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©2020 Alanna Peterson. All rights reserved.

Chapter Twenty-Two

Saturday June 20

When he heard the helicopter, Cyrus froze. All he could think about was the meadow: the grassy, wide expanse would make a perfect landing spot. He watched Naveed jab the burning logs apart and scoop dirt on the fire to extinguish the flames. He watched the smoke rise above the trees, announcing their location.


Cyrus joined Andi, who was running to the river, and together they tossed handful after handful of water onto the coals. Roya stood blinking in the midst of the activity. “But what if it’s coming to rescue us?” 


“It’s not. The only people who know we’re out here are Dr. Snyder and those guards,” Cyrus said. “We need to leave—they could land in the meadow.”


The roar of the helicopter grew louder. Naveed pointed at a gap in the trees and shouted, “Go! Roya, follow Andi. The fire’s almost out. We’re right behind you.”


Andi and Roya hurried away. As soon as they were gone, Naveed grabbed Cyrus’s wrist with ice-cold fingers. He spoke so quickly that Cyrus didn't have time to comprehend what he was saying. “I’ll get rid of them, I'd only slow you down anyway so follow the girls and get out, run away from here and keep running, use the gun if you have to but be careful, cover your tracks and don’t light any more fires and promise”—he paused to catch his breath—“promise you’ll take care of Roya.” 


He let go and stumbled in the opposite direction, toward the meadow.


“Wait!” Cyrus lunged after his brother, attempting to tackle him. Somehow, Naveed managed to slip from his grasp, and Cyrus fell hard on the forest floor. 


“JUST GO!” Naveed yelled over his shoulder as he disappeared into the trees.


Cyrus stood up, still breathless after the impact, and readjusted the gun in its makeshift holster. He should go after Naveed, but by the time he persuaded him to come back—assuming he even could, which was doubtful—the helicopter would have had plenty of time to land. Getting into a shootout with people who were actually trained to use firearms was not an appealing option, and if Cyrus failed to stop them, the girls would be on their own. They could be easily found by anyone who could follow their tracks. 


Although he didn't want to, he had to let his brother go. Cyrus hoped Naveed knew what he was doing. He ran into the brush where Andi and Roya had gone, stopping to smooth the ground behind him.


Cyrus caught up with them soon enough. Andi glanced back. “Where’s Naveed?”


If he told the truth, they would insist on going back. So Cyrus lied. “He's covering our trail, so the others won’t find us. He was right behind me—don’t worry, he’ll catch up. He’s good at tracking.”


Andi hesitated. “But he could only catch up if he moves faster than us.” 


“Yeah, but… hold on, listen.” There was nothing to hear; the forest was quiet. “The helicopter must've landed. So unless you want to go back to SILO, we have to keep moving. Come on.” Cyrus added, more urgently.


“Wait! I have an idea.” Roya tugged at a loose string in her flute case and held it taut in front of Cyrus. “The knife,” she demanded. He sighed, knowing there was no sense arguing, and cut the purple yarn. She draped it over a branch so that it hung in a colorful arc, like a miniature rainbow. “Now he’ll be able to follow us.” 


“Okay, okay. Let’s go!” As soon as the others turned around, Cyrus removed the string, shoving it into his pocket. 


As they moved deeper into the woods, the brush became thicker. They picked their way through dense ferns and close trees, descending steep rocky hills and trying to avoid patches of stinging nettles. Roya continued unraveling her flute case, leaving markers along their path. Cyrus continued removing them when she wasn’t looking. Every time he did, he felt worse. He was a terrible person, leaving his brother behind and then lying about it. 


While trying to distract himself from this guilt, Cyrus found himself mesmerized by Andi’s neck. It was a lovely neck, long and elegant. He had a nice view of it, because the day was growing warmer, and she had twisted her hair up into a knot and fastened it with a slender stick. He watched the wisps of hair that had escaped. Some of them danced as she walked. One caught against the sweat shimmering on her skin, curled into the letter C. He was starting to ponder what that could mean when he realized his preposterous train of thought. Thankfully, she couldn’t read his mind and find him deep in contemplation about her neck, like some hungry vampire. 


He remembered the day they'd met, how Naveed came into the bakery all excited, as if discovering a record store was a Nobel Prize-worthy achievement. Cyrus wasn’t in the best mood; he was still flustered after dropping a tray of dishes earlier in his shift, and was starving (or what passed for starving in those days, anyway). So when Naveed dragged him over there before lunch, explaining that there was someone Cyrus had to meet, he had not been impressed. Andi was kind of quiet, except when she was being opinionated about music he didn’t like, plus she had a cold and kept blowing her nose. There was nothing more unattractive than snot. And, she was obviously interested in his brother. A common complication.


But there was something about Andi, he had to admit. She had hidden superpowers, for one thing. She was smart, too, and thoughtful. And her eyes were beautiful, dark as chocolate, and her mouth was pale pink like early strawberries. 


He also liked talking with her, especially when she let her guard down. Like last night by the imaginary campfire. Cyrus mentally replayed their conversation while he removed another piece of Roya’s yarn. This time, he was so lost in thought that he didn’t notice Roya was watching until it was too late. 


“Why are you taking it away?” Roya asked, her voice rising. “Don’t you want him to find us?”


“Of course I do! But I…” Cyrus studied the ground, staring at a fallen leaf. “I don’t think he’s coming, Roya. I think he lost our trail.” 


Andi joined them as Roya replied, “But you said—”


“I’m sure he’s fine,” Cyrus interrupted. Seeing the worry on both of their faces, he added, “I haven’t heard the helicopter take off again. So they haven't caught him.” 


Andi looked skeptical. Cyrus tried to transmit his thoughts to her: Please, let it go, for Roya’s sake. But she didn’t receive the signals. “You really think he got away? He’s not in the best shape. He can’t move very fast.”


“Yeah, but you saw how much better he was after breakfast. He won’t let himself get caught. Right, Roya?”


Roya nodded slowly, but didn’t look convinced. 


“We’d better keep moving.” Cyrus pushed into the brush, and Andi fell into step beside him. 


“So, what really happened back there?” she asked quietly.


Cyrus’s mouth was very dry. “What do you mean? Like I told you, he was covering our trail. He said he’d be right behind us.” 


“Cyrus.” He liked the way his name sounded when she said it, especially how she was saying it now, so softly, even though he didn't deserve softness; he had just lied to her. “He’s not himself right now. I’m worried that he—” 


Cyrus felt as if he was under the SILO fence again, being pulled in two directions. Only this time, he snapped. “Can we please stop talking about my brother?” he asked, too loudly.


“Okay, then. Yes. Let’s stop talking.” She turned away from him, so that once again he was staring at her neck, at the curled hair that still clung to it. 


“We have to trust that he’ll be fine, okay?” Cyrus said to the back of her head. “He’ll be fine.” He shouldn’t have said it twice. That made it sound like he didn’t believe it was true.


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