(This takes place sixteen years after the prologue: https://girlinterrupted28.wordpress.com/2013/07/24/diaspora-the-scattered-prologue/)
Sixteen years later
I sank into the giant stone that served as a chair, relishing the cool feeling through my clothing. I had just finished seventeen laps around the Enclave, and my entire body felt as if it had taken a beating. But I was fit. I was ready. For what, I wasn’t sure. But when it came, I was ready.
“Thirteen? Where are you?” Nine popped into the open doorway. “Where have you been?”
I shrugged. “I went for a run. Not much else to do around here. At least not today.”
“A run? Where?”
“Just around the Enclave, not outside. So don’t worry. Which is not to say I didn’t want to go outside, because I definitely did. Do,” I amended at the last second.
“Soon,” she replied, taking off her shoes and coat and shoving them under the cot that was directly across from mine.
My life was odd. Even I didn’t fully understand it sometimes. Nine wasn’t my mother, but she was a mother figure to me even though we were fairly close in age. I let her tell me what to do. I had never met my mother. From the stories I had heard from Nine, she had died having me, and Nine had saved my life even though she was just a kid herself. She brought me back to the Enclave. In essence, I had no real family, at least not physically. But everyone in the Enclave knew everyone else, and we had all bonded together as a unit of sorts.
Seventeen years ago, there was a Great War. Nobody even really remembers what exactly started it. One country had nuclear weapons, the United States felt threatened and went after them, and….Well, the United States as it was in the year 2012 no longer exists. Power is a rarity. I was four years old before I saw my first electrically lit room. When people, when we, want things now, we have to work for them.
After the Great War, the nation had a massive shift in the way that citizens were classified. There was the Enclave, where I lived. We were the center of our society. We had most of the resources, like food, water, and shelter, and we were very strong. We worked together, and we worked very hard for all of the things we had. Then there were the people who lived underground. They didn’t want to participate in the organized ways of the Enclave, and chose to live out lives in wanting rather than the little bit of comfort offered within the Enclave walls. The division didn’t make much sense, that people would choose to be below rather than above. But we left each other alone.
Outside of the Enclave walls was a different picture. That was where the savages lived, the Others. They didn’t work with anyone; they were only out for themselves. If someone got in the way of that….if someone interfered, well, that was it for that someone. It was best to avoid the Others, to stay within the walls. Though some people could acquire training to go outside, to be able to hunt and kill the animals that would feed the Enclave. They were the providers.
I really wanted to be a provider. Not just for the killing, because I wasn’t really that big of a fan of that. For me, it was all in the getting out. The pay off was in getting to actually see the world, really see it.
“Where did you go?” Nine asked.
I shrugged, getting up only to flop down again and drape myself across my tattered green cot. “I was just thinking….”
“I think I’m ready.”
I hesitated for a moment before replying, “To be a provider.”
Nine looked me up and down. “I don’t know. I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
“I’ve been practicing really hard with the targets,” I insisted. “I can hit them dead in the center every time. The instructor says I’m the best up and coming he has seen with a bow and arrow in a long time, and–”
“Thirteen–” she interrupted.
“No, really,” I pleaded. “I know I could do it.”
The dinner gong rang somewhere off in the distance, signaling that it was time to eat and effectively putting an end to our discussion. I got up without waiting for Nine to put her shoes on and drifted away down the corridor.
When I entered the hall where we gathered to eat, the line had already begun forming. I grabbed a bowl and stood behind the last person, quietly waiting my turn. He turned around and greeted me with a sly smile.
“Hello, Ven,” I smiled back. Ven’s real name was Eleven, but he hated it and insisted that it sounded too much like a girl’s name. He was a provider, and I aspired to be like him. But I never let him know it. The admiration would be too much for his ego.
“How’s it going?” he asked, reaching down to the bowl in front of him to ladle out some lovely looking gray substance.
“Great,” I replied. I indicated the stew with my glance, “Mmm. Tasty.”
“You’re too young to know what tasty is,” he retorted.
“I’m only two years younger than you!” I protested.
“Exactly. You weren’t around before.” He picked up a wooden spoon from the end of the line and moved to go sit at a table.
