Infiltrator – Chapter One

Infiltrator is the result of two assignments during my time at sixth form; a Film Studies proposal and an English Language creative piece. Since A Levels, the story has evolved into a dual-narrative YA novel, currently 58,161 words long. And, yep, it’s still not complete. It’s going to be a big ‘en.

Full disclosure: I haven’t touched this novel since my first year of university. I intend to go back, when I’ve finished my degree, and edit the sheer #$@&%*! out of it. So, my sincere apologies for its current state. Enjoy?

CAMP E.N.D

Swerving through the thin barbs of wire that surrounded the deserted village, my thoughts finally scattered into clarity: At last, I had found them.

Climbing through the rubble of fallen homes and sneaking under fallen lampposts, it began to dawn on me that I was once again following the familiar sharp instinct that constantly picked at the back of my mind; The very instinct that I had been warned and trained to ignore. If I followed their rules, there would be more rebel leaders walking the streets, I reasoned with myself, the voice in my head holding an acidic tone in her voice. No matter how many villages I searched and no matter how long the search took, I always found the rebel groups before the other six formations that followed the same mission. I was the best infiltrator they had.

I had been purposefully wandering the abandoned streets and isolated homes for a good half an hour before the first sign of rebel life revealed itself… or should I say, himself. The rebel that had stepped into my vision was tall, well built, with defined muscles. His hair was long considering his otherwise well-kept shape, dark brown locks hanging just below his chin and over his golden eyes. It was as if a simple hand held mirror had become extinct and all the rebel had to admire his appearance with was the two eyes planted inside of his skull. One look at him and I could tell that he was most likely a second in command to the local rebel leader, possibly even the leader himself if he was old enough (I calculated his age to be between late teens/early twenties). And this camp is meant to be the most infamous of all¸ my internal dialogue scoffed with disappointment.

Usually I would succumb to the tactical guidelines that were imprinted within my skilled memory, the guidelines that demanded that I play the role of an innocent victim, battered and bruised by the government allies and left for dead in the middle of the surrounding barren landscape. This time, I chose to experiment. Standing my guard, my spine straightened out behind me as I fought back the familiar urge to clench my fists in an act of defiance that had become a natural part of being.  The rebel didn’t appear to notice me at first, not until I took a confident step forward, the crunch of the rubble’s debris below my worn down boots alerting him of my presence. His golden eyes darted across the expanse of the deserted square, taking in my appearance as they cautiously lingered on the dried blood that was smeared across various parts of my skin and clothes. With one final look, the rebel began to storm across the dusty pavement, yelling out into the dead air as he approached, his hand nearing for a concealed weapon that was hidden in the waistband of his jeans; a typical rookie mistake on his part. “You! Don’t move,” he continued to yell at me as he approached. As if I have anywhere to go, I thought with an air of boredom before throwing my hands up in an act of surrender; let the show begin.

“Don’t!” I pleaded weakly, the role coming to me as naturally as my own need to defy the guidelines. However, my mind was still my own as I broke down everything I could see of the rebel as subtly as possible. The most valuable piece of information that I could draw from the short distance was that it was a knife concealed beneath his grip. “I heard rumour of a rebel camp near here… I was hoping they might be able to offer me shelter until I regroup with my own camp… could you help? Do you know where I could find them?” The rebel’s eyes, no longer inspecting the blood, bore into my own as he halted a few feet from where I stood atop of the rubble. His mind was most certainly ticking over the lies that had easily slipped from my lips just like many other rebels had before him.

“What is your name, girl?” Despite the implication of my being a child, the rebel’s hand didn’t dare remove itself from the hidden weapon behind him. Unfortunately for him, I’d been around enough rebels to know their little secrets, or more importantly that most now went by their last names to prevent any imposters from passing on personal information. This knowledge only helped make my false vulnerability seem legit.

“Scout. My last name’s Scout.” I somehow saw the need to emphasise the fact that I had followed the unspoken rule and had given my surname. Most likely my subconscious had realised that my surname could be passed as my first name which would only make me appear untrustworthy if the rebel believed it to be my first name. After much consideration, his hand finally fell and he stepped forward, extending it towards me.

“Hunter. I’m the leader here.”

