Chapter 9 — Greenhouse, part 1

9 09 2009

When Zabe opens her eyes, the sky is an anemic pre-dawn grey.  she slips down underneath the blankets and turns on the box that Orri gave her.

It glows to life, warming to her touch like a friend.  She curls on her side and sets it in front of her face so that she can read it.

Please be today, she thinks.  Please be today, please be today, please be today…

A little purple square appears in the lower left of the screen.  A message is here.  She touches it with the tip of her index finger.

“Good morning,” says the message, “I wish I could see you but…”

Zabe ignores the rest of the message.  It’s the same one she’s been getting for nearly eight months.  She pulls the box closer to her and folds out the digipad, then writes with her finger, “We’re going out today or we’re never going out at all.”

There’s a long pause.  Then the purple square appears again.

“I don’t know if it’s safe.”

“It’s as safe as it will ever be.  You have to come today.  After that I’m throwing this box in the river.” She doesn’t know if she means it.  She doubts that she does and hopes that he believes her.

The words come out jumbled, like he’s writing fast.  “Ok Zabe calm down please.  I will come.  You know that I am scared about this.”

“Don’t be scared.  We planned this out.  Everything will be fine.”

It takes a long time for the next message to appear.  Zabe imagines Orri sitting alone in his underground room, surrounded by the glowing boxes, hands shaking as he contemplates his bottle of pills.  She likes to imagine him thinking of her.

He sends, “Meet me at the second pumphouse.”

A map appears on the screen.  The second pumphouse is on the far side of the dam, away from any place where the students have ever gone.  Zabe looks at its location, memorizes it, and then writes, before he can say no again, “I’m leaving now.  See you there.”

She shuts off the box and stuffs it down her shirt, into the little pocket she’s sewn for it there.  Ash told her that that was where they kept boxes in his home country and it seems the safest place for it.  It’s small enough and thin enough that it fits without a mark, but she can feel it nestled against her skin.

She climbs out of bed and picks up her pack.  It’s the same one she has put together every single night before their day off for the past few months.  Before that, she didn’t bother to pack her winter gear.

Around her, all of the other girls are asleep in their beds.  Their breathing has made the room damp but not quite warm.  Zabe leaves the room as quietly as possible.  She doesn’t want anyone waking up and seeing her.

The girls’ room has a sitting room outside of it, and for girls getting up early this is the expected place to do all those noisy things like put on clothes and lace up boots.  Zabe is ready to be alone, to slip into the wilderness mode that will carry her through the deep snow and silence, but someone else is in the sitting room when she enters.

“Good morning,” say Jemma.  Her eyes look dark and tired.  She is sitting in a chair by the guttering fire, a book on her lap and a large stack of others on the floor beside her.  “Where are you off to?”

“Going out skiing and hunting,” Zabe says.  She realizes a moment later that something else is required of her.  “Have you been up all night?”

“Yeah,” Jemma says.  “I couldn’t sleep.”

Zabe pulls her long underwear out of her pack and starts to put it on.  One foot in, then the next.  The silence stretches out and makes Zabe’s skin crawl.  They aren’t close.  Zabe isn’t close to anyone.  Yet they are in the same year, have lived in the same room and been in the same classes and done the same things for almost six years.  A history like that has a kind of enforced intimacy.  Zabe wonders if that is supposed to count for something.

“I’m reading,” Jemma says then, as Zabe puts her arms into the long underwear and straightens up to button them.  Jemma is smiling at her, but she looks exhausted.  “I’ve just been sitting here reading and thinking and going a little bit crazy.”

“What are you reading about?” Zabe asks.

Jemma puts one hand up to her head and rubs her hair.  Zabe dimly remembers that Betsy gave Jemma a new haircut just a few nights ago, and now Jemma has spiky little bursts of hair that stick up in every direction, especially when she’s been wearing a hat.  Zabe wonders if it would be nice to have Betsy cut her hair, which is thick and curly and heavy.  She wonders if Betsy would do it.  All of this goes through her mind as Jemma rubs her hair and sighs.  Then she says, “I guess I’m just trying to figure out… what it was like before the school was here.”

