She hadn’t slept all night. Not a wink.
The transport was supposed to be here by now. They had called for it twelve hours ago; she had been told that it would be here by morning. But the sun was peeking over the horizon, and the transport was nowhere to be found.
The platform creaked and groaned, and listed even further to the side. It wouldn’t stand much longer. Not to mention that the whole area was about to be levelled – if they weren’t evacuated in the next two hours, they’d be obliterated under the rubble.
“Are they coming?” she asked.
“No, Laney,” Cal said, exasperated. “Do you hear them? They’re not here. When they’re here, you’ll hear them.” He looked sharply at her. “Have you been trying to get out of your cuffs, Laney?”
“No,” she said. “Why would I do that?”
“Because the liberators made you think you’re a person,” Cal explained. “They made you think I’m wrong. But I’m not. You’re not a person. How could you be? And they don’t have the right to steal from me.”
“I don’t want them to steal me, Cal,” Laney said. “I’m happy with you.” She had been with him for two years now, and she had worked hard to please him. She didn’t always succeed, but he was learning to trust her intentions. He hardly ever had to educate her anymore. And sometimes he even took the cuffs off. But not now, with all the upheaval. The city had been liberated – which meant that everything would be razed, so that something new could be built from the ashes. The liberators had been fighting for this city for four years, and infiltrators had been disseminating propaganda for a long time – we’ll save you, you don’t have to be slaves, the outside world is different. She didn’t know if she believed the propaganda, but it sounded nice.
It really sounded nice.
But the trade-off was war, one that had already demolished the outskirts of the city. Everyone knew that the liberators wasted no time asking questions; if you weren’t available for transport by the time the bombs dropped, then you became part of the ashes.
The propaganda explained that the liberators fought a great evil, and that great evil needed to be swept away, whatever it took.
Laney didn’t know if Cal was evil, but the infiltrators had made the outside world seem so nice. She hadn’t even known there was an outside world before the infiltrators came. Cal said it was all lies … but that didn’t make much sense. There must really be an outside world for the infiltrators to come from. It seemed more like Cal was trying to trick her, the way the propaganda said.
The transport suddenly appeared on the horizon. It roared toward the platform, and all the survivors who had gathered there began cheering. Cal stood and hauled Laney to her feet.
“Come on,” he said roughly, and quickly removed her handcuffs. Her hands hardly knew what to do without the metal chains hooking them together. “We’ll wait til the others are all on the transport,” he told her. “So that no one can argue with us. And we’ll play along, so they don’t get suspicious.”
Laney wasn’t stupid. Cal was exactly the sort of person the liberators didn’t like, and he would only be allowed on the transport if Laney pretended that Cal was a “freedom agent”. After they were brought to the refugee camp, Cal was going to connect with some others who had already done what he was trying to do, and then they were going to escape to a new city where they could live the way they wanted. And they were going to make a stronger city, one that wouldn’t fall to the liberators.
Cal had often talked about how weak the city’s defenses were.
The transport landed, and the other survivors quickly climbed onto it from the swaying platform. Cal pulled Laney up the metal stairs from the little alcove where they had been hiding all night. He peeked through the heavy door that led to the landing pad. “One more minute,” he said. “Then we’ll go.”
“Okay,” Laney said. She looked over her shoulder at the metal stairs. They were quite steep, and went down about twenty feet to the lower level. The lower level had been compromised some time ago, and was now underwater. “Cal?” she said, turning back to him.
“What?” he barked.
She grabbed Cal’s belt – she was very strong, after all, because Cal never did any work if he could help it, and he was too poor to buy more than one wife. Sometimes, when he passed out from drinking, she had been obliged to carry Cal to his bed. Pulling him backwards down the stairs would be easy compared to that.
“I’m sorry,” she said. She yanked him off balance, and shoved him down the metal stairs. Looking more surprised than scared, he fell into the murky water below, and she watched for a few seconds before flinging open the door to the landing pad and running toward the transport. “Wait!” she shouted.
One of the liberators leaned out and reached for her. “We almost left you!” he yelled over the roar of the engines. “Are there any others?”
“No,” Laney said. “I’m the last one.”