"Two weeks!" Councilman Stickler shouts.
"We have to check to make sure none of the tech or animals are bugged or trapped before taking them home." Shard rocks himself in his office chair. He twirls a stylus in his hands as he scans the e-notes scribbled on the desk's top. Messages also pop up next to the notes on the desktop's screen as Grounders send them to Shard. "And we won't pick up the supplies either if there is anyone in the vicinity."
"So that means two weeks before negotiations can continue? For any of our children?" Councilwoman Winters asks.
"Yep," Shard tells her.
"What if we send you the plans with the tech?" Councilman Stickler suggests. "Would that shorten the check for you?"
Using the stylus, Shard writes a note on the desk's top, circles it, and taps it to send it to the Grounders' tablets. He asks the members opinions of the Councilman's suggestion while expressing his own. Most Grounders agree with him. "It would. If the plans are accurate, time could be shortened to five to eight days. But we would like paper copies. We no likey virus-infested drives or cloud files."
"They will take a day to print," Stickler tells him.
"Okay," Shard says. "I've got time. You?"
"We'll start prep after the call."
"Nice. Now to confirm our little exchange..." Shard swipes through a few pages of notes. He skims through them and opens a new document next to them. He scribbles a coherent list of all the items bargained for in the document. "For Lucille and pictures of all the hostages, we'll get an Eco-terrace, including sweet corn, butternut squash, and green bean seeds that are all capable of reproducing and a hen with a fertilized clutch. Correct?"
"Correct." Stickler's voice is gruff.
"Good. And once we have all of our supplies received and checked over, we'll deliver Lucille with the pictures at the same place in the Outskirts. What time will you drop the supplies?"
Stickler looks off camera for a moment. "Thirty-six hours from now."
"Sounds good to me. Hopefully we won't see you there. We'll send a message confirming when we're done checking over the supplies. Toodles!" Shoving the glass screen into the desk, Shard ends the call. He walks over to Lucille and removes her earplugs. "Well, Lucy. If the Committee sticks to their word, looks like you'll be going home within the next couple weeks. That's if all goes according to plan."
Her body visually relaxes.
"Go on. Take her back." Shard waves for the handler and guards to take her. Sticking his head out the door behind them, he shouts, "Sorry, again, 'bout the nose!" He returns to his chair. "Any questions or comments on today's events?"
The Grounders shake their heads as they put their tablets away and remove their masks.
"Alrighty, then. We'll meet again tomorrow, bright and early, to put together a team to scout the Outskirts and collect the supplies. Not to mention we'll need Techie, again."
"Removing Techie too much could get people suspicious," Raul says.
"Others have been just as much if not more of a nuisance," Shard says. "Xander, Ajax, Gracie, now Mindy, and after seeing Lucille's nose, I'm sure there will be others... All their actups cover Techie's act just fine."
"That just about does it for today's meeting." Shard stands. "Di...sss...missed!" He is the first one out the door.
Shard slams his bedroom door behind him and instinctively holds out a hand to catch the one ornate fan of many decorating his walls that always falls whenever he slams his door. He replaces the pink fan on the wall. Sighs slip out in streams from his lips as he rips his boots off his feet and drags himself to his bed. The spring matress screeches as he flops on it. Shaking off his jacket that hits the floor beside his bed with a thud, he glances to the exercise equipment in the corner but can't bring himself to use any of it. Lifting the weights in his chest is a workout enough. Instead, he takes to looking at the old posters plastered on the ceiling. All the men and women in the posters look happy, silly, or are trying to look sexy. Those people appear more ridiculous to Shard. But all of them seem carefree.
Shard buries his eyes under the palms of his hands. Shaky breaths rattle him. His mind submerges him into daydreams of somehow switching places with Stickler and Sophie becoming his daughter. He grits his teeth as he remembers the look in Stickler's eyes. Had his own father have the same look at one time? Shard's fingers dig into his scalp. Had Shard had the same look in his eyes when he saw his mother through those screens?
Shard pulls a knife out of his jacket and throws it with a scream. The knife soars across the room towards the exercise equipment and goes straight through a dummy's chest. He jumps off of his bed. His feet thunder toward the dummy. He grips the knife and yanks down. Stuffing spills from the tear.
No. This was different. This was not the same pain he felt for his mother nor the same his father felt for him and his mother. They'll never understand that pain. What they feel is nothing like he and his family felt.
Keeping the knife in his hand, Shard kicks the dummy to the ground. He jumps on the dummy and cuts its head off in a single swipe.
But the brats... They had no part in what's happened. But they don't know pain. They don't know fear. They need to. They have to. Otherwise, they'll turn out like their parents. But what if it turns one of them into him?
With another shout, Shard chucks the dummy head across the room, nearly missing Raul who stands in the door. The dummy head knocks a fan off the wall.
"Shit," Shard mutters.
"At least ya didn't hit me this time." Raul leans against the door frame.
Shard gets up to replace the fan on the wall. "Do you always have to come baby me?"
Raul crosses his arms. "It's not babying, it's caring. Also, I don't want ya tearing up your room, again."
Shard straightens the fan. "And that's the babying part."
Raul rolls his eyes. "Give me a break. You're the only blood family I've got left."
"I know." Shard sits on his bed. "You're mine, too. Which is why I don't kick your ass more often for things like this."
Raul sits on the bed next to Shard. "Seriously, though. How ya holdin' out? Ya almost ran from the Conference Room today."
"I never wanted to make an example." Shard fiddles with his hands. "But we had to. And it's just hard to believe any of them are capable of love. And to think I could be causing the same pain..."
"To the same people who caused us pain. Much worse pain."
"Are we, though? Lucille had nothing to do with our pain. Her father, the Politicians? Definitely. But not her. Most of the hostages haven't. And what if me doing this to them, what we're ultimately doing, turns one of them into something like me?"
Raul scoffs. "You crazy?"
"Yes." Shard tries to joke, but a smile struggles to rise on his face.
Raul rolls his eyes. "What we're doing is nothing compared to what they've done to you. Or any of us. You'd never turn one of them into you. You would never take it that far, even if you had the capability to. You'd kill 'em before it got to that point. And would it be that bad if you did?"
Shard glares at Raul.
"You never appreciate my sense of humor," Raul says.
"You need to get one for me to appreciate it."
Raul punches Shard in the arm.
"Ow!" Shard shields his arm. "Do you all have something against this arm? First Hatchette, now you. I know ya can see that bruise." Through his tanktop, his naked arm showcases a deep red spot with splotches of blue.
Raul grins. "Baby."
Shard stands. "You want me to kick your ass?"
"Try, Sobrinito." Raul sizes up the shorter Shard.
"I always win." A grin shines through his eyes.
"There's always a first time for everything." Raul pounces at Shard.
They wrestle. Shard wins.
Sobrinito: little nephew
YOU ARE READING
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