Chapter 28 - Isolde
When I rise, my watch tells me that it is eleven a.m. I stretch, very aware of the fact that I smell. I need to find a place to wash myself.
Katarina sits a few feet in front of me, chewing something. She nods her head at me when she sees that I am up, murmuring, “Good morning, Isolde.”
I return the greeting.
Hadyn is wrapped in blankets, reading a book. Tristan is almost in the same position he was in last night, staring out into the forest. Despite his initial unfriendliness, I find myself longing to know more about this troubled person, to unravel his protective layers.
Details, I want details – there has to be some emotion in him, buried deep down. And I intend to retrieve it.
I open my rucksack and work my way through a can of peaches and a can of spaghetti. All I have left now is one can of peaches, the leftover soya milk, trail mix, and an apple. I badly need to gather some food.
I stand up and walk outside, muttering something about washing myself. I move a fair distance away from the cave, eyes on my compass – I don’t want to get lost. Before creating some water, I listen carefully to the forest around me for any signs of oncoming Hunters, but it’s almost deadly silent.
It is cold, but I peel off my clothes, feeling embarrassed even though I am alone. I make the water I generate hot; I don’t want to get ill.
Ten minutes later, I begin to journey back to the cave, my hair dripping wet and my teeth brushed. I have three changes of clothes; the AH uniform, and two jeans, t-shirt and jumper outfits. I wore the AH uniform for the first few days, too scared to change out of it, but now I wear regular clothes. My got-lost excuse is so poor I may as well scrap it.
When I reach the hiding place, I open a book I brought along with me, flicking absently through the pages, but then I just put it down and think about trust. I still feel a bit awkward around Tristan, Katarina and Hadyn, and I want to change that. “I’m going out to get some food,” I say. “Anyone want to come?”
Hadyn wrinkles his nose at me and sticks his head back into his novel.
“I’ll go,” Tristan says.
I nod at him, finding myself too embarrassed to make eye contact.
Ridiculous, I chide myself.
“I better stay with Hadyn,” Katarina says.
“OK.” My stomach flips. Just the newly repentant Tristan and I.
After getting out my edible plants book, I fix the straps of my backpack and walk out of the area, Tristan in front of me.
“So, what are you planning to not poison yourself with?” he asks, voice low. So he remembers my hatred of a carnivore lifestyle. I still can’t get over how they can kill, but I suppose that I have to. “I’m going to look for tule potato. Water plant.”
“So you want to find a stream.”
“But what if the water’s contaminated?”
I frown. “I boil it . . . won’t that make it clean?”
“You can’t make a fire yet, though.”
“But I can make boiled water.”
“Right,” he says, and the discussion ends.
We silently roam through the forest, seeking a watercourse. I feel tense, at it takes me a while to realise why. It’s Tristan. I never expected him to tell me anything about him so soon, especially nothing that personal. Our peace agreement seems to have held together exceedingly well.
I sneak looks at Tristan as we journey, but no, he does not let that blank expression slack when he thinks that no-one can see him.
We finally come across a small river. I slide through the dense plants before it and crouch by the side of the river, looking into the water. Seems clean enough. I feel with my hand for any tule potatoes, inching down the riverside. Soon, I come upon a small clump of them growing, and carefully prise them out of the soft, wet earth, inspecting the plants. Yes, it is them. I’m sure of it.
I kick off my shoes and wade through the freezing stream instead, rolling up my jeans.
“Do you happen to have something I can put this in?” I ask Tristan, holding up my findings.
He shrugs off his backpack, and plucks a plastic bag out of one of the side pockets, which I accept. I place the food inside the bag, wrenching off the leaves and other parts attached. Tristan walks slowly by the stream, silent. I find myself listening carefully for his movements and trying very hard not to turn around.
In an hour, I manage to collect twenty potatoes. I walk out of the stream after this and sit on the ground, trying to regain some feeling in my numb toes.
“Are you going to look for more?” he asks.
“Maybe not tule potato anymore. Something else.”
Tristan extends a hand – he wants to look in my edible plants book. I hand it to him, and watch as he flicks through the pages.
“Most of these aren’t available in winter,” he murmurs as I pull on my shoes and socks.
“There’s kale,” I point out.
He shakes his head. “Cabbage over rabbit.”
“Yeah, cabbage.” I mimic his voice. “Why do you find it so shocking that I don’t like to kill?”
