The excited yammering outside the Camp Jaha clinic grew so loud Octavia finally looked up at Jackson. “Do you have any idea what’s going on?”
“No!” Jackson held up his hands. “Not a clue.” Then he grinned and gestured at the door with his head. “Go find out.”
Octavia grinned back, and turned to her patient. Well, not ‘her’ her patient, as she wasn’t a doctor, obviously! He was a patient nonetheless, and she was working with him. “Matyn? You gonna be okay for a time?”
“Sha, gada. You go. Ai ste…” he paused, then offered her a optimistic smile, “better. I be better.”
Octavia smiled, patting his leg. “You are better. And improving every day. Your English and your health.”
The former reaper nodded, sketching a quick wave with his fingers. Like the other two warriors in the clinic, his arms and legs were still secured to the bed. Not because they were necessarily a danger to others, but because they could still hurt themselves. Between seizures, nightmares, and a periodically unbearable instinct to claw the illusory bugs out of their veins with their fingernails, or even their teeth if they had the chance, they had come to terms with their restraints.
Desperate reapers had been stumbling into the tunnels under Mt. Weather ever since the fortress fell to the Ark. They were hunting for their dose of Red, the highly addictive drug cocktail the Mountain Men had used to men into beasts, and so bend them to their will. If the Ark medical teams didn’t get to the reapers in time, their hearts would stop from the withdrawal seizures. They’d lost more than a dozen men that way already. Dead on the tunnel floors before help could arrive. There were surely more out there somewhere, dying alone in the forest, too weak or confused to come in.
Six more had died in the clinic inside Mt. Weather, their bodies finally giving out, their hearts failed from multiple resuscitation attempts. Forty-odd more were still alive, though many of them had been under the Red long enough that they were in incredibly ill health; dehydrated, malnourished, exhausted and very weak once the drug was finally flushed from their systems. Dr. Griffin had confided privately to Octavia and Lincoln that she though they would lose a few of these men as well.
Once their bodies were more or less stabilized, the emotional and psychological work could begin.
Because Octavia had more experience than anyone on Earth with helping a reaper on the road to recovery, she’d been pulled into the treatment program. Since she’d lost her position with Indra and the Woods Clan, since she and Lincoln had fully thrown in with the people of the Ark, working with the former reapers at least filled her time.
She’d been the one to suggest moving the strongest to Camp Jaha as soon as they were stable enough, mentally and physically. Get them away from the mountain, away from the villages, into a place with absolutely no former ties or memories.
That it got her and Lincoln away from enclosed corridors and still air, out from under the crushing weight of the mountain, was just a bonus. She told herself that anyway, and despite a sharp glint in her eye, Dr. Griffin didn’t argue the point. Instead, she said she thought it was an excellent idea.
It was actually working pretty well, too, if Octavia did say it herself. Which she did. Often. Just to make sure credit ended up where it belonged.
Matyn had made the most progress so far, but the other two men were also making real improvements day to day. They were sitting up and eating real food, even beginning to talk with her – laughing as she attempted to explain drug withdrawal in Trigedasleng, and at their own struggles to find words to describe the tech they were living with.
Octavia followed the excited voices out to the main entrance, spilling outside with a growing crowd. Spying a familiar set of goggles, she grabbed Jasper’s arm. “What’s going on?”
“First Convoy. It’s finished the trip a day early. They’re almost here.”
Back at the mountain, Kane and Sinclair had hauled out all the old maps they could find and then located all the old roadbeds using current satellite images. Some of them were part of the Grounder’s trail network. Others were not. Using that information, they’d plotted the shortest, easiest, most protected route between the Mountain and Camp Jaha.
This was the path Octavia had walked days earlier, along with her three strongest patients and a handful of the forty-six and their few remaining parents. And one tough-as-nails grandma. Those who, like her, didn’t want to stay in the Mountain. As they walked they’d cleared away the easiest of the fallen logs, hacked back the undergrowth, marked the places washouts or streams had cut the road, the two bridges that had collapsed, and sent the data back by satellite phone once they arrived at Camp Jaha. People moving from Camp Jaha to the mountain did the same thing walking the other direction.
Today would mark a new stage in their adapting to the ground. No more walking between Mt. Weather and Camp Jaha. Raven and the remaining mechanics had broken out the fleet of all terrain vehicles. The Mountain Men had stashed them against the day they could move freely in the outside world. That day never came. The mountain men would never use them now. The Arkers were more than happy to use them in their place.
