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.He’d moved to the center of camp where he collected all of the useable water bottles we had left.With hands on his hips, he shook his head when he saw me.“We’re going to need a lot more.”I looked down at the tiny pile.“How many did they destroy?”“Over half of them.” Bottles, glass or plastic, have been hard to come by since the draft went into effect.Those that ran took what they could, and the government collected what remained with the help of the mercenaries.Their strategy? We would all come crawling back begging for water.That’s why it was so unusual for Zach to find a water truck.Someone must have had a connection to a government insider.“We’ll just have to gather what we can tomorrow.” I walked over to Zach and forced him to sit on the ground.Cleaning his wound the best I could, I finished with a little ointment.“Trevor didn’t have any bandages to spare, so just try not to bump it.”“Sure he didn’t,” Zach grumbled.He sighed and dropped his head into his hands.“How’s Daric?”“He’ll be fine,” I lied.Zach snorted.“No he won’t.I can hear it in your voice.” We simply knew each other too well.“Why do I do this?”I grabbed his hands.“What? Collect water, find food, protect Hunter? For every one questionable decision you make, there are a hundred more good ones that allow all of us to survive a little longer.Don’t do this to yourself.”He managed a smile and I leaned in to give him a quick kiss on the cheek.With that, I continued helping around the camp until the first glimmer of sunrise filtered through the trees.The rest of the night had passed in silence, and everyone was ready to move on.Well, almost everyone.Daric had died not long after I saw him, so we now gathered around a shallow grave with our two friends lying side by side.Sasha recited some poem, but my ears wouldn’t allow me to hear.Instead, I focused on the inner turmoil ripping through me.I’d known Daric and Alicia for a couple of years, but felt numbed by their passing.Knowing I played a role in their deaths didn’t help, and even though I’d given that speech to Zach a few hours ago, the words felt empty to me.It would be hard to forgive myself.When the last of the dirt fell onto the grave, Sasha forced us into action.“Vivienne, Zach, and Jackson, collect what you can carry and head out with Max.The rest of us will be nearby and meet up with you in a couple of hours.”The four of us would do our best to steal water from the deserters that had attacked us last night.With empty bottles hanging all around me and my sword wrapped along my back, I followed closely behind Zach.The trip to the camp seemed shorter than last time, perhaps because I dreaded the type of resistance we might face.Not all of their group returned home the night before and I suspected they were as angry and desperate as us.Just as the rusty cargo container walls came into view, Zach stopped moving and turned to face us.“I saw the truck on the far side of camp.We should cross over through the woods and then try to break in from there.”“Was there an entrance?” Max asked.“There’s got to be.” Zach, always an optimist even when there was no reason to be.Max nodded and we all headed off at a light jog around the perimeter.Aside from my breathing and Zach’s heavy feet crunching underneath, the forest sounded surprisingly quiet.Ever since the nuclear wars, the wildlife seemed to disappear too.For many years, it had been a great risk to eat wild game for fear of getting radiation poisoning.But once we started observing offspring, we figured it would be okay to hunt.That happened a couple of years ago, and even though the meat seemed safe, the prey kept getting harder to find.Every once and a while a sparrow would call out in the early morning dawn.I guess I should be thankful that they wouldn’t give up our position, but a part of me still missed the life we had before the wars.Once we reached the far side of the camp, Zach signaled us to the ground.We looked around at our surroundings and listened intently for any sounds of human life.Not one deserter patrolled the perimeter.Zach shrugged and began moving out from the cover of the trees and up the same incline to the closest cargo container.I crept behind him, slowly sliding my sword out of its sheath.Jackson had his crossbow raised, moving it side to side looking for a target.When we reached the top, each of us pressed tightly against the container.There was a small space for us to pass, but Max waved us back until he could check it out.Like Sasha, he’d taken on a kind of parental role and always insisted on clearing our safety first.Max disappeared into the crack, Sasha’s pistol pointing in front of him.Unusual for Max to use a gun, I felt better knowing he had some range.A few moments later, Max’s head reappeared and he waved all of us inside.Once I broke through the narrow tunnel, I saw a large space filled with dilapidated cars and other pieces of unidentifiable metal.I could barely make out the perimeter on the far side of the camp, but when I saw the water truck, nothing else mattered.Zach had been right.Moving like a team of navy seals, we hustled together toward the trucks.With backs facing the interior, we each held our weapons out in front in case of an attack.We quickly reached the truck with no resistance and no sign of human life.“Where is everyone?” I whispered.“I don’t know,” Zach said.“But let’s take advantage.” Then he swore.“Someone sabotaged the truck.” He pointed to the four flat tires and a mosaic of gunshot holes near the bottom of the black plastic reservoir.But pushing against the side, he smiled again.“There’s still enough left for us.”While the boys filled up the bottles, I continued to patrol the area.Something wasn’t sitting right with me.Zach barely made it out of here alive a day ago, and now we waltzed into their camp without so much as a shout.“Vee, give me your bottles,” Zach whispered over to me.Without taking my eyes off the interior of the camp, I unhooked each strap and tossed them in his direction [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]