concerned. He wasn't done, however.
"I would like for you to share your opinion with them."
Kiara tilted her head on the side, trying to sort through her confusion. "My opinion?"
"About the treatment of the soldiers."
There was a moment of silence while this sank in, and then Kiara smiled, shaking her head. "I don't think you want me. I'm really... really not that great with public speaking. At all. Just get someone else to say it..."
"But I want you to say it," Mr. Hendrick said firmly, in a voice that left little room for argument.
"No, seriously, I would... would not go well. I mean, I-"
"You believe in what you're saying, don't you?"
She had to hold herself back from rolling her eyes at this. "Yes, but-"
"Then you'll do fine." He smiled supportively. "You have plenty of time to prepare. They're expecting you, Kiara, not a stand in."
This was news to her. "Me?"
"Yes. Word spreads fast, and a few members from the meeting you attended have been talking. It's a little like watching philosophers in action."
He shook his head quickly at this. "Now, don't speak to anybody about this if you can help it. For obvious reasons, it's beneficial for only a limited number of people knowing about this conference."
Now, this she objected to. "Not even Alex?" she demanded indignantly.
"Alex will be one of the attendees, so I'm sure you can let it slip to him." His features were crinkling with amusement now. "Or else you'll give him the shock of his life on the day."
She chewed on her lip. Yes, that. Another good reason not to do this. "He really doesn't like the whole concept, does he?"
This time the older man gave her a sympathetic glance. "No, no he does not. Nor is he alone in that opinion either, Kiara. You're likely to run into controversy, speaking your opinion, on any topic under the sun. But if differing opinions were never spoken, progress would never occur, and we would all be living in caves, marvelling at fire. Don't worry about Alex, Kiara. He's a good man, and those that love us support us, whether we agree with each other or not."
With this, he nodded at her in pleasant dismissal. Finding herself with no other option, she turned and walked away, still chewing her lip feverishly. She walked straight past her odd group of companions by the television, pretending not to hear their curious queries. She didn't stop until she reached her sleeping bag, crawled inside it fully clothed, and closed her eyes, her thoughts buzzing with trepidation.
She was asleep before she had come to a decision.
When Alex woke her the next morning, he showed no signs of having heard of her meeting. He was, in fact, in a particularly chipper mood that morning, practically bouncing on his sleeping bag.
"What's got you so happy?" she asked wryly as she searched for a hair-tie.
He shot her a charming grin, revealing dimples she'd barely noticed before. Did he smile that rarely? "No reason. I'm just happy. Do you want to go for a walk? We should."
"Now?" Kiara rubbed her eyes and pinched her cheeks in an effort to become alert. "Isn't it a bit early?"
Before he responded he had pulled her to her feet, lowering his arms to her waist. "Not as long as the sun's up."
He kissed her quickly on the forehead and turned to find a jacket.
Kiara dropped to her knees to do the same, squinting against her sleepiness. "I'm not so sure it is," she grumbled.
Within twenty minutes, she was following Alex down a road. There was no one in sight, but the two still felt it safer to avoid the risk.
As Alex chattered on about something Alana had said the day before, Kiara realised that she knew where they were. This was their beach, the one he had taken her to that summer.
Noticing her silence, Alex turned around and offered her a warm smile. He held out his hand to her, and led her to the smooth rocks that she remembered so vividly, despite the time that had passed since she'd seen them.
The rocks were damp from the sea spray, where the last time they had been warm and inviting, so Kiara cuddled against Alex's chest for warmth once they were perched on the largest.
They didn't speak for awhile; they didn't have to. It was nice, Kiara mused, to be able to sit here and enjoy his company, without having to concentrate on anything or worry.
When Alex finally spoke, his voice was hushed and affectionate. "You know, the day on the boat, that was one year ago today."
She raised her eyebrows and turned to face him, still remaining in his arms. "Really? And you can remember that?"
He smiled and looked away. "I have a good memory for dates. I can't believe it was only a year ago.."
She nodded fervently at this. A year before, she was in Alex's company, and with not the slightest idea of how much he would grow to mean to her in such a short space of time.
"Do you think he'll ever forgive me?" He asked suddenly.
To Kiara's credit, she didn't have to ask who she meant. "If I can forgive him, and you can, then I'm sure he can in return."
He nodded at this, not entirely sure if this was a good thing. "Sometimes I think it says something awful about me, that I was able to do that. But really, I wasn't thinking of him as Seb at the time, and I wasn't acting with any bad intentions. I guess all I did was choose right over wrong. I just hope I chose right."
She hugged him close and pressed her cold cheek against his. He'd given her an opening now. It was now or never. "Well, actually, Alex, there's something about that I want to tell you."
A lazy nod, as his fingers traced her wrist.
"Mr. Hendrick wants me to speak at this worldwide conference thing. On the radio. You know... about the soldiers."
Alex stiffened, and his hand fell from hers. "Why?"
She shrugged self consciously, not daring to look at him. "Because some people are interested. Some people think it might be the right thing to do."
He let out a loud sigh of frustration, withdrawing from her completely. "Why can't you just let it go?"
She twisted around, feeling irritated at his tone. "Because, Alex, we're talking about the lives of innocent people-"
"Innocent? That's what you call innocent?"
