A guy my age stands in the middle of the open plan apartment I've been pushed into, his arms crossed over his chest. His dark eyes appraise me with unmistakable disdain. Straight black hair, short at the back and long at the front, falling over one side of his face. Warm golden skin, only slightly lighter than mine. He would be handsome if he would lose that sneer he gives me.
"Is this her?"
Jin ignores him. "Reza," he nods to someone out of my view.
"You made it," an older version of the first guy's voice says, and a man I hadn't seen yet steps out from behind the counter of the apartment's high glossed white kitchen island. He comes to stand in front of me, blocking the younger guy from sight, and I see the resemblance between them. Father and son, undoubtedly, though the father's gaze is much friendlier than the son's.
"Hello, Roslin," he says in Upper. "Sennai. My name is Johin Reza. I'm glad you made it, though I wish the circumstances were different."
I'm so glad to hear my own language, however mutilated, that I can't help but smile at him.
"Thank you, sir," I say in Basic, as a courtesy back to him.
"Johin, please." He holds his hand out to Sennai, who shakes it after the briefest hesitation, then quickly lets go and folds his arms across his chest. I remind myself that this meeting is what Edena was talking about; this is where we need to make a good impression. I give Sennai a slight nudge before shaking Johin's hand, and he relaxes just a fraction, though he's still obviously not at ease. That's all right; neither am I.
"We need to get the boy to Lindol," Jin says. "He needs a medic. Are you good here?"
"Oh, please," Reza's son says. "Six people died since they came. The president just barely got away with her life. We are not 'good'."
Reza says, with a wry smile: "And this is my son Crayton."
"Six people died?" Sennai's arms drop down to his sides as if they have gained a sudden weight.
"What..." I wish to God I knew more swear words in Basic, because I'm in desperate need of stronger language. But I have to make do with: "How?"
"I'm afraid the maniac that attacked you also drove a van into the crowd," Reza says.
"And shot some other people," Crayton adds.
"A van?" Six people. Six Basics. We did that. Our arrival did.
"The van killed two, he shot four," Crayton recounts mercilessly. "And wounded dozens before they stopped him."
His father shushes him with a look. "Your ambassador was hurt," he says, "but he's out of danger, according to the news."
I don't have time to be relieved.
"Lucky for you," Crayton says. He stares me down. "And for us."
I can feel Sennai wanting to say something, but I've been through enough today. After everything, I'll be damned if it's this boy who is going to get the best of me. I answer Crayton's gaze, not even blinking; and though the entire room is silent, it seems like the loudest battle in the history of the war.
"Let's keep it civil, Cray," Reza warns.
Crayton sneers again, but breaks eye contact, which feels sort of like a victory. "Yeah, sure. We're all friends now." Then he turns away to the living room and disappears into the couch, landing his feet on the coffee table with a decisive thump.
My face feels cold, and I search for Sennai's eyes. He gives me a covert thumbs-up.
Jin's words break the spell. "We need to go. Lindol is waiting for us."
YOU ARE READING
The forever war between Upper and Base is over. But that doesn't mean there is peace. Roslin has worked herself to the bone to join an exchange program that will see her as one of the first Uppers to visit Base in centuries. Her one burning desire:...