The railings on the orange lit platform dissolve into
nothingness and the mob of students disperse into their assigned groups of
five. Hector moves toward the large explosion, Wei and Nani at each of his
sides. Paige lags behind while Lennon is at her side keeping a careful eye on
her. They move through the forest floor shifting around the trees until they
reach a road. They follow the road, until they meet the treeline, across the
field in the distance, massive plumes of black smoke rise into the air. They
watch in terror as the town once standing in the horizon is now a scene of
“Good Sol! Isn't that town part of the Free City of Pater? Who on Terra would do something like this?” Hector says aloud.
Wei looks over the scene. “I heard there were talks of Civil War within Pater. It was all over the news yesterday.”
Nani observes Hector and Wei, trying her damnedest not to say anything. Trying hard not to tell Hector how wrong he was about being so concerned about the Free Cities. She knows he has a point about how much of a tragedy it is that the children of the Free Cities are born into the world with an automatic disadvantage in life. How no matter what they did, or what their parents did it was futile. That they were destined to stay Terrabound for all their life. That they couldn't see all there was to see of Space. However, Nani doesn't share that last thought as strongly with Hector as he does. For as long as she knew him, she knows he has a diehard love of space. It shows in his obsession with the several space themed entertainment he indulges in during his leisure time. She's even watched one series alongside with him—a space opera about a transforming giant mech that can travel faster than the speed of light using the aptly named FTL engine.
She snaps back to reality when Hector asks, “So do you think we should head toward ground zero?”
“I—” Nani's voice is cracks, “I think we shouldn't,” she continues with her voice coming back to normal, “I think we should continue with the Academy's planned activity and focus on Survival Camp. We can't...” Her voice becomes inaudible.
“Say again. What was that last part?” Wei asks.
She searches for Hector's eyes until she says, “We can't be worrying about that Free City.” She says louder now, pointing out into the horizon—smoke billowing into the air.
Hector sighs and turns away.
“Why? There are people there!” Wei argues.
“I know that. But what do you plan to do? Are you trained in emergency response? Do you even know what that blast was?” Nani counters, trying not to think too deeply about the horrors they would find at the blast site. She can't help but remember the video footage she watched in her advanced first aid training course.
Hector turns back around to eye Nani up and down. She doesn't notice as she gazes at Wei, waiting for his rebuttal.
“Look at yourself Nani! You're trembling,” Hector starts saying, as Nani turns to meet his eyes, her nose begins to flare. “Do you not even know that?” Hector asks as he strokes his chin. “I wonder why that is… You’re nervous about something aren’t you?” Hector asks dryly.
“I am not!” She pathetically denies.
“You were asking Wei here what he would do when he got to the town. Well, I ask you the same, what would you do Nani? Hypothetically, I mean. We haven’t decided anything yet, right?” He grins.
Nani begins to frown, “Hector, you know that I took the advanced first aid training class?”
Wei looks back and forth between the two and asks obliviously, “Nani! You are trained in first aid? In advanced first aid!? And you have the nerve to ask me what I would do? To reject the idea of going over there to give a helping hand?”
Tears start to roll down Nani’s face and Hector has to position himself between Wei and Nani—he pushes Wei away from Nani as she breaks into a sob.
“Hector, what are you doing? She held back critical information!”
“No she didn’t. We never asked her what she would do until now. Quite frankly what are you doing exactly?”
Wei realizes in this instant that his hands are grasping Hector’s shirt, and he recoils—his shirt falls to the ground from being perched on his shoulder for so long. Wei shakes off the dirt, and puts it back on.
Hector turns around to address the crying Nani. “Look,” he says in a smooth voice, “we really don’t have to go there if you don’t want to. We have to be unanimous on what our group is going to do.” Hector turns to Lennon and Paige at this time. Lennon is holding Paige in his arms, his hand slowly caresses the top of her head. He speaks softly in her ears, but Hector can’t hear from where he stands. Hector leaves Lennon to tend to Paige. He smiles at the sight and decides to follow in Lennon’s footsteps by slowly placing his hands on Nani’s shoulders. “Nani,” Hector says in the same smooth voice, “if we can help others, shouldn’t we at least try? I don’t have the training you had, but I would use it in a heartbeat if I did.”
She quickly jerks her head upward and says, “Hector! How dare you tell me that!” She pushes away his arms, “Besides, those people over there, they did that to themselves. They always do that to themselves. They have been doing that long before the creation of the towering wall of our Eco-City. Long before we had colonies on Luna and Mars, long before the creation of the UTG, and probably long before the creation of the HIPER! So why should we risk our lives to help those people… if they are just going to do it again?” She folds her arms, “I’ve decided not to go. And that’s final. You four don’t have my first aid training, and I invite you to go yourselves. I don’t mind if we split up, quite frankly. But know that I will be going back to the Academy by the end of the week when Survival Camp is completed. Hector, can’t you see that the UTG knew that the Free Cities were capable of that kind of destruction? Can’t you see that that that’s the reason why the tall wall was constructed in the first place? Can’t you see that to pass this Survival Camp, we must do whatever we can to SURVIVE? Going into that mess will dramatically lessen our chances of survival…”
Hector looks at her in astonishment. But what she says is true. He agrees with everything she says, but he can’t help but feel like it’s somewhat wrong. Like there is a deep-seated flaw in her way of thinking. Actually in the UTG’s way of thinking, because that is what Mr. Teech always preaches at the monthly seminars.
“You win Nani. You have my vote not to go. You have a point about keeping our safety a priority, but not for your reason of wanting to pass the Survival Camp, but that we wouldn’t be able to do anything in the future if we got severely injured or worse.”
“I guess you both are right. I’ll agree not to go either. I mean I can’t be of much help by myself anyway.” Wei says.
Hector, Nani, and Wei turn to Lennon and Paige. “We’ll stay and complete the Survival Camp here,” Lennon says, still caressing Paige, while she nods in agreement.
“Well let’s go and find a place to set up camp, and then we can start foraging for food and water. It’s going to be extremely difficult not having any basic tools. Which reminds me, does anyone know how to start a fire?”
Paige raises her head and speaks for the first time since the blast, “I know how to make a fire, well theoretically.”
“We can take care of the fire then,” Lennon volunteers himself and Paige, “Paige can instruct me on what I need to do, and at the same time, I’ll keep my eye out for potential campsites and food and water sources.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Hector agrees, “Nani, Wei, what do you think about Lennon and Paige taking care of the fire?” The still fired up female, and the small muscular man nod in agreement.
“Okay Lennon, meet back here within an hour. We don’t want to get separated for too long. We can’t be too certain about what’s lurking about. That blast could have attracted hungry predators, and this huge forest is a perfect place to hunt prey hiding from the blast. As for me, I volunteer to find us a good campsite for the week, any objections?”
“I have one. Why don’t the three of us just split up ourselves, and look for all three of our targets. We’ll meet back here after ten minutes. If we haven’t found anything in our immediate vicinity, then we’ll use the remaining fifty minutes to scout the perimeter we haven’t checked together. By then we will meet with Lennon and Paige back here, and we’ll all go to the agreed upon campsite.” Nani explains.
“I can get on board with that,” Hector says while nodding his head. Wei, Lennon and Paige nod in unison, and the five students separate in four different directions.