Sharp woke up Lasko and Tunnel at the break of dawn, shaking them a bit roughly when they couldn’t get up right away.
Lasko groaned. His body was killing him, his muscles so stiff that they felt frozen in place.
Tunnel sat up, yawning and peering sleepily around. “How long did we sleep for?” he asked wearily.
“About four hours.” Sharp said.
“Can’t we just stay here and sleep a little longer?” Lasko moaned, unwilling to open his eyes.
Sharp shook his head. “It’ll be really hot, walking in the open. It’ll be easier now when it’s cooler. Besides, we need to get home and start getting ready.”
“Ready? Ready for what?”
“We gotta be ready in case Vance comes after us.”
Oh. That was a good reason.
Sharp handed a food bar to Tunnel, and dropped another one on Lasko’s chest, who managed to pop one eye open.
“Eat. You’ll feel better.”
Lasko doubted it. It hurt when he moved just even a finger. But his mouth and lips were parched, so he forced himself to grab the bar and bring it up to his mouth.
As he chewed, he watched Sharp, who was fiddling with his knife harnesses. The boy turned and Lasko saw that there were knives in Sharp’s belt once more. The boy must have made new ones from the scrap during his watch.
The bar, somehow refreshing and sweet at the same time, did make him feel better, and he sat up, getting a better look at their surroundings. The mountains of scrap here were larger and more rugged, it seemed as though there were larger machines. When pointing out this observation, Sharp explained. “Salvagers don’t come out here. It’s too far from town, and there aren’t any pathways for their sorting equipment. There are wild dog packs too.”
“Dogs?!” Sharp nodded. “They don’t come out by our area, but if you go further into the dumping fields, you’ll see lots of them. That’s why it’s dangerous moving in between hexes on foot, when you get to the further dumps, dog packs will attack people.”
“Have you ever been to another hex before?” Lasko asked curiously. Sharp shook his head.
“But Leonard has, lots of times for business. He says that it’s exactly the same, except some hexes have holdings that with girls instead of boys. Anyways, let’s hurry up and get going.” The boy started to move, carrying the pack with their equipment on his own back. Lasko was glad that the boy decided to carry the baggage, the man wasn’t sure that his aching body could currently handle any extra weight.
As they walked through the valleys, they were silent. Lasko and Tunnel were still tired, not having slept a sufficient amount. Taking a painful step after another in the quiet, Lasko’s thoughts couldn’t help but to think back on what Sharp had said about the other hexes.
Girls in some hexes, boys in the others. Why do they keep them separate? Who exactly, are they? And what purpose does the holdings have?
At first Lasko had thought it was a futuristic method of population control, but when he considered the whole picture, it was puzzling.
After a certain age, they enter the Gate… and then what? How come everybody can’t just live there? Lasko decided to search for an answer when he got home; he was too tired to initiate a conversation now.
They trekked fairly quickly. Sharp set a fast pace as they weaved back and forth between the mountains. As the day waned on, it began to get warmer, and then they began to take breaks, resting in whichever shade they could find.
Tunnel was noticeably quieter. It was obvious that the kid needed more sleep, but the boy trekked on uncomplaining. Every so often he would peek into the pack, taking a look at his newly obtained most prized possession, (the teddy bear), and then a smile would appear on his tired face, and the youngest would continue on walking.
Sharp was quiet too, but for a different reason. On edge after his near death experience, the older dark haired boy was constantly on the lookout, scanning the horizon for silhouettes and listening intently for odd sounds. Occasionally he would stop the group upon hearing a foreign noise. But sounds were rare and usually just turned out to be a falling piece of trash.
Gradually, the mountains of trash got smaller and smaller, the larger machinery having been scavenged from these dumping piles. It was during this time that Lasko noticed something subtly different.
Tunnel was walking very close to Lasko, although they weren’t talking. Usually the young boy would walk next to Sharp, or walk ahead or behind on his own.
Maybe it was because the boy was tired, but now Tunnel stayed next to Lasko, and would stare at the man from time to time, only occasionally going to Sharp to take a peek at the bear.
Lasko supposed that the two of them had gotten closer, and it didn’t bother him. Rather, he enjoyed it. It felt good to be depended on. Sharp had noticed as well, and every once in a while, would give the two of them a glance with narrowed eyes. At times Lasko thought that Sharp was going to say something, but then the older boy just turned and continued to walk onwards silently.
Without any mishaps, and with no sightings of any of Vance’s henchmen, they finally arrived at their small hut. It had taken them six hours walking at a brisk pace. Tunnel collapsed on the cot, and even Sharp took a seat on a stool and tried to catch his breath, dumping the pack that he carried on the ground.
Lasko went straight for the water machine, gripping the knob and watching the water pour out into the pail below. When it was full, he began drinking from it, kneeling down and drinking straight from the surface of the crystal clear water.
Tunnel climbed off of the cot and came over, wanting a drink too.
Lasko eased back, letting the boy to the pail, but when the boy crouched down, the man playfully splashed the boy, sending a scoop of water straight into the shocked Tunnel’s face.
After a moment of surprise, Tunnel smiled, and digging both hands into the bucket, sprayed the entire area, splattering everything within reach, including the resting older boy. Sharp leapt up with a cry, but his shocked tired face also slowly turned into a grin. He went for the water machine, while Lasko began to wrestle Tunnel for the bucket, spilling water everywhere.
They spent a few minutes like that, laughing as they flung water at each other, their sudden playfulness powered by a euphoric feeling of relief.
They had done it! They had run into sure death, and managed to get away! The realization had become real for them the moment they arrived safe in their small hut. The shenanigans ended with Lasko dumping the remaining water on Tunnel’s head, but the laughing and giggling continued on for a while, the three of them celebrating their dangerous escape.