Iris thought that she would be too busy to worry about Si and Cato now that she had half the shareholder kids to look after, but the opposite seemed true. The increased stress and anxiety of looking after the rest had put an even greater emphasis on how much help Si would be. His proactive ingenuity would be essential to any future success they could hope for. She knew that like she knew that water was wet or fire burned.
Any missgiving that she had once had over his upbringing and relegation to a lower societal caste seemed absurd now. Her conversion to this way of thinking had not been ‘overnight’ but it had happened fast considering how long she had lived under the opposite belief structure.
She had done her best to find a place for everyone and had even moved the ground to the closest room inside the relative safety of the Smasara’s dark interior. Iris had installed a group of children to be in charge of the lighting of the interior of the ship, at least the area where they now lived, and the kids took their duty seriously. Torch handles were found. Old scraps of colonial uniforms were tied to the ends and slathered with the sticky grease, then lit in Peter’s ever-present fire before being placed in the eroded seams along the corridor’s metal wall paneling.
The inside of the Samsara now resembled some medieval castle dungeon, but the ambiance was a vast improvement to the mausoleum it had been. They now all slept in a large room thirty feet past the vine-curtained opening they used as a front door.
Iris had been the clear leader of the group in everyone’s mind but hers. The first day or two after the shareholder kids came with her, she had rebelled against the status they all seemed determined to place on her, but she soon realized it wasn’t fair of her to disparage the trust they put in her after what she’d done for them, so she decided to accept the mantle, at least for now.
She did her best to guide the children who were all younger than she, but motivated to prove their value to the group. It seemed like all of them wanted one of the guns they had seen her use on Geoffrey. All except Claire, and so it was only she that Iris felt comfortable training to use the weapon, at least until Si came back. If he came back.
She had the thought more and more of late, and she didn’t like it. He had said three days, but it had been a week and a half by her estimation. It was impossible to really know for sure on this planet, but it had to be close to three times what he’d said.
She smiled as she thought of him saying if he wasn’t back in three days then just wait longer. Compounding her stress for Si was the fact that she expected some kind of reprisal from Geoffrey any day and now that she wasn’t so angry as to blind her, he scared her more than anything she’d seen on this planet yet, even the dragon lizards. The problem with Geoffrey was that he wasn’t really stupid, not like she had diagnosed him early on anyway. He was devious and manipulative, and that took a certain amount of creative intelligence she hadn’t believed him in possession of at first.
He wasn’t so dumb as to be ignorant of the consequences his bad leadership caused, he just didn’t care. He was cold and cruel. She saw it in his eyes just before she’d smashed him in the face with the beanbag.
She cared, and maybe that was a weakness she couldn’t afford in this new world, but not for the first time, she rationalized her emotions by telling herself that if it was true she didn’t want to survive anyway.
Iris led her team of three through the now familiar corridors toward the kitchen where they filled the jugs once a day and pilfered what food stores there were that looked appetizing enough to grab. There was too much distance and darkness between their quarters and the kitchen for the torch team to keep the whole way lit, so she took it upon herself to lead the team, shotgun at the ready.
She had seen fewer and fewer of the giant bats. It seemed too much to hope for that they had driven the vermin from the ship, and despite not seeing any this trip, she still expected one to come swooping at her from around every darkened corner.
Something about this trip into the bowels of the Samsara felt different and she couldn’t put her finger on what it was, but the deeper they went the more certain she was that it had nothing to do with the bats.
They had just filled up the jugs and were on their way back to their sleeping quarters when she saw it. A phrase was scrolled crudely across one of the walls in charcoal. She was sure that it hadn’t been there on their trek in and it’s mere presence sent a shiver down her spine, let alone the chilling meaning of the words themselves.
“Death is to good for you.”
Without any context at all, she knew that this was meant for her. She knew, also, who had written it.
The kids with her had stalled behind her and the question from the rear-most froze on his lips when he saw the sentence. They knew, just as she did, that Geoffrey had been here. Their fear of the boy was at least equal to her own and they began to whimper softly and glance around, waiting for Geoffrey to emerge from the beyond the torch’s influence.
Iris knew that he would not emerge. He would not reveal himself as they anticipated. Not yet, anyway. He was far more sadistic than that. He needed them tortured by fear. It was the only way he could assert power over them now, and that’s what this was all about. Power.
“There are two o’s in too you imbecilic baboon.” Iris yelled to the darkness and rubbed a hand through the letters before walking on, gun ready. They came to three more messages from Geoffrey before making it back to the torchlight.
“Get into the room.” Iris told her group. They rushed to obey while she rounded up the rest of her charges. Within minutes they were all in the large room they had claimed as their temporary home. She sealed the door amid questions from the rest.
“What’s going on?” Clair asked.
“Geoffrey’s here,” she said. Clair’s face fell and murmurs broke out among the children. One of the boys that was about thirteen puffed out his chest.
“Let him come. We can take him. And this time I’ll shoot him with something stronger than a beanbag.” Iris tried not to roll her eyes.
“That’s the problem. I don’t know where he came in and if he has already found the arms room then we might no longer have the advantage.” More murmurs. She wondered, too late, if she should have just called a meeting with a few of those she deemed level-headed and not have subjected them all to this stress, but what was done was done. “We have much of the room’s original supply here, but he could have his hands on just as many weapons as we have.”
“What do we do then?” Peter asked. His voice was stronger than she expected it to be. He had grown these last weeks.
All eyes were on her. She hesitated for only a second. Arthur Wellesley she was not, but she could pretend. They needed her to pretend.
“We need to determine whether he has the guns or not. I will go and find out, then…”.
“Iris…” A muffled voice came from the far side of the metal door. “Iris, I’m disappointed in you. I thought that taking this place was going to be much more difficult than this.”
Iris stilled the chill that rushed through her. His voice was calm, and yet she could sense the insanity just under the surface.
“I’m just as surprised that you came at all. I mean after you peed your pants when I shot you last time, I thought for sure you’d stay as far away from me as you could get, but then again, you never were too smart,” she yelled at the door.
Three loud blasts came from the far side of the door and the interior metal dimpled slightly with the impact of slugs being fired into it by Geoffrey’s newly acquired UTS 15. When the ringing in her ears subsided she could hear wailing, but it wasn’t coming from the children who huddled behind her.
“It’s called a ricochete you baboon. It’s French for dumbass!” She couldn’t help the jibe.
“You shot me!” One of the minions then. Iris swore. If only that idiot had suicided himself.
“I’ll shoot you again if you don’t shut up.” Geoffrey’s cruel voice growled. “I’m coming in there, sooner or later, and when I do…” he laughed mirthlessly. “Oh, you are going to beg me to end you.”
“You know. I was beginning to think that I had misjudged you, but I realize now that you are just as stupid as you look, and I was right all along,” she didn’t really feel the confidence that she projected.
They were trapped. Besieged, and unlike Wellington at the Lines of Torres Vedras, Iris did not have the supplies to feed her army. She needed a miracle.