Garrick didn’t need anything, but of course, that didn’t stop him from finding some way for me to help him out.
I grunted as I bent down, struggling to keep my fingers under the heavy box without them getting crushed. “And all of these need to be moved from the storage area out into the back of the kitchen?”
“That’s right,” he nodded, watching me through slitted lids as he picked at the dirt under his fingernails with a little shard of metal. We weren’t supposed to have actual knives, of course, since the Company felt that this would pose an unnecessary danger to the inmates – er, workers – but that didn’t stop most folks who wanted a knife. Most of them, like Garrick, found a bit of metal and used a grinder to sharpen down one side to hold an edge.
Bam, instant knife.
I knew that he was considering me, trying to figure out my angle. No one offered to do more labor than they had to complete. I had to want something from him; he just had to figure out what it might be, and then figure out how to use that need of mine to his advantage, how much free labor and favors he could squeeze out of me.
Still, I could see him frowning. It didn’t make sense, I admit, for me to be there helping him. I wasn’t the kind of guy who usually came to Garrick, asking for something. Most of those guys were junkies looking for a fix, someone trying to get their hands on a bit of sketchy contraband. I didn’t want to risk my paycheck for a quite hit of euphoria, so I made sure to keep my nose clean.
“Alright,” he finally snapped, as I put the last box down carefully on top of its fellows. “What is it?”
I turned back to him, trying not to show how my overworked back and muscles twinged. “What is what?” I asked innocently.
“What you want. Come on, spit it out. I ain’t got all day.” He looked like he was ready to snap my head off; clearly, it bothered him that he couldn’t work out what I might be after from him.
I considered prolonging the tease for a second, but decided not to push my luck too far. Here it went, then. Time to open up. I fought my better instincts, those that told me to shut the hell up and keep my damn fool mouth closed.
“There’s something fucky going on here, Garrick,” I finally forced out. There. Can’t turn back from this now. “I don’t know what’s going on, but I was out in the jungle, and I found something, and I think-“
I don’t really know what I expected him to do. Think I was crazy, probably, laugh it off and tell me to get my head out of my own ass. Usual stuff, what I’d tell someone who came to me with nonsense like this.
Garrick, however, jerked forward as if someone had yanked on all his marionette’s strings. He rushed up and clapped his hand over my mouth, smacking me in the process.
“The jungle?” he repeated in a hoarse whisper, staring at me in shock and fear. Yeah, it was fear in his eyes. Real fear, the kind that makes you likely as not to shit your pants, the kind that we remember from back when we were monkeys in the woods, crouching in the shadows and hoping that the leopard didn’t see us. “Are you insane?”
I couldn’t talk, not with his hand over my mouth. I just looked up at him, as wide-eyed as he appeared, waiting for one of us to reach some sort of decision.
It took a minute for him to regain control, his forebrain pushing aside the panicked lizard inside his head. He took his hand off of me, stepped back, shook his head.
“If this is just some sort of prank,” he began, his entire face darkening.
I hastily shook my head. “No. I’m serious. Here, look.” And I fumbled in my pocket for Lyman’s ring.
He put his hand on my arm, stopping me. “No. Not here.” As if someone might be spying on us, here in the storeroom where we’d been stacking crates all morning.
Still moving furtively, as if our every move was under suspicion, Garrick led me out of the storeroom. We headed down and out of the building, out into the bright sunshine of the day. Somehow, the bright light only further emphasized the long lines, the haggard shadows, of Garrick’s face.
“Ass, getting me into this,” he muttered, seemingly to himself. He turned his head just enough to fix me for a moment with one baleful eye, and then hurried off, around the corner. I quickened my step to catch up.
I came around the corner – and paused for a second as I saw where Garrick had gone. He’d pushed through a small gap that apparently existed in the border fence around the compound.
This troubled me, for a couple of reasons.