"Some of them, yes! Some of them don't get a choice, and that's what the whole idea of a trial is about, but you're too stubborn to-"
"For God's sake!" he yelled, standing up and brushing sand off his jeans. "I actually can't grasp what it'll take for you to see how evil they all are! They've already taken your parents, is that not enough, do they still deserve sympathy? Kristy, Riley, Seb, not good enough? Do they need to kill me for you to get it? Or will you think that's an accident; that they didn't mean to? Maybe if they slit my throat in front of you-"
"Alex!" She was standing too now, hands on her waist.
"Laughing in your face at how helpless you are!" he continued, unabashed.
She refused to have her case trivialised in such a way. "Stop being so black and white about the whole thing! Some of those bastards need to burn in hell, I'm not denying it-"
"They all do!"
"Some of them should be given awards for the human kindness they've shown us, Alex, let alone just spared their lives!"
For the first time, Alex appeared speechless with rage. He was looking around disbelievingly, as though expecting a solution to appear on the beach in front of him. "By saying that, you go against everything we fight for, everything we risk our lives for, and die for-"
"Alex, don't give me that motivational speech crap right now, or-"
"You, are going against everything your parents stood for, and you don't... don't even..." he trailed off as he caught her expression, and his own face drained of what little colour it had.
"What do you mean, Alex?" She was fighting to keep her composure, to stay calm, to not jump to conclusions. But alarm bells were ringing.
Straight away, all she could hear was her mother's voice on the tape. How long will you stand aside and allow this to happen?
She pictured herself telling Alex about the tape. And how casual he'd been in his insistence that he'd never heard of a woman called Indigo.
"I... I just meant, well I didn't mean anything, just, I mean, what all parents... all parents would feel right now..."
But he was too jumpy, too scattered and flustered. Oh, God, he was lying.
"How did you know my parents, Alex?"
Until it's your brother or sister?
"I didn't know them, I just, I..."
But he did. She saw it in the whiteness of his knuckles, the flickering of his eyes, the stumble in his step back.
Your son, or daughter?
"You knew them. You know. Why was my Mum on the radio, Alex?"
Suddenly, she remembered something Alex had once told her in passing about raids. How they were only intercepted when there was enough warning.
Why had they had warning about her family?
And then Alex was gesturing for her to sit down, through a frightening, ethereal cloud.
Through this fog, she heard his voice, but it was telling her things that made no sense. He was talking to her about a couple who murdered soldiers on the street, who entered riots and defended the defenceless, who rallied bloodthirsty supporters to attack the men who terrorised their children and stripped their freedom.
These people bore no resemblance to her parents, who forced her to attend piano lessons, whose biggest concerns seemed to be ensuring she got all of her vitamins, who never went to bed later than nine thirty.
But, Alex seemed to think they were one and the same. And then came a new story, one she was partly familiar with, and yet so new to. One about her as a target, coming close to death, of a secret that was kept from her by everyone she knew. By Declan, and Louise, and by Alex.
Like walking into a play that starred her, with no idea of what had been happening in the cut scenes. Yet, the other actors knew, and the audience knew. And oh, how funny they found the whole thing.
And then she was standing, and backing away.
Alex rose with her, trying to stop her but suddenly she was looking through a blind rage. Hitting at him, screaming at him. For keeping it from her, for telling her at all, for any of it happening to begin with.
There was something unexplainable about finding out how little she knew about her own life, a feeling that could not be explained until it had been experienced. But from that moment, she knew, and she wished she had no life to ponder on.
As she knelt, half sprawled, in the sand, trying to breathe, trying to wail, trying to scream, anything to erase it from being true, every event from her past was re-learned. Her mother's attitude to sharing too much information, her father's unexplained broken leg. The early morning absences, the late night fights, the new friends they came across in shopping centres that had never been mentioned to her, yet acted as though they knew her parents better than she did.
And so they had.
They had done this to her. They were the reason she had no one, as well as the reason she now had anyone at all. None of this was luck, or chance. They had been weaving a web of secrets and danger, and she was naively playing her role, that of the unsuspecting daughter.
A new, horrible wave of realisation washed over her. They were dead. It was certain. There was no longer any chance of them sitting, alone, in a detainment centre, patiently waiting for the day the resistance freed them all. They were gone, and had been for over a year. And they would have been tortured first; oh, God, yes, they would have, and it was all... it was all so... how could it all be...
And she was screaming, and crying, and pulling at her hair, begging to wake up.
And, a speck in the distance, Alex was sitting on that rock still, shedding his own tears, unable to approach her, but unable to leave, as each of her cries cut into him like a knife.
A/N - You guys all have the best patience, thank you SO much for not getting mad at me! I had my first exam yesterday, and before that all the big assignments were due and just BLEH! But the good news is after next Friday I'm free until February, so that's the last of the big interferences with writing. I'm on a bit of a roll tonight, and I'm nowhere near tired, so I think I'll go start on the next chapter now, and hopefully I'll have something to give to you guys sooner than usual as a reward for being so understanding :)
Thank you to the lovely mAcHiNe4231 (Who I can't reply to as there's no reply link thingo!) , Aurora Olivers (Who has a great taste in music), Helga Bertoni (who always asks me to update soon, and whom I tend to be disappointing lately in that respect), Macey girl (who has got to be the most consistent reviewer I've ever had!), Fake and Failing (Who is considerate enough to let me know I haven't been abandoned by one of my best reviewers) and Kristy Marigold, who always has an opinion on everything.
I would love some reviews to brighten up the exam study (Feel sorry for me - it's SUPER boring), so pop them in that box below if you have a heart / didn't think this chapter sucked / did and you want to let me know all about how much it sucked.