***

Hunter was far more cautious than any of the other rebel camps that I had encountered that year. He led me to a secluded café on the far side of the square for an informal interrogation before the topic of my joining his group would even be brought up once again let alone considered. Fortunately for me, I was the perfect liar. Unfortunately for him, I was even better when forced to lie on the spot.

“You said you’ve lost your own camp. What happened to them?”

“There was a raid to a camp few miles from ours… we were close with that camp so course we eventually split both camps up and formed one large group and spread across the radius. That way everyone had some sort of home of their own. The fifth of the seven infiltrator formations… the fifth wiped out that section of our camp before moving onto ours.” The stuttering in my voice was appearing to do its job at prying a sympathetic reaction from the rebel leader only sending a spark of joy and pride through my subconscious. “We all took different routes of escape but… but I ended up taking the wrong road, leaving behind my camp.” My pride got the better of me once more as I mentally gave myself a round of applause for an outstanding lie that was generated on the spot.

“Why are you covered in blood?” Shit! I cursed internally, hating the rebels even more for their inability to die without making a mess.

“One of the fifth followed me… I had to… I had to protect myself.” The rebel’s eyes regained their scrutinising search of my small frame, his mind seeming to figure out how likely it was that someone of my size would have been able to taken down one of the infiltrators.

“What do you mean by ‘protected’ yourself? How?”

“I did what any person would do in my position… it was die or survive… I killed him.” The rebel’s disbelief was evident now as he scoffed back a laugh at the implication my words made. Obviously, this girl I had him believing I was wasn’t capable of murder. Shame that. “You don’t believe me, Hunter?” Throwing in a quiver of the bottom lip, I looked up at the young leader through my long lashes, using my femininity to my own advantage.

“Excuse the laughter but, the idea of a girl as… small and fragile,” he appeared to be choosing his words extremely carefully for someone who didn’t believe me, “as yourself taking out a member of the fifth formation is too hard to believe… those guys are mental, not to mention huge.”

“I’m not that fragile. I’m seventeen!”

“So? I’m twenty-one but I ain’t going up against of the infiltrators bare-handed. It’s suicide.” Bullseye! Unknowingly, the rebel had just opened the gates for yet another one of my convincing lies.

“I never said that I was bare-handed…” I forced a tremble to take over my body, continuing to play the innocent role as naturally as I could manage given the impromptu circumstances that I had lumbered myself in. Never before had I been questioned on site. Then again, it only suggested that the camp that I had stumbled upon this time round was more advanced and cautious than all that fell before it.

“Then what did you use?”

“His knife.” A wicked grin spread along the expanse of Hunter’s lips as his eyes finally took the time to look at me as a whole person rather than linger on the blood or my short height. It appeared that I was just the kind of person that Hunter liked. A killer.

“Welcome to Camp E.N.D, Scout.”

***

My guided tour of the rebel’s camp was as predictive as many of the numerous other tours that I had received during my short time in this particular ‘line of work’. No matter how far the distance between the country’s camps were and no matter how scattered each of them appeared to be, the general layout of each camp was almost considerably the same. There was always one large feature that the camp would build around (in this case, it was the old square) and then a perimeter of abandoned homes and businesses would border the area to make it appear scarce and unpopulated to the untrained eye. Hunter took me throughout his predictable camp with my hand perched lightly against his extended arm so as to not draw any unwanted attention to the newest arrival within their safe haven; me.

The grand tour lasted approximately one, long, dull hour whilst the rebel brought me up to speed on the most important landmarks that were dotted about the particularly large camp: the courtyard and streets that held our first meeting playing as an area of exercise, training and meetings whenever so approved; the inside courtyard, which I had been informed  was rarely used due to the constant crumbling of its foundation, was a bore to me so my mind wandered during that portion of the tour; the main hall was where multiple ‘stalls’, as they were so named by my tour guide, were set about in the fashion of an olden time market where they displayed many items varying from weapons to scavenged and harvested groceries (the centre table was covered by a sheet obviously to prevent wandering eyes from witnessing what secrets it held) and the hallways that ran above and under the ground of the camp held the sleeping quarters of the rebels within every doorway and crevice. It was within one of the lower levels of hallways that the rebel’s tone changed from the demeanour of an informal tour guide to one of a charming host. A welcome change considering how exceedingly boring the exhausted tour had been, his descriptions coming across far less enthusiastic than the spark of interest he had shown upon my describing a fictional attack to his enemy.