“In these mountains, you mean?” Zabe asks.

“Well, more like, what happened to the people who built the town by the glacier?  Not why did they leave, because we know that, but what were they like before they left?”

Zabe hesitates.  She wants to say something but it’s not something she’s ever brought up before.  She looks at Jemma, her face bleak amidst her pile of books, and says, “There’s legends about them.”

“What?” Jemma asks.  She shuts the book on her lap and frowns at Zabe.  “Whose legends?”

Zabe doesn’t know why she said it.  She hates her past and doesn’t like to think about it, much less talk about it.  The school is all she has, as much as that infuriates her and as much as she wants to find out its secrets and rip them out into the open and see what the consequences would be.  Regretting it already, she shrugs and pulls a shirt over her head.  “Just… legends about people who live in mountains.”

“What do you mean?” Jemma asks.

Zabe shrugs again.  “There’s a lot of stories about them.  That people who live in the mountains are magical, and have all of the answers to the hard questions.  They have as much water as they like and they can go around uncovered from the sun.”

“But we live in the mountains,” Jemma says.

“Yes, I know that,” Zabe snaps, “but these are legends that people who don’t live in the mountains, but who know about them, have.”

Jemma squints at her.  “Are they legends from when you were a child?”

Zabe shrugs again.  She wants to train herself out of shrugging because it’s what people from the Desert Lore do.  It’s a byproduct of wearing the calla and not being able to see anything except broad physical gestures.  It conveys any number of emotions and in her it’s almost reflexive, but she is tired of doing it and wants to learn to have the expressions that other people do.  “That’s where I heard them, yes,” she admits.

“You knew about the mountains?” Jemma asks.  “These mountains?”

“I don’t know, really,” Zabe says, “which mountains they were.  I didn’t travel far… compared with other people, I think… when they brought me here.  So I think they might be the same.”

Jemma looks fascinated.  Zabe feels like a bug with a pin in its back now.  She wants to wriggle away but Jemma is too busy examining her for scientific value.  She pulls on her final layer and picks up her pack, but Jemma says, “Oh please, Zabe, tell me a bit more!”

Zabe doesn’t know what to do.  All of the others have shared their stories.  Jemma is from a place where everyone lives in the shadow of a great civilization now lost, amongst the crumled ruins of massive stone buildings.  They live in tents on land and make their living as fishermen and traders on a gorgeous blue sea.  Jemma was born on a boat in the sea in the middle of a storm, one of nineteen children.  Her parents, she told them, probably did not notice when she fell off the back of the boat as they were leaving a harbor when she was little more than six.  She’d been picked up by Dr. Levi when she was begging in the harbor town not long after and brought to the school.  Her real name was unpronounceable to most people outside of her tribe and so Dr. Levi gave her a list of names and she chose the one she liked best.

That was Jemma’s story and she had told it once, years ago, matter-of-factly.  Like most, she had no particular ties to it, and what she did remember, she had been too young to really understand.  Everyone else told their story too, even Ash, though he left out of a lot of it and Zabe knew that it was more painful for him than most.  Zabe was the only one of their year – and, if it could be believed, one of only two or three in the school – who had not yet told her story.

“But you are your story,” Meera, one of the older girls, had said to Zabe when she was a Year Fourteen and once again refusing to talk about it.  “We know everything else.  You have no other stories here, because there’s no point telling what we’ve all seen.  We’re all the same once we get to the school.  So your story is important, Zabe, it’s what made you who you are.”

Zabe had disagreed loudly then, and she would do the same now, but inside she knows that Meera is right, at least as far as Zabe herself is concerned.  Jemma doesn’t seem like someone particularly affected by her previous life, other than that she is excellent at catching fish in the lake and enjoys swimming; most of the others, too, only have strange, superficial traits that recall their early childhoods.  Few of them even have accents.  But Zabe knows that she is who she is because of the Desert Lore.  She just hates to think about it or admit it.  If she could erase it, she would.

