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6- Outside

I put on the socks and shoes Leo gave me, and looked to Ella. “Are you ready to go?” she asked. “I guess I am,” I said. She put her hand lightly on my shoulder for reassurance. I really hoped Ella and I would be friends. She was a good person, who’d helped me when I needed it the most. She even offered to let me stay with her until I found somewhere else in the town to go.

“Well, ladies,” Leo said, “let’s get you out of here.” We walked slightly slower than average just to make sure I could do it. Ella stayed close by just in case I needed help, and Leo glanced back often to check on us. We made it to the door, and Leo moved to open it. “Alright Lee. The doctor wants you to check back here in a week to make sure everything is healing correctly,” he informed me. “Make sure to take these,” he said, handing me a paper bag, “pills, and use the pain cream in there when you need it, okay?”

“I will,” I assured him. “Thank you.”

“Of course, Lee. See you around.” He held the door open and Ella and I exited the medical building. There where a couple of cars on the street, parked outside various buildings. People were walking around. There were children passing around a soccer ball, a few elderly people talking on the wooden benches, and others just passing by on their way to other place. “It’s kind of crazy isn’t it?” Ella said a she pulled me gently down the street. “After everything, we manager to maintain a sense of normalcy. We have to be careful about security, and we have to try to use only what we need, but everyone still finds happiness here.”

“It’s amazing. They also seem so free. How do you keep this place functioning? And I don’t mean that in a bad way, I’m just curious,” I asked in wonderment. She laughed. “It’s not really hard. we all help out in whatever way we can. Some of us help with defense, like I do. Others help watch kids. We have people who were engineers, and plumbers, and electricians. We don’t have a lot of power, but we’re able to have it where we need it, like in the doctor’s office. We also have running water in all the homes. Apartment buildings have rooms which have been set up as shared kitchens or bathrooms for several residents. We have farms in our settlement, and they give us food. What we can’t make here, we barter for with other settlements.”

“So create everything you’re able to, and buy the rest?” I questioned.

“Not quite. Money fell out pretty quickly, once people realized it was pointless. I mean, we still have value on things. And some people or settlements have more things of value, but as far as a currency, we don’t have one anymore. We trade whatever we have an excess of for things we need.”

We moved along, passing what looked like stores and restaurants. The people watched us curiously. This place was probably pretty close knit, since they were so interdependent. I asked Ella another question, wanting to learn more. “If there’s no money, why are there shops?”

She paused for a moment as if she was planning what to say. “Well, they’re not exactly shops. Those place that look like clothing shops aren’t really. There’s a larger place where people bring clothes they can’t use anymore. Usually it’s because they don’t fit or they’re damaged. Workers sort through the clothes, and they mend whatever clothes need it. Then they either pass the clothes onto stores based on age, or they send them to made into other cloth products, like blankets. Whenever you give clothing, you get a note with the number of each type of item you gave. You can then go get more clothes to replace those using that note. And those restaurants are meant mostly to teach cooking. What you see up front is an area to eat, but everyone only gets one meal in any of those places each month. Other than that, everyone is given what food they need. Any extra is exchanged for valuable items or work, provided it’s for a good cause. Usually it’s for a birthday. Everyone gets one big meal at the holidays.” That seemed reasonable. People could still spend but they were forced to be more directly involved in spending by working, or giving up things they might use.

“Is it like that everywhere, Ella?”

“No,” she chuckled. “Sorry to laugh but it’s so weird to have to explain all this. Every settlement is different. It depends on who’s in charge. Every leader does thing differently. Other settlements demand absolute equality, and others use more valuable trade between citizens than we do. We’re kind of in the middle of the two ideologies.”

I nodded. I looked around at the town, trying to get a better idea of this place. The buildings weren’t in perfect conditions, but they were well kept. I followed Ella for a little bit, and when we finally stopped at a large building, I was definitely tired. She held the door for me. I looked around and saw that this was one of the buildings with power, since there were lights. “We have to see the Commander, who’s in charge of this settlement. I’ll ask him about you crashing with me,” she told me winking. She looked at me closely and then gazed around the room. I saw Aaron heading down a flight of stairs. She called out to him and he walked over.

“Good timing, Ella,” he said. ” We just finished briefing the Commander. Jack is still up there talking with him. Did you need something?”

“Please don’t fight me on this Lee,” she pleaded in whisper. Then she spoke louder. “Lee needs some help getting up the stairs. Would you mind carrying her?” I didn’t like that idea, but Ella was right. There was no way I was making it up those stair on my own feet. Aaron gave us a lop sided grin, and then put an arm around my shoulders, and one below my knees, sweeping me into his arms. “Let’s go!” he said.

As I was carried up the stairs, I thought of something. When we were driving to this town, Ella, Jack, and Aaron had been talking about the Commander. Whoever he was, they thought that I knew him. The way they talked seemed to indicate that this Commander was familiar with my house and my family. Was he a friend of my parents or my brother’s? We had people over all the time, friends and family. The possibilities raced through my brain. Something else occurred to me.

