Chapter 26

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The streets are full of shouts and people running, though the fighting hasn't reached us, yet. We weave through armed militia going the other way, as they head to the concrete ramparts.

"I'll need some stuff from Charlotte," I tell Leslie as we dodge to the sidewalk to avoid crashing into anyone. "Where's Fiona?"

"I left her at the shop."

"We should bring her," I suggest.

"She seems kind of freaked out."

"Sure. But I saw her waste a whole squad of weird ski-douches up in the mountains. She's no stranger to violence and she's a good shot."

Leslie stops outside the door to her shop. "Ski...douches? I have no idea where you pick up these phrases. And I had no idea the scouts were ranging that far."

"I don't think they were Novamerican. Not that it's gonna matter. Looks like everyone will be part of the New S of A before long."

Her hand is on the door handle. "Don't talk like that."

"Just being a realist." I shrug. "We can discuss how wrong I was when we survive, 'kay?"

She gets this weird look on her face, like she used to when she and Father were dating and had a disagreement. "You're so much like him sometimes."

"Can't tell if that's an insult or not. Let's not waste any time." I push past her into the shop. "Fiona?"

Though there are many places to hide in Leslie's ramshackle garage, it seems eerily silent and vacant compared to the chaos on the streets.

"Fiona?" I call again. There is no answer; my heart speeds up. The thought of her missing frightens me more than knowing that I am about to face Novamerican troops.

"She probably went to hide somewhere," Leslie suggests. "Let's get moving before it's too late."

I search frantically behind the piles of rusting vehicle parts, trying to think like a Mowgli removed from the jungle. "She's not a hider, she's a sneak-fighter. She taught herself the patience to hunt deer in the mountains, Les. She got the jump on a seasoned snow patrol. She's probably already past the walls and waiting behind a cactus to jump the first soldier who passes by...and she's not afraid of bullets but she's afraid of men, I think."

Leslie jumps into the buggy and starts the engine. "Ray. Do we really have time to...?"

"Yes." I clamber into the buggy beside her. "I can't be like him; I just can't. I can't reduce it all down to numbers and odds and calculated risks and ignoring suffering in front of me to fight some vague notion of a higher cause..."

"I'm sorry I said you were like him sometimes," Leslie says, tapping the clicker to open the big garage door. "You're both just stubborn, I guess."

"Yeah, well, I hope I'm stubborn enough to always give a shit about people. Maybe we'll be lucky and she's hiding in Charlotte."

Most of the militia are on the walls by the time we leave the garage, and we zip noisily through the empty streets. There's a calm-before-the-storm feeling to it all, and although it's not the first, or even tenth time I've been involved in battles like this, there's a tension I get in my stomach every time.

Plus, this is different, I think as we brake hard next to the warehouse where we keep Charlotte. This is Novamerica. We could all be dead by tomorrow.

The thought makes me wish Connor had come with me, and I banish the romantic teenagery notion before I can slip into the realm of idle and foolish fantasy. I had to focus.

"Fiona?" I holler as I enter the warehouse. There are even more places to hide in Father's Stockpiler's Paradise, and I manically dash between shelves of army rations and data storage looking until I realize that I had just unlocked the only entrance. Father has the only other key. Fiona's out there, somewhere, about to face an army like it's just another hit-and-run. Half of my chest feels tight out of concern...the other from feeling betrayed. Why didn't she come find me first?

I enter Charlotte and grab my usual gear: carbine, binoculars, canteen, satchel with survival kit, first aid kit and rations, knife, tripwire, bandolier of ammo. I realize that in my excitement I did things out of sequence and shrug out of the bandolier to don a kevlar vest.

"We're not going to be gone that long," Leslie says, watching me rifle through the safe. "Either we fight them off for now or we die."

I continue to prep without looking at her. "Did Dad ever tell you about the time we went for a half-hour recon in the Rockies?

"Was that the time you stumbled on the Doom Cult, or the time you got caught in the avalanche?"

"The point is..." I shove the unused gear back into the safe, shut the door, spin the wheel, and stand. "...that you never know how long you're going to be gone for. Or how long you have." I whip out my portable music player, finally charged and full of songs again, and scroll through until I find the perfect way to accentuate my thoughts. Leslie shakes her head and smiles as I press 'Play'.

Let's forget about tomorrow

Let's forget about tomorrow

Let's forget about tomorrow for tomorrow never comes

"Now let's forget about tomorrow," I say over the music. "We'll find Fiona if it kills us."

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