Chapter Two

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David has a truck waiting for us beside the tunnel's entrance. We squeeze into the truck's pebble-littered bed in order to fit everyone. I settle, and a sharp spike shoots through my hip and shoulders. I'm not the only one hurting. Nia groans as she tries to position herself in a way where she's not sitting on her tailbone, and even Luuk shifts uncomfortably.

We definitely need the break. It's just... this treacherous mountain path is not something we would see in the Community. Less than a one-lane road, the path consists of two tracks covered in precarious rocks and gravel. The sheer drop-off completely lacks guard rails. I clutch the rusty metal edge of the truck bed, my knuckles white.

"Don't worry," David calls over his shoulder through the open window in the back. "The roads inside the Kariz are much nicer. Same with the roads going to the mines. We have to keep this one less conspicuous, so it's not a target for the Camaraderie."

I'm plenty happy it's not a target. But that doesn't matter if we're a splat at the bottom of a rocky ravine. Would a few wooden fence posts hidden by shrubs really be a problem?

Silence follows, and Erin nudges my knee. Though she's the same age as me-or at least close-she could easily pass as several years younger. She keeps her eyes down. "I don't trust him," she whispers, so quietly I have a hard time hearing her.

I'm pretty sure that's the point. None of the others chime in on the matter. Though Luuk-always talkative-sits in the passenger seat, attempting to strike a conversation about what we're going to find in the Kariz, Nia stares silently at the shrinking entrance to the cave. Dark brown bloodstains mar her pale blue gown. My heart sinks, and I bite at my inner lip. Too much horrible stuff all at once...

"I don't trust him, either," I agree, pushing away the memories. "We'll be careful. Okay?"

Erin fidgets. "I don't think we should tell him about my powers."

I frown, but if she doesn't want to tell him, we won't. Especially since the agents tried to kill us once they saw what she could do. "Okay."

Admittedly, her powers are scary. She liquefied an agent's leg. On accident, but still. She also turned their guns into a clay-like goop. In return, the agents called her a reality bender... and gave orders to kill her on sight.

"I want to go home," she says, louder.

"I do, too," I say.

Nia nods her agreement.

No matter what David says, the Kariz isn't home.

I take a gulp of air. My skin feels like it's cracking under the blistering sun, but I'm not as dehydrated as earlier. I sense water in a bottle in the truck's cab. Whatever was in the grenades that dimmed my powers has almost faded.

The hillside descends into a flat road between sparse bushes, which grow leafier the closer we get to the settlement. The chain-link fence is three times as tall as I am and covered in thick rolls of barbed wire. A patrol wanders the perimeter. They take a precursory glance at us, curious, before continuing onward. Their gray uniforms look similar to what we have in the Community, but these are a thinner fabric, and they flutter below the guards' thighs. I don't blame them for choosing a different fabric; the typical wool outfits would be sweltering in this dry heat. Their only other resemblance to Community guards are the gray vests I suspect are bullet resistant.

Inside the fence, rows of gardens surround gray and white houses. I think they're made of mud bricks or concrete. Something earthlike. Hard to tell from the distance.

We stop at a small building set in the fence between the settlement and the outer grounds. David hops from the driver's seat while a young man ambles from the guardhouse and takes the keys. The rest of us slide from the truck's bed. Pain shoots through my feet and my calves. I grit my teeth. Hopefully David has antibiotics available to avoid infection. And ointments. And packs of ice.

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