Leaving you standing there groggily, Sarah runs back and grabs a bag out of the chopter – along with several weapons. She tosses a rifle in your direction. “Catch!”
You catch it out of reflex more than anything, holding it gingerly out in front of yourself. You’ve never handled a weapon like this before, and you’re not sure exactly what you’re meant to do with it. It’s not like you’re going to use it on Grisham or Terra.
“Catch again!” She throws a backpack in your direction. You grab it and pull it on, no idea what is inside.
Sarah sets off at a run and your feet follow after her, taking the rest of you along for the ride. You’re really not sure why you keep doing as she says, but you run after her regardless, hardly able to keep up. Even though you’re running as fast as you can, your lack of speed soon becomes an issue.
“You’re so slow!” She grunts with frustration, stopping dead and beckoning you closer. As you stop, panting heavily, she turns around and offers her back. “Jump on.”
She turns her head and arches a dark brow at you. “You never had a piggyback?”
Sarah’s not that much taller than you, which makes it kind of awkward to wrap your arms around her neck, but once you do she scoops your legs up without any trouble and starts to run at a speed more than four times what you’re capable of. She’s fast and agile and she takes you through the undergrowth without trouble. She even makes it up a small cliff face with you clinging on for dear life, her fingers curling into the crevices of the rock and propelling you both up and over the ledge. She’s running blind, but you get the feeling she still somehow knows where she’s going. She’s got an instinct for this, like an animal. As she pulls you both over the ledge, Sarah spots a small cave in the rock face beyond. She carries you into it, dropping you inside.
“Set up to boil some water, and cook us up some of those rations. I’m hungry.”
With that, she leaves you standing in the cave while she goes out to the mouth of the thing and starts pushing bits of boulders and trees and bushes over the entrance, obscuring it from view. You watch her, impressed with how she seems to know just what to do, and how good she looks while doing it.
“Is it safe to just, settle down?” You ask. “They’ll be looking for us, won’t they?”
“We just covered 30 miles. That gives them an almost three thousand mile area to search,” she says. “They could track us down, but I’m not going anywhere, not before I get some food in me. Get cookin’ sweetheart,” she flickers an arch wink at you.
You give her a dirty look, but you’re hungry too, and refusing to cook after she just carried you dozens of miles seems unfair. So you open the pack, find the cooker and the pan which goes on top of it. In a few minutes, water is boiling and you’ve got two ration packs floating inside, their interiors rehydrating and cooking simultaneously.
“Okay, they’re done,” you say finally, carefully picking out both packets and putting one on each of the plastic plates also in the pack. Sarah reaches out, grabs one of the plates, tips the contents onto the other plate so two rations are stacked, then takes that one.
“Cook more,” she says as you look at her askance. “I eat a lot.”
“Yeah, no kidding,” you mutter as she tears into the rations. You put another pack on for yourself, and another pack for her too, just in case she’s still hungry afterward. It turns out to be a good call. Sarah eats three rations without trouble while you’re picking at yours.
“So,” you say when she’s stuffed herself. “What does Terra want with me?”
“Oh, right,” she nods. “That sword you took, the one that talks? Well, there are more weapons like that. Ones that talk. They were made a very long time ago and a lot of people want them. Chatty knives and things. I don’t know why. Anyway, most people can’t tell them from any other weapon. But you can. So I think Terra is planning on using you as a sort of sniffer dog. Woof. Woof,” she grins.
You wrinkle your nose and think about that. It strikes you that it doesn’t even make sense.
“But I didn’t even come in contact with that sword until well after she chose me. There was no ‘talking to cutlery’ test at the academy.”
“She must have figured it out somehow,” Sarah says. “Terra is sneaky. Maybe if she can hear them, she knows who else can. I don’t know. What I do know, is that she used that thing like it was part of her, and she talked to it. She didn’t know I heard her, but I did. And I saw what you did with it too… you’re totally physically inept, but you weren’t when you had that blade in your hands.”
“Totally physically inept, thanks,” you say dryly.
“I tried it myself,” Sarah continues, ignoring your offense. “Didn’t do a thing for me, but I know what I saw with Terra and you.”
“So this is all about metal that talks,” you say in disbelief. “Boris got shot, almost died because of magical swords?”
“People have been killed for a whole lot less,” Sarah points out. She tosses her plate back toward you. “Clean up,” she says. “And get ready for some sleep. We’ll head out in another couple of hours, once it gets dark.”
“Where are we going?”
“Anywhere,” Sarah shrugs. “This isn’t about going somewhere, it’s about proving a point.”
“What’s the point we’re proving?”
“That they don’t own us,” Sarah says, her expression becoming determined. “That they can’t just… make us and then order us around our whole damn lives. Well, they didn’t make you maybe, but that’s why I’m doing it. Why are you doing it?”
“I’m doing it because…” you trail off, realizing that you’re out there because Sarah told you to go out there. You cooked because Sarah told you to cook and now you’re washing up with the clean wipes because she told you to. In a little bit, you’ll take a nap because she says, and then…
“‘Cause I came and grabbed you out of Grisham’s room,” Sarah grins. “There’s no shame in being a follower, Cadet. That’s what most of the military is made of.”
“I’m here because I chose to be here,” you say stiffly. “You gave me a chance to get out, and I took it. Terra hasn’t told me anything since I left the academy, Grisham has been treating me like a baby and I was sick of it. I wanted to know what was happening. Now I know.”
“Yup,” Sarah says. “Now you know. So pack that stuff up, grab the sleeping bag out and curl up for a bit. I don’t want you getting exhausted. Piggybacks are one thing, but I don’t want to be hauling dead weight.”