Darren and I stand in the yard later that day, watching some of the colony’s soldiers shoot at various targets lined across the space. The men and women are quieter than usual, carrying the same tenseness as all of us.
Darren’s presence brings me comfort. Having his tall frame next to mine feels like a shield, a protection against the worry and anxiety that’s been plaguing my mind ever since Elle’s family was murdered. I’ve told him my suspicions about ALPHA watching us. The fact that he knows brings a sense of security; he’ll know what to do about it.
I watch as the soldiers go through the movements of the target practice, but my mind is in other places.
“They’ve got good aim,” Darren comments, bringing me out of my thoughts. I look to the soldiers, watching as their bullets hit the targets.
Darren is watching them closely. As he does, I look over at him. His marking clear and uncovered on his wrist. He hasn’t tried to hide it, and the short sleeves of his shirt do nothing to conceal it. I’ve tried everything to keep mine hidden. Shouldn’t he be doing the same?
An uncomfortable thought comes to mind – has he really given up his loyalty to the Redeemers?
“Is something wrong?”
I blink and realize that he’s carefully looking at me. I begin to shake my head, but then stop. He’d be able to read past my lie, anyways. Hesitantly, I ask, “I can trust you, right, Darren?”
He turns and gives me his full attention, examining my face. “Nat, why would you even ask that?”
I bite my lower lip, not wanting to meet his eyes. “I just want to be sure,” I say insecurely. “With everything that’s been happening, it’s hard not to doubt-“
“Look at me.” When I do as he says, I see that his eyes are soft, and his face is kind. “You’re my little sister. Wherever you go, I’ll go. Whoever you fight for, I will, too. Remember that, okay?”
I nod and give him a small smile. “Okay. I will.” A sense of relief washes over me. “Thanks, Darren.”
Gray comes over from the shooting grounds just as our conversation ends. He takes a spot next to me, his mouth pressed into a frustrated frown.
“They’re all distracted,” he tells us, referring to the soldiers. “We need to come up with a new plan for them to get behind.”
“I’m sure we will,” I say, trying to scrape together as much hope as possible. “There has to be a way to get the people on our side.”
Gray huffs. “They'll only believe what the Redeemers tell them. They won’t trust anything unless it comes from one directly.”
“We could say something,” I suggest, motioning to myself and my brother. “Darren and I were both with the Redeemers. Do you think they’d believe us?”
Gray shakes his head. “You’re Flawed to them. They’d just accuse you of lying. If an official Redeemer would admit to what Cleansings really are, then they might listen.”
Fragments of an idea begin to form in my mind. I’m torn away from my thoughts when Xander appears, his eyes focussed on the ground.
“They’re saying Carper wants to meet with you, Gray,” he says without looking at me. “Darren and Nat, too.”
Gray nods. “We’re coming.” He and Darren start to leave. I hang behind to talk to Xander.
“Xander,” I begin. “I’m really sorry about earlier-“
He shrugs me off. “Don’t worry about it, Nat. You already have a lot on your mind.” He finally raises his eyes to mine, and I see sadness there.
“Xander-” I start again, but Gray cuts me off, calling to me from across the yard. I reach over and touch his arm. “We’ll talk later, okay?”
He responds with a forced smile. "Go. They're waiting for you."
I nod hesitantly, then turn to go with Gray. When I glance over my shoulder, Xander has disappeared. My lips tighten as I follow the others into the building.