“Tasty is a freshly killed and roasted rabbit. Or a deer. Venison.” I made a hungry smacking noise with my lips.
He went to go sit down at one of the tables, and I followed shortly after with my own bowl.
“Thirteen here,” he said to other man at the table, Four, “thinks that she would be better served by a freshly killed rabbit than this absolutely delectable stew.”
Four raised an eyebrow in my direction.
“I did NOT say that,” I argued. “I simply said that I feel like a rabbit would be so much more tasty. You know what I mean?”
Four stared back at me blankly, his left eyebrow still raised and quivering. “My wife made this stew.”
“Oh, I…I didn’t mean,” I stammered uncomfortably.
He slapped me on the back. “I’m kidding. Just messing with you.”
I, in turn, turned and smacked Ven. “Really, Ven, really? Do you always have to try and mess with me?”
He shrugged. “It breaks up the day.”
I rolled my eyes and shoveled my stew into my mouth. “Do you want to go practice with me later?” I asked Ven around a mouthful of food. “If you have time?”
“What, at targets?” he asked.
I nodded, swallowing another mouthful of stew.
“I guess I could,” he hedged. “I mean, I don’t know how much time I have tonight. But I could come for a little while.”
“You make it sound like such an obligation.” I wasn’t trying to sound pouty, but I’m fairly certain it came across that way.
“I didn’t mean it that way at all.” We had both finished our meager portions of stew by that point. He walked back up to the serving area and grabbed two pieces of bread, one for each of us. “We could go right now.”
“Really?” I asked excitedly, snatching the bread from his outstretched hand. Then, realized that I sounded like a babbling idiot, I back peddled the excitement down to a “That would be great.”
He shook his head with a grin. “You are so odd.”
I did a mock bow as we walked out of the eating area. “Glad to be of service.”
Ven gave me a play shove, sending me across the corridor. We ripped through our bread as we walked through the Enclave to the target arena. It was a wide open space containing targets of all different shapes and sizes and types. You could select a target to do basically anything you wanted–they could be stationary or even move back and forth or up and down. I went to the weapons rack and selected my usual bow. It was wooden with silver etchings, and in all of my practicing I had deemed it to be the most accurate.
“You’re going to use that one?” Ven asked, indicating my chosen bow.
I couldn’t tell whether there was a note of disdain or not in his voice. “Why not?” I asked, feeling insulted.
He gave me another play shove. “Be confident, Thirteen. Be confident in your choice. That’s what I’m trying to tell you. There’s a reason behind everything. So when I say, why this bow, for real. Why this bow?”
I took in the bow again, really feeling the way that in settled in my hands. “I like the way that it feels in my hands. I like the lightness of the wood. And I like how I feel when I hold it. I like the way that it shoots. It fits me.”
“Good,” he nodded his approval. “Me, personally, I prefer the bows that are all metal. It just feels more solid to me. But you prefer wooden bows, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”
Facing the stand still targets, I picked up an arrow and tucked in carefully between the bow and the arrow nocks, which accepted it gracefully. I drew my arm back, slowly and carefully, to my anchor spot along my chin, and then let the arrow land fly. It crossed the hundred feet between where I stood and the target like it was nothing and landed square in the middle, vibrating back and forth as it stuck.
“How was that?” I asked Ven.
“Very good,” he nodded his approval. “Very good indeed. Try again, and try relaxing your grip on the bow just a smidge.”
I did as he suggested, and though I didn’t think it was possible, the arrow flew into the center of the target even more smoothly than it had before. “Like that?”
I let a few more fly before he stopped me again. “I have time for one more. Let’s try a side to side.”
The side to side target was supposed to simulate a ground animal, like a rabbit or a squirrel. With a few presses of the control panel to the side of the weapons rack, Ven called one forward. It moved back and forth, and I followed it with my eyes, bow at the ready.
“Now, Thirteen, remember. Shoot where it will be. Not where it is. Anticipate the movement, and–”
Before he could finish, I had let the arrow loose. It landed with a satisfying thwonk in the center of the target, and I lowered the bow. “Like that?”
He laughed, “You don’t need me anymore, girl. You have this down all by yourself. You’re ready.
I beamed with pride; I was definitely ready.