Cole settled the twisted piece of metal more firmly in his hand, whittling the length of wood he’d found growing near the Red Cross building. Over the past week, the group had set up their base of operations in a two-story building marked with the familiar sign in the hopes of finding precious medical equipment, although the machinery inside was incomprehensible. They’d argued about it, of course. May pointed out that the symbol might not even mean medicine here, depending on where here was. Cole wasn’t sure, but it didn’t seem to matter. His leg was already feeling much better now that the long and arduous trek to the outermost streets of the city was over. Everyone had insisted on giving him a ground-floor room in the dormitory-like building next door, but he was sure he could manage the stairs.
If only someone would believe him when he said so—but of course they thought he was just being stubborn. He wasn’t. He had almost a full range of motion back and could put weight on the hurt leg again even if he still needed a makeshift cane. He could walk without the aid of the splint Jing-Wei had built for him . . . how long ago was it? His sense of the time right after the accident was hazy, but he knew it had only been a couple weeks at the most. Even if the damage hadn’t been as bad as they’d feared, it seemed like the injury was healing quicker than it ought to. He’d put down animals for breaks like his.
He chipped at the wood with deliberation. It wouldn’t do to cut himself. The others already looked at him like he was useless. A burden to be carried, not a resource to be used. He didn’t like that. The work was the only thing that kept him from thinking too hard these days, and without it, he was pretty sure he’d go insane.
The spear looked almost done, and he tested the point briefly before making a few minor adjustments. He wished he’d taken Holden and Seyah’s stories about killer caretakers more seriously. He wished he’d made these spears sooner. He wished . . . a lot of things, but that didn’t make them so. It was useless to waste time when he had things to do. People to prove himself to.
No sooner had he set the finished weapon on the pile than some of those people came out of the Red Cross building and walked over to him. One look at the expressions of concern on Holden and Nevaeh’s faces told him he wasn’t going to be pleased with what they had to say. Inez just looked pissed, but that was a default for her. Over dinner last night, Gabe had observed that if you looked up resting bitch face in the dictionary, you’d find a picture of Inez. Cole couldn’t help laughing, although he felt bad about it, remembering the incident now.
“Hey,” said Holden. “Mind if we sit down?”
“Not at all,” replied Cole. Maybe he was just being paranoid. How could you not be, after everything that had happened? He saw the others relaxing with every hour that passed in safety within the city, but he just couldn’t. Someone had to keep watch. Someone had to protect the others. Out of all of them, he was pretty certain he was the only one with experience looking after a family. Except for Umta, maybe, but Cole wasn’t sure if he wanted to count her as one of them or not. She made him nervous.
“So is everybody about ready to go?” he asked when no one spoke. He couldn’t stand them staring at him like that. “I’ve got two more spears to do. I know some of you think it’s overkill, but it’s better to have them and not need them than the other way around.”
“I’ll be glad to have a spear.” From the relief on Holden’s face, it was clear that he meant it. “It’s too quiet here.”
The two boys exchanged a look of understanding. Then Inez shrugged. “I’m not sure what a spear would do against a giant killer robot. But it’s cool that you’re making them.”
“Maybe we should stay here and make some more while the others look around,” blurted Nevaeh. Her discomfort showed on her face. “Extra spears might be a good idea.”
“We need more supplies than just weapons,” said Cole. “The sooner we set to stockpiling food, the better. Who knows how long our rations will last. I’ve got some ideas on how to keep it fresh, too. We kept cattle mostly, but I’ve worked grain storage in the past.”
“All the more reason for you to stay here while the rest of us go to forage, dude,” said Holden. “Get things set up.”
Cole set down the spear he was working on and tried to keep his expression neutral. These people were his friends, or as close as he was going to get to it under the circumstances. He couldn’t just yell at them, no matter how much the trio of concerned faces made him want to. They could barely take care of themselves when they’d gotten here. How dare they treat him like a child?
But that was an unchristian thought if ever he’d had one. He could almost imagine the expression on Bethany’s face when he confessed it to her. Except that wouldn’t happen. Couldn’t happen. Not anymore.
He took a deep breath and let it out. “You don’t...