“Hey, Ella? Where’s my photo album?” I asked worriedly. “I have it with me, in my bag,” she reassured me, patting the satchel she held. “Can I have it, please?” I requested. She nodded and we stopped on the stairs while she pulled it out and handed it to me. I held it tightly in my hands. Aaron carried me easily up the rest of the stairs. There was a large open space with doors on the wall beside us and a hallway on the other side of the room. Aaron set me down gentely when we reached the top.

“You ladies got it from here?” he teased. Ella slapped his arm, and he jogged back down the stairs laughing. She rolled eyes upwards. “I swear he will never grow up,” she sighed. We walked towards the hallway and I grew nervous. Would the mysterious Commander even recognize me? Would he think I was some spy trying to learn their secrets? The people at the various desks and tables watched Ella and I carefully. Or more specifically, they watched me carefully. They didn’t know who I was or what I could possibly be doing here, and I think that put them on edge. The muttered to each other, but I wasn’t really trying to listen. I stuck close to Ella, and we kept moving.

We entered the hallway finally, and Ella lead me towards a place where it turned right. There were four doors on the wall to my left, and I could hear the murmur of voices inside. “Those are the offices of Mr. Fletcher, Mrs. Keely, Mr. Lin and Ms. Bradshaw. Mr. Fletcher handles education, and Mrs. Keely handles housing. Mr. Lin is in charge of the clothing trade ins, and Ms. Lin handles the ‘restaurants’,” she told me putting air quotes on the last word. We turned right and saw a long hallway that had five doors on the wall with one at the end. Ella told me that the first door was the office of a Mrs. Kind, who was in charge of construction management. The second belonged to Mr. Michaels (Dr. Michaels brother) who handled all agricultural matters. The third door belonged to Mr. DeSantos who headed electrical and plumbing. He worked closely with Mrs. Kind. The fourth door belonged to Mrs. Lin, Mr. Lin’s wife, who was in charge of job placement. The fifth door was Jack’s office. Apparently Jack was the Commander’s right hand man. He handled defense and security, and also acted as a intermediary for the other settlements when needed.

We had reached the last door. “And this, ” Ella said, “Is the Commander’s office. Not to freak you out or anything, but he can be pretty intense. He is a considerate man though, so if you start to get overwhelmed, just let him know, okay?”

I gathered my courage. “Alright, Ella. I think I’m ready. Let’s go in.”

She opened the door and I saw the plain office with various papers and filing cabinets around. There were several weapons hanging on the walls. The was a desk centered towards the back wall. It had some papers, and a cup with pens and pencils in it. There was also a chipped wooden picture frame, though I couldn’t see the picture.

The two men at the desk looked up as we walked in. I could vaguely hear Jack who was standing beside the desk greet Ella, and Ella replying, but all my focus was on the man slowly standing up from the desk staring at me. I took in his dirty blond hair, and his tall frame. His skin was tan, as a result of his latin heritage. And his grey eyes were wide and filled with emotion- there was pain, confusion, and most of all, desperate hope.

And at the same time I saw him, he was looking at me. My long brown hair, my same tanned skin. And my own grey eyes, also full of hope, which were becoming glassy.

Ella awkwardly tried to introduce us, not that there was really a need. “Commander, this is-”

The Commander interrupted her. “It’s not possible. You- they...” he drifted off in a thick voice, clearly remembering something awful. “What,” he started again, “What’s your name?” His eyes closed. He seemed to be having an internal struggle, and I knew he was hoping with everything he had.

Tears falling, I answered his question. “Leonora Amelia Guerrero.” It’d been a long time since i said my full name, but it felt right when I said it, like another puzzle piece fitting back into place. The Commander’s head shot up, and he was slowly walking towards me, trying to make sure I wasn’t a figment of his imagination. But I couldn’t hold it in. “Keke!” I sobbed, running towards him. I threw my arms around him, hugging him tightly. He was still for a moment, and then his arms were around me. He was clinging to me, holding onto me for dear life. “Lee,” he said in a hoarse whisper. I felt tear that weren’t my own fall on my head. Zeke was crying.

“Well, Jack, I guess they do know each other,” Ella said sounding stunned.

“It would seem so,” Jack practically whispered. They were both in a state of shock.

Zeke pulled back still holding my shoulders. “It’s really you, Lee. You’re here,” he murmured. I smiled up at my brother. “I could say the same to you, Keke.” He smiled back at me. He pulled me in again and I inhaled sharply. I had been so overwhelmed by seeing him, that I forgot about my cuts. But now that I had confirmed it was Zeke, and my mind was calming down, the pain came back. He pulled back quickly. “What’s wrong?” he asked in alarm. “Are you hurt?”

“Yeah. I got cut up when I escaped the Colony,” I told him. His eyes widened. “Wait, when you what?” It looks like I had a story to tell.

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