“There’s not much more to tell,” Zabe says stiffly.  “I doubt that it would tell you anything anyway.  People where I am from believe… believed that people from the mountains had blessed lives.  They lived in a magical place where things were very different from where we lived, and as such, they had different… well, they had magical powers.  That were different from the ones that people we knew supposedly had.  For example, in order to become an animal, you had to journey to the mountains and meet its brother or sister there.”  Zabe waves her hand.  “It was all superstitious stuff.  Really stupid.”

Jemma frowns.  “But Mr. Webster says that myths and legends are based in truth.  You just have to look behind the stories to figure it out.”

“Yes, well,” Zabe says, “it’s not hard to see that either.  Where… where these legends come from, were coming from, it’s, I mean, it wasn’t a very nice environment.  It didn’t have many resources and in some ways it felt like the opposite of the mountains.  But both environments are harsh.  Both of them require hard work to survive in.”  Zabe indicates her skis and her winter clothes.  “You see?”

“But what about the animals?” Jemma asks.  “That’s really… interesting.”

Zabe remembers Father Gabriel for the first time in years, telling the foundation stories and reading to them from the holy books.  She doesn’t want to.  She’s still convinced that he’s the one who sold her out to Dr. Levi and the school.  He’s the only one who even knew that she could read.  His words and face are clear in her head now, but she shrugs and lies, “I don’t know.”

Jemma looks disappointed.  Zabe kicks her boot on the floor to make sure it’s tight, and then says, “Well, I want to catch the dawn.”

“Sure,” Jemma says.  “Good luck.”

“Yeah, thanks,” Zabe says.  She walks towards the door.  She wants to be able to turn around and say something else to Jemma but she doesn’t know what she’d say and she’s scared that she’ll look stupid if she does.

********************************************************************************

Zabe is skiing through the tunnel towards the lake now, fast and hard and angry with herself.  She’s sweating and slipping on the icy grooves that always form in here.  The tunnel is an immense concrete structure that leads to the valley just above the lake, which they know as the Valley of the Bridge.  It’s the only way down to the lake, as far as Zabe knows, but she doesn’t see Orri anywhere.  She’s frantic.  Her encounter with Jemma has unnerved her and she’s playing it over and over again in her head.  She wants to be Jemma’s friend, she wants to be helpful, she wants to talk to her about what she’s thinking about, but she can’t.  Her secrets rise up like demons and imprison her.

Orri knows them already.  He won’t ask her a thing.  She just hopes that he isn’t too scared to come.

She’s not sure what she could have told Jemma anyway.  Father Gabriel taught them – her, really, she doesn’t know why she includes the other children, because they were all dull and barely bothered to listen – that the animals were the ones to watch.  They were the ones who could move through the desert, or through the mountains, or through the Wastes between, with ease.  The humans had to look at them and learn from them, and, if they were respectful enough and careful enough, then they could become animals themselves and escape from this earthly torment of being human.  Anyone who desired that was sinful and ignoring the true path, but that did not stop some.

It was utter nonsense, Zabe is sure of that now, but as a child the idea had captivated her, despite its blasphemy.

Of course it did, she says now.  Anything was better than there.

And Father Gabriel himself: was he crazy religious fanatic with the misfortunate charitable instinct that drove him to teach children at the Mission, or some secret operative who later would be revealed behind a closed door inside the school itself?

Was he even still alive?

Zabe’s ski sticks in the icy groove as she exits the tunnel, and she falls over and slides into a tree.  Winded, she lies beneath its quivering boughs as snow pours off them and onto her.  She’s felt like an idiot since the moment she saw Jemma, and now she’s an idiot covered in snow with her skis stuck up in the air.  She sits up and breathes deeply – her ribs are fine – and then struggles her way into an upright position.

“Stop it,” she says aloud.  The trees are silent in response, the snow glistening all around.  The scene is beautiful – her favorite in the whole world – and she shakes her head like a wolf and gets the snow off her hat.  “Just stop being an idiot.”

