February 27, 2096 5:58 PM
Seriously, fuck this place.
This camp is supposed to be a home. A home for the refugees displaced by the bombing at Terminus. But with all the guards we’ve had to put in place, and the rules, and the rationing… It’s become more of a prison than a refugee camp. This is disloyal, I know, but I think the Judge bit off more than he can chew. We were supposed to be starting a revolution, not playing nursemaids to people who need far more than we can provide. I mean, I’m glad we’re trying to do something good… But are we really the ones who should be doing this job?
This place is a fucking hellhole. I can’t breathe the air longer than ten minutes without gagging. There’s not enough clean water. Everyone’s skin is burnt and blistered and their wounds are getting infected. The Thoughts and Prayers™—I appreciate the effort, but we have more dehydrated food than we know what to do with, yet no clean water to cook it.
Christ, the sunburns… Dr. Rossler said it used to happen all the time before the climate changed and the environment generators went online. It was just normal. How the hell did people live like that? He and his team are doing their best, just like we are doing our best. But that’s my point—our best sucks. It just doesn’t have to be this way. Maybe the Judge and Hank Collins should get Amanda to stop asking for those Thoughts and Prayers™ food kits and start actually telling people what we need.
And the fucking bandits… the Judge is insane, using the former Terminus Citadel prisoners as security! They may have been in training for foreign service, but that only makes them more dangerous! I broke some dude’s arm yesterday as he tried to raid the munitions tent. I’m glad I got to him before he actually made it in, or William and Sully would have added another body on the pyres. And that smell doesn’t need any more fuel. There are some good prisoners, yeah… Angel and, as much as I hate to admit it, Jacobs have a handle on them. Thank God there’s some humanity left in the prisoners Or maybe they’re just terrified of Angel. Either way, I don’t care. So long as they stand between us and the bandits, I’m good.
I know the Judge is right—I know we need all the help we can get. But that’s my point. We shouldn’t be taking their help because we shouldn’t be doing this, period! Let Imagen back in to fix the goddamn EV generators, or Cook’s army in to secure the place… I believe in the movement, I really do. I want a Sovereign citizenry. I want out from under corporate control. But there are limits. I’m at mine.
If it weren’t for Jen…
The sound of a hand slapping the canvas flap of his tent sent a jolt through Poet. Startled, he quickly closed his journal. “Come in,” he said. He smiled the moment he saw Jen’s head poke through the flaps of his tent.
“Good, you’re up already,” she said.
“Already?” Poet said with a rueful chuckle. “I never went to sleep.”
“Yeah, me neither,” Jen said, stepping into his tent. “Wish I had known, I could have joined you and we could have not slept together.”
An awkward grin spread across Poet’s face. “That sounds… Fun?”
Jen’s eyes narrowed and her arms folded over her chest. “You know what I meant,” she huffed. “Anyway… have you seen Nines?”
“Sure, lots of times,” Poet said. “Curly hair, about five feet tall…” He held his hand out at slightly over the height of his own head. He adjusted it up an inch for good measure.
Jen unfolded her arms and stooped to pick up a wayward boot lying in the middle of Poet’s tent. She lobbed it at him. He caught it and laughed.
“I’m serious right now!” Jen exclaimed. “I can’t find her. Have you seen her recently?”
Poet’s dreadlocks swung as he shook his head. “Not since yesterday… But I’ve not really been looking. Have you checked the comms tent—” He caught himself just a tad too late.
Jen’s eyes narrowed again.
“Or, you know… Other places?” He added lamely.
“Why would Nines be in the comms tent?” she asked, eyeing Poet beadily.
Poet shrugged and shifted his eyes. “Uh… Just a thought,” he stammered.
“You know something I don’t?”
“I mean… I promised I wouldn’t tell…”
“Come on, Poet!” Jen said. “This is serious! She’s just a kid, and you know there are dangerous assholes around who… You know…”
“Wait, did that happen!?” Poet bristled, his tone turned serious and his posture straightened.
“Not that I’ve heard,” Jen said and Poet relaxed slightly. “But MilSec people are kinda gross to begin with. The Foreign Service prisoner volunteers… Marlowe had some stories about them that made me want to kill them all.”
“Not the nicest folks, I know,” Poet said, relaxing slightly and returning to pulling loose the laces on his boot. “But Jacobs and Angel seem to have everyone on lock. I wouldn’t worry too much.”
“They’re stealing food and trying to break into the munitions tent,” Jen said wearily. “I feel like it’s just a matter of time before… Well, I just want to keep an eye on her, you know?”
Poet shook his head. “Look, you don’t need to worry about Nines, okay?” he said. “I know where she is, and I promised I wouldn’t tell you or the Judge. She’s safe.”
“What?!” Jen said, her fists balling in frustration. “You have to tell me!”
“I already did!” Poet said, sliding his journal from his lap and placing his right foot on his left knee.
Jen thought back for a moment. “Oh man, I’m gonna kill her.” She spun furiously and lifted the tent flap to leave.
“Jen, wait!” Poet yelled. “Just… Hold on a second!”
Jen froze and looked back over her shoulder. A swirl of dust and dead grass flew into the tent. “Why?” She asked.
“Come on back in a moment,” Poet said with a sigh. “You’re letting all the dirt in.”
Jen scowled. She took a step back and let the tent flap fall, then turned around with her arms once again folded over her chest.
“Just—Let the kid have some fun, okay? She’s been through a lot!”
“We’ve ALL been through a lot!” Jen barked. “And she didn’t have the replacement Pod that the Judge gave her an hour before she started shit with every troll on the net! She cannot be trusted!”
