Flying training was done for the day. Kierah left the speeder hangar, energized and mostly happy. Like combat class, and unlike ballroom dancing or tea etiquette, she could imagine finding a practical use for the knowledge back in her normal life, once the experiment was over. Granted, flying would require her somehow having access to a vehicle to actually fly, but still.
But the thought made her hesitate a little as she walked back to the dining hall for lunch, her fellow Enders bustling around her.
Once the experiment was over.
Eventually, the experiment would end. Everyone knew that, she supposed. But no one had explained what would happen. She and the others would go their separate ways, back to their previous lives.
Or would they? Could they?
By now, their faces had been broadcast all over Trythia. Once they returned to where they came from, it wouldn’t take long for people to recognize them.
And depending on the outcome of the experiment, who knew what kind of reaction they would get. If the prince decided the Ends weren’t worthy of aid, everyone would know whose fault that was.
If the sixty-five failed, how would people respond? Could she even get her old apartment again? Would Sirvan hire her back at her old tavern job?
She shook her head and almost chuckled. Going back to Sirvan’s tavern. Living in the ramshackle tenement. Was that what her life would come to?
And that wasn’t all.
What would happen to Rothan? Ethan? She wouldn’t be able to see them anymore —
No. She wouldn’t let herself think of that right now. Whatever would happen at the end of it all, would happen. In the meantime, she had to make the most of the time she did have. Going to visit them only once a week needed to change. Maybe twice, or even three times, if she could pull it off. Ari had introduced her to coffee; she could manage losing sleep a bit more often now.
Looking up, she saw everyone else around her had moved on. Apparently thinking about her potential future had made her slow her pace a little. Then someone tapped her on the shoulder from behind, making her jump. It was Ari.
“Whoa, give me a little heads up next time,” Kierah said.
Then she noticed Ari’s face. She wasn’t smiling. In fact, she looked pretty terrible.
“Is everything okay?” Kierah asked.
She couldn’t tell if Ari looked sad, or frustrated, or maybe even a little guilty.
Kierah blinked. “Go back?”
“You know. There,” Ari glanced around, being nonspecific. “I don’t think you should go back there. It might not be safe anymore for you.”
Her voice was firm, but the sadness in her eyes was throwing Kierah off. She was clearly talking about Kelmar. Kierah just didn’t understand why.
“How do you know? What changed?” she asked, a knot settling in her stomach.
“I just — I just have a feeling,” Ari hedged.
“You’re a reporter,” Kierah pointed out. “You’re a facts person, not a feelings one. I’m the feelings one. You must know something.”
Ari shrugged. “I just don’t think you should go back. If you do, I think you’ll probably get caught.”
“Please don’t be cryptic,” Kierah almost sighed. All she wanted was a direct answer. This was feeling like those vague conversations she’d had with Colonel Ames months ago. “What is it you know?”
Ari shifted her stance, but not her attitude. “Just stay away from there. That’s all.”
Kierah grimaced. “Why can’t you tell me what changed?”
“Please just take my word for it?” Ari said, almost begging. “Stay away from Kelmar.”
And she turned around and left..
_ _ _ _ __________ _ _ _ _
Kierah was annoyed. She punched the boxing bag. Why would Ari leave her hanging like that?
She hit the bag again.
Combat training made her feel better. But it didn’t take away the frustration of not being told the truth.
She hit the bag again.
Before Ari’s little stunt yesterday, she’d had plans to go to Kelmar tonight. If Ari was going to pull an Ames and not be more specific about what was really going on, Kierah had no intention of changing those plans.
_ _ _ _ __________ _ _ _ _
A few hours later, she was back inside Kelmar. She’d held her breath as she’d put on the uniform, as she’d boarded the transport, as she’d ridden silently the entire drive. No one spoke on the transport. No one ever spoke, which made her own silence not seem unusual, in her effort to not give away her voice as clearly un-male.
She’d held her breath disembarking with the others in the shift change, walking her own way, as she always did. And everyone left her alone, as they always did.
What had Ari been so worried about?
She walked down hallway after hallway through the barracks, her feet finding their own way from being there so many times. Nothing seemed out of place. No one approached her, or looked at her suspiciously. At least, as far as she could tell, from the exposed lower halves of their faces.
Her own lower half was stoic, lips pressed into a rigid line. Partly in disguise, partly from nerves.
At last, she was directly opposite the barracks door she always entered. In front of the door stood Tate and Danan, as always. She headed right for them, her confidence growing. Again, she wondered what Ari had been concerned about. Was the danger inside the barracks? Had something happened with Garn? But she’d said she’d just had “a feeling.” What could she actually have known?
Then she saw it. She was a few dozen yards from the barracks door when she saw it.
The second man’s skin was lighter, his build slimmer, weaker looking.
Danan wasn’t there. Was that what Ari had known?
Kierah wasn’t sure what it could mean, but she wasn’t about to find out. Without breaking her pace, she turned down the hallway perpendicular to her own and kept walking. She found a convenient spot to lay low for a few hours, then caught the next transport back to the palace.
