Chapter 2…………..Author POV
The morning dawned slightly overcast. In the city, the night-guards of the Technos had been released from their shifts and the entire place was waking up. Out in the middle of nowhere, of course, things were a little bit different.
Sky still lay securely in her bed. Her auburn-red curls were just barely visible under the cocoon she had wrapped herself in against the chilly morning air. Her little wheat-colored dog, Sunny, was laying next to her.
A boy with dust-blonde hair done up in spikes nudged the door open with his booted foot. By his style of dress, most of the passersby could guess that he hadn't come from this particular area. He wore form-fitted jeans and a pristine, clean white button-up shirt that looked as though it had been freshly pressed. He walked over to the bed and sat down on the edge of it. With one hand, so delicate that it almost looked like a mistake, he lifted the edge of the purple blanket.
"Mmmph," Sky mumbled, rolling away from the touch of the sunbeams.
"Hey," he protested, nudging her, "are you gonna sleep in all day or what?"
"I just might," came the irritable answer, "who died and made you Pride Leader?"
"Gloria did," he reminded her sarcastically.
"Somebody's got an awfully sharp sense of humor for it being this early," Sky snapped.
If anyone would have walked by at that precise moment, they would have known that both John, the tribe leader, and Sky weren't from around here. They both had American accents; Sky's had little flavoring to it otherwise, but John's was a thick Texas drawl with even more of a slur to it than usual due to a slight speech impediment.
John knew very well that Sky was not a morning person. He used this as ammunition to drive her crazy. Sunny rose and immediately began to nip at John's hand.
"Get off me, you little dust-mop!" he whined. Sunny lay back down, but she eyed John carefully.
Two eyes, a nose and a bunch of teeth. The rest of it's made of hair. Hard to believe she was nearly bald as a puppy, John thought. In his opinion, Sunny looked more like a fluffy Swiffer duster than an actual animal. She was part Schnauser, part poodle according to Sky, and she was an aggravating little thing to him.
"Is there a reason we have to be awake at some ungodly hour in the morning?" Sky asked, finally surrendering and rolling over to look at his face. The sunlight glinted off of his gold glasses-frames.
"Yeah. We have stuff to do today, like always, like gather water."
"We did that yesterday and we're far from being out."
"Okay then…is the garden weeded?"
"Did that the day before."
"Inspect the houses and the fences?"
"Well, you still have to make sure all the animals get fed and the eggs get picked up. Ha. I told you I'd always find something for you to do."
Sky stuck out her lower lip.
"No fair. I hate chickens unless they're being served on a platter and they're not fond of me, either."
"I know," he said, grinning.
Sky hugged John and Sunny pounced on them jealously. They had been close friends at University before the virus had struck. It hadn't been easy, but they had banded together their groups of mutual friends. John's friends didn't care for Sky all that much—they were from well-to-do families and thought she was crude, too outspoken and blunt, and not what a woman should be. Sky's friends didn't like John, either. They thought he was manipulative, condescending of the poor, the minority races, and just a general jerk. Over these last three to four years, they had all come to see that they'd been wrong. They appreciated John for his ability to lead (even if his people-skills and empathy were lacking) and they appreciated Sky for her strength, creativity, and nearly indestructible optimism. In a way, they were nearly co-rulers of the tribe. Suggestions and rumors had been made for them to be together, but there were also protesters. John wanted it that way and Sky wanted it as well, but she was the one who ended up hesitating every time. She loved it when he held her and rubbed her back, but she could never bring herself to do anything more. They had kissed a few times, but it had been awkward for Sky and she'd been ridden with guilt. John had once had a girlfriend that had turned up mysteriously missing, though Sky was certain she'd come back any day.
Sky peeled herself out of John's grasp.
"Give me a minute to get dressed," she said with a resigned smile, "and don't punt Sunny across the room."
"Damn it," he muttered sarcastically.
Sky stepped behind her changing screen. She came out in a flowing white top and a lavender-colored skirt. On her feet were beaded silver ballet-flat style shoes. She wore very little jewelry; there was only a necklace with a simple chain around her neck. There were two pendants: one was a heart-shaped lock and one was a small key. The key would actually fit into lock and cause it to open. Sky had secretly vowed that she would one day give her lifemate that key.
"If I'm dealing with the chickens, who's going to make breakfast?" she asked.
"Are you trying to stress me out?"
"You think this is funny, don't you?"