She’s in the Valley of the Bridge now.  She stands and skis across the flat valley, towards the rusted metal hulk that still bridges the river.  Underneath the snow, she knows that there are the remains of a double-lined track along it, with grooves as if something with special wheels had rolled there sometime in the past.  The bridge is the limit beyond which they are not supposed to travel alone.  She skis onto it and then across the river, feeling apprehensive.  The lake is just ahead; she only has to traverse down a steep bit of ground and then she knows that it will appear before her, wide and covering the entire valley floor up to its earthen dam wall.  The engineering class that they started in Year Fifteen spends an inordinate amount of time staring at that wall and talking about ways to maximize the efficiency of the pumps, to route more power back to the school.

She hates the lake, but this is where Orri wants to meet.  She suspects that there is another route to it beginning near Lady Vallance’s office that no one else knows about.

She skis along the dam wall, not looking down at the surface of the lake.  She can’t shake the belief that if she looks into the water, she’ll see more than her reflection.

As the valley walls close around her, she comes to the grove of trees that she remembers from Orri’s map.  They are almost too regular, all the same height.  She wonders why she’s never noticed them before.  She skis cautiously into them and there it is: the second pumphouse.  It’s a small wooden building hidden among the trees.

She unhooks her skis and walks towards it.  She remembers Orri talking about it and as she hears the machinery moving she once again marvels at all that they hide from the students.  This pumphouse is bigger than the other; it must supply even more power.  She wonders if it all goes towards the maintenance of those boxes beneath Lady Vallance’s office.  She knows from charging hers that individually, they don’t run off much power, but…

Suddenly she remembers her box, nestled safely beneath her shirt, and the feeling of hitting the tree.  Frantic, she opens layers of coats and sweaters until she reaches it, but it doesn’t matter: the box is cracked.  She pulls it out and stares at it, then tries to turn it on.  Nothing.

“Zabe?”

Orri’s voice startles her.  She looks up and sees him staring at her from the door of the pumphouse.

“This…” she says, holding it out to him.  “I’m so sorry.”

“What happened?” he asks.

She hasn’t seen him since the first day they met.  She feels out of breath, but it isn’t bad.  She says, “I’m really sorry.  I fell on my way here and it broke.”

“Oh,” Orri says, “that doesn’t matter.  I’ve got more.  Come inside.”

Zabe hesitates.  She feels like an animal caught out by a hunter.

“Please,” Orri says.  “It’s warm in here.”

The spell is broken.  She walks through the heavy snow to the door, which he swings open so that she can pass him.  She takes off her boots and looks around at the cramped interior, then back at him.  She’s forgotten how thin and pale he is.

“How did you get here?” she asks.  “I didn’t see you in the tunnel.”

“No,” he says, “I came another way.”

“I figured,” she says, looking around.  “How?”

“Just another tunnel,” he says.

They stand together in silence for a few seconds.  Zabe doesn’t know what to say to the boy she’s been communicating electronically with for over a year.  They’ve been planning to meet for so many months, but she somehow never imagined what it would be like when they did.

“Why today?” she asks.

He shrugs and looks at the floor, but his eyes come back to hers almost immediately.  He’s smiling.  “You threatened me.”

“You shouldn’t give in to negotiations like that,” she says.  She raises her eyebrows at him to let him know she’s making a joke, but he’s still smiling.  She likes that.

“It’s hard not to, when it’s you.”

“Have you been watching me?” she asks.

“When I’ve been at the school, yes.”  He hesitates.  “I’m not sure if that’s weird or what.”

“I like to think that you are,” she admits.

They’re staring at each other hard now.  Zabe’s heart is beating so fast that she feels light-headed.  For a few seconds, there’s almost unbearable tension in the room.  Then Orri looks away and points at a pile of snow gear in the corner.

“I brought that,” he says.  “You said you wanted to show me around.”

Zabe steps over to it and looks through the collection.  To call it motley would be kind, but there’s a pair of workable skis.  She picks them up and says, “Let’s wax these and go.”

“Where are we going?” Orri asks.  He sounds nervous.  “I haven’t skied in so many years… not since I was a child.”

Zabe glances back at him.  The way he says it, he sounds like an old man, but she knows that he’s only a few years older than she is.  “Where did you ski?” she asks, wondering if he might be from somewhere near to Ash’s family.

