The Making of a Reb, Part 3
“When was your last test, Carter?”
He stills, stares at me, uncomprehending.
“Your balance test, Carter, the last one, when?” My voice is loud now, demanding. Carter doesn’t move for a bit, then closes his eyes and takes a deep breath.
“I never had one,” he says so softly I have to strain to hear it. I’m starting to put this together in my head, but not fast enough. I’m exhausted. But I am close, though I feel like I’m missing something. The thing I should have asked in the first place.
“Why did you have the tracer put in, Carter? You say you didn’t know what it was, but I think you did. You wanted it gone, and I get that. But why were you marked in the first place?”
Carter slides down to the floor and tilts his head up, his eyes closed. He doesn’t want to look at me.
“I killed a guard,” he says, voice surprisingly steady, calm. “I was nine, and he’d been mean to me. I’d just learned how to use the tasers they all had, in secret. I’d sneak out into the range at night and practice. Couldn’t sleep much then.” He looks up at me, his face mostly in shadows, but I know he’s blushing. Can almost feel the heat of it coming off his skin. Maybe that, too, was something I’d learned because of how I am…. “Still can’t,” Carter keeps going, a bit softer now, “sleep, that is. Anyway, I didn’t think it would kill him, what I did, but I guess it had. They’d called the commander and all the other adults I didn’t know and they put the tracer in me, so they would always know where I was, they’d told me, but I thought even then it was more than that. I’d been wanting it gone ever since.”
He stands and takes a step to me. “I’m sorry I lied to you about that. I really am. I couldn’t ask anyone else to do it and I couldn’t do it myself. Didn’t trust my hands not to shake.”
I’m taken aback by this admission.
“What’s it do, Carter, the tracer….” I think I know, but I need to ask anyway, need to know what else he’s not telling me. Carter shakes his head, stays silent for a beat and I let him.
“I thought it just tracked me, until….” He looks down, uncomfortable and I know for sure he’s like me. That he had to have been fighting it as hard if not harder than I have. “The commander called for me today, Eton. I don’t know how to tell you this, or if I should.” He swallows, looks at me.
“You owe me,” I snap at him. Because he does. He’d put me in danger. I know enough now to know that. He owes me. Carter nods, his face is serious and still, composed.
“It was to keep me safe, Eton. The commander,” he runs his hands through his short hair, looks away, “Alander Gorin is my father,” he finally says, and winces at the words, as if wishing he could take them back.
“Holy shit,” I hear myself say. And Carter laughs, the first laugh I’ve heard in years I think, and it’s beautiful. His whole body shakes with it, and I can feel my face stretching in a way I never let it before, can feel the noise building high in my throat and then I’m laughing, and my eyes water and I want to keep doing this, because all the tension suddenly drains from my body and I can see myself lying on this dirty concrete floor, with all the stains and the wetness on it, and not caring about any of that. I want to jump or run or do something stupid and physical and child-like. Roll around in the soft green of our old grass when Father had forgotten to deal with it kind of child-like. Or throw ineffectual snowballs at Dana when she wasn’t looking. And suddenly I’m not laughing anymore, but my eyes stay wet, an image of my baby sister’s almost purple eyes looking at me in that begging way, her hand outstretched, hoping for a piece of candy she wasn’t old enough to have yet, and me, always giving it to her anyway.
I feel pressure on my arm and look down, Carter’s hand gripping me just above my elbow.
“I didn’t tell him it was you who did it, Eton, I swear I didn’t, but he knows. He said he watched it on his screen…. But you’re not in any trouble for it. He promised me you wouldn’t be.”
I hadn’t even considered what they’d do to me, hadn’t thought about it yet. “It’s not that.” I step back and he lets go of my arm. And I feel like I can’t tell him, even after what he’d just shared with me, can’t tell him about that part of me, the Dana part and the Mother and Father part. Not if he’d never had it to know it. It feels every kind of cruel to do that to him. To anybody.
“I have to go, Carter,” I say. He doesn’t stop me, doesn’t say a word to me as I walk away. I hope his father will keep the promise he made, but I know there isn’t a thing I can do about it if he doesn’t. There isn’t any place I can run to, even if I could get past security. And the thought of running, alone, scares me worse than anything they can do to me here. I stop and take a few deep breaths, counting each one, as I recall Dana’s image. Not the last day, with her already sick, her face ashen, eyes somehow lightless, but from the month before. When she was begging for a piggy back ride, her big brown eyes taking in my face, her smile tentative, shy almost, in that way she had when she really wanted something.
There was a sweetness to her that made it hard to say ‘no’ to her, no matter the ask. I wondered what she’d look like now, had she lived. With her wild hair longer, her face skinnier, less chubby six-year-old and more a lanky teenager. Rita’s calm face as she looked me over, almost clinically, in the hallway. Eyes big and brown, and looking at me unblinking, as if it didn’t bother her at all, our closeness. And it hit me then, my heart racing every time I saw her, my hands sweating, all that discomfort. She looked like Dana would have. I felt that stab at the thought, at the nothing she’d felt, and yet, she had sought me out. There was something deliberate in me constantly running into her since they moved me to the Citadel.
I push the button for the top level on the platform, not thinking about it. I need to know. Whatever happens afterwards–it can’t be worse than what they did to them. And maybe, there is a small chance they aren’t gone after all. Not for good.
image credit for background from Pixabay
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