"Is that all you can say?"
Sky pounced on him and grabbed the backs of his knees. He had tickle-spots there. He was laughing so hard that he fell over. Sunny ran around both of them and barked as though laughing herself.
"Brat," Sky muttered, letting him up. She retrieved the basket to collect the eggs and headed for the makeshift barn that the boys had built. After throwing a hissy fit at the chickens for trying to peck at her, Sky returned with downy feathers all over her. John chuckled as he hoisted a bag of grain out of the feedbox for the handful of farm animals they had.
"I ought to put a fox costume on one of these days," she said, shaking the feathers out of her hair. The animals knew she was there to feed them and they started throwing fits.
"Just a freaking minute, geez. These guys think they're at a hotel," Sky muttered, dumping the grain into their buckets. John filled the water troughs. Together, they tossed hay into the stalls. It had taken them a couple of years to get it right, but they had learned how to grow their own grain. There was a big grassy field nearby where the grass dried out in the summer and made what passed for hay. All the animals were healthy and none of the humans suffered malnutrition either.
"Come here," John said, shaking his head. He plucked the last few feathers out of Sky's hair before they washed up and went to the kitchen. John couldn't cook worth a crap, so the others took turns. Today was her day for breakfast. She cracked a few eggs into the bowl and beat them.
"One of these days come Hell or high water, I will teach you to cook," she said.
"Good luck," was John's response.
The other tribe members filed into the room. Some were still heavily laden with sleep. Josh, a boy with long red hair whose nickname had become "Viking Josh", started the coffee. Since there was no electricity, they'd had to make do with one that sat on the gas-powered stove. It was a fortunate thing that the refrigerator also ran on gas; John had set up a pretty good trade system with a neighboring tribe for that. In exchange for their excess crops in the gardens, milk from their two cows once a week, and a few eggs and chickens once in a while, they provided this tribe with fuel and other luxuries they didn't always have. Sometimes they'd get lucky and get some form of meat as well.
"Thanks, Josh," Sky said, hugging him. Sunny whined in the corner. Sky patted her head.
"Patience, rat dog. I can't give it to you raw!"
They were fortunate enough to have acquired some bacon recently. It fell with a sizzle into the pan. Sunny eagerly devoured her breakfast and trotted around the room to say "hello" to the others. In all, Dawn estimated there were about fifteen of them.
They sat down together at the table when all the food was done cooking. Joining hands, they bowed their heads and closed their eyes. Brandon, now the oldest member o the tribe, prayed out loud for them. They began to pass their plates eagerly. The conversation was fairly idle for the time being.
"You okay, Sky?" a boy named Evan asked.
She wasn't, though she couldn't say why. Something was making Sky very nervous. She didn't find out what it was until breakfast was nearly over.
"What in God's name is that?"
Somewhere off in the distance, they heard some strange music, but it wasn't good music. It was awful. The louder and closer it got, the more it irritated their ears. Eventually, everyone started to leave the kitchen because the sound was unbearable.
"Go down to the river," Sky yelled, "I think it's the Technos!"
No one needed a second invitation. The Technos would have difficulty catching her friends in the thick growth of forest. There was also a secret cave there where they had hid from raids conducted by other tribes.
Sunny had disappeared.
"Sunny!" Sky yelled over the invading music. She looked everywhere and finally found Sunny hiding under a table. The music was upsetting the dog; Sunny was crouched low to the ground and a puddle of urine stained the floor behind her. Sky snatched her up and had only just straightened up when the doors burst open. Five or six black-clad monsters with their steely masks rushed into the building and aimed their wrist-zappers. Two went one way, two went the other way. Sky hurried toward the back door and was spotted just as she ran out. Every instinct in her screamed to go to the cave, but she knew she couldn't. She wasn't fast enough for one, and she didn't want to lead them to the rest of the tribe. Instead, she ran the other direction. It didn't take long before she was shot in the back. She tried not to fall on top of Sunny when she went down. The pain in her back was awful; she might as well have been struck by a bullet. Two of the Techno thugs hauled her to her feet and dragged her into the tank they had arrived in.
From the top of a very tall tree, John watched them take her down. Shaking with fury, he watched them search the rest of the tribe's camp for anyone else who might be lingering around. They walked out with several things; that only made him madder. The tank drove off. He paid careful attention to which direction they went.
Please, God, don't let them hurt her, he prayed.