Reyes Crowe Joins the War
The bong-bongs sounded and the darkness disappeared under the glare of the artificial light. Reyes blinked, his eyes unwilling to adjust to the intrusion. He heard his parents getting out of bed in the next room and he jumped to his feet. At seventeen, he should be married and living with his wife, not still sleeping on his parent’s floor. He had been a fool to let Sunny lead him on for four years. Now he was almost too old to find a wife. Without bothering to change his clothes, Reyes left the apartment before his parents emerged from their room. He didn’t want be subjected to their incessant questions, pitying looks or meaningless words of encouragement.
There were already quite a few people making their way to the common room. Everyone was worried about another lockdown, which would mean missing another meal. Ever since Crystal had been publicly murdered by the bourge, there had been one riot after another. People were outraged at the bourge, but with so many lockdowns and missed meals they were also becoming desperate. Reyes could not remember a time when the Pit pulsed with so much anger.
At a height of six foot five, he towered over everyone around him, which made it easy to look for a familiar face in the crowd. But he didn’t find whom he was looking for and he knew he wouldn’t. David Chavez had informed him that Sunny was no longer inside the Dome. He still could not believe it was true. No one left the safety of the Dome; the world outside was still too toxic with radiation. Reyes felt his entire body begin to seethe with anger again when he thought about his Sunny with that bourge. Jack Kenner had corrupted her and by now she was probably dead from radiation poisoning. He balled his hands into tight fists, his mind railing at the thought.
One thing he did notice as he looked around was that Domers were becoming a permanent addition down here. They were more heavily armed than the guards and always stood in a threatening posture. It was a reminder from the bourge that they had control and the Pit was at their mercy. Resentment rose up inside of Reyes like acidic bile and he bit back the urge to drive one of his tightly balled fists into the nearest Domer’s gut. Abruptly he turned and made his way back to the stairs. His appetite wasn’t for food; it was for revenge.
The only people in the coalmine at this early hour were the guards and a couple of Domers. Reyes knew the guards were part of the Alliance, but the Domers were not. With their presence in the Pit, all training had ceased. Reyes never really understood why they bothered with training anyway. Knowing how to fight wasn’t going to stop the bourge from shutting down the ventilation system. A Domer gave him a questioning look at his early arrival, but didn’t stop him from going to work in the mine.
The pick was right where he left it yesterday; Reyes wrapped his hand around it and felt its weight. He channeled all his energy into raising the heavy pick and slamming it into the stone wall in front of him. He felt the kinetic energy reverberate up his arms and into his chest, but there was no release of the anger held there. He swung again. And again. And again.
The sound of bong-bongs jolted him out of the rhythm he had lulled himself into and he stopped what he was doing to look around. Coalminers were putting down their picks and making their way to the lunch area. When had they arrived? Reyes couldn’t remember anything. He leaned wearily against the pick he was holding and wiped the sweat from his forehead. He still wasn’t hungry, but he was tired. It had been days since he had slept. Dropping the pick, he shuffled along with the other miners into the lunch area and sat down heavily in a chair at the end of a table. He would close his eyes for just a minute.
“Here,” someone said, poking his arm. Reyes opened his eyes and saw David Chavez holding out a container.
“I’m not hungry,” Reyes dismissed him.
“Eat,” David ordered, placing the container on the table in front of him. “You’re no good to us dead from starvation.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Reyes questioned.
David sat down next to Reyes and placed his own container on the table. He narrowed his eyes, glancing toward the two Domers in the room before he spoke in a low voice.
“I know you’ve been wrapped up in self-pity, so perhaps you didn’t notice the Pit is going to war,” David said sarcastically.
“Who do you think you are to talk to me like that?” Reyes demanded in a threatening tone.
“The person who’s trying to organize our defense against the Dome,” David countered. Reyes folded his arms across his chest and glared at him, but David wasn’t going to be deterred. “I don’t think you understand how much power you could have down here if you just stepped up and took it.”
“Power?” Reyes almost laughed. “You think I have power?”
“How can I say this politely?” David thought out loud. He leaned his elbows on the table and gave Reyes a direct look. “When you walk into a room, your size alone demands respect. Everyone notices you. Right now the Pit needs you, and a lot of people are wondering when you’re going to step up.”
Reyes gave David a stony glare. “Maybe you missed the fight between me and Jack Kenner,” Reyes said between clenched teeth. The exhaustion he felt a few minutes ago was quickly being replaced by anger. “I wanted to beat that bourge to a pulp, but I couldn’t even get my hands on him. Everyone saw it. Everyone knows how useless I am.”