“I hope you don’t wish to use a knife against me now that I’ve wasted an hour of your time with touring our ‘little’ camp?” The humour that was trying to come through the leader’s voice was almost pointless enough for me to roll my eyes. I had heard enough of his voice for one day no matter how many attempts at a friendly joke he may have made. Grin and bear it.

“Unfortunately, you won’t be witnessing my killer skills tonight, Hunter.” But keep on cracking jokes and you’ll experience it first-hand.

“I’ll be counting on a demonstration very soon, then.”

“I’m not going to promise anything but…” I let my head fall into an enthusiastic nod before throwing a smile in for good measure. “I can guarantee that you’ll be impressed.” The fake smile that I was forcing onto my stern lips was met with a cocky grin from the rebel looking down upon me, his eyes briefly scanning the empty hall that lay before us before they made a circle make onto me. His consistent stare was soon having me wish to force his head to the side as he continued to take in every detail of my mess of features. It wasn’t out of vanity but simply out of the unnerving chill it sent down my spine with each blink. I cleared my throat awkwardly, pushing the subject away with as much ease as I possibly could. Take a damn picture, it’ll last longer. “So now that I’ve seen the place… what happens to me now?”

“Now we find you some temporary accommodation until something else arises.” Temporary? My thoughts screamed.

“Temporary?” My voice echoed. Hunter nodded, not noticing my slight falter at the insinuation that I would be out of the camp as quickly as I entered it. Not without a fight. His arms moved to fold over his chest in an attempt at airing his obvious authority. Given, his height and build did reinforce the hierarchy between the two of us as we stood in the depths of his camp.

“Every new arrival has to share with a previous… tenant until a more permanent space becomes available for that said arrival to claim as their own.”

“So… I’ll be a lodger?”

“Yes.”

“I don’t suppose you know who my roommate will be?” Of course, Hunter took the opportunity to once again attempt to ease the air for the shell shocked little Scout and offered another ‘warm joke’. Pathetic.

“Unfortunately for you, Scout, I do and no. You won’t be having the pleasure of my company for I room alone. One of the many perks of being top dog around here.” This time, I welcomed the eye roll that I had previously held off to keep up the façade of my innocent act but fortunately it was a pleasing enough response to the joke that the rebel continued to babble on about this new ‘roommate’ of mine. “You’ll be sharing with Carlton. She’s our resident sniffer dog.” If it wasn’t for the humoured expression that had slowly spread across the rebel’s face then I wouldn’t have been aware of the confused expression that must have contorted itself up at him; if this is another joke…

“I’m not… am I really sharing with a dog?” The laughter that burst forth from his chapped lips was all the answer I required. The ‘sniffer dog’ was evidently a name purely for the purpose of banter amongst this camp of rebels. Joke’s on me.

“Society might be corrupt but even we have some standards here, Scout. You’ll pick up on the nicknames and titles here soon enough but no, Carlton isn’t actually a dog. She’s a—well, well; I think I’ll let her introduce herself. Here comes the wicked witch of the underground.” Hand falling away from his chest, Hunter extended his hand down the dark expanse of the tunnel like hallway that we had previously evacuated. I heard Carlton before I could see her due to the limited lighting of the hallway, her silhouette merely a shadow against the rough canvas of the unnatural tunnels and doors beneath the camp.

“Care to explain where the hell you’ve been, Hunter?” The female rebel, Carlton, shot her piercing blue eyes (not even the shadows could dim that shade of blue) in my direction the moment she stabbed her shoes into the ground. Just as tall as her leader, the hostility that Hunter emitted upon our first meeting was nothing in comparison to the apparent wicked witch’ that towered above me. “And who’s she?”

