Author’s Note: Hello, readers! I don’t know about you, but these summer weeks seem to be flying by. That said, I have set the goal of finishing the first draft of Paradise by the end of August. I will continue to post a new chapter each week, but hopefully by fall, you’ll be able to have a copy of the finished book. More news coming soon!
Last week, we left Roman disappointed that he was not able to communicate with Jasmine like he had planned. I’m not giving up hope, though, and neither should you. This week, we’ll learn a little more about Peadar, Menton, and the Hyatt. Enjoy!
I went to sleep that night trying to formulate a plan of how I might be able to reach Jasmine, but the next time I opened my eyes, I was back in the caves. Someone was dragging me along the corridor.
“Stop!” I called out. I couldn’t see who it was because they were pulling me by the back of my body shield.
“General?” It was Menton’s voice. She let go of my shield without warning, and my body fell hard against the ground.
“Where are we?” I asked, struggling to get myself up.
“We’re heading back to the bunker. You’ve been unconscious again.”
I thought back to the event that had sent me mentally to the compound again. A rush of gratitude swept through me as I realized I would not have to make my way out through that tight passageway.
“How long was I out this time?”
“Less than eight hours,” she told me, and that gave me some relief. I hoped it meant that I could trust that the compound really was the construct and that I was back in the real world.
“Good. Where are Sam and Benjamin?”
“They continued toward the surface.”
“Without us?” The mission was going to be dangerous enough with four people. There was no way two people on their own could accomplish it.
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“Sam didn’t want to give up. You were unconscious, so she decided it would be best for me to take you back. You may still have bots in your head.”
“I’m pretty sure I do,” I agree. “But there is no way Sam and Benjamin can do this on their own. How much of a lead do they have?”
“A couple hours. We didn’t come out into the corridor until this morning.”
“Good. That means if we move quickly, we can catch them. How far are we from the surface?”
“Not far,” she told me. “They should reach it in the next couple of hours.”
“Then we better hurry.” I started walking in the direction of the surface.
“Sir,” Menton was beside me in a flash and took hold of my arm. “You’re not well. You’ve been very weak and were just unconscious. I have orders to take you back to the bunker.”
“I’m alive,” I told her, a bit more brusquely than I intended. “The success of this mission has much better odds with more people. Even if my only asset is to serve as bait, it’s still better to have four rather than two.”
From her face, I could see she was considering my words strategically, but I also knew what instructions Sam had probably given her. She would have been told to ignore me no matter what I said.
“But, sir,” she finally said. “Sam ordered me…”
“I’m sure she did,” I cut her off. “It’s all well and good for Sam to give orders if I’m unconscious. However, when I am awake, I am still the general. Then I give the orders.”
It didn’t feel right for me to say those words. Everyone kept telling me I was the general, but I wished I had the benefit of years of memories and experiences to back up my rank.
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Menton was a good soldier. There was one thing the Hyatt did well, and that was to ingrain the importance of hierarchy into their soldiers.
“Yes, sir,” she replied letting my arm free, and we started walking at a brisk pace.
She was right, I was very weak. It was only a matter of minutes before I started to feel the drain of fatigue and my legs seemed to grow heavier with every step.
“What happened to me?” I asked her in an attempt to distract myself.
“We’re not entirely sure. You got stuck in the entranceway to the saferoom. I had to pull you through the rest of the way, but you were unable to talk and were shaking and rocking back and forth. Sam tried to calm you down, but in a few minutes, you were just unconscious. You didn’t move again until a few minutes ago.”
“Do I have a history of claustrophobia?” I didn’t really want the answer. It wasn’t a great trait for a general to have.
“Sam says that you’ve never liked tight spaces, but she’s never seen anything like it. She thinks there might still be bots at work, struggling to regain control. That’s why she wanted me to get you back to Max.”
The fact that I’d been back in the compound made that likely true, but I decided not to share that part of my episode with Menton.
“We’ll go back soon enough,” I assured her. “But not without our prize. This mission will be a success.”
We walked on in silence for several more minutes. The distraction had not been enough. Fatigue continued to pull down on me.
“Menton?” I started some time later.
“Could you talk to me?” I felt like a child asking a parent to read a book.
“Sir?” She stopped and looked at me.
Sometimes, the best you can do is step back and try again. Read Lesson 15 for more.
I didn’t want to appear weak, but I knew there was no way I would be able to keep going for very long without something to think about other than the weight of my legs and body armor.
“I’m struggling,” I told her honestly. “I’m weaker than I want to admit, but I don’t want to go back. Maybe if you talk to me, you can distract me.”
“I could carry you,” she offered. The option was appealing, but I wanted her to save her strength to protect Sam when the time came.
“I’m not there yet,” I told her. “I just need something else to think about. Something to concentrate on other than the weight of my legs and body armor.”
“Okay.” We started walking again, but many more minutes passed without her saying a word.
I glanced over at her face. She appeared to be perplexed but wasn’t saying anything.
“Menton?” I said after more minutes passed.
“I don’t know what to talk about, sir.”
I chuckled in spite of myself. She was unfazed or at least appeared to be.
“Tell me about Peadar,” I finally said.
“Peadar? But you remember Peadar.”
“I only know what I’ve seen of Peadar in the compound. I don’t know if any of it is real, but you knew him well, didn’t you?”
Even in the darkness, I could see the hint of tears develop in her eyes. They shone like crystal on her otherwise stone face.