The humiliation of losing the fight against Kenner came crashing back in on him. It made him crazy to remember Sunny witnessed him being defeated by her new husband. Reyes drove the heels of his hands into his eye sockets, trying to push the memory away.
“Everyone knows that if you actually had gotten your hands on him, you would have beaten him. But Jack knows how to fight – he was fast and was able to get out of your way. Training can teach you how to fight like that,” David explained.
“So you’re trying to con me into your stupid war?” Reyes demanded, his voice rising with his rage. “Just like Sunny was conned by the bourge? Are you taking lessons from them?”
“This isn’t my war – it’s everybody’s war,” David shot at Reyes. “And it’s not with all the bourge – it’s with the President and his supporters. People are dying down here, Reyes. Stop ignoring it.”
“You think I’m ignoring it?” Reyes questioned in disgust. “I’m not blind David, but I’m not stupid either. The bourge can turn off our ventilation system any time they want and all the training in the world won’t save us if they do. We dug our own damn grave.”
“So you’re giving up before you’ve even tried? Pfffft.” David leaned back in his chair. “At least your girlfriend had the guts to try.”
Something snapped inside of Reyes. He stood up, glaring down at David, wanting to kill the man. His right hand made a fist and with the energy of his rage, he slammed it into the table, never taking his eyes off David. A loud crack echoed through the room as the table split down the middle and collapsed in two pieces.
Suddenly aware of exactly what he had just done, Reyes looked up to see the Domer closest to him reach behind for his rifle. It had felt good to break the table in half and now he was wondering if it would feel even better to break a Domer in half. He picked up his chair and drove the legs through the Domer’s exposed torso, pinning him against the stone wall. Behind him he heard a shot ring out and he snapped his head around in time to see the other Domer fall on the ground. An Alliance guard stood with a pistol still in his hand. Reyes turned back to the Domer he had pinned, looking for signs of life, but the man was wearing a helmet so Reyes couldn’t see his face. He pulled the chair from the man’s belly, ready to strike again if he needed, but his lifeless body slid to the floor.
Reyes stared down at the body, no longer sure what he felt. The rage that had consumed him a few minutes ago was gone and his legs wobbled with fatigue. He had just killed a Domer and that crime was punishable by death. He should be afraid, but it wasn’t death he feared; it was a life inside this Pit.
“Welcome to the war,” David said, clapping Reyes on the back. David turned to the crowd of men standing there looking at them. “Let’s get this mess cleaned up. We have our training area back.”
Reyes still wasn’t sure he wanted to train with the Alliance. The guards were all bourge and he hated them. But if they could provide him with the skills he needed to kill more of their kind, he was stupid to pass up the opportunity. He helped clean up the mess he made and then began his first training session.
By the end of the day, Reyes was feeling an inner peace he hadn’t felt in weeks. Instead of feeling guilty for killing a Domer, he felt like he was finally getting control over his life again. He made his way to the common room, his appetite returning in full force. Raine, Flo and Mica were already there and they waved, obviously happy to see him. It had been days since Reyes had joined them for the evening meal. As he looked around, Reyes noticed that the tables were all pushed together and everyone was sitting as a group. Part of the war effort, he wagered. He collected his rations and made his way to the table.
“Is this seat taken?” he asked politely. He wanted to sit close to Raine and Mica and this was the only chair available.
“No,” a girl said. She looked up at him and broke into a bright smile. “I haven’t seen you here in a while.”
“Reyes looked down at her, recognizing Sunny’s neighbor. “Hi Dawn,” he responded. She was a few years younger than him and he remembered a time when she was a pain in the butt.
“So where have you been hiding out?” she questioned.
Reyes was a little taken aback that she would even notice whether he was around or not.
“I’ve been busy,” he lied and sat down in the empty chair.
“We’ve missed you, man,” Mica declared. “And that was some nice work in the mine today.”
“I think you surprised everybody,” Raine added.
“So what’s the deal?” Reyes asked, looking around the crowded table. “We sit here talking about what we want to do the bourge?” He tried not to let sarcasm drip from his tone, but he was not successful.
“If you don’t want to be here, there’s the door,” a man said. Reyes had never seen him before.
“Who the hell are you?” Reyes demanded.
“My name is Slate and I’m the person assigned to lead the sixth floor. The real question is, who the hell are you?” he asked with malice.
“None of your damn business,” Reyes countered. He didn’t like the man already.
Slate stared at Reyes with narrowed eyes, and Reyes returned his stare, not backing down. Eventually Slate averted his eyes, looking at his container of food with sudden interest. It didn’t surprise Reyes. The man looked like a scared little rag doll.