First off, that fence wasn’t supposed to have any gaps. People checked carefully to make sure that it didn’t have any gaps, because gaps could let through some of the beasties out in this alien world, and they’d cause us all sorts of confusion and damage, probably kill more than a few people if they got inside. There were supposed to be sensors and monitors and all sorts of gadgets to keep any gaps from existing in the fence, at least not without our knowledge.
Second, how did Garrick know about a gap? The way he’d ducked through it suggested that he had been well aware of its existence, that he hadn’t had to hunt around for it. How did he know? Was he the one who put it there in the first place?
I stood there at the gap, considering. I must have been there longer than he liked, because I heard an exasperated hiss from the other side. “Damn fool, get through here and stop wasting everyone’s time!”
Well, that made up my mind for me. Garrick might be old, ornery, and irate, but he seemed to have some sort of plan in mind. Might as well stick with him.
Easing carefully through the gap in the fence, I admired how well it had been concealed. All of the wires, including the strands of razor wire woven into the metal chains, were carefully severed in a manner that wouldn’t be apparent to casual examination. The sensor wires, intended to detect any breakage, were re-routed down through the ground, rising back up on the other side of the gap to continue running along the length of the fence. This gap wouldn’t show up on any instruments. I never would have noticed it, if Garrick hadn’t left it ajar.
How long had it existed for, how long had there been his security hole? And why was Garrick showing it to me know?
More questions, no answers. I slid through the gap, out into the jungle beyond, and followed after where I’d last heard Garrick’s voice.
There was a path here, I realized. A faint path, barely detectable, but the grass parted more easily for me, the tree branches were bent slightly out of the way to allow a man to pass, if he were slender and crouched to conceal his full height. I saw several dangerous creepers that had been pushed off to one side or another, propped in place with sticks to prevent them swinging back into the path.
It led away from the compound, up through the hills. Our compound sat on a bit of a ledge, with the ocean on one side, the rising bulk of a mountain on the other. It was beneath that mountain that we’d detected the richest ores with our orbital surveillance, and this location was determined by the Company to be optimal for reaching those natural resources.
I climbed after Garrick, ducking through the underbrush. A couple of times, I feared that I’d lost him, but he always reappeared after a second, scowling at me for daring to lag behind before once again vanishing ahead.
I didn’t need to guess, at least, when we reached our destination.
“Is this natural?” I asked, staring in amazement at the dark opening leading into the stony hill behind.
Garrick paused at the entrance to the cave, still scowling back at me. “Might as well be. No one uses it, ‘cept me. And now, you’re the only other one. Keep it to yourself, got it?”
“No problem,” I answered, holding up my hands at the gruffness in his voice.
Garrick just glared at me for a second longer, and then ducked inside the cave. After a moment of wondering, I followed after him.
“Now, let’s see it,” he said once we were inside. A lamp, which I assumed he’d smuggled out on some earlier visit, cast a weak glow over the interior. It revealed high ceilings rising up into darkness, and a long shaft that continued back deeper, further into the hill.
“Sorry – see what?”
“Whatever you found!” he snapped. “Come on, we can’t be away this long without someone noticing! Let’s see this!”
Right. I reached into my pocket, felt around for the ring. For one heart-dropping second, I couldn’t find it, feared that I’d somehow lost it somewhere in the forest. But then, my fingers closed on the little band of metal, and I pulled it out to pass over to Garrick.
He didn’t need to ask me what it was. We’d all seen Lyman showing the thing off; practically every man in the compound could have identified it.
“And you found this…?”
I took a deep breath. “Attached to a hand, floating in the ocean.”
Garrick, strangely, didn’t seem too surprised by this. I’d expected a curse, a gasp, some sort of horrified reaction. But instead, he just sighed, shook his head, looked as if some bad fate that he’d anticipated had finally come to pass.
“As I feared,” he said softly, tightening his fingers around the small bit of jewelry. “Looks like you’re in it now, Kennedy.”
I gaped at him. “In what?”
Rubbing his face, he gestured to a couple of boulders. “You’d better take a seat. This might take a while…”
To be continued…