Ellie clung tightly to Kai’s pillow. She’d snuck quietly into his room after he’d left and taken hold of it from its resting space. If people didn’t come back from missions their belongings were often disseminated throughout the community, and on the off chance that Kai didn’t return, she wanted to be sure she had something of him to hold on to. He would have wanted her to have something besides that letter.
According to her watch it was 8 am. Time didn’t really matter much here except to keep people on schedule. Today though, it was a reminder that her best friend had been gone for 12 hours and she may never get to see him again.
If she was going to eat breakfast, she needed to get up and get moving. She was due to report to the greenhouse at 9:30 and she knew the mess hall was likely to be busy at this hour. For the first time in her life, she began to wonder what the point of it all was. Why should she get up and eat and go tend to the plants like everything was fine? Clearly, everything wasn’t fine. Clearly, there were foul things afoot. The world was going to end anyway, right? And when it came time for the leaders to make sacrifices, Ellie knew that she was not born to the group that would be considered important enough to save. It is difficult to find the motivation to continue your normal routine when you know that the routine should be far from normal.
Still, she was persistent. She had made a promise to Kai that she would persevere and she had every intention of doing so. She breathed into his pillow inhaling his scent one last time before rising to fuel her body for the day.
She was halfway down the corridor when the lights began to flicker. No big deal, she thought. They do this all the time now. She continued on, saying hello to people and smiling brightly as was her custom on the way to the mess hall.
Upon entering the room, Ellie could sense the unrest amongst the diners. She overheard bits and pieces of conversations while waiting in line for her food.
“The Topsiders never have to go out so soon after returning…”
“Lights are flickering much more often…”
“My cousin says things in engineering…” and then
“there won’t be enough left for everyone.”
People weren’t completely daft. They knew something was going on and that it could have a dire impact on their lives.
She carried her tray to a quiet seat in the corner, trying to avoid the doom and gloom of the atmosphere in the room. Intending to scribble some preparation notes for herself, she’d just pulled a small notepad from her bag when she felt someone staring at her. She looked around, but saw no one in the immediate area and took a bite of her porridge before digging in her bag for a pen. Ellie always kept a notebook and a pen with her. Kai never understood why, but she had her reasons. A paper and pen were quite useful for many things.
Before she could find the pen, her bag fell to the floor with a thud and she felt someone plop themselves into the seat across from her.
Ellie sighed at the sight of her belongings rolling across the floor. She looked up, recognizing her new companion. “Ugh, what do you want?”
“Oh, come on, Ellie-Bean,” his voice carried a hint of a lilt “aren’t you happy to see me? Don’t you need a replacement to keep you warm now that Kai is gone?”
“Shut. Up.” Ellie’s hands trembled at the mere thought of Kai being gone, and this dunderhead thinking he had the right to come and talk to her, something he would never have been neither brave nor stupid enough to do if Kai had been home.
“Can’t Ellie-Bean. Not until I’ve delivered my message.”
“Get on with it then, Duncan. I’m losing my patience, and about to lose my breakfast.”
“Now now, is that any way to talk to someone who has a message for you from an elite in quadrant 1? I could always just tell them that you don’t want the message.”
“Fine by me.” She stood and grabbed her pack, leaving her tray where it was and moved to walk by him. Ellie had grown tired of his games; not that she ever had time to suffer his foolishness. He’d tried to assert himself into her life in the position of boyfriend, and hadn’t fully given up until Kai had served him a “proper warning” whatever that meant. Kai didn’t specify and she didn’t ask for details. As long as Duncan left her alone, she was good with whatever had transpired.
Duncan grabbed her arm painfully and stood quicker than she could have anticipated, causing her to almost fall, but he kept them both upright. It was then that she felt it. A blade poking her in the ribcage, hidden by the closeness of their bodies and her pack flung over her shoulder.
“If you’re going to kill me for a little rejection Duncan, do it. I’m sick of this childish nonsense.”
“Kill you? Oh no no no no no, dear Ellie-Bean, you’re worth much more alive to my boss.”
“Who on Earth wants me bad enough to send you? Honestly, Duncan, they must be paying you well if you’re really willing to risk it.”
“I guess you’ll find out soon enough. Walk.”
So, she did.
Ellie walked without struggling to keep the blade from slicing into her ribs and tried to keep both her wits and dignity about her until she found out what was going on. There would be plenty of time to lose her shit then.
Eventually, they reached quadrant 1, and the room where Duncan had been ordered to bring her. He shoved her in and closed the door, locking it behind him. She knew there was no way out, no sense in trying. It would just expend energy that she might need later on.
Ellie didn’t have to wonder long who it was that wanted counsel with her. When the door opened, her mouth fell slack.
“My, Ellie, haven’t you grown into a lovely young thing. Tragic that my brother had to leave you behind to go and get himself killed on some stupid suicide mission. If only he’d embraced the family, and not tried so hard and succeeded in becoming one of you people.”
He reached out and toyed with a lock of her hair, causing her to slap his hand away.
“We may have even forgiven him his weak spot for you. We have enough money, resources, and connections to get off this deity forsaken rock. All we needed was my baby brother to help us with a few little things, we’ll call them classified, shall we? And he refused. No matter, I always get what I want in the end. He wouldn’t help, but I found another Topsider who will.”
“Kai won’t like that, Ronin. He’ll deal with you and any oath breaker when he gets back.”
Ronin’s dark laugh reverberated off the walls in the small, dank room.
“I’ll tell him, Ronin. I’ll tell him about everything you’ve ever done.” Ellie tried to disguise the fear in her eyes.
“Oh, that’s rich. That’s almost as rich as I am. You think Kai is actually coming back to you? Hardly. The last time you saw Kai will be the last time you’ll ever lay eyes on him, I made sure of that. I hope you made your goodbye count.”
“Are as clueless as he is. They hold out hope that their darling favorite will return to the fold someday, but I won’t allow it. Their inheritance, it’ll be mine. Just like everything Kai holds dear, even the inconsequential things, they too, will be mine.” Ronin smirked as he looked Ellie up and down like a hungry dog eyeing a steak.
Ellie shook her head vehemently in disbelief, her fists doubled at her sides.
“Kai WILL come back Ronin, and he’ll come for you.”
“Oh no, Ellie, he won’t come for me. He underestimates me, as do ma and pa. But if he survives he will come for you, and that’s what I’m counting on. I’ll be there when he takes his final breath and the light fades from his eyes, but he will never reach you. He’ll do everything in his power and it still won’t be enough.”
He left her then, pausing for a moment to speak to someone outside the door and give them orders regarding her. Ellie barely heard them, they didn’t make a damn difference anyway.