“So as I was saying, how do these meetings usually go?” Reyes asked Raine and Mica. He noticed Dawn was openly staring at him and he made a conscious effort not to look at her. He had never noticed how full and red her lips were.
“We exchange information,” Mica volunteered. “Like killing a Domer, for instance. That’s news.”
“Do you guys get that they can cut off our air supply and kill us any time they want?” Reyes asked incredulously. “I mean, what the hell is our end goal here? Because I don’t think defending ourselves is going to work forever. We should be trying to take control of the Dome.”
Reyes was greeted with stunned expressions all around the table.
“Are you insane?” someone demanded in a low voice. Reyes didn’t recognize the woman.
“I don’t think he’s crazy,” Dawn defended him. “He brings up a good point. Do we sit here and let them kill us or do we take control?”
“No one’s ever suggested we take control,” Raine said.
“Was I the only one listening to Crystal’s song?” Reyes asked, looking around the table. No one responded. “She was warning us about the bourge and they killed her for it. Did she sacrifice herself for nothing?”
“We do have a plan,” Slate reminded everyone. “Our plan is supposed to be continue training and try to avoid confrontations until we hear from Sunny and Jack. But with two dead Domers, you can bet there’s going to be a backlash,”
“Let them come,” Reyes leveled at Slate. “I don’t mind killing a few more Domers.”
“Reyes is right,” Dawn chimed in, giving Reyes an adoring glance. “We need to let the bourge know we’re not going to take it anymore.” Reyes was surprised by the passion in her voice. She was a delicate looking girl, yet strong in her convictions. He found his eyes wandering to her lips again.
A young man entering the room with a guitar slung over his shoulder interrupted their conversation. With the evening meal at an end, this was the time of night when the people of the Pit could socialize. The young man sat on a stool, strumming a haunting melody as he softly sang. Everyone at the table seemed to perk up and listen to the song, although Reyes didn’t think it was great.
“Well, no one has heard from them,” Slate declared to everyone.
“Heard from who?” Reyes questioned.
“Sunny and Jack,” Slate said in a tone that implied it was obvious.
“You haven’t been here in a while,” Raine interjected. “We use songs to communicate with each other between levels. It’s Crystal’s legacy.”
Reyes thought it was an ingenious idea. “What else did the singer say?” he asked.
“He sang about you,” Dawn informed him proudly. “About how you killed the Domer and took back the training area. You’re a hero.”
Reyes had never noticed how large and innocent her eyes were; they were in complete disagreement with her full lips. He resisted the urge to lean forward and kiss her.
Finished his song, the singer packed up his guitar and vacated the stool. Soon, someone claimed the empty seat and started an old song; one Reyes recognized. Planning the war had come to an end for the evening.
“I’m going to get Flo home,” Raine declared, helping his wife up from her chair.
“I’m tired too,” Mica agreed and stood up.
Reyes realized his friends were leaving him alone, but Dawn didn’t seem to be in a hurry.
“I think I’ll hang around for a while,” Reyes said. He noticed Dawn’s mouth broke into a small smile at his announcement.
“So Dawn,” he said casually when they were alone, “What do you do?”
“I’m a teacher’s assistant here on the sixth floor,” she replied. She chatted easily, telling him all about her job. Every so often she flicked her long hair away from her face.
As she talked, more people left the table to retire to their homes. Soon the common room was more than half empty, but it was still an hour before lights out. Reyes was starting to feel guilty for monopolizing her time.
“Did you want stay?” he asked. She wasn’t surprised by his question.
“Unless… you wanted to do something else?” Dawn asked hesitantly.
“I’m enjoying your company. I’d like to stay,” he smiled.
“I meant…” she took a deep breath. “I meant I know somewhere we could be alone… if you wanted…” Her cheeks flushed red.
Reyes looked at her, a note of surprise on his face. An hour ago he barely knew Dawn existed and now she was propositioning him. Reyes searched her face to see if she was joking, but she looked serious. He draped his arm across the back of her chair, reaching his hand up to stroke her hair.
“You want to be alone with me?” he asked tentatively.
She smiled and leaned toward him, pressing her lips against his. It was a subtle kiss, yet it held so much promise.
“Yes,” she confirmed. Reyes’ fingers laced through her thick, dark hair and he cupped the back of her head to pull her to him. “Not here,” she whispered. “My parents are sitting over in that corner.”
Reyes remembered where they were and dropped his hand. “Then let’s get out of here,” he suggested.
She slipped her hand through his and they left the common room in search of somewhere more private. As they walked hand in hand a thought occurred to Reyes; Dawn was the complete opposite of a sunset. She was exactly what he needed.
Written by: S.M. McEachern Edited by: Christina Galvez