A storm raged relentlessly outside. The small home, the pack of humans had taken over, was well suited for dealing with the inclement weather. Half buried in the earth with a sod roof for insulation. Other buildings in the area had been dismantled and used to reinforce the one still standing building in the old community.
Because it was a community.
They all mostly lived in the large living area and the rest of the rooms were crammed with whatever sleeping arrangements they could manage. A room off to the side held what few animals they had and a hydroponics unit that gave them enough fruit and veg that they didn’t have to worry about scurvy.
Waha knew it wouldn’t last though. There were just too many of them and not enough food for the winter. He had known starvation in his time and he wasn’t looking forward to another harsh winter.
He stared at the boarded-over windows on the leeward side of the house. Hearing the hiss of snow on the wood he tensed as he readied to stand.
But before he could, Mana, his brother, patted him on his back and asked, “Why so serious Waha? Life is good.”
Waha shook his head. “Winter is going to be hard this year.”
Mana laughed. “Man, Waha, you sound like an old man. You’re ten, enjoy your life. Besides, Tama has a plan. Once the snow sets in, everyone will be stuck in their homes. Their outbuildings will be easy pickings.”
Waha shook his head at his brother’s optimism. He himself was almost old enough to go out on the raids. There were very few adults in their group and as soon as they were capable of killing someone, they were given a weapon and went on raids.
Tama had walked in a few years ago and he had swept through to leadership in a charismatic wave. He had kept them alive so far, but he had also lost a lot of them as well. Usually the adults. There were now six children to every adult.
Waha pursed his lips and didn’t say anything to his brother. Mana was a dreamer and always so hopeful about the future. Waha knew better. The raiding last year had been costly. They had lost five of their number and the pickings had been slim.
Ever since the cities started putting up shields against the weather, communities that struggled for years with the unpredictable weather had moved and abandoned their outposts. Before people had survived by spreading out and not overusing the land. Now communities could only survive by banding together inside the Weather Shields.
The people in this place didn’t have that option. They were labelled as criminals and no city would take them in.
Tama approached them. He patted Mana on his shoulder. “Can you check on the windows in the east wing? One of the others said there was a crack in the glass. We might need to board it up like the others.”
Mana bobbed his head and left. Tama looked at Waha with warm eyes and asked, “How old are you now, Waha?”
“Ten, sir,” Waha answered solemnly.
Tama grinned. “Oh, there’s no need to be so formal with me, Waha. I’m your friend.”
He placed his hand on his shoulder, but Waha didn’t like the touch. Tama had been keeping them alive for years. Waha and his brother had stumbled on the group years ago after their parents had died. They really didn’t have many options. He owed this man and it seemed wrong to brush off his casual touch.
Tama placed his hand on Waha’s shoulder. Everyone else celebrated as the group had returned from a successful raid on a nearby farm. There would be a feast tonight. It was only temporary. The raid might feed them for a week but not beyond that.
Waha kept his eyes on the floor and refused to look at Tama. Last night Tama had come to him and asked him for a favour.
If Waha had known what that favor would entail, he would never have gone with him. That betrayal of his trust and loyalty to their leader was a bitter copper taste in Waha’s mouth. His hands were clammy with fear. Tama leaned down and said softly, “Come along, Waha.”
Cold ran down his spine. Waha licked his lips and said, “Mana will need me soon.”
Tama’s hand tightened on his shoulder. “Mana would understand.”
Waha doubted that. Mana thought Tama was awesome. He would change his mind if he knew of the detestable things Tama desired.
Waha gritted his teeth and said, “I just need something from my pallet. I’ll meet you in a moment.”
No one had their own room in this place. Tama patted his shoulder. “It is all right, Waha. Meet me in my office. But don’t take too long.”
Waha nodded his head sharply. “Yes, sir.”
Tama left and Waha bowed his head. He felt sick with what he was going to do. He got to his feet and went to find his brother. As Waha walked, he passed some of the children, and he knew he wasn’t just doing it for himself.
Mana sat with one of the girls and offered her something he had found on the raid. Waha hesitated as he didn’t want to interrupt his brother.
Mana noticed him and smiled. “Waha! Come have a drink.”