_ _ _ _ __________ _ _ _ _
Morning came. Ethan had already checked the corner of the wall, just in case the girl had come in the night and left food.
He figured it would have been odd if she had, though. Every time she’d visited, she’d come to find him. Sometimes she’d talk with the boys, too, if they were awake, but he was the one she approached. If he wasn’t awake, the boy on watch would make sure he was awoken.
It felt like a long time since the last time she’d been there. Why hadn’t she come back yet?
And why did he care?
“You’re missing some pep in your step today,” Terrell observed as they made their way to the mines.
“What?” Ethan asked. “Pep?”
“Yeah,” Terrell replied. “You’re missing it. What’s going on?”
“Nothing,” Ethan said. “I’m fine.”
“Is it Garn?”
He hadn’t thought of that, but he jumped on it. It made more sense than what he would have to tell Terrell otherwise. “Yeah. Garn.” He had no intention of telling Terrell the actual reason he was bothered. “That’s all.”
But something in his voice gave him away.
Terrell eyed him for a moment. “The girl,” he said, his voice flat. “It’s the girl.”
Ethan couldn’t deny it, so he just looked away.
“You want her to come back,” Terrell observed, hitting the mark again, with no attempt at disguising the anger rolling into his voice.
“Maybe not all of them,” Ethan said. “Maybe not her.”
“She’s from the palace,” Terrell pointed out. “There’s no way she’s any sort of decent person. Why can’t you see that? But no, not only do you let her come down here whenever she feels like it, but you actually think about her when she’s not here.”
Ethan felt guilty. He did think about her. And only part of him wished he didn’t.
Even though it had been weeks since the Garn incident, Terrell hadn’t warmed up to the girl even a little.
Every time she came, if he was awake, he’d lurk in the background, keeping an eye on things. If he wasn’t awake, he’d interrogate Ethan the next morning on what had happened.
Often, Ethan told him the truth. But sometimes, a detail or two was strategically omitted. For example, Terrell didn’t know Ethan had confided in the girl his full history with Garn.
Ethan still didn’t know why he’d done that, why he’d trusted her. After everything he’d been through, he should be as wary toward the girl as Terrell was.
Oddly, he wasn’t.
And only part of him regretted it.
“Of the two of us, I’m the only one who’s had any sort of dealings with a girl, you know that,” Terrell reminded him, almost in exasperation. “And they are not something you want to get tangled up in. They’re nothing but trouble.”
Ethan let himself grin. “I could say the same about you.”
Terrell rolled his eyes. “Mine is a different kind of trouble entirely.”
_ _ _ _ __________ _ _ _ _
Kierah needed to try finding Ari again. Figuring she herself could use a shot of that coffee Ari had introduced her to, she opted to try looking at the cafe first.
This time, it paid off. The reporter was curled up in a corner booth, hovering over her notescreen, fingers flying furiously over the typing keys.
“Did you really think telling me not to go back was gonna work?”
Ari didn’t look up, didn’t even slow her typing.
“Was worth a shot.”
“What is it you know?” Kierah asked, though figuring it wasn’t going to get her anywhere. She was right.
“I just had a feeling, that’s all,” came the stoic response.
Kierah sighed. “I went back last night.”
Ari’s typing hand slowed for a second. “And you’re here. So apparently everything is fine. That’s nice.”
“No,” Kierah said. “It’s not fine, actually. I didn’t get into the barracks, didn’t bother trying. Tate was there, but Danan wasn’t. Some other guard was in his place.”
“Danan wasn’t there,” Kierah repeated. “And I wasn’t about to try to explain my way past a new guard, so I didn’t go. Now quit playing games with me and tell me what’s going on.”
“Danan wasn’t there.”
“Yeah. Where was he? What aren’t you telling me, Ari?”
“I don’t know where he was,” Ari replied weakly.
“I’m sorry if I don’t believe you.” Kierah was getting frustrated.
“I don’t know,” Ari insisted. “All I know is —” She lowered her voice, glanced around, slid back further into her booth. Kierah took that as an invitation to sit down so she wouldn’t have to speak as loudly.
“All I know is,” Ari continued quietly, “I talked to him yesterday.”
“You did?” Kierah wasn’t sure whether she should be surprised or not. “What did you talk about?”
“About you. About why you’re really going down there.”
“What? Why?” Kierah blinked, not sure how to respond. Now she was surprised. This was finally an answer, and not one she’d been expecting. “Why would you do that?”
Ari sighed. “I was hoping that if he understood why you were really doing what you’re doing, maybe he wouldn’t get curious and ruin everything. That’s what I’d thought. That’s why I told him.”
“I take it, it didn’t go well,” Kierah finished for her. “That’s why you told me not to go back. You thought he’d turn me in.”
“That’s what I was afraid of. Yeah.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” she asked out loud. “Wait, did you tell Tate, too?”
Ari shook her head. “No, not Tate.”