A line of a half-dozen vehicles was just rolling through the gate as Octavia wormed her way to the front of the spontaneous welcoming committee. Looking around, she realized that basically everyone who wasn’t actually on post performing guard duty was there.
The first vehicle was little more than an open-framed box on wheels, with two benches and a windshield. Kyle Wick was driving and Bellamy was riding shotgun. For real.
Octavia couldn’t help but laugh in delight when she saw him. He actually had a two-barreled shotgun resting in his lap – a shotgun! – and a rifle at his side.
Taking up the rear seat was Raven Reyes, her braced leg propped up on the rim of the door.
A ragged cheer went up from the small crowd, and Bellamy waved in acknowledgment. Raven started blowing kisses and bowing, which made everyone laugh and cheer louder.
As soon as Wick braked to a stop and cut the engine, Bellamy hopped out, slung his shotgun on his back, then leaned in and scooped Raven up off the seat. Seeing this, Wick shot him an evil glare and Bellamy, the asshole, just winked at him.
Raven immediately started squirming, banging on his shoulder. “Put me down, jerkface. I can walk on my own.”
Octavia called out, “You heard the lady. Jerkface.”
Bellamy carefully set Raven on her feet, and after waiting for her to catch her balance before he let go, turned to pull Octavia into a tight embrace. “That’s Captain of the Broom Squad, to you, O.”
Octavia tilted her head back and fluttered her eyelashes at him. “My Hero!”
“Hey! I’m a hero too!” Wick said, “Don’t I get a hug?”
“Depends. What kind of supplies did you guys bring to this dump?” Octavia said.
“Oh!” Wick replied, rubbing his hands together in excitement, “Just wait till you see!”
They had food. They brought flour and potatoes, bread and crackers, canned vegetables and spices, cured meats and nuts, all raided from the Mountain’s storerooms. They had medical supplies, parts for a better radio tower, plus lots of jerry cans full spare gas, and boxes and boxes of ammo.
They also had four more patients for Octavia and Jackson. Dazed-looking warriors with cloth wrist bindings and loose trousers and flapping shirts clambering out of the trucks and cars with expressions ranging from sickly confusion to excited glee. This last one, a tall, skinny-looking kid who appeared hardly older than Octavia herself, was so animated that his driver shook his head, and with an amused twist of his lips, popped the hood and started pointing out the parts of the engine.
She caught Lincoln’s eye and nodded at the kid. Lincoln smiled as he followed her glance. “I think that one will be okay.”
“All right,” Jackson said from behind her shoulder, “Let’s get this new crew settled, yeah?”
They’d just finished clearing out rooms across from the main clinic and setting up a new recovery ward when music started blasting through the compound. Swelling strings, hard driving beat, then “You ready? Let’s go,” and the words from “Remember the Name,” spilled out into the world for the first time in years, Octavia guessed. Decades even.
Jackson looked at Octavia, and then they both started to grin, swaying to the beat, chanting the old lyrics along with everyone else who’d grown up on the Ark, both of them laughing at Lincoln’s bewildered expression as they danced around him. When the song ended, Kyle Wick’s voice came over the new PA system. “That’s just the first tune, ladies and gentlemen. Kick back, settle in, Wick’s Special Mix is coming to you straight from outta space,” and then the opening cords of the next track took over.
By the time Octavia made it back outside for a quick breather in the open air, the sun was dropping toward the horizon and the light was tinting everything a deep gold.
The music was still playing, eager hands were setting up a generous picnic spread on the outside tables and then Bellamy wandered up beside her, his arms full of bulky things. “Miller,” he was yelling to be heard over the music, “Miller? Where the hell are you, man?”
“Right here,” Nathan said irritably. “I’m helping with the food. What do you want?”
Bellamy spun toward him, a huge grin on his face. “Guess what I found.” Then he held out his hands. He was carrying a pair of large metal circles with brackets on one side, and a heavy, lumpy white sack.
“Oh my freaking God. Is this…?” Nathan’s eyes had gone wide and shiny and he was beginning to grin as he reached out with greedy hands to take the metal hoops.
“Basketball, man. We can play basketball.”
“Where the hell did you find these?” he asked, clutching the hoops protectively to his chest.
“In a store room behind the gyms. I didn’t want to take down the ones there, so I went looking. Found extras. Come on. There’s even backboards. Wick said he’d help us with the poles.”