Waha shook his head quickly and said to Mana, “I’ve got to go. I’m sorry.”
Mana waved it off. “You are always so serious. You should enjoy life a little more. Whatever you got to do can wait tonight.”
Waha shook his head again and said quickly, “I’m sorry.” He then scuttled off. To what he thought was going to be worse than hell. His hand clutched at the weapon he had taken out of the pile that had been distributed to the raiders that day. He hoped he wouldn’t have to use it. If he could somehow convince Tama not to go through with his plans. But he knew he would need the knife.
It was cold outside. The wind made it impossible for Waha to walk upright as he left the buildings behind. He thought for a moment he should take one of the vehicles but the community would need it. Besides, he still wasn’t sure if he deserved to live. He would leave it up to the weather to decide if he was worthy.
He glanced at his hands. There was blood under one fingernail and he quickly scraped it away. He had thought about getting gloves but it would have been a clear signal to Tama he was up to something.
Instead, he had walked casually into the office and had slid the knife into his guts before Tama had even asked him to take off his clothes. In the end, he had looked so shocked when Waha had pushed the knife into his ribs.
The cold was another issue and he wished he had taken the time to find his gloves before he had left or at least taken Tama’s. He wouldn’t need them anymore anyway. He had been too afraid of being caught if he had stuck around any longer.
Waha tucked his hands into his coat and huddled against the wind. The wind howled and he swore he could hear Tama accusing him in the wind. Waha was a murderer now. Cold-blooded murderer.
Determined, Waha moved away from the buildings and towards the railway line in the distance. He might have some doubts about whether he deserved to live but there was one thing he was sure of. He wanted to live.
To stave off the cold he moved quickly. That became difficult once he moved away from the road that lead away from the buildings. There was a road that led into a small town called Edge but that would be the first place that anyone looked.
Waha headed for the railway line. They kept it clear most of the year as it was the only access between Whatinga and New Haven and it would be easier to walk through the snow.
He thought about going to New Haven which was the bigger city but if anyone came looking for him, they would look there right after looking in Edge. Besides, he had heard stories that the Weather Shield Maker lived in Whatinga.
If she liked the city so much she now lived there, out of all the cities, then it must be a pretty nice place. Though to be honest he would be just happy to be alive.
He was leaving behind his brother and everything he had ever known. He didn’t expect happiness where he was going.
His brother used to ask him, what was the point of being so serious? One time he had told Mana that it was because he was sad and that was why he was so serious.
Waha was sad. He barely remembered his parents but he had known that they loved him before they had died. That alone was enough to make him sad but there was so much sorrow in the world it almost choked him to think about it.
Mana had then told him something he would never forget. Mainly because he remembered his mother saying something similar. He had said that sometimes even sorrow sings because it is too sad to cry.
Maybe his brother was right. Maybe it would be easier to face the world with a smile on his face than the tears that clogged up his chest. He knew one thing now. Tears weren’t about to keep him alive.
His feet were numb and he shivered. That didn’t worry him. He knew that shivering was a good sign. At least he wasn’t heading into thermic shock yet. He might just make it.
The white snow though was getting to him. He could barely make out landmarks in the snow and to calm himself he started to hum to himself songs his mother used to sing to him when he was a baby.
He would go forward a few steps at a time and then look up. Still no sign of the rail line. He took more steps and looked up. He did this over and over. Sometimes it was hard to even see with the sting of snow on his face. He couldn’t stop. He knew if he stopped that would be the end and though he was sad he didn’t wish to end his life quite yet.
Waha rubbed his arms but he really couldn’t feel his fingers so he wasn’t sure if he added any warmth to his arms or not. But he had to admit he was warmer than he had been in days. Once he had hit the railway line, the going had been easier. It had still been bitterly cold.
The Shield around Whatinga city exuded a great amount of warmth. Though there was a large fence that kept him away from the Shield itself it was warm enough here that there was no snow on the ground.
Waha wanted desperately to be in there.
It wasn’t just the warmth, there was something ephemeral that he wished for that he couldn’t put a name on and he knew it was inside there.