“Why? Why would you do that? Why him? Do you know him or something?”
“Well, yeah.” Ari took a deep breath, and lowered her voice another level. “He’s my brother,” she said, barely above a whisper.
Kierah blinked again.
“Your brother?! Ari!” Again, this was not the way she’d pictured this conversation going. “So that’s why you always seem a little weird whenever I mention the guards there!” That part made sense now. It hadn’t been just her imagination. “Why did you never tell me?”
“We don’t talk,” Ari said, still quiet.
“Apparently,” Kierah replied. “I thought we did. I tell you everything on my end, and I thought this would be something –“
“No,” Ari interrupted. “Not you. Danan and me. We don’t talk.”
Ari looked around again. No one was bothering them. No one was even watching them.
“I need to see if he’s okay,” she mumbled suddenly, tapping on her wristwatch. A holographic display projected from its side, and she navigated to a messaging interface.
“If he’s okay?” Kierah repeated.
“He didn’t show up for his shift,” Ari didn’t look up from her watch. “The day after I told him about why you go down there.”
“I don’t know.” She typed in a brief message, and sent it, then leaned back. “I just wanna see if he writes back.”
They sat in silence for a little while, each sipping their coffee.
Kierah tried to process what she’d just learned. Ari had told Danan her real reason for going to Kelmar. He knew now. He could do whatever he wanted with that information.
He was also presently missing.
He was also Ari’s brother.
Danan, the idiot guard she severely disliked, was the brother of Ari, the reporter she initially also severely disliked.
But she’d given Ari a chance, and she’d proven herself. Maybe the same was true of Danan?
Then she thought about the real reason she disliked him. It wasn’t because he’d threatened her. It was because he’d hurt Rothan and — Ethan. Ethan, not Demarc, she thought, looking down at her coffee. The coffee that had made her face flush when she’d called him by his first name a few days ago.
Knowing how Danan had treated Ethan and Rothan, was there any way he could prove himself, like his sister had, if she gave him a chance?
No, probably not, she told herself.
Ari had picked up her notescreen again and started typing away, going back into her own world.
“If you want to,” Ari shrugged.
Kierah leaned back in the seat and took another sip of coffee. She wanted to see if Danan would write back, curious about what his reason was for missing his shift. He wasn’t in any sort of danger, she figured — but then again, she couldn’t know for sure.
She stole a glance at Ari, who was fully engaged in her typing again. She seemed different. Sure, she had always been a little aloof and reserved, but those traits seemed amplified right now. She’d barely met Kierah’s eyes when she’d talked to her. And Kierah figured seeing her brother yesterday must have messed with her.
She still couldn’t quite get over that part. She couldn’t picture them being related. Sure, they both had dark skin. But aside from appearances — and even that would be difficult to compare, since Kierah had never actually seen Danan’s full face — they seemed nothing alike.
For one, Ari actually possessed the ability to be nice.
“If it’s okay to ask,” she ventured out loud, “you said you and Danan don’t, uh, talk anymore?”
“Yep,” Ari replied without missing a beat in her typing rhythm.
“What?” Kierah scrunched her forehead. “I didn’t know your dad died! I’m — I’m sorry.”
Kierah tried to process that, but she couldn’t. Why had Ari never told her? And how could Danan have blamed her for their dad’s death?
How had their dad died?
After several minutes of silence, Ari checked her watch again.
“Nothing,” she mumbled.
“Well,” Kierah ventured, “that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad. No news is good news, right?”
“Not in my line of work,” Ari quipped. “No news just means you didn’t get the answers you needed. I’m going to try giving him a call. You don’t have to stay if you don’t want to.”
“No,” Kierah said. “I’d like to know if he’s okay.”
“Why?” Ari asked. “You don’t really like him anyway.”
For the first time that day, Ari met her gaze and held it. She didn’t say thank you, but it was understood. Kierah smiled a little and waited.
Ari punched a code into the hologram from her watch, and Kierah waited while numbers flashed across the display. That meant the device on the other end was notifying its owner of an incoming call. The numbers flashed several times, but no notice came that the call was answered.
After a few more flashes, Ari hit the End button.
“He’s probably okay,” Kierah offered. “He just took the day off. Maybe he was out sick. Maybe he was on vacation. It doesn’t mean anything bad happened.”
Ari stared at her watch for a moment. “No, it doesn’t mean anything bad happened. But it doesn’t mean anything bad didn’t happen,” she said. “I’m gonna swing by his apartment. Just to see if he’s there. You’re probably right, he’s probably fine. But I’d feel better knowing.”
Kierah nodded. “Any chance I can come with you?”
Ari sighed. “I can’t say I wouldn’t appreciate the company.”
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“You need this,” Ari said, in the kind of tone that wouldn’t take no for an answer. And she handed Kierah a mug. Kierah stared at the dark liquid inside it, and wrinkled her nose. “What is it, again?” “If … Continue reading Chapter 17: Coffee — and a confrontation about the past