“She’s blowing off steam,” Poet said, poking his foot into the opened mouth of his boot. “So she stirs up some assholes who buy Cook’s bullshit that we’re terrorists… What’s the big deal?”
“What’s the big…” Jen’s ground her teeth and her face turned red. “Did you forget the shitstorm she started two weeks ago?!”
“She was just being—”
“A fucking troll!” Jen interjected. “And there’s no way to control her!”
“Why can’t you watch her?” Poet asked.
“Oh, what, between running this entire camp while the Judge is off pulling whatever strings behind the scenes to keep what little credits we have flowing? What, do I get to sleep zero hours a night now?”
“What about Austin?”
“He’s too fucking busy! We’re all too fucking busy to babysit a brat with self-control issues, okay?! Can’t you just write a script or something that alerts you when she—”
“Oh, just shut up,” Jen said, waving her hand at him dismissively as she turned to leave the tent.
Poet chuckled. “She’s really that good, huh?” He asked, freezing Jen in her tracks.
Jen bit her bottom lip. She turned back toward Poet and nodded sullenly. “The only solution is to keep her off the damn Net,” Jen said. “And it sucks, because she is that good. But we can’t afford to have some master troll out there riling up people who are already bored and stupid and ready to cut us off instead of help us! And God forbid she actually goads one of those idiot #UnitedAmericansUnited morons into doing something for real.”
“Look, you’re not wrong,” Poet said, pulling the laces tight on his boot. “She’s a brat. We all know she’s a brat. But those #UnitedAmericansUnited guys fucking suck, and they deserve a little pwnage now and then.”
Jen’s scowl turned into a bemused half-frown. Her eyebrows narrowed. Her lip curled as she repeated, “Pwnage?”
“…Did I use it wrong?”
“No, it’s accurate,” Jen said. “But, like, super dated. In fact, the only hacker I’ve ever heard use it seriously is her… Is she teaching you her Feed tricks?” Jen said.
“Her and Austin, yeah,” Poet said. “It’s fun.”
“So what, you’re starting fights with the #UAU people now?”
“No!” Poet said, wrapping one bootlace over the other and drawing it tight. “Just… You know. Opposition research.”
Jen stared at the ground to hide the smile that crept across her face. She forced the corners of her mouth back to an insincere scowl. She looked directly at Poet. “‘Hearts and Minds,’ remember?” She asked, quoting the Judge’s oft-repeated phrase around the camp. “Without support from the Citizens, we won’t be able to keep this place running. Imagen refuses to help, and Cook is already calling us terrorists… Without public support, innocent people will die.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Poet said as he tied his boot lace. “I’d love to put those guys’ hearts and minds under this boot…” He slid his foot from his knee and stomped his boot on the ground for effect.
Jen smirked. “I better go get Nines before she shovels any more shit onto fans. You mind getting the rest of the camp going?”
“Man, I just don’t get these people,” Poet said, sliding to the edge of his cot. “We’re all supposed to be in this together, and they can’t get their own asses up? I mean… How can they even sleep?”
“It’s… I don’t know,” Jen said, her shoulders slumping. “It’s getting harder and harder to motivate people. It’s, like, surviving isn’t enough. They’re starting to give up after what, two weeks?”
With a tired grunt, Poet tried to heave himself off of the cot. Jen chuckled. She extended her hand toward him. Still clutching his journal, he extended his free hand and grasped hers.
“Thanks,” he said, slightly embarrassed. “I fucking hate that cot. Hell, I fucking hate this whole camp. It’s not at all what we signed up for.”
Jen snorted. “I never signed up in the first place,” she said.
“Fair point,” Poet said with a grin. He folded his journal along the well-worn crease that had formed down the middle and tucked it into the back pocket of his fatigues. “I guess I’ll do my sworn duty as a Sovereign citizen to tell everyone they’re free to do what they’ve been told to do…”
Jen chuckled. Together, they moved toward the exit of Poet’s tent. Poet froze as Jen lifted the flap. “I, uh… I need a minute,” he said.
“What’s wrong?” Jen asked over her shoulder. She followed Poet’s finger as he pointed down at his feet, one of which was still without a boot.
Jen laughed heartily. “Oh, man… Yeah, you either need to wake up or get more sleep!” She laughed as she turned to exit the tent.
“How about both?” Poet replied, once more taking a seat on the cot.
“Meet me in Comms after you check in with everyone,” Jen said over her shoulder as she lifted the tent flap. “I’m gonna go see how much damage Nines has done. Oh, and uh… Another favor? Could you check on my dad for me?”
“Of course,” Poet said.
“I mean, I’m sure he’s… You know. Rossler would have sent word if…”
“…You could just go see him yourself,” Poet replied. “Not to put my nose where it doesn’t belong, but it might do you some good.”
“Thanks, but Marlowe was always better with, you know… That whole situation,” she answered, referring to her father’s reduced physical state. Her eyes dropped and she reflexively held the tent flap closer to her body. “I just never got used to seeing him… Like…”
“It’s all good,” Poet said. “I get you.”
Jen nodded with a reluctant smile. She tossed a light wave in his direction. The tent flaps fell shut as she left.
Poet pulled on his other boot and took a deep breath. He attempted to push himself off the cot and stand, but physics simply didn’t want to cooperate. He fell back to the cot. He couldn’t help but laugh at himself. Jen was gone, he could just roll off and stand up, he supposed. The thought made him smile wider. He leaned to one side and pulled his folded journal from his pocket.
…I know who I DO have faith in. And I can’t tell her. Not the way I want to. Not now.