Drops in the Sky

One foot in front of the other. That's all I knew. Just keep walking. Get water when you can. Get food when you can. Just keep walking. For 92 days, that's all I knew. And then, I met Amber Jeffries. And, by God, that girl became all I knew. All I wanted to know. But the War was all that mattered. Fighting is all that matters.

In World War Four, 10 billion people were killed. I'm one of the lucky two billion that survived. So was Amber Jeffries. Unfortunately, 1.9 billion people live in Europe. Mostly France, and a couple areas just outside of it. I'm in the hundred million left in what used to be the United States, which is currently in the midst of a Civil War. And I'm right in the middle of it.

We're kind of a mess. My life's messy. But Amber... She keeps everything together.

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21. twenty one

"No, you don't need to turn on the damn blinker. We're in the middle of the desert, Sky." 

I groan and turn off the blinker. After hearing that we'd be taking the ATV on the mission, Julia managed to persuade Marshall into letting us take a truck instead, for safety reasons. More specifically, so that if we're being shot at (which we most likely will be) as we're leaving camp, our backs aren't open. 

Unfortunately, trucks are harder to drive. I sit with my hands at ten and two, the truck lurching around uncomfortably as I try to switch between gas and brake. 

"No, Justin. You want to ease your foot onto the gas, not slam on it." 

I bring my foot to the brake to start again, which only results in the two of us lurching forwards. 

"Sorry," I mutter. 

"Likewise, never slam on either of the pedals unless you're about to crash into something. You need to ease into it," Jason instructs. He's clearly frustrated, as nearly forty-five minutes of driving lessons have gotten us nowhere. He decided we should leave at four in the afternoon rather than six, so that he'd have time to teach me to drive on the way over. I'm glad he did; I suck at driving. 

"Okay. See that can over there? On the ground? Drive towards it and turn right right after it." 

I nod, and ease my pedal onto the gas. Too slowly. 

"Justin, you can drive faster than seven goddamn miles an hour. Give it some more gas." I press on the pedal; we lurch forward. He mutters something under his breath, probably cursing at what a God-awful driver I am. 

"Sorry," I say. 

"Don't worry about it," he replies, but I can hear annoyance in his voice. "It's important." 

I proceed to the cone and turn right after it. We both lean to the left. 

"You have to slow down when you turn, Justin." 

"Sorry." 

"Stop apologizing," he orders. "Just don't do it again." 

After another hour and a lot of cursing from Jason, he finally deems me fit. 

"Well, it wouldn't get you a driver's license, kid, but it'll get you away from some shooters." 

I guess that's about as good as I need to get, so we switch sides and he drives us (much more smoothly than I) the rest of the way to the camp. We drive about four miles on a road, and then turn left and the last three miles are just us and the desert dirt. While bumping over the rocky terrain, we sit in silence. 

A moment of silence passes. All I can think about is how, as we were saying goodbye, he and Julia had hugged each other so tightly, it was as if they were a part of each other. And I want that. I want to be that close to someone. I want to need someone that badly. And I want that someone to be Amber Jeffries. When I was loading my gun and the bomb into the back of the truck, she had come up to me to wish me luck before the mission. 

"Don't die," she said, even though she'd already warned me not to that morning. 

"I won't," I replied, with an attempt at a sly grin. It's hard to fake a grin when you're running through a bunch of scenarios that could get you killed, however, so I don't think I'd pulled it off very well. 

"Good luck," she said. I nodded in thanks. "You'll do great." 

That made me smile genuinely. "Thanks," I said. She smiled, her shallow dimple appearing. Her smiles are rare, but when they happen... they're dazzling. She wrapped her arms around my neck and pulled me into a quick hug, squeezing tight before letting go much too soon for my liking. 

"Let's go, Sky!" Jason called, giving Julia a final peck on the lips before getting into the driver's seat of the truck. He looked at me expectantly. 

"I'll be back when you wake up tomorrow," I told her. 

"Okay," she said simply. "I'll see you then." 

"See you then," I said back, opening the truck door and preparing to step in.

She grabbed my wrist and pulled me into a final hug. "Be safe," she muttered into my neck. 

"I will. Don't worry about me." 

"Let's go, Sky!" Jason called again. I groaned and rolled my eyes, pulling out of our hug. I stepped into the truck, and shut the door. Amber and I locked eyes through the open window of the truck door. 

Then, Amber Jeffries did something that I'd been wishing she'd do since the day I met her. She stood on her toes, rested her arms on the car door, leaned in through the rolled-down window, and planted a soft kiss on my cheek. 

"Kick ass," she said with a grin. 

"See you soon," I said, as Jason started the engine. Honestly, I wasn't really focusing on my words, or the truck starting, or anything else, really. My only focus was trying to remember the feeling of her lips pressed on my skin as I watched her figure grow smaller in the side mirror. 