Arriving late that night he had more stumbled than anything else. He hadn’t been worried about getting lost as he had followed the tracks and they only led to two places. The Edge and further on to Whatinga.
Now he was here he had no idea how he was going to get in. There was a large metal arch that stopped the Shield from completely overgrowing the entrance and trapping people inside but it was highly patrolled. There was no way they would just let him walk in without being noticed by someone. He would need a distraction.
Waha turned when he heard the rattle of the train. It had a massive construction on the front that shoved snow out of the way as it hissed into the station. People poured out of the train and he realised all the people on patrol were now focused on the people jumping off the train.
He ran for the platform and pulled himself up. He tried to move amongst the crowd as if he belonged. Only stopping when a hand clamped on his shoulder. It was a gesture he was not fond of and his first reaction was to fight back. But he didn’t want to bring attention to himself.
Waha took a deep breath and turned. He flashed a grin. “Yes, sir?”
The soldier frowned down at him. “Where are your parents?”
Waha shrugged. “I’m not sure, officer. I’m sure they are around here somewhere.”
The soldier did not look convinced. Waha was about to attack and make a run for it and see how far he got when someone pushed through the crowds and said, “Rawiri. There you are. Your aunt was worried that you had missed the train.”
Waha looked at the blonde woman who came to stand by him. She flashed him a smile but he couldn’t find his voice as he stared at the stranger. The soldier asked the woman, “Do you know this boy?”
The woman struggled with a large bag on her shoulder as she answered, “Yes, he is the nephew of my neighbour. She wasn’t sure he had made the train so she sent me down to check. I like to watch trains, you know.”
Waha was surprised as the soldier nodded his head. She must come down here often then as the soldier waved her off but not without a warning. “It is dangerous for minors to travel alone. Your friend should have organised an escort.”
He then left. Waha frowned up at the woman and finally found his voice, “Who the heck are you?”
She patted his head and said, “Your fairy godmother. Now come along. We will have to find you an aunt. You all right with the name Rawiri. Nick is a good sort but he will check to make sure I’ve done the paperwork and he has a memory like a steel trap and he will get suspicious if your name suddenly changed.”
Waha frowned at the strange woman and said, “My name is Waha.”
She chuckled. “Oh, someone hated you as a child. I’m assuming that is the name you ran with your peeps.”
She said all this with proper diction so it all sounded strange on her lips. She tugged him along and said, “Any surname?”
He was dragged along more by her strong personality than the hand on his arm. He muttered, “Rodriguez.”
She flashed a smile. “That is going to make things easy. That is like being called Jones. Well, you will be Rawiri Waha Rodriguez.”
Her voice went a little softer. “They don’t let kids in like you. The city is strict like that but there are people that will help you. We consider it our mission in life. Don’t worry, you are in good hands.”
He had stopped listening as she took him further into the Shield and the city. She could do what she liked if she let him stay.
Rawiri climbed out onto the fire escape and was careful not to make any noise or he would wake Esmerelda. She made him so angry some days. Wanting him to study more and be something he would never be able to be. She had lost her son during the wars and she thought she could make him into her son.
They were different and no matter how much Esmerelda wanted Rawiri was never going to be like her son. Rawiri could never forget where he had come from. There was an evil in him that must be contained, otherwise he might hurt others like he had been hurt. He would die before he let that happen. His anger was like a flame that he knew could easily burn others around him.
It was cold outside as it was nearing winter. He hugged his leather coat closer around himself. He wandered the streets without any real aim. All he knew was he didn’t want to go back to the apartment.
He found his way to a mall. At least it was warm and stared at the things in the windows. A man said behind him, “You seem a little lost.”
He spun around to see a man in a uniform. He hesitated. He usually avoided the police. The only one he knew well was Nick and he was a friend of some of the people at the mission. But Nick wasn’t friendly in any way. He was super strait-laced. This guy looked different.
He shrugged at the man and he flashed a grin. “I don’t mean lost as in you don’t know where you are. I mean this is the mall after all.”
There was only one major mall in the city. It was on the edge of the trading district and the rest of the city. You could find every walk of life in this place.
The man offered him a pamphlet. “If you need some direction in life, you could always try this.”