“Oh, I’m from a very snowy place,” Orri says.  “An island close to one of the poles.  I haven’t been back in years… my mother was exiled you see…” He stops and looks stricken.  Zabe raises her eyebrows at him.

“Your mother?”

“Yes,” Orri says quickly, “she was.  It was too bad.  And so I was thrown out too, and had to make my way on my own.”

“What happened to her?”

“That’s another story.”

Zabe shrugs.  “It’s funny you should mention your childhood,” she says.  “I don’t want to bring up anything painful, but I was thinking earlier how lovely it is that you already know all about mine, so you never have to ask.”

“Do the others ask you often?”

“Not so much anymore, but they used to.  Now they know I won’t talk about it.”

Orri nods.  He’s smiling again.  “The past is past, anyway.  Let’s forget it for today.  What are you going to show me?”

********************************************************************************

They ski for hours through the trees.  Zabe has never felt so calm or at peace as she does when Orri is beside her.  He isn’t a good skier, and though he still has some technique he seems to lack any natural athletic ability.  Zabe loves him for it.  Unlike with Ash, there’s no competition between them, or even really any them at all: there’s just the snow-laden sky and the dark trees and the muffled ground, brought into life by their suggestion of movement.  They are like hidden humble gods, the illuminating spark in all this creation.

They stop in a meadow and wait for half an hour, Orri watching in silence until Zabe shoots them a rabbit, and then they construct a fire and sit around it waiting for the pungent meat to cook.  They don’t speak until they’ve eaten their fill.  It is nearly afternoon now, and the sky has gotten darker and snow has begun to fall.

Orri speaks first.  His voice is very quiet.  “Zabe, I’m sorry I was scared to come to you.”

“Don’t be,” she says.  She feels generous now that she has him here.  She barely remembers all those months of waiting and disappointment for the day when they would go together, alone into the trees.  “Why were you scared?  Did you think you’d get caught?”

He nods.  “I still am,” he says, “but I forget when I’m with you.”

“What will happen if you do?”

“I can’t imagine,” he says.  “I don’t want to.  But I don’t… I wouldn’t have gone out if there was even the most remote chance.  I made sure of that.  I was just being paranoid.  But it’s more than just being scared of being caught.”

“How so?”

“I’m scared of the outside.”  He looks down at his hands.  “I have dreams… they’re like visions almost… and sometimes I can’t separate them from the real world.”  He looks at her.  “Do you think I’m crazy?”

“No,” she says softly.  “Where I’m from, there are many people who have visions.”

“But you never did?” he asks.  “Are you sure?”

“Never,” she says.  “My mother… well, she once said she wanted to be sure that I didn’t.”

He seems relieved.  He looks away from her, at the snowy log he’s sitting on.  “My mother was the opposite, you see.”

Zabe is almost holding her breath now.  It seems that history can’t stay dead today.  “I’m sorry,” she says truthfully.  She remembers the people with visions – there were so many of them in the Desert Lore – and how terrible and painful they seemed to be.

“It’s all right,” Orri says.  “Nothing can change it now.  But it makes going outside difficult sometimes.  I think that I’ll get one and fall down and be lost forever.”

“Not when you’re with me,” she says.

“No,” he agrees, “not when I’m with you.”

They look at each other.  Their words hang like a promise between them.

“What does Ash think of me?” Orri asks abruptly.

Zabe hesitates.  “He doesn’t like you.”

“I figured.  Why do you have to tell him everything?”

“He’s my best friend,” Zabe says.  “And I don’t tell him everything, not by a long shot.”

Orri glances at her.  She’s sitting on the log beside him and they are very close.  She leans forward on an impulse and puts her lips lightly on his, then draws back.  “I won’t tell him anything about this,” she says.  “Or about today at all.”

Orri smiles at her.  “Thanks,” he says.  Then he puts his arm around her shoulders and draws her in close.  They sit in front of the fire for a long time, until it burns out and the snow has fallen thick upon their backs.

Zabe is the first to stand.  She looks up into the swirling sky and says, “Maybe we should head back.”  She doesn’t want to, but she knows how winter storms come, and this one is settling in towards blizzard.

