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Awake (Chapter 28)

Chapter 28

The sound was beyond annoying. It had become infuriating, and now it was like it was seeping into her soul and transforming into a piece of her very being , a piece that was broken and with every thunk, thunk, coming from the door, that broken piece became bigger. Any pause or alteration to the steady rhythm of noise was a blissful reprieve, and every resumption of Geoffrey’s attempts to enter their room sent her back into a dark depression.

Iris had an arm flung over her eyes while she tried to sleep through the barrage of sound, not because of any light that kept her awake, but out of habit. This planet was changing everything about her, even how she slept, even now when it was completely dark, their reserve torches having been used up a day or more ago, she still pressed her forearm against her closed eyes just because she was used to the position now.

The metallic thumping stopped and Iris held her breath, but then it started up again. A collection of groans, murmurs, and sighs chorused through the pitch-black room. It seemed that she wasn’t alone in her growing hatred for the noise.

A boy off to her left sobbed lightly, as he did every time the thumping resumed. A girl in the far corner of the room coughed wetly. She had started three days ago and was getting worse. Iris was completely lost as to what to do for her, as was Claire. Still, Claire sat with the girl in the dark and patted her sweaty brow, or at least that’s what Iris imagined Claire doing, she was too good a person for Iris to visualize anything else. Before the last torch had burned out, Iris had watched her new friend administer love and compassion to the down-trodden shareholders like it was candy, and they brightened at a touch or an encouraging word just as if she had handed the little boys and girls a chocolate bar. Claire was a far better leader than she was.

Iris was so thirsty that it felt like her tongue was made of stone, and her stomach groaned at the lack of anything in it.

It was a testament to how universally feared Geoffrey was that the kids hadn’t mutinied and opened the door. In fact, no one had even mentioned the possibility of opening the door despite their hunger and thirst.

The sudden sound of rending metal was interspersed among the thunking and a stream of light appeared, tracing a line back to the battered door. Another round of murmures erupted.

The presence of light, even so little as what was provided by the small hole, was enough to make her blink. She got to her feet, careful not to disturb the sleeping form of her brother next to her, and picked up her gun. Of all the children, Peter had been the only one to be able to sleep. He had always been like that. She envied his ability to shut off his mind when he was tired.

She picked her way through groups of children, many of whom had stood as well and approached the door ahead of her.

“Just leave us alone!” One girl yelled at the door. She covered her face with her hands and sobbed. The stress of this siege was proving too much for more and more of the shareholder kids.

Claire was by the distraught girl and she shifted her shotgun so that she could pat the girl’s arm comfortingly.

In response to the girl’s plea, the hole darkened.

“How about…no.” Geoffrey’s cold voice was half muffled by the door. The sound of metal scraping on metal and the hole darkened even more.

“Get down!” Iris screamed, but no one had time to heed her warning. A blast of light and violent sound shot out from the broken door and screams erupted. It was chaos, made worse by the dark. Iris was pushed from someone ahead of her and she reeled backward, striking someone else that was too slow to move. She was on the ground. Another shot and more screams.

Amid the screams, Iris could hear Geoffrey laughing. He laughed while they screamed. While they died. Another blast. Someone scrambled over the top of her, stepping on her hand and coming down with a knee into her face. She saw stars and she felt like her nose was running, but she was sure it was blood.

She rolled to her side, her gun clattered to the floor, but she gripped it in her right hand and began crawling toward the door. Another blast, more screams, more laughter. Thanks to the flash of light from the shotgun’s barrel, she could see that everyone had cleared out of her path. Everyone but a motionless mound just in front of the door anyway.

Iris made for the body.

Another blast from the shotgun made her flinch. She could feel the concussion from the heavy round passing by overhead. Her hand touched the still-warm corpse in front of her and she felt momentarily guilty taking cover behind it as another round was sent blindly into the room amid manic laughter.

Before Geoffrey could cock another round into the chamber, Iris pushed the end of her own gun into the hole on her side and pulled the trigger. Hers was still loaded with Dragon’s Breath from her trip to the kitchens and the flash of light from her shot was blinding.

The laughter had been replaced by screams and she reveled in the sounds of Geoffrey’s attempts to put out the sudden fire that sprouted all over his upper-body.

Someone shouted instructions at him as they tried to help him with the flames which were soon under control.

Geoffrey’s screams subsided into whimpers and then he swore and growled.

“Fine. You want to prolong this? We’ll wait until the stink of your dead bodies are too annoying before we open that door.” Footsteps could be heard receding down the corridor. “Come on, Terrance. They want to die slowly.”

Iris waited with her gun ready just in case it was a trick but after twenty minutes she relaxed slightly. The crying children had become a constant murmur that she could almost ignore.

Finally, with aching shoulders, she lowered the end of her barrel from the hole, letting in more light. She glanced down at the body that she had used as a shield.

Claire’s still open eyes reflected back at her. A sob caught in her chest and she nearly choked.

Her brain knew that she was dead, but Iris’s heart refused to accept it.

“Claire!” She cried, and shook her friend. The eyes didn’t blink. “Claire…No. she rolled the body back and forth, wishing that the girl would take a breath, and that that disturbing stare would falter.

She pressed her face into Claire’s side and let the sobs overwhelm her.

She woke to Peter shaking her. He was sad. Of course he was sad. This was his life, but when he looked at Claire’s lifeless body with anguished eyes, she couldn’t help but feel the sobs come again.

She steeled herself and patted his arm.

“How long have I been out?” She asked.

“A few hours. No one wanted to come closer to the door to wake you.”

She nodded, then the noise reached her and she looked at the door in fear, but it wasn’t coming from that direction.

“What’s that noise?” She asked.

“We don’t know. Started a few minutes ago. That’s why I woke you.” Peter said. “It’s coming from over that way.”

She got up and lifted him to his one good foot then put his arm around her waist so she could act as a crutch. He talked her over to the source of the sound. When they stopped, the whirring, vibration emanated from the wall right in front of her. She put a hand against it and felt it tremble.

“Get back.” She said, and slid Peter over to the wall for support. She was afraid that Geoffrey had figured out another way in, but when a panel fell away from the wall suddenly with a loud clatter, she saw Si there crouched with an auto-driver in his hand and a headlamp on his helmeted head.

She was glad that she hadn’t shot him, and from the way he looked at her, he was glad too.

“Hi.” He said, as he climbed out of the big square hole in the wall.

She dropped the gun to the ground and gripped him in a fierce hug. He stiffened in her arms for a second then relaxed and hugged her back.

The sobs came again.

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