6. Faces

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 Dozens of them, barely visible from the shadows from which they watched, but they were there. The glimpses he caught - in narrow alleys between buildings, in shadowed street corners, from gaping dark holes punched through crumbling walls – told him they were everywhere, lining both sides of the street that they had chosen for their exodus.

Tarrod could feel their attention more than he could actually see them, and he was so very glad that watching was all they did. He gripped the rifle in his lap tightly, shoulders unconsciously tense as he waited for any kind of indication that they'd act.

He sat in the back of a pick-up truck along with three others. It was the designated lead vehicle, for his brother Jerrick rode in the cab along with Shep, a quiet, reliable sort of man that people tended to instinctively listen to. Behind came a motley mix of vehicles – buses, vans, cars; whatever they could find that ran, they took. Considering how much of Shann Tei had been trashed, it was quite the feat. One that only Jerrick could pull off.

"Look at 'im," said a low voice. "Just sittin' there, thinking he's better than the rest of us."

Tarrod looked over at the speaker, his jaw tightening as he saw the black scowl on the man's face. It wasn't so strange for Gant to be scowling – the man always had something to complain about. But this time it was more than that. There was real hatred in those eyes, and it made Tarrod uncomfortable. It felt like sitting next to a wild animal, one that was restrained by a fraying piece of rope. All it would take for that tether to snap would be just a little tug.

He swallowed, glancing up to the white figure perched on the roof of the truck. How the flyer managed to sit on a such a smooth surface without slipping off, even as the truck bounced and jerked over a broken road, Tarrod didn't know. Nor did he care to know. Just looking at the flyer was enough to make his stomach twist into an ugly knot.

Flyers. They had caused all this. And yet Jerrick had allowed this one to come with him. Tarrod didn't understand why. A part of him remembered a small, frightened boy with huge dark eyes full of determination. A boy that had washed up at his feet and had pleaded for help. He remembered feeling pity. Sympathy.


He squashed the memories before they could go any further. If I had known, he told himself, I would have left him there. But he hadn't then, and now he could only trust that his brother knew what he was doing.

"If he bothers you that much," he quietly said, "why did you ride in this truck?"

Gant bared his teeth in a imitation of a grin. "Cos I'm watching him. If he moves the wrong finger, I'm gonna put a bullet in his brain. Y'hear that, flyer?" He raised his voice a little, hands running possessively along the assault rifle he had resting at his feet. "Try something funny, you're crow food." He laughed, a cruel grating sound that raised the hairs on Tarrod's arms.

The flyer didn't even respond to Gant's taunt. He sat facing forward, body swaying with the truck's jerking movement. Tarrod narrowed his eyes. Then he saw a gloved hand, pressed flat against the metal of the roof, curl its white fingers into a fist. He knew that Gant's words were out of line, but he couldn't help but feel that slight satisfaction upon seeing that reaction.

The truck suddenly slowed, then came to a jarring stop. One of the other men in the truck box - a pudgy man who was going prematurely bald, huffed. "Again?"

Tarrod ignored him. Most people ignored Mickey, for he was usually all whine and little effort. How he got to ride in the lead vehicle was a bit of a mystery, for he was about as useful as a sack of dung. Gant stood, peering ahead. He remained still for a long moment, his expression oddly blank. Then he glanced down, caught Tarrod's gaze and bared his teeth.

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