I have little light to guide me, the only brightness being fluorescence from a building over the river. That’s Party Private territory: The place for young Privates to have fun with their friends. That life could have been mine if I’d not woken up so late a few days ago. Is it really such a short time since then? It seems like forever. Concentrating on the faint sound of Jarmina’s feet, I try to keep the noise I make to a minimum, although it’s much harder for a boy than it is for a girl.
Just as I am about to give up and give in to the pain running through my legs, I hear a voice. “Have you brought anyone else?” The voice isn’t familiar, but I get the feeling it belongs to a Peasant. Who else could Jarmina know?
“No.” Jarmina’s voice is different from its usual tone; it’s a bit lower, and threatening. I wonder what the change is for. Is she trying to impress the other person? Is she angry with them? Is this an act? Or is her behaviour around me and Alene an act?
The footsteps are beginning to fade away, as are the voices, and I hurry forwards to follow them. Stones are scattered about the ground, and I tread on one, trying not to let out the yelp which comes so easily to my lips. I am grateful for the high walls of Public flats: They keep in the warmth. I come to crossroads, and as I can’t see the talking pair, only hear their faint voices already quite far away, I have to make a decision. Left or right.
Left. I turn, running as quietly as I can to reach the voices. They’re louder now, which is a good sign. Still, I have to be careful, think clearly. One false move and I could be exposed. My thoughts are like something our ‘Government Ministers of Information’ would say. Yeah, like we have any who don’t only sentence people to death for trying to survive. I didn’t even hurt anybody!
The footsteps stop, and I quickly tense, making myself flat against the wall. “Right, we should be okay to talk now,” the unfamiliar voice says. “No one else is here.” If only he (I think it’s a he) knew. “Now, what do you think of the Private?”
He must be talking about Alene. I suddenly feel a little defensive even though I know it’s stupid. It’ll be a wonder if she even thinks of me as a friend. Privates aren’t supposed to make friends of Publics. Then again, she did save my life, apparently voluntarily. Girls can be so hard to figure out, sometimes.
Jarmina takes a sharp breath, then replies, “She’s a right snob.” The man laughs, a deep, booming sound which I think will probably compromise him. I might have to run soon. “I mean, she just whines all the time about how much she hates the dirt, and how she’s hungry, and it’s quite clear that she eats waaay more than Aro or me. Personally, I think she should change her name – ”
The man cuts her off with a shushing sound. “Please, no foul language.” Jarmina laughs lightly at his imitation of a Private. Really, I’m beginning to think I’m the only person who knows the meaning of respect for superiors. “But, Jarmina, we have to be serious. What have you found out?”
“Well, nothing really, Marle,” Jarmina replies, sighing. Marle. So that’s his name.
Marle sighs with her. “Call me Father, Jarmina.” Father. That explains why she left in the middle of the night to talk to a random old man.
“Whatever. Yeah, anyway, so I don’t really know much about her other than that she’s a complete and utter –”
Marle cuts her off again. “Stop with the swearing, Jarmina!” he shouts. I wonder if he realises that everyone can hear him. Probably not. But since they most likely have, I should leave, in case I’m caught and taken to a trial. Again.
I try to be as quiet as possible as I leave them, even when I stand on the sharp, jagged stones of the alley which is still generating heat. Finally, I find the two sticks thrown into the cracked ground by Jarmina, and duck under a tickly jacket Alene strung between them. I lay down on the space Jarmina called my ‘bed’, and close my eyes.
No sounds or twisted nightmares disturb my blissful sleep, and I know that even though there is so much darkness and mystery surrounding me, I am safe, for a short while at least, and finally … Almost happy. I smile at the thought, and sleep on in peace.