“Your new roomie.” A silent look was shared between each rebel; one that they attempted to hide in vain. “I’ll leave you both to your bonding. I have people to see and revolutions to plan.” Revolutions? This teased my interest as my head shot up with the sudden appearance of my curiosity at the casual mention of the uprising that was obviously brewing beneath the confined walls of this camp. And they said that my way would get me caught. A nod was thrown in both mine and the female’s direction, apparently I was too busy celebrating their lack of security that I missed whatever conversation had passed between the two, before Hunter hurried down the hallway. I watched as his profile grew smaller and darker until all that was left of him was the reverberating echo of his feet as they hurried up the makeshift stone stairs that led up to the upper levels of the camp. Minutes might have passed between me and the rebel, the only alert of her being besides me was a short huff of breath that was released once the sound of rubber on stone disappeared into the silence.

“Right, let’s get this over with then. I have better things to do than taking care of you.”

***

It turned out that Hunter’s carefully structured tour was all to wind us through the camp in a pattern that eventually led us to the level beneath the ground that would act as my accommodation for the foreseeable future. My first initial impression of Carlton was nothing in comparison to what I had managed to deduce from merely looking upon Hunter those few hours ago in the square. This was no fault on my part however as the underground level of the camp was merely lit by dim lights that were pushed into the walls of the tunnels making it quite difficult to see her in her entirety, all height and black hair. Thanks to the lack of lighting, I was still unable to determine whether or not Carlton’s height was a natural occurrence or if she was wearing shoes that gave the illusion of one being tall. It wasn’t until she had moved aside the wooden board that acted as a makeshift door of her room that I chose to break the silence.

“So… I’m Scout, by the way.”

“We use our last names here, or weren’t you listening to Hunter?”

“Scout is my last name.” I didn’t mean to annunciate my words with such a harsh and silencing tone but it was too late to try and amend myself as Carlton turned on me with a violent stamp. Her back was now blocking the light from the open hallway, only emphasising our difference in both height and build.

“Prove it. For all I know, you might’ve blurted out your name and are trying to save your ass rather than admit that you weren’t listening to our almighty leader?” My lips parted as the usual sarcasm that I was known for back home threatened to slip through the cracks in my false appearance. It wasn’t until the first syllable had left my lips that something snapped within my highly trained mind and my hand fell beneath the crusty shirt that hung loose on my body. From beneath the fabric I yanked free the long chain that constantly sat around my neck, my fingers caressing the warm locket that was attached at the end. The struggling rays of light touched the locket with the same care and nostalgia as my fingers.

“There.” My fingers stopped their tender touch along the locket’s shell as they harshly stabbed in the air above it, indicating to the inscription that had been etched there so very long ago. “My initials. R.S. Satisfied?”

“Hmm…” My producing the chain seemed to have caught the rebel off guard as she turned back into the room that we were now to share, indicating that the matter had been dropped. For now, some part of my subconscious grumbled in the begrudging way that it favours. With no one to see, my lips fell upon the familiar locket before I delicately slipped the locket snuggly back beneath the confines of my shirt, it resting against the hollow of my skin as it always had. “Shut the door.” I sullenly followed Carlton’s orders, dragging the wood back so that it perfectly covered the sculptured hole within the wall. “I don’t know what Hunter’s already told you but until he can sort somewhere out for you, you’re stuck with me.” True to her apparent cold nature, my new ‘roomie’ kept me facing her back as she knelt down towards a large chest that was located at the end of one of the two beds that occupied the dingy room; one bed was a proper model consisting of both a wooden frame and a mattress, whist the other was a simple mattress upon the floor. Lucky me. “My name’s Carlton. Don’t bother trying to shorten it like everyone else around here. I’d rather be called ‘it’ than ‘Carl’.”

“Got it.”

“And I don’t suppose that Hunter went through the rules or anything remotely important?” My head shook at her glance over her shoulder. We were already each other’s least favourite person. “He never does,” she sighed irritably, something we would have been punished for back home if we were found complaining about the way someone with authority treated themselves and those around them. “Right, take a seat. We could be here a while depending on how many questions you feel the need to ask. I suggest that you sit down, shut up and listen. Hunter can answer any pointless questions.”  My head nodded. I waited until the rebel was sat down upon her own fully equipped bed, throwing down an armful of sheets and blankets onto the mattress parallel from her own, before I lowered myself to sit on the mattress that was now mine. It was awkward to perch myself upon the hard surface, springs digging into my skin at every angle, so I eventually bundled the sheets up beneath me and used them as a makeshift cushion, ignoring the agitated glares being thrown my way. Someone’s easily irritated… question time.

