Solomon circled outside Judy’s apartment building.
The sun was shining, and the red brick of her building gave off a warm heat. He pressed one palm against the brick as he weighed his options.
He had never confided in anyone before, but if there were ever a time, and ever a person, it would be now, and it would be Judy.
He thought of all the years they’d spent sitting across that big oak table from one another, debating each and every tenet of Outside life – she, with a perpetual grin on her face; he, in utmost seriousness.
He thought back to the deliberation on parenting they’d faced when they were still in their twenties – how ardently she had fought to abolish the concept, despite overwhelming resistance from Abolitionists and Moderators alike. He had always marveled – though Judy would say ‘scoffed’ – at her deep-seated belief in the power of community, in people’s fundamental desire to be good, to seek comfort in groups. It was a rare viewpoint at that table.
Solomon looked at all the buildings around him, and then across the arcade to the colonial homes in the A/B bloc of the New government compound. That was where all the Abolitionists lived, in what was as close to isolation as possible. That was where they called home. Proximity to the old courthouse for Panel was what made the location ideal.
Judy’s building, however, was in the C/D bloc where the Moderators lived. The rules there were less strict. Moderators didn’t need to be isolated in distinct houses, so they lived in apartments. They had televisions.
He realized for the first time how ironic it was that their so-called “New” government was housed in buildings that were all pre-Divide, with materials that were so antique they were near impossible to come by. Brick. Timber. As much as Outsiders liked to ignore their ragged past, they had never really started from scratch, had they? The Pures and their principles were still woven into the daily fabric that coursed beneath all their lives. Their shared history was everywhere, and it still had the ability to invoke big swells of nostalgia among Outsiders, even if they weren’t sure where it came from.
What had been lost? Might there be things that the Pures had been right about?
Solomon’s life tenure stretched behind and ahead of him, and yet he felt he knew nothing. Nothing at all.
He looked up at Judy’s window, where a small potted plant sat patiently on the sill. He had been looking up at this window for decades. He took a deep breath and stepped inside.
Williams slung two more bullet belts over his shoulder. They were finally leaving the temporary encampment, in batches. He was heading up one of the first batches – the plan was to stagger out so any disruptions or attacks would “take the hit” and allow the others to escape, get into the tunnels. Yep, P.P.’s big “military” plan was to bet on the Diggers, the cave people they had inadvertently intercepted and accidentally shot. Personally Williams wasn’t sure it was a great idea to trust people you had just shot, but it wasn’t his call. Plus, Sandy said they knew their caves, so.
Sandy wasn’t in his batch. She was in one of the last ones. It felt stupid but he wished he could be there to protect her. Just in case.
Kaemi, the black woman who had taken one in the neck, was in his group. She sat with a light bandage wrapped around her tranq wound.
“How you hanging in there?” he ventured awkwardly, one part concern, two parts guilt mixed in.
“Much better,” Kaemi replied, reaching up to touch it tenderly. “Thank you.”
“Yeah, sorry about that.” Williams let his rifle hang loose at his side and extended a hand down to help her up. “You think you can walk okay?”
“I think I’ll be fine, thank you,” she said as she rose. She paused, then ventured, “Still no word on the child?”
“No, ma’am, no word. Apologies.” Her fixation on the boy was actually kind of annoying, but Williams let it slide since – well hey, since he just shot her. She was still holding the stick that they’d found after the kid had disappeared. She hadn’t given one shit about that teddy bear though. Williams had ended up holding the damn thing for hours when they were setting up camp.
“Okay,” Kaemi replied, breaking his train of thought, “That’s okay.” She leaned against the encampment wall, taking slow, steady breaths.
“You sure you’re okay?” Williams asked again. She grimaced, then smiled.
“GO!” came the command, and they were suddenly outside.
It was dark out. You could see the moon lighting the path in front of them. They had a few miles to travel before reaching the main jugular of the caves. Everything else out here was dead-ends.
Williams felt his gear clunking up and down on his body as he ran. What he would give for one of those sleek thousand dollar suits they apparently had on the Outside. He’d read about them in the Herald – they were supposed to have –
“Ah!” Kaemi cried as she fell to the dirt floor behind him.
Williams rushed to her side. “Hey! Are you okay?”
“What’s going on, seven four,” came P.P.’s voice on the comm.
“Nothing sir,” Williams replied, under his breath. “We’re still moving.” He wedged his arm under her and hoisted her up. “You good?”
“Yes,” Kaemi replied, breathing heavily. “I just tripped.”
“Your neck still bothering you?” He looked down at her bandage and noticed the end of it trailing in the wind. It looked like a white fucking flag from a mile away. He slung his rifle behind his back and quickly used one hand to stuff the extra bits down into the collar of her neck. It was done roughly, but with a certain gentleness beneath it. The crease of her neck was warm.
Kaemi watched his eyes as he did this. “I am pregnant,” she announced calmly.
Williams froze mid-motion. He looked into her dark eyes and saw how beautiful she was, what kind of mother she would be. “Good stuff,” he blurted out, uncomfortable and young. He didn’t know if it was rude to say he could hardly tell, so he didn’t. But even now, glancing at her slender form, he could hardly tell. Now he just felt even worse for shooting her in the neck. “You ready?” he raised her gently by one arm.
“Okay, let’s go.”