The window, despite the fact it was rolled down to its maximum limits, gave little-if any-comforting air from the sweltering heat. My hair was still damp even though we had left Detroit about four hours ago and were traveling somewhere through Ohio or Indiana. The humidity was absolutely unbearable, but Zack refused to turn on the air conditioning, arguing that gas didn't need to be wasted on a luxury feature such as a coolant. He drove with aimless anticipation, letting the wind flap through his mop of blond hair, for he certainly didn't have to worry about long hair sticking to his back and horrid body odor. Guys could just get away with things like that.
After many hushed minutes of silence-with the exception of my pleading for the air conditioning-I turned to Zack and asked him how long he speculated it would take to reach my new home.
Being Zack, he shrugged as if he really didn't care, but naturally, he had everything planned down to the last second. "Four…Six days, maybe."
"Longer for breaks."
He glanced over at me, peering through a lock of dingy blond hair, before centering his eyes back on the road. "Breaks?" he echoed incredulously.
"Yeah, to go to the bathroom, get a shower, eat…You know, live like a normal human."
"Problem with that is: We're not normal."
"Do you always have to be so pessimistic?" I asked, giving him a playful grin.
"No; I'm a realist, not a pessimist."
"You're a pessimistic realistic, if anything."
Zack shook his head, but said nothing, for we both knew that I had struck a point. Beneath his massive pale hands, he gripped the black steering wheel loosely in one, while letting his opposite fingers cradle his angled chin. Although he was only sixteen, he appeared to be far older to the casual observer. He wore a pair of dark blue jeans, which were slightly too small-but he had little fashion sense to either notice or care-accompanied by a plain worn blue T-shirt with sleeves that were short enough to give the appearance of a muscle tank top. A black leather jacket, I had noticed earlier, was strewn across the back seat, where other miscellaneous clothing and food articles sat, waiting patiently. His hair was slightly longer than most teenagers preferred, but Zack-needless to say-did not view himself as a "normal teenager". He was big brother. Captain. The man in charge of nearly a dozen other people's lives. And he would not let himself fail.
"How are the others?" I asked, off-handedly, hoping that Zack-who knew all-would give me a taste of information about my rogue siblings.
"Fine," he muttered as he pressed the gas pedal down with a dark boot so that we could pass a slow moving semi on the highway.
I groaned to myself. If I had to travel like this for five days or more with him giving just one-word responses, then I might as well start walking on my own.
"Anything else besides 'busy'?" I pressed.
"I haven't seen him in awhile," Zack snapped back, pressing the accelerator down harder to accommodate his growing annoyance. Yet, he didn't intimidate me in the least, so I continued to question him.
"And Max, how's she?"
"We all are," I sighed.
We lapsed back into the accustomed silence, which I was starting to dread. Agitated, I began to pick at a fraying pocket on my light blue jeans, praying that four days would pass sooner than I hoped. Unless Zack started drinking pure caffeine to liven up the conversations, I was going to be virtually talking to myself. Still, I gave it another shot.
"Do you think we'll ever see each other again? I mean, not just me and Max, but everybody. You know, Jondy, Zane, Krit and the rest of the gang?" I asked him.
He shrugged, braking rapidly to avoid slamming into the rear end of a slow moving station wagon, which caused him to curse under his breath. Once the other vehicle received the hint that there was a bigger Jeep on its butt, it began to pick up the pace, leading Zack to develop road rage by tailgating it with rapid fury. After several minutes of the stunt, the little car pulled over, angrily blaring its horn so that Zack could whiz right past it; he was pushing ninety miles an hour.
"Do you-" I began again, but he cut me off.
"Tinga," he responded with a hint of alien sadness in his voice. "You're one of the few that even know I take care of our unit. Max doesn't know. Jondy doesn't know. Krit might know, but he never tries to go any deeper. Ben knows, but he doesn't care. You, Brin, and Zane are some of the few."
"I don't know if we are all going to be together again or not. I mean, I know that you, Max and Jondy, were all really close, but I'm not putting faith into something that probably won't happen. A grouping of rogue X5s is not what we need if Lydecker decides to come after us and take us back to Manticore. Do you understand that? The more of us in a concentrated area, the greater risk we run of getting captured."
"I understand," I replied, wiping sweat off of my upper lip. "It's just that…Well…"
"I dream about it sometimes, thinking of how wonderful it would be if we were all together again. It's been, what? Four years? Going on five since we escaped? They're the only family I have, Zack-including you-and I just would really like to see them again. Talk to them. Hug them. Good old family stuff."
He sighed again, this time with great heaviness as if it took all of his potent energy just to lift his diaphragm off the chest cavity. "Maybe," he responded, reaching over and patting me gently on the knee with his powerful hand. "Maybe someday, we will."