My ears were burning red and I had a stupid, tacky grin plastered on my face, but I didn't care. 

"Damn, Justin," Jason had teased me. "That's the face of a man in love, if I've ever seen one." 

I scoffed. "I'm not in love." I knew I was lying, but who the hell cares, right? 

"Yeah, and I'm Hercules," he said sarcastically. Hercules? 

"Who's Hercules?" I asked. 

He laughed. "Right," he said. "I guess you weren't one of the lucky ones who actually got told bedtime stories, were you?" 

I shook my head. "Is he in a fairy tale?" 

"Something like that. Greek myth," he told me. 

"Greek?"

"Never mind," he said with a laugh. It felt weird, having my mentor laugh at my lack of knowledge. "My point is, you have a thing for her." 

"Do not."

"Do, too!"

"Do not!"

"Do, too. Are we seriously doing this? What are we, seven?" 

"Do not," I muttered. 

"Oh, you are a stubborn little boy," he teased. 

"I'm, like, two years younger than you!" I protested. 

He laughed. "And yet, much less mature!"

"Am not!"

"Are, too. Now shut the hell up and watch me drive."

~~~

"Sky. Get up. We're here." I groan as I feel a hand roughly shaking my shoulder. Crap. I didn't even realize I fell asleep. Yeah, that's a great way to set a good impression. Fall asleep on your first damn mission, why don't you? Way to go, Justin. 

Crap. 

"I'm up," I groan, rubbing my eyes. 

"Get your stuff," he orders. Playful, casual Jason is gone. This is mission Jason. Serious Jason. He throws open the driver's seat door and jumps out, and immediately starts rummaging through the backseat to find his gear. I follow suit. 

He gently lifts the hydrazine bomb and places it carefully in his backpack, making sure it's padded with t-shirts and extra clothing. Not that the extra padding will do much. If that thing blows, we're pink mist. 

He zips the backpack shut and holds it out for me to take. 

"Uh-"

"Fighting the guards will make it jostle around," he explains. "And no offense, kid, but I think I have a better shot in a knife fight than you." 

Makes sense. 

"Gee, what makes you say that?" I ask sarcastically. He glares at me. "Okay, okay! I'm taking the pack." 

I take the backpack and he helps me ease my arms through the straps, making the backpack move the bare minimum. By now, the sky has abandoned the last streaks of pale pink for deep indigo, making it dark enough for us to head to the camp. 

The bad thing about being in a desert is that even though it's dark, we're still out in the open. Jason points out the camp in the distance, visible only because of the faint light coming from the guard's flashlights. Our advantage? We can see where they are from their lights. The downside? If they point the light in the right direction, we could be royally screwed. 

We get on our hands and knees and crawl slowly towards the camp, pausing every time a flashlight scans in our general direction. We're still a few hundred yards from camp, so the beams aren't even close to us, but if they see movement in our direction, who's to say they won't shoot? We align ourselves so we're crawling towards the middle of two guards; at the last minute, we'll beeline towards Guard #1. After that? Sorry, Guard #1. Light's out. 

Once we make it within twenty yards of the guard, concealed only by the foot-tall grass, Jason motions at me to lie flat on my stomach. I do as I'm told. He holds up a palm, telling me to wait where I am. He lies on his stomach and shimmies, snake-like, towards the guard, knife in hand. 

He shimmies towards the gap between our two closest tents, presumably so he can sneak up on the guard from the side. 

Come on, Jason. You got this. Don't die. 

I catch my breath as the guard groans. My eyes widen. 

"Evans, I gotta take a bathroom break. Gimme three minutes!" He calls out. I almost laugh out loud. Well, this makes the plan a hell of a lot easier, now, doesn't it? 

His voice is deep, with a mild French-Canadian accent. 

"You got it, Meyers! You've been on guard for five hours. Get Clarice to relieve you, when you're done, got it?" 

"Yes, sir!" Guard #1, or Meyers, calls back. I hear the grass rustling as he jogs a bit away from his tent. I scan the grass for Jason, and finally lock eyes with him. He holds up his palm again, telling me to stay put. He makes his way towards the urinating guard, only standing up when he's a foot behind him. With a t-shirt in one hand and a knife in the other, he attacks. 

He presses the t-shirt to Meyers' mouth, muffling his startled gasp. Not a second later, his knife glides across the guard's throat. Meyers' eyes widen as blood spills from the cut on his neck. 

"Sorry, bud," Jason whispers, so quietly I can barely hear it. He lowers the body to the ground to minimize what would be a very suspicious thumping noise. 

Jason closes his eyelids and presses the t-shirt to his neck, concealing the ugly wound. Then, he turns and shimmies back over to me.

"Okay," he whispers, barely audible. "Now we have about three minutes to get in and get far enough away to shoot before that guard starts wondering where Meyers went. Let's do this." 

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