Chapter Twenty-Eight

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Nike’s trial was quick, the outcome was as expected. He stays. Only ten kids wanted him to leave, and they lowered their hands pretty quickly when they noticed barely anyone else had their hands up. Nike had made his speech about wanting a few days off, to mourn his sister properly, about how he would stay in his room and not make any more mistakes. He formally apologised to the Leaders for the afternoon’s events and assured the children that he would never do anything of the sort again.

The kids loved it. Their idol had returned to them, their Leaders were fair and not corrupt like some had thought, and when Tess announced if everyone worked hard for the next week they would have enough food to get the through the winter the kids exploded into cheers. Rory was disgusted.

He’d sat down quietly after the other children, having come in from guard duty early. He placed himself far away from where Emma’s gaze would meet his; he didn’t want to look at her. She was lying through her teeth. He was mentioned once and felt himself go red but the kids around him didn’t even notice he was there, that he had even played a part in her story. Rory was thankful for that at least.

But here the annoying Emma-girl was, with her scraggily blonde hair falling over the ridiculous blue bandanna she wore around her forehead. Her voice was weird, changing pitch constantly, like she was some adolescent boy going through puberty. He knew she was trying hard not to be monotonous. It was having the opposite effect.

The other Leaders weren’t much better, but at least they weren’t spurting out lies about why they couldn’t do things, how it was for the better of the school. Rory snorted with laughter when Emma lost complete control over the kids and they started shouting about Nike, how they didn’t want him to leave.

Only, one girl had noticed Rory then, in his moment of weakness. It was a red haired girl with a pretty face but an ugly expression. She glared at Rory when he laughed, confusion and anger crossing her face in an flash. She couldn’t understand why he was laughing, so Rory pretended to cough instead. The girl wasn’t fooled but she let it slide and moved away from him.

That was close you idiot, he told himself crossly, you are Rory the quiet boy who agrees with everything everyone says. If Emma says Nike might be kicked out, I don’t go laughing about it!

After it was announced that Nike was allowed to stay, and he shook hands with each of the Leaders, the kids were allowed to leave the hall and line up for supper. They had been in the hall for a good hour and the last of the weak autumn sun had slipped below the window, last tentacles of light grasping at the curtains.

The lanterns around the canteen were lit as Rory exited the hall with the others, each of their conversations grinding into his head like a drill. Why are they unable to be quiet for more than five minutes! Rory felt a frown setting in across his face and tried to hide it quickly, he couldn’t have people knowing his emotions. Instead he turned his attention to the lanterns.

Paraffin, solar and battery powered, they hung around the school corridors and rooms, making a feeble amount of light. They cast odd shadows whenever anyone walked past, and placed so irregularly that there were huge dark patches in corridors where kids could hide and jump out.

Here in the canteen there were about twenty different types – mostly solar powered – hanging from brackets screwed into walls and sitting on tables. The girls who were forced to be the cleaners turned them on every night without fail, and in the mornings took the solar powered lanterns outside to recharge. Rory knew that if he were to start an uprising, the cleaners would be happy to join him. Who wanted to spend their life as a cleaner?

As he waited in line for some bland vegetable concoction that Josh and the other chefs had made that afternoon he worked out who would be most likely to join his rebel group. Certainly not any of the fighting teams, they were too in love with the Leaders and they were practically celebrities round here.