“Are there a lot of rules?”

“No, not really, now shut up. No more questions.” To signal that I was ready to listen to yet another rebel present yet another long, boring talk on the inner workings of the camp I planned to bring to ruins, my arms wrapped around my knees and my chin fell atop of them. Proceed, oh master. “Number one: no first names. Nicknames and surnames are allowed. Keep your first name between you and your diary. Number two: everyone has to earn their keep.”

“How?” My interest in keeping to the ‘no question’ rule was lost just as my interest disappeared ten minutes into the insightful tour that the camp’s fearless leader treated me to. This lack of respect caused Carlton to glare my way.

“Just like those government snobs, we have our own groups for everything. We’ll start with the leaders… the leaders make sure that mutiny and conflict is kept from the camp and they also plan strategies whenever they are called for.”

“So… that’s Hunter?”

“He’s been boasting again, hasn’t he? Yes, Hunter is the main leader, but he can’t make a decision unless it’s approved by the other leaders. Mainly because of how young he is in comparison to the rest of them.” Carlton’s voice took on a slightly warmer tone when talking about Hunter, an obvious weakness that could prove to be useful if the situation called for it. “Then we have our labourers. People in this group have to tend to the crop garden as well as working behind the stalls in the main hall. We also have the raiders that assist with the stalls but their main task is to leave the camp and find anything that could be of use for us… furniture, clothes, weapons etcetera.” Her hand waved about as the warmth in her voice was replaced by sudden boredom as if this speech had been repeated many a time. “And lastly, we have the usual occupations that existed before everything crashed and burned. Like chefs, nurses and teachers. You name it. We most likely kept it.” It was then that I realised that I hadn’t made some attempt at showing Carlton that I had been documenting everything that had just been said so I lazily nodded again before breaking the question rule once more.

“Which group do you fall into?” Unfortunately, she seemed to enjoy the topic change that centred around her. Typical.

“I’m a raider.”

“Got it.”

“Number three: no one is allowed to leave the camp unless it has been permitted by one of the leaders and they must have a good enough reason to want to leave. And lastly, number four: respect everyone’s privacy. If someone doesn’t want you knowing their name or their story or why they don’t eat broccoli, then respect that and shut up.” Once more, her eyes were boring down at me from up on her large bed, mocking me as I sat upon the uncomfortable ‘mattress’ on the floor. “Clear?”

“Crystal. But—”

“Knock, knock.” I didn’t dare let my eyes move to the hole in the wall first, a rule that was hammered into the minds of all of the formations as a simple precaution in the case of distractions. As the female rebel turned her head, I finally mimicked the action just as the wooden board was shifted out of place once more. Standing in the hole was the one other rebel that I had unfortunately encountered, his eyes anything but subtly analysing the room with that careful grin of his.

“You’re never this cheerful… who’s been spiking the water? I’d like to punch them.” Despite my limited knowledge of the obvious friendship between these particular rebels, it still caused me some slight surprise that the playful grin on Hunter’s lips didn’t fade like it would on any leader back home. Instead, his grin parted to make way for a mocking chuckle. And this is why we always win. No time for fun and games.

“I’d like to see you not crack a smile when you manage to shelter a newbie and please the old guys in the same day. These are two very, very rare occasions, Carly. Not even your sarcastic comments can dampen my mood today.”

“Don’t. Call. Me. That.”

“Call ya what, Carly?”

“My name isn’t Carly!”

“And mine isn’t Hunter but that doesn’t stop you from using it, does it, Car—“ A sudden look was shared  between both Hunter and Carlton as they abruptly recalled where exactly they were as well as whose company they were in. How easily they almost cast their newest camp member aside! Either this guy is a real bad leader or treats everyone this way…  The leaders back where I come from wouldn’t dare be seen cracking a joke let alone behave in this manner. As if shrugging away both my own thoughts and the glare that he was receiving from the other female in the ‘room’, Hunter brought his shoulders up before leaning his already dusty jacket against the rough hole in the doorway, his attention once again on me. Yippee. “So, Scout. Has Carly talked you through how we run things here?” I nodded numbly in response.