“Yes, sir.” There was sadness in her voice.
“Tell me about him, please.”
“What would you like to know?” she asked me.
“Whatever you want to tell me.”
She didn’t speak again for some time. I was about ready to give up and just ask her to carry me when she finally started talking.
“We met when we were with the Hyatt. Neither of us had been there for more than a few days. Peadar was kind. Most of the other kids were already soldiers or had the soldier mindset. Peadar was different.”
“Fights were common in the barracks, especially among the fish.”
“The ‘fish’?” I didn’t remember that term.
“Yes, sir. That was what they called us, those of us that were new. We were fish because we had been recently captured.”
“Yes, sir. You know about the Hyatt, right?”
I knew a little from what Sam and Peadar had told me, but I didn’t remember anything about “fish.”
“Let’s say I don’t,” I told her ambiguously.
“Yes, sir. The Hyatt’s recruitment process isn’t one where they ask people to join them. Instead, they go out to areas, or at least they did when there were more of us on the surface, and look for kids that have lost their parents or become separated from their families.”
I struggled to remember the world on the surface, but no memories were forthcoming.
“Once they find one, or several, they start tagging them.
“Tagging is done with a type of dart. They shoot the kids with the dart. There’s a toxin in the dart that makes the kids pliable, almost like zombies, except something in the toxin makes you obedient to orders. There’s also a tracking bot in the dart. Once you’ve been tagged, the Hyatt can always find you. Even strong kids, like Peadar’s brother Mical, who might be a little less responsive to the toxin, can’t escape. The Hyatt wait for you to stop running and then surround you. Once captured, they take you back to one of their camps. They call the new kids, ‘the catch of the day’ or ‘fish.’”
“Yes, sir,” she agreed with little emotion in her voice. “But most of us wouldn’t have fought if we could have. We were living on the streets, constantly running. Sleep was rare because you never knew when the Plax would show up. The Hyatt offered food and a safe place to sleep. Most of us would have gone with them without the tagging.”
“But you later felt it was important to escape?”
“Yes. Mical saw it first. The Hyatt aren’t much different than the Plax. They did feed us, clothe us, and give us a place to sleep, but we were nothing but tools to them. If one of us was captured or died in the street, they just left us. Even if you were badly injured, you were left behind. I was not a small girl to start with, so it was pretty much guaranteed that I would be on the front lines with the big guys like Mical and Peadar. Mical knew we could have something better. He believed in you.”
“But I was a kid myself, wasn’t I?”
“Yes, you and Mical were the same age, but you were different. Even in the streets, you would share what you had. You wouldn’t eat so that others could. The Hyatt didn’t target you because you weren’t big enough physically. You watched over the other kids that were left behind. Many would have died without you.”
I wished I could remember more of my past.
“I had been alone on the streets,” she went on. “I didn’t have siblings, and my parents just disappeared one day. I was living in the shadows but didn’t escape the Hyatt’s notice. I wasn’t little, but I also wasn’t a fighter. I had been in the barracks for a few days. There was plenty of food, but the bigger kids often took whatever they wanted. They would take your food even if they weren’t hungry, just for the sport of terrorizing other kids. The rough kids usually became the troop leaders.
“Peadar said he had been watching me for a few days. I was keeping my head down, so I really hadn’t noticed anyone. Evening meal was delivered and the kids flocked to get what they could. I waited until most of the kids were gone and went up and got some small portions for myself. I made my way back to a dark corner, but a group of bigger kids followed me. They demanded I give them my food, as they had each of the days prior. Peadar was at the back of the group, and I figured he wanted something from me as well.
“I clutched the little food I had taken. I knew the kids wouldn’t let me go back to get more, and I was so hungry from days of not eating. Just then, I saw a kid fly across the room.”
“Fly?” I asked.
“Yes. Peadar decided he wasn’t going to watch them torment me anymore. Peadar was a big guy before the augmentations started. So, he picked up a few of the kids closest to him and tossed them as far as he could. It only took four before the rest of the kids scattered. I almost ran myself, because I wasn’t sure what Peadar would want with me, but he just came and sat on the floor next to me. He handed me his food and said, ‘Eat.’ Mical came a few minutes later and sat on the other side of me. They protected me from that day forward.”
I felt anger rising inside me as she spoke – anger against the Hyatt for stealing and abusing these kids and anger for the Plax that they had tried to steal Peadar’s memories away from him.
“Peadar was very kind,” Menton went on. “Mical became a troop leader and got all three of us assigned to his troop. Peadar kept me safe, kept everyone safe that he could.”
“And were you…” I stopped. I got the feeling there was romance between them, but I wasn’t sure if it would be appropriate for me to ask that question.
There was silence again for some time. I was reviewing the memories I did have of Peadar when Menton suddenly spoke again. Her voice was barely a whisper.
“I wanted it,” was all she said, and I was fairly sure the words weren’t meant for me.
Suddenly, Menton’s arm shot up with a tight fist, and she froze in her tracks. Instinctively, I froze as well. She closed her eyes and listened for a moment. I listened, too, but didn’t hear anything but the sound of water dripping in the distance.
“Someone’s close,” she whispered, and in a flash, she had scooped me up and over her shoulder. There was to be no debate this time.
Author’s Note: Thank you for coming by to share another week in my journey of writing this book. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below or through the contact page.
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