“Wait,” Orri says.  He stands too.  “I want to show you something.”

“Ok.”

“We have to ski to it.”

“Is it far?”

“Not too far,” he says.  “Please, Zabe, this is important.  I really need to show this to someone else.”

“Ok,” Zabe says.  The mood is suddenly oppressive.  She just wants them to hurry and be on their way.  She straps into her skis and he does the same and then she follows him up the slope until they come to a small ridge.  In the shadow of some rocks, they look down onto another valley.  The snow is starting to fall thickly, but not so much that visibility is bad; Zabe can see down to the valley floor.  It is very wide and treeless.  Nestled into the landscape so that it receives as much sunshine as possible, there is a small, low, glass building.

Zabe stares at it.  “Is that a greenhouse?”

“I think it must be,” Orri says.  He sounds worried.  “It’s new.”

“How do you know?”

“Because we saw it last night when we flew in.  Lady Vallance did.  She didn’t know I was looking out the window too.  I’m not supposed to, you see.”

Zabe reaches into her pack and pulls out her binoculars.  “Orri,” she says a moment later, some unidentifiable emotion rising in her stomach, “there’re plants in there.”

“Are there?” he asks.  He doesn’t sound surprised.  “Dr. Levi said this would happen.”

“What?”

“That other people would come.”

Zabe lowers the binoculars and turns to look at him.  “Why would she think that?”

“I don’t know.  It’s a good place to be, I guess.”

“What aren’t you telling me?” she demands.

“Nothing!  I don’t know anything more than this!”  He looks at her and shakes his head.  “Honestly, Zabe, all I have is these little tidbits of stolen conversation… I’m not supposed to know a thing!”

Zabe looks down at the greenhouse with her stomach churning.  She knows, looking at it, that war is coming.  “I want to go see it.”

“What?”

“Let’s go,” Zabe says, and she shoves off with her poles and navigates her way down into the broad valley.  She knows that Orri can’t catch up with her to stop her, and that makes her go faster, though she turns back to look at him periodically because she is scared that he will collapse with a vision.

She reaches the greenhouse.  It is so warm that it has melted a foot-wide strip of snow around itself.  She leaves her skis behind, stepping onto the soft, damp grass.  Orri catches up to her as she stands with her nose pressed against the glass, staring in at row after row of vegetables.

“How is it so warm?” she asks him when he arrives.

“Geothermal, I think.  This valley is full of hot springs.  I’m guessing they pump it in through the floor.”

“How did the school not see this being built?” Zabe demands.

Orri shakes his head.  “I don’t know.  It’s not on a usual flight pattern, so there’s that.”

Zabe is unreasonably angry with Lady Vallance and Dr. Levi for letting these people come here and ruin their peace.  She’s not ready for battle yet.  “Let’s burn it down,” she says.

“What?” Orri asks.

“Burn it down,” she repeats.  She turns to him and spreads out her hands.  “If we destroy it…”

“It’s too late,” he says softly.  “She already saw it.”

“Is it the first sign of other people?”

“That I know of.”

Zabe walks around the building until she finds a door.  It, too, is made of glass.

“Where did they get this material?” she demands.

“Scavenged it, is my guess,” Orri says.  “It’s expensive stuff.”

Zabe kicks the door in with her boot and the glass shatters.  She hates it.  “Come on,” she says.

“Zabe…”

She ignores him and stalks inside, ready to rip out the plants with her bare hands.  Some of them have fruit hanging from them, heavy but unripe.  It is obviously well-tended.  She turns to look at Orri, who is following her.  “Do they know about us?”

“I don’t think so,” he says.  “They don’t seem to have discovered the lake yet.  At least, none of the boxes in the pumphouses show anything unusual.  And there’s no guard around this place.”

“What should I do?” she asks him, pleading.  “Should I destroy it?  Or leave it be and let it destroy us?”

“Why does it have to destroy us?” Orri asks softly.  “And if you think it’s that inevitable… how does destroying this one building save us?”

Zabe squints at him.  “What do you want to happen?”

“I want things to change,” he says.

“Change how?”