“Yes, Carlton has been very helpful in catching me up.”

“Lovely! If we’re all done here then would it be alright for me to steal Carly away for a while? We need to discuss how she’s to be your personal guide and shadow for whenever I’m unavailable.”

“Whenever you’re unavailable?”

“Oh, for God sake!” Carlton groaned from where she had remained sprawled out on the tauntingly comfortable bed that hovered over my puny excuse for one. “As the high and mighty leader, Hunter will have to be your personal escort for the next week or so to fit you in, help you mingle and get your share of the work sorted. When he has to bugger off on his ‘top secret errands’, it’ll be my job to take over. Okay?” Once again, I merely nodded in response to prevent any further uninteresting explanations or conversation.

“Feel free to wander the main hall but don’t go too far, Carly will throw a hissy fit if she has to chase you down on your first day,” Hunter teased in the doorway, his teasing manner obviously being directed towards his friend rather than me. The sooner they leave, the sooner I can think.

“Don’t worry, I won’t go far.” Just as before, I flashed the camp’s leader one of my winning innocent smiles which soon gifted me with a smile in return from the leader himself. However, the raider was not as pleasant as she grunted under her breath whilst busying herself with physically ushering Hunter out of her—our room.

“Don’t touch anything!” was the departing words that fell from my all too polite roommate’s lips before the door was pushed back into place, bickering voices echoing down the tunnels as the two friends departed the lower level.

***

Despite my many stealthy efforts, every time I rose off of the thing that could barely class as a mattress let alone a bed, the wood that acted as the doorway from this room into the tunnelled hall outside would be pushed aside to reveal yet another curious face. Word of my abrupt arrival had obviously spread throughout the camp at a speed that wasn’t at all expected considering that the camp members appeared to be so strung up in their work not even an hour before. Any excuse for a break, slackers. With each passing greeting from my new ‘neighbours’, I started up a mental catalogue for future reference.

Cove: 68 years old – female – red hair – occupies one of the rooms on the upper level due to her health issues – labourer – her main responsibility is the fresh foods stall – her late husband is buried behind the old newspaper agents –  a hugger – stinks of peppermint however she manages to keep that up

Sherman: 24 years old – male – black hair – occupies the room directly opposite mine and Carlton’s – raider – spends most of his time showing Carlton up – Camp E.N.D is the third camp he’s lived in

Houston: 15 years old – male – light brown hair – not particularly sure which room he occupies as he ran in and out of many of the rooms on the level beforehand – helps tend to the crops between classes – has a scar along his left cheek

Dublin: 31 years old – male –shaved head – teacher – his appearance intimidates but his occupation is respectable – his right arm has been amputated – wary of newcomers – didn’t physically step inside of the room or come near me at all

Jenkins: 53 years old – female – white hair – deaf – nurse

Sampson: 39 years old – female – blonde hair – daughter of Jenkins – assists her mother in communicating with the other rebels as well as shadowing her as she works – exhausted

That was the extent of my patience as the moment Sampson shuffled her elderly mother back out into the darkening hall, I slipped out behind them and turned back into the direction of the stone steps that had previously led me down into this claustrophobic chamber that housed a community worth of people. Even with my stealth training, my feet still managed to slip and slide at the steep level of the steps and the awkward material that was used to create them. However, I hadn’t fallen flat on my face so the balance training I was forced into was proving itself useful. Amazingly talented Scout: 1. Stupid stone steps: 0

Evening was already casting its darkness over the isolated village and the hidden camp inside of it, darkening the interior of the upper level accommodations via the large windows that acted as a wall on one side. The large glass looked out onto a cluttered storage of empty crates, weeds growing over them whilst the wood grew filthy in the weather it was exposed to. Even from my distance, the amount of wildlife scurrying in out of the gaps of the boxes were easily spotted, my skin crawling at the sign of all of the creepy crawlies. Glamorous. Credit did have to be given to the camp however. In comparison to some of the previous camps that I had visited since taking on this particular ‘job’, CAMP E.N.D was the only one to continue to care for the land and the buildings that they had taken over. Of course, the inside courtyard was an exception considering the damn thing was close to collapsing in on itself if someone flicked one of the many pillars too hard.