He took the pamphlet but with the intention of throwing it away once the guy was gone. Rawiri said, “I’m not into that hippy new age stuff.”
But he looked at the man’s uniform. Surely it was against regulation to be peddling religion in your work uniform. The man smiled again. “Oh, that is good. You know the city could do with a witty man like you.”
Rawiri glanced down at the pamphlet and realised it wasn’t for some religion instead it was a recruitment pamphlet for the city police.
Rawiri hesitated. “Would they take someone as young as me?”
He nodded. “They have an academy where you can finish off your schooling and start training for the police. Once you are eighteen, you would be a fully-fledged police enforcer.”
The police in the city were a mixture between military and peace keepers. They weren’t really police that was reserved for the Agents. But it was one way to get out of the apartment.
Young and laughing recruits filled the locker room. They had just finished a gruelling test that would determine whether they graduated or not.
They had taken out a building filled with ‘terrorists’ and their class had passed with some of the highest marks in the academy.
Rawiri sat staring at his shoes, contemplating them rather intently. Jules came up behind him and slapped Rawiri on his back. “That was amazing what you did in there.”
He shrugged it off. He didn’t like being the centre of attention. Especially in this group. He wondered if any of them would ever figure out that he had once been a Wildlander and raided other settlements outside of Whatinga city.
“It was nothing. Any one of you would have noticed that guy if you had been there.”
Nero laughed and turned from his locker to look at the two of them. “Yeah, but none of us would have been crazy enough to climb a drainpipe to get to the second story. You could have broken your neck.”
“I almost did.”
Rawiri grinned as he remembered the climb. The drain pipe had only been attached with a few pins into the brick wall and several had popped when he climbed.
The others laughed. Jules bumped his shoulder with his own.
“We are all going out for drinks. You coming?”
Rawiri shrugged. “Yeah, sure.”
They often went to a local pub to drink and talk about crap. He wasn’t sure why he enjoyed it but he did. He was almost sad; he would miss them when he got his first assignment as he was in the undercover division. Anyone with a past as dark as his was recruited into the undercover unit. They had that gritty edge that the other cops could never emulate.
If he did well with the undercover unit, though he might be able to move up to detective or get a job as an agent. He shook his head at the last. He didn’t have the education for agent work. They were often University graduates and though Rawiri wasn’t dumb; he wasn’t a scholar either. He would do well as an undercover even if he missed his friends.
The junkie patted Rawiri on the back and said, “Come on, Waha. Let me just pick some things up from my friend and then we can check out that club I was telling you about.”
Rawiri hoped the junkie would lead him to the one that sold the new drugs on the street. But he had only been on the street for a week and already knew it wasn’t going to be as easy as he had assumed when he had taken the undercover job.
The junkie surprised him by taking him to a community gym. There were kids all over the place. The large black man who ran the place eyed him wearily but let him and the junkie enter.
The junkie brought him over to a man that was massive. He had dark hair and dark eyes; he looked deadly. Rawiri eyed him up and down. The man moved like someone that knew what his body could do and reveled in it.
While the junkie spoke to him, the man had his eyes on Rawiri and it made him squirm.
Eventually, the junkie pulled Rawiri forward and said, “See this is Waha. He’ll keep me out of trouble I swear.”
The man drawled, “Waha?”
Rawiri was surprised by the amused tone of the man. There weren’t many in the city that could speak Spanish. Those that did, realised he came from the gangs outside the city.
He had thought by using it as his undercover name he would be able to add some street cred to his newly minted police uniform.
“Yeah, I’m Waha. What is your handle?” He winced inside.
He played the role too hard. If he did that too often people would realise that he wasn’t what he seemed. But the man shrugged and offered his hand. “I’m Misha. If you are in trouble come to me.”
Misha flicked a look at the junkie. “Are you sure you want to hang out with this loser? If you need a place to crash or help just come see me.”
The junkie took too long to protest. “Hey.”
If he wasn’t undercover, he might have taken him up on the offer.
(So I should tell you that Waha is a bit of a joke as it means mouth in Maori. Or loud-mouth - someone with too much to say. I had a student who had this name in class and I can tell you he lived up to the name.)