“I want to take you and run away and never see any of this again.”

They look at each other for a long time.

Orri says, “If you destroy it, they might not have enough food to make it through the winter.”

Zabe exhales loudly into the still air, then turns and walks out of the greenhouse.  The die is already cast, but she doesn’t know yet what roles she and Orri and Ash will play.

“Let’s just go,” she says, and Orri nods.

They put on their skis and leave the valley, skiing to the ridge and then re-tracing their tracks back to the second, hidden pumphouse.  By the time they reach it, it is late afternoon and the snow is still falling.  Orri shuts the door behind them and Zabe notices for the first time that the wind is starting to howl.  She has a heavy feeling that they have left things too late and the journey back will be treacherous, but she wants to say what’s been percolating in her mind since they left the greenhouse.

“We can’t leave,” she says to him.  “The school, I mean.”

“It’s impossible,” he says quickly, “I mean, how would we ever find our way out of the mountains?”

“I think I could probably do that,” Zabe says slowly.  “Now that I know about the town at the foot of the glacier… I think I could figure it out.  In summer, we could do it.  We could live off the land and hike out.  We would be in the Waste, then, I think, unless you know differently. “

“No, we would be,” Orri says.  “You’re right about that.”

“But with luck, we could survive that too,” Zabe says.  She thinks of the animals.  “I think I know how.  It would be possible.”

There’s a long pause.  Then Orri says, “Then why do you say we can’t leave?”

Zabe remembers Dr. Levi’s words on the helicopter: “You’ll never be the leader you so obviously want to be.”  She sighs.  “We can’t just leave them all behind,” she says.

“So we’ll get Ash.”

“Not just Ash.  All of them.”

“Why not?  You’re not friends with them.”

Zabe hesitates.  She knows that what she’s about to say is going to reveal something about herself that she should probably bury as far down as she can.  It’s something she’s barely been able to acknowledge to herself.  “Because the school… the teachers… they know what they’re doing.  They’ve got the right group of people and they’re training them the right way.  I believe that.”

Orri stares at her.  “The right group of people getting the right training for what?” he demands.  He sounds disgusted but she forces herself to follow her thoughts to their logical conclusion.

“For… whatever war they want us to fight.  And I don’t know if they’re on the right side or not, but they are training an army.  I’m going to figure out what the sides are and which one I should be on, and then… with Ash, and with you, too, I hope… then I’m going to lead them into the fight.”

Orri turns away from her.  “You’re turning into them,” he snaps.  “I can’t even stand to look at you, you know.  I just want to get away from you.  You’re turning into my mother and Dr. Levi and…”

“Your mother?” Zabe repeats.

Orri is almost crying.  “Don’t you see how you’re using people?” he demands.  “This training is terrible!  It’s designed to make you totally obedient to them!  And you want to be just like them!”

“I don’t,” Zabe says quietly.  “I want people to choose me as their leader.  I want them to see that I stand for the side of good and then they can decide whether or not to follow me.”

“Oh yeah?” Orri demands.  “So you’ll let the teachers do your dirty work and then you’ll swoop in and take advantage of it.  Where did you get this overdeveloped sense of morality, huh?”

Zabe winces.  “From watching the world, I guess.”  She spreads her hands out.  “I can’t explain it.”

“And what if it turns out,” Orri gasps, because he is crying now, in huge horrible sobs, “what if it turns out that they’re right?  That my mother, Lady Vallance, is right?  That her side deserves to win?”

“Does it?” Zabe asks.  She feels hollowed out.  She’s scared that she’s ruined the powerful connection she had with Orri.  She looks down at the box, her old box that he gave to her once a long time ago and that he had left on the floor of the pumphouse this morning before they went out into the woods and the silence and the peace together.  It’s been her lifeline.  It’s a good thing it’s broken.  She doesn’t think she could stand to see it cold and unresponsive because of this.

“I don’t know,” Orri says, “but I do know that my mother was exiled because she did terrible things.  She deserved to be exiled.  And I wish that she’d left me behind.  Instead, she kidnapped me from the hospital and took me with her – I hadn’t seen her since I was a baby – and I’ve been with her ever since and I hate it, I hate her, I hate all of this.”  Orri sits on the floor and puts his head in his hands.  Zabe stands apart from him, unable to reach out as his shoulders shake and heave.