My idle wandering was merely a means to keep myself away from the lower levels of the camp where I would undoubtedly have to document yet even more names and even more faces. My mind may be one that adapts well to an excessive amount of information but that doesn’t mean that it’s one of my more favourite and pleasing things to do. Memorising a various range of patterns came naturally to me during the intense training programme that us infiltrators were pushed through when the formations were first formed but memorising the details of a person meant having to get to know said person which was entirely pointless in my eyes; especially when there’s a 50/50 chance that I’d end up killing said person in the long haul.

It was this wandering about the various halls of the interior of the camp that I found myself looking out upon the large square where I had first stumbled into the world of Camp E.N.D. All light had been dragged from the expanse of space, most likely to hide the camp from view if any of the formations took to the air during their vigorous search. It was this thought about air travel that had my head leaning against the nearest support and looking up through the window at the dark evening sky above the village. With the largest cities around the country being controlled entirely by the remaining government officials, the official power source across England was controlled solely by those within the city’s limits. Unfortunately, the rebels had still managed to harvest this source somehow meaning that they didn’t go without despite their isolation but with the energy still being scarce in the countryside, it was only on my missions that I was able to gaze upon a proper starry night. Whenever I had time to myself in between infiltrating rebel camps and running around to follow every command thrown my way, I often found myself admiring the constellations that painted themselves across the sky’s canvas.

Back in the city, there is an old replica of Vincent Van Gogh’s painting that shows a night like this but it displays the hidden depth and unseen beauty that a starry evening can offer. It’s when I’m alone, forgetting about my responsibilities just for a rare moment, that I recall the painting and let its every detail trace patterns within my imagination. If I were able, I would carry that painting with me whenever I left the city in pursuit of one of the rebel camps. No one knows of my hidden love for the night sky or for Van Gogh’s masterpiece but that is precisely how I like things; keeping my secrets safe by myself and indulging my hidden passions alone.

I’m not sure how long I had been admiring the picturesque sky before my neck began to grow achy from the constant tilting of my head to peer up at the stars. I’m also not sure if I was passed during my moment of solitude, lost in both my own thoughts and the patterns that Van Gogh would have sketched out as the wind blew, but if someone had walked past they hadn’t made a sound or made an effort to ask after the camp’s latest refugee. Unfortunately, time was easier to lose track of in the middle of the countryside unlike the cities where you would undoubtedly be reminded of the hour in some form or manner; particularly London. With both this loose time and the darkening sky, it was evidently time for me to retire to the lower levels of compound. There may have been a dinner served for the rebels but things worked differently in each camp so one may have to fetch one’s own meal in this particular camp. It would only make sense considering they had taken the time to set up stalls displaying the various foods on offer.

It wasn’t a far walk through the building before I found myself once again travelling down the slippery steps from before, the darkness only causing the descent to seem more steep and taunting than when in the light. Luckily my impeccable balance kept me upright yet again as my boots trod down on the soft earth that signalled the start of the long hallway that wound beneath the camp, hidden from view from both the stars and the formations. Well, six of them. Most of the lights in the hidden rooms were either turned off due to whatever hour it was or were hidden by some sort of contraption that its occupant had chosen to use as a door for the time being. Upon returning to the wooden board that Carlton had chosen to use in place of a proper door with hinges and a working handle, the room remained just as empty as it had been when I had escaped the returning numbers from the welcoming committee. Peace and quiet.

Once my blood covered clothes were peeled off, cast aside besides the dreadfully uncomfortable mattress, and the comfiest bed I could manage was fixed with the various sheets, I was soon beneath the duvet. The moment my hair fanned out around my head as if it were a halo on the mattress, the day’s journey began to show its effect on my body as a sudden wave of exhaustion hit followed by the realisation that many muscles were pulled from an excruciatingly long walk across the surrounding landscape. Finally letting my body succumb to the undeniable tiredness, my fingers clasped comfortingly around the locket as before, my lips pressing a gentle kiss on the shell as I turned over onto my side, facing away from the door as the springs beneath me made a point of jabbing my hip painfully. “It’s not permanent,” I reminded my tender skin before I fell into an uncomfortable sleep beneath the very camp that I would soon bring tumbling down on itself.

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