Fortitude Part Five
“Who do you think he is?” Teddy whispered.
I shook my head. “No idea. He’s not completely wild, though. He wasn’t born out here.”
Teddy frowned. “How do you know? Oh wait”—he held up one hand—“no one can survive out here, much less a baby.”
“Clearly they can, Teddy, or he’d not be here.” Sometimes Teddy’s slower thought processes annoyed me. I found myself explaining a lot to him, which was often frustrating. “He’s seen bread; he knew it was edible. He’s not seen food preserved, hence his inability to open the cheese. Did you hear the alarm go off?”
“No.” Teddy still looked confused.
“So he avoided the perimeter alarms—as if he knew they were at least a threat to his surveillance. He also wasn’t scared off by either the light from the lantern or the shot like a wild creature would. He’s rough, and only semi-coherent, but he’s no savage.” I pursed my lips.
“Who he is and where he comes from is of great interest to me, however.” The wildman, for lack of a better name for him, had bitten the cheese, through the wrapper, and busily licked at the hole he’d made, before he shoved one finger inside the package and tore it open.
I kept the lantern light low, and peered into the shadows outside the perimeter. Was he alone? What was he so scared of? I could only learn so much through observation.
“Are there more, with you?” I pointed out into the darkness. The wildman cocked his head as he licked his fingers. I shuddered to think of where they’d been. “More people, like us”—I gestured at myself and Teddy—“or like you?”
“More?” The cheese was gone, though he searched through the leftover plastic for any morsel uneaten. His eyes lasered in on my pack. He crept closer.
I reached inside and tore off a small bite of bread. “Are there more people?” I asked slowly. He looked at my face and then at my hand holding the bread. I waited.
“No more.” He patted his chest. “Me.” He narrowed his eyes, looking beyond me and Teddy into the trees. “Bad here.”
Did he mean here in the woods specifically? Or outside the city in general?
“More?” he asked plaintively. I could hear his stomach growling. It meant eating into our stores, but I’d calculated a buffer of provisions, so I wasn’t too concerned. Besides, he was a half-starved wretch—he wouldn’t be able to eat much. I threw him the bread.
He was about to stuff it into his mouth when he froze. “No light. No light.” He leapt forward, knocking the lantern out of my hand before I realized he was coming for us. The night fell darker around us for the absence, lit only by the thin laser beams.
“What?” Teddy gasped and choked with the wildman jumped over me and onto him, knocking both of us over. I went for my sword, drawing it partway from its sheath, but all he did was slap a hand over Teddy’s mouth. Teddy bucked wildly but couldn’t dislodge his attacker.
“Shh,” he hissed. “No sound. No move.”
Then we heard it. Wings, flapping through the air, above us. A dark shape blotted out the stars above us, its wingspan so great I could scarcely believe it. It was black as pitch and the only way we could see it was by the absence of the starlight. What the hell was that? I’d never heard of any flying beast so large, nor had one ever flown over the city.
It circled the clearing, its wide wings outstretched as it banked in a circle. I could only imagine the size of the mouth on something that large, and I assumed it would easily be able to swallow a man whole. My heart raced as I searched for my gun, for all the good that would do if it dove.
The wildman didn’t get off Teddy until it stopped circling, and we lost the sound of the creature’s flight as it left in search of other prey. Teddy rolled over, gagging. He scrubbed his face with the front tail of his shirt. “I think I’m going to be sick.”
I wouldn’t have wanted those filthy hands on my skin either. “What was that?” I asked.
“Bad. Swallow up all. Nighttime quiet. No sound, no light or bad.”
Perhaps the creature didn’t have a name. But if it were drawn to light and sound, why didn’t they approach the city? The council….
Clearly the condition of the outside was not what the council claimed.
Teddy crawled over to me, leaning against me, wiping the back of his hand over his mouth. “Will….”
I put my arm around him. “It’s okay. You’re fine.”
He shuddered. “I hate the dark.”
“I know.” I squeezed his shoulder. “Is there a safe place to go? To make light and sound?”
“Safe?” the wildman repeated. He narrowed his eyes. He pointed behind us. “You go. Safe there. You go now.” He curled his lip.
Did he think I would let something like one gigantic flying bird deter me from my mission? Besides, if the city was so safe, and he knew where it was, why hadn’t he gone there? I shook my head. “No. We won’t go back to the city. Where do you come from? Is there safe?”
“No stay.” Then he jumped straight through one of the highest gaps in the laser grid surrounding our camp. He’d made other leaps, but nothing like that.
How had he learned to do that?
“Are we going to follow him?”
“With who knows what out there? No.” I wanted to find the wildman again, but we had a mission to complete. “The codex is more important.”
“So we aren’t going home?”
“No, Teddy. Besides, I have a feeling our visitor won’t go too far. I want to talk to him again.” I smiled. Another mystery….
More to come next week on the strange world outside the city!!
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