Tristan just rolls his eyes.
We go looking for kale. I am surprised to find so much of it. Each time I find a patch, I take a moment to study the picture in my book. I’m fairly familiar with the vegetable, but it never hurts to be extra cautious.
By the next hour, my bag is full with kale and tule potato. The plain food doesn’t please me, but something much worse could happening, so I shut the door on the complaints building up in the back of my mind.
We trek back to the cave. Tristan has an amazingly good sense of direction. I glance at my watch as we reach the place. It has just gone three.
I sit down on the quilt that Hadyn previously spread out, rummaging through my backpack to find the small pot that I packed.
“Hey,” says Hadyn. “What did you get?”
I show him the contents of my bag, and he pretends to retch.
I put a few of the tule potatoes in the pot and scrub them in the water I produce before chucking the muddy liquid away. I repeat this three times to get all the dirt off of them before generating hot water to boil the vegetables. Then I wait for them to cook, leaning back into my rucksack and closing my eyes.
The next thing I know, Tristan is shaking my shoulder.
“We gotta go,” he says urgently.
I rub the sleep from my eyes and spring up, throwing the boiled potatoes back into the bag with the dirty ones before hitching on my rucksack. Hunters nearby, probably. I bite down the questions rising to my tongue and hurry after Tristan. Katarina elegantly flies through the trees ahead of us, Hadyn loping behind her. She glances back at us, and our feet leave the ground. I put my arms by my side as Katarina steers us all forward, falling behind so she can see us better.
“What happened?” I whisper to Tristan.
“Hunters,” he replies, confirming what I thought. “About five hundred metres away from the cave. Lots of them, heading our way.”
I intake sharply. “Did they see us? Do they know we were there?”
He shakes his head, and I relax a bit, though I am still quite apprehensive. Tristan bumping into me every few seconds doesn’t help keep my anxiety levels down, either.
We fly through the trees, silent until Katarina sets us down in a place several miles from where we were before.
Tristan looks back, his face screwed up in concentration.
“Anything?” Katarina asks anxiously, her amber eyes sharp with worry.
“No,” he replies after a few seconds, sounding a bit uncertain.
“You can read minds?” I ask him.
“No. I’m just a lie detector.” I note how he refers himself like just an object, but his tone is matter-of-fact. I remember what he told me about his life, and feel . . . I don’t know how to describe it. Not exactly pity, but something else.
“. . . but I can tell if people are thinking lies,” Tristan finishes.
I nod, pushing myself back into life instead of the confusing mind of Tristan. “So what now?”
“We just go,” Hadyn says, gesturing to the trees before us.
Katarina sighs wistfully. “I wish that we could tell if they know now.”
“We could – I could send out a duplication,” Hadyn points out.
“No,” Tristan says flatly.
“Why not? I can see, hear – and their guns won’t do anything.”
“Your duplication images go back to you. They’ll try to chase,” Katarina says.
“It’s the best we have,” Hadyn argues. “Can save us a lot of time, too.”
They continue debating over the pros and cons of that idea, while I just stand there and look. We may have helped each other, and told each other of our painful pasts (excluding Hadyn, I remember) but I don’t feel part of the group, not one bit. It has only been a couple days after all – long, eventful days, but still not many.
Instead of voicing my agreement with Hadyn, I watch Tristan – the rigid expression, the sharp planes of his cheekbones and jaw, the depth of his eyes. I can’t get over how he is so closed off, wrapped in layers of anger, insecurity and misery, masked by false apathy.
He may have been unkind to me before, but I don’t hate him for it anymore – not at all. He has been through a lot, and time and tragedy leave huge marks on a person.
The heated, hissed discussion finally ends. It seems like Hadyn has come out on the losing end; he is pouting.
“So we walk?” I say.
“Or fly,” Tristan says, looking meaningfully at Katarina.
She rolls her eyes but she turns on her powers of telekinesis.
“I’m good,” I reply when she looks at me. I want to run.
She levitates Hadyn and then we set off, Tristan and Hadyn leading, Katarina behind them, and I lagging on my legs.
We move wordlessly, until Tristan hisses, “Katarina!”
They all land on their feet, looking at Tristan with confused expressions. I, too, face him, panting as the possibilities rush through my mind and a queasy feeling takes over my stomach.
And then Katarina screams.