Saturday, October 8, 2011

Chapter 12

Chapter 12

I crossed my arms and silently let him know I didn’t appreciate being stalked. Asa, to his credit, knew play time was over. “Let’s walk over this way, there’s a waterfall that will mask our conversation.”

That didn’t sound promising but since I was beginning to be curious about his persistence I went along just because I could. We got there and sat on a big boulder at the bottom of the fall. He decided not to beat around the bush. “You heard what Jasmine and Lily said.”

“Yeah. And your point is?”

“We both know your secret. You’re in danger out here by yourself.”

Cautiously I asked, “I don’t plan on saying anything, do you?”

“No, I wouldn’t do that but you don’t understand. There are bounties on Fertiles – females mostly and for the obvious reasons. They have bounty hunters that comb the Wastelands – and the Outlands too for that matter – and they have the equipment to find out what you don’t want them to know. There are also Harvesters. There weren’t very many of those in the beginning, still aren’t because of the tech needed, but their numbers double every year. They’re more dangerous than the bounty hunters because they’ll hold a captive long enough to get what they want, and then kill them rather than see a bounty hunter or another harvester have them. If they let you go, it’s even worse. If you are caught and tagged by one it will be catch and release time after time after time.”

I asked him quietly, “Are you trying to scare me with some Wasteland tale or is that the truth?”

“Both.”

Thinking it over and knowing I’d need to work that new knowledge into my plans I said, “All right. Fine. You’ve warned me. I still don’t see what that has to do with you acting so strange.”

He grabbed the end of his shirt and hauled it upwards. I jumped back suspecting some trick, but he just looked at me and then pointed to a scar in the middle of his chest. “When they tag you they drill a hole in your sternum and then glue it in.” He pulled his shirt down. “Six years ago I fell for an ambush. For two years – two years of hell – I couldn’t escape them; no matter what I tried they always found me. Three years ago Rob finally figured out how to remove it without destroying the surrounding bone and tissue but it cost me, nothing has ever hurt so bad and I was out of commission for a while. After I got back on my feet it took me another two years to track down the harvester group that did it to me, destroy them, and destroy the data they had.”

“So, finding Rosie was payback to Rob for what he did for you?”

Asa nodded then said, “The Wastelands are a place you can be free Gurl, but freedom always comes with a price. One of the prices out here is that you have to constantly watch your back against people that want to take it from you. You can’t do it alone for long because you have to be able to sleep sometimes.”

Looking at the water as it splashed and fell down into the pool beside us I told him, “I have to try. I don’t have any choice.”

“Yeah. Yeah you do. As soon as this job is over I’m going back to my summer digs. I want to stay there through the winter this time but it is going to take some work to pull it off, work I’m not sure I can do all by myself.”

“What’s that got to do with me?”

“Come with me. It’s deep in the Black Hills. It’s a place I found after I got rid of the harvester that had my number. Not even Carmine knows where it is exactly because it is outside Gill’s official territory … a no man’s land.”

I rarely got mad, it was a waste of energy. Normally people just couldn’t touch me. But now I felt like a fool. I’d let this guy reel me in. It must have shown on my face because Asa said, “Wait! Hear me out at least. I … I … Look, I haven’t exactly felt like being with anyone since the … Forget it. Just forget it.”

He was not going to start and then just leave me hanging that way. “Asa I have got to know if you are telling the truth.”

In a cynical and protective voice with his arms crossed over his chest he said, “Yeah … yeah. There really are boogie men out here in the Wastelands.”

“But what do you mean … you know … about what you were about to say?”

He wrestled with himself and then said, “We’re alike. SEPH took two years of your life because you’re a Fertile. The harvesters took two years of my life for the same reason. I remember how I felt … afterwards. Like I didn’t want to have anything to do with … with any of it, with anyone. Even had I wanted to I couldn’t even … even … I thought they’d ruined me. I just didn’t want to have anything to do with any of it. Rob said I’d get over it … eventually. He said it was the trauma. But I didn’t. That’s why he doesn’t have a problem with me being around Jasmine, Lily, and Rosie. He …”

“Rosie? You mean …”

“Yeah. I thought a bounty hunter had her … everyone did. Turns out it was Lupton’s sec boss looking for free labor and didn’t have anything to do with the other.”

“Does Rosie even realize it?”

“Yes and no. You see how she is. They normally keep a really tight rein on her because she can be so hyper and flighty … Violet is usually in charge of it but she was sick that day and Rosie slipped away from Carlene to go look at the horses but she got distracted and one thing led to another and then she was lost. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the rest.”

I could see how it could have happened so I didn’t go down that road. It was over and done with and now they would just have to teach her why she had to obey. “But Asa, none of that tells me anything about where you were trying to lead this.”

He chuckled but it wasn’t a nice sound. “People don’t understand. They think because I’m a man that it wasn’t any big deal. They made me … I still won’t talk about it … and if that wasn’t enough … they used me to work on their tech. Sometimes they’d say fix this and we’ll leave you alone and I’d do it and they would. But then next time maybe they’d say the same thing, I’d fix what they wanted fixed, and … and they wouldn’t.”

I understood what he meant but I still wasn’t getting it. Finally he sighed and told me it all. “I’m lonely,” he said quietly. “But I want to be around and with someone that is going to understand. I … I thought you … maybe you’d be lonely too and … and we could … get to know each other and then decide. But at least you’d have a place to stay, hide out until you figured out things better.”

“You’re not trying to make me are you?” I asked a little confused. I was used to people trying to force me to do what they wanted me to.

“No. I had enough of that myself. Part of me wants to try and make you but I know that wouldn’t really work.” He shrugged, as uncomfortable as I was with sharing such dark secrets.

I don’t know why but I said, “Give me a day to think about it. Do you have to know before that?”

He looked at me unsure whether he believed what he was hearing. “I’ve got a day’s worth of work to finish, maybe a day and a half. But I’m outta here after that. I’ve got a lot to do if I’m going to stay at my place over the winter. For the last few years I’ve been staying with Rob and his family but … I’m just not comfortable doing that anymore. The girls are getting older and they are starting to expect … things and I … I just don’t feel that kind of stuff for them. I want my own place, my own permanent place.”

I was quiet then said, “All right. I’ll be here tomorrow before the sun goes down and … and I’ll let you know. That’s as far as I go until I have time to think about.”

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