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Vanessa, Ashley, and Darryl all sat by the fire. Darryl had prepared a stew out of some meat that he hunted, and some herbs he had found. While it wasn’t gourmet, it was much better than Ashley had expected. They ate carefully using some pieces of one of Vanessa’s disks as utensils. Having full stomachs now, everyone seemed to be in far better spirits. She was certainly thankful for that.
“So, Darryl, where are you from?” Ashley asked. He had something of an accent so she figured he had to be British or Australian.
“South Africa.” He nodded.
“Oh, wow.” She nodded. “Vanessa and I are both from Atlanta. Well, I was actually born in New York, but yeah.”
Vanessa shot Ashley a look, as she said that she was from Atlanta. She wasn’t quite sure what she did wrong, but she mouthed ‘sorry’.
“So how did you get your ‘training’, or whatever that guy was talking about?” Vanessa asked. “Were you in the military or something?
“I was in the military for a little, yeah. Then the British took a liking to me, so they took me to train for an ‘off the books strike team’. That was what they called it.” He scoffed. “I did that until they were done with us. I learned that off the books meant that when we had done our jobs, we didn’t get a pension or decent wages. So I had to do contract work. From there, you know the rest.”
“That’s awful what they did to you…” Ashley shook her head. “Do you have a family?”
“Well, I couldn’t tell you.” He looked down and shook his head. “I haven’t been home, or heard from my parents in over twenty years. I don’t have a wife and kids or anything, if that’s what you meant.”
“Oh, I’m sorry…” Ashley was quiet for a moment. It seemed like they were just digging up bad memories for him. Her parents always loved her, and she had always had them. Sure it was a little rocky when she came out, but they came around eventually.
“Well, you girls are young. What do you have waiting for you in Atlanta?”
Ashley winced a little, she’d been trying to avoid that topic. She figured she should stall as long as possible, and gestured to Vanessa.
Vanessa sighed, and looked over to the fire. “I’m not even sure what’s waiting for me… I stormed out, and said I was going to go ‘find myself’. My boyfriend broke up with me, and went on a vacation with another girl. It’s also kinda weird how many connections my dad has from this place, so I’m not even sure what’s going on with him.” She wiped her eye and looked back to them. “Yeah, I’m kind a mess.”
“Well, speaking from experience, if you’re not happy with how you left things, you should probably go fix them.” He shook his head. “My mother tried to stop me from leaving, and I said some awful things to her… I don’t know if I’ll ever see her again, so don’t carry regrets with you.”
“Yeah. I know I should… I guess I have to get back first.” They all went silent again. “Well, what about you Ashley? You went quiet.”
Ashley wiped a tear from her eye. She really hadn’t wanted to think about this, so she felt like an idiot for bringing up the question. “Well, I guess I don’t know what’s waiting for me… I had a great girlfriend, but I’ve been gone for so long she’s probably found someone else. I’ve probably lost my job…” Ashley looked up and realized what she said. Her face went red, and her heart was racing.
She was trying not to say that. Arte had always told her she needed to be more careful who she outed herself to. Her heart raced and tears started flowing down her face. She heard Vanessa get up, and she tensed up. She felt an arm around her.
“Hey, it’s alright,” Vanessa said. “You’re an amazing person, I’m sure she wouldn’t give up so easily. If you’re worried about your job, I’m sure my dad can take care of it.”
She over at Darryl, and saw he hadn’t moved, and looked unfazed. “Do you guys not-” She sniffled, “Not care that I’m gay?”
“That doesn’t change anything as far as I’m concerned.” Vanessa hugged her.
She looked over at Darryl, and he looked mildly surprised. “Oh, me? I grew up in South Africa during apartheid. I travelled the world, and saw that we are all human. There is no sense in discriminating on things.”
Ashley leaned into Vanessa, and couldn’t help but laugh a little. She knew they were good people, so there was no need to worry after all. After a few minutes, she pulled herself up, and wiped off her face.
“I guess we should talk about what we do now, huh?” Vanessa said, looking off into the fire again.
“Well, we got lucky coming out by a river. If we follow it downstream, we should eventually find a city, or the ocean.” Darryl nodded.
“Yeah, but what about all the people still in the prison?” Ashley asked. She was glad to have made it out, but wasn’t ready to abandon the people in there.
“That’s a good point.” Darryl nodded.
“Well, but right now, nobody knows about it. So if we were to go in, and we were to fail, then nobody would get to go home.” Vanessa replied.
“Well, the thing about that is that since we escaped, and they won’t find our bodies in there, they will realize we have gotten away. After that they will have to move the prison. Depending on how fast we move, they might not have time to move everyone, but at least half of those people in there would have no chance then.” Darryl shook his head. “That’s if anyone survives Takeo’s wrath when they figure it out. I figure we have at least a couple of days before they figure out we’re gone.”
“He’s right…” Ashley shook her head. “We have to go back.”
“I think you two should go downstream. You’re young, and you have lives waiting for you back home.” Darryl looked off into the woods. “I’m old, and I have nobody waiting for my return. Not to mention your lack of combat training.”
“Well, actually, I have some combat experience. Not like you, of course, but I did a little bit of superhero work.”
“Well, that settles it.” Ashley got to her feet. “We’ll all go. That gives us the best odds.”
“Alright, well, I won’t turn down the help.” Darryl stood as well. “However, I’d suggest you go to sleep. I will take watch.”
“Wake me up to switch off with you at some point, Darryl.” Vanessa stood and looked around for a second. “So where are we sleeping?”
Darryl laughed. “Find a patch of dry ground that looks soft. Some people like leaves for cushion, I prefer dirt. Less pokey.”
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