Eventually he raises his head.  His eyes are red and accusatory.

“You sound exactly like her.”

“I don’t want to sound like her,” Zabe says.  “Orri, please, I don’t.  But I can’t stand back.  I can’t run away.”

“You don’t even know what you’d be running away from,” Orri snaps.  “There’s so much that you don’t know about… the horrible things that people do to each other…”

“I know a lot of things,” Zabe says.  She feels impossibly old to be only sixteen, and yet she’s felt this old for years.

Her words seem to calm him.

“Do you care what I think?” he asks.

“More than anything,” she says, and for the first time her voice breaks.  “Really, Orri.”

“Then listen to me,” he says.  “Don’t become her.  Don’t think that just because you’re smart you deserve to be in charge of other people.  Everything they tell you in this school is designed to make you feel like you’re chosen for some special purpose because of what you did before you came here, but you aren’t.  You’re chosen because they chose you.  This isn’t about how smart you are and it never has been.”  He wipes his eyes with the backs of his hands, a strangely childlike gesture.  It makes Zabe’s chest ache.  “Trust me, Zabe, and just leave when you can.  Take whatever chance you get and just go away from here and take Ash and forget that this school ever existed.”

“What about you?” she asks quietly.

Orri shakes his head.  “That’s just a fantasy.  It won’t work.  I’m ruined anyway.”

“What, because of the visions?”

He nods.  “I can’t stop them,” he says.  “And they get worse as I get older.”

“You’re not ruined,” she says gently.  “Not to me.  And I want you to come with me too.”

Orri shakes his head.  “It’s impossible.”

She crouches down beside him but he moves away from her touch and puts his head back against the wall.  They listen to the sound of the wind until she can’t stand it anymore.  She says, “We should go back.”

“I know,” Orri says.  He doesn’t move.

“Now,” she says.  “The storm is only going to get worse.”

“I came another way, remember?”

“Can you go back that way?”

“No,” he admits.

“Please come with me, Orri.  I can lead you back.”

He looks up and finally accepts her hand.

Together, they struggle through the snow back to the tunnel, using his box as a compass.  The only words that pass between them are words of direction and caution until they are safely back in the valley with the school.  They come to a place where they have to part and stop, looking at each other.  They’re in the eaves underneath one of the buildings, sheltered from the storm.

“I’m sorry that we had a fight,” Zabe says.

“Me too,” Orri says.  “I’m sorry if I seemed… intense.”

“It’s ok,” Zabe says.  “You were right.”

“I think I always do, though.  Seem intense, I mean.”

“It’s ok,” Zabe repeats.  “I do too.”

“Yeah,” Orri agrees.

They stand together and watch the storm.

“If I don’t go to dinner,” Zabe says finally, “they’ll miss me.”

Orri sighs.  “I figured.”

“Can I come see you after?”

“That’s really dangerous.”

“Please?”

“I don’t know if that’s a good idea.”

She can sense that his resolve is wearing down.  “I don’t mind,” she says.  “I have to go now but I want to make this better.  I want you to not think I’m a terrible person.”  He doesn’t speak, so she reaches out and takes his gloved hand in hers.  She can just barely feel the shape of his fingers through the thick fabric.  “Please, Orri.  It’s really important to me that you… well, that you like me.”

“It shouldn’t be,” he says.  “Trust me, I’m not worth your time.”

“Don’t… you don’t mean that.  Do you?”

“Yes,” Orri says, “I do.  Now, I’m going to go.  You know where to find me but… please be careful.”

“I will.”

They look at each other again.  Zabe remembers the kiss, their first kiss, and when she kissed him in the forest.

“I’ll see you later,” he says, and then he turns away from her and the circle of light and warmth beneath the building and leaves.  To Zabe, he looks like a lone wolf separating from the pack and returning to solitude.  She aches to follow him but knows that she can’t, so she counts the seconds until too many have passed and then she turns around and walks through the door.

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