Octavia rolled her eyes at her brother’s retreating back. Basketball. It was an obsession on the Ark. Fantasy leagues and real life intramurals. She’d watched old games and live feeds from the quarterly tourneys nearly all her life, Bellamy jumping around the room and yelling at their tiny vid screen. Catching her around the waist and lifting her up and tossing her, pretending she was the ball or she had the ball as they reenacted what they saw on the screen. She’d’ve thought, she sniffed, that while they were fighting to hold on to their lives on the ground, maybe they could put their games aside. Bellamy disagreed. Obviously.
She’d left Lincoln sitting with their new patients. He was getting them oriented, explaining in their own language what would be happening to them as they entered the next phases of withdrawal and recovery. To make up for abandoning him, she begged a plate and filled it full of fruit and crackers and headed back inside.
By the time they were escorting their little crew of hobbled patients to stand in line for the evening meal, the shadow of the Ark stretched long and cool across the plain, the lights were bright up on their poles, and Bellamy and Miller had managed to mount one backboard and hoop on a freshly sunk standard. Wick was hanging precariously from a ladder as he finished adjusting yet another spotlight on the radio tower, cheerfully ignoring the instructions Raven was shouting out from the ground.
Lincoln stopped and stared at the addition to the center of the camp. Then he turned to Octavia, surprised recognition gleaming in his eyes. “Is that…?”
“A basketball hoop? Yep. It sure the hell is.”
“You know basketball?” Bellamy had come to cut the line by joining them now that they were at the front.
“Yeah.” Lincoln still looked utterly amazed.
“You play?” Bellamy looked eager. Octavia sighed.
“Yeah. I do. Or,” Lincoln shrugged, “I did. When I was younger.”
“None of us have played since earthfall, or,” Bellmay glanced over at Miller and some of the other boys, “longer still.”
Lincoln frowned doubtfully. “You played…?”
“In space?” Bellamy finished, pointing up at the darkening sky. “Yeah. It’s a good all round workout, doesn’t need that much room.” Bellamy caught Lincoln’s eye and grinned. “After we eat, bet I can beat you at HORSE.”
“Five point game. One on one. What do you call it?”
“Pleifai. Play five. And what’s the bet?”
“Loser helps with clean up.”
“You’re the janitor, not me.”
“Oh, you are so going to regret that.”
As soon as they’d finished their food, Bellamy stood up and slipped out of his coat. “Ready?”
Lincoln grinned. “Sha, man.”
Bellamy palmed a ball from the bag on the edge of the half-court, then started bouncing it on the hard dirt. Wick had turned down the volume of the music so that people could talk through their supper without yelling themselves hoarse. In the relative quiet, the distinctive, hollow, ‘thunk, thunk, thunk’ of the bouncing ball quickly caught attention.
Then Lincoln stood up, stripped off his jacket, and ambled out to the court, shaking out his shoulders and hands, rolling his neck, bouncing on his toes. Wolf whistles, clapping and scattered cheers rang out as the nearest diners realized what was happening.
Bellamy bounced the ball toward Lincoln, calling out, “Home team starts the ball.”
Lincoln grinned, then slowly started to dribble. As he caught the feel of the ball and the rough surface, he leaned forward, dropping into a wide stance, rising up on the balls of his feet, dribbling faster and lower. Octavia began to wonder just how recently Lincoln was ‘younger.’ Bellamy, star player on his school teams until he graduated into the guard, mirrored him, leaning in, hands held wide, blocking Lincoln’s view and his movement. Lincoln grinned, then bounced the ball between his legs, changing hands, and laughed.
Taking advantage of Bellamy’s surprise, Lincoln dodged around him and drove to the basket, easily sinking a layup as Octavia and Jasper cheered.
His second basket went in as smoothly as the first, but Bellamy blocked his third shot and claimed the ball. He quickly dropped in two middle distance jump shots, and then a layup before Lincoln had the ball back. Octavia cheered and booed them both, but most of the rest of the diners quickly chose a side and bets were already hitting the table. Gambling, naturally enough, was the only pastime that rivaled sex and drinking on the Ark.
Lincoln pulled ahead with two more points, Bellamy blocked his next shot, sank the ball from nearly the three point line, then got stuck trying to drive for a layup and his fifth point.
The four patients who’d come out for supper were leaning forward, more light in their eyes than Octavia had yet seen. Then one of them touched Jasper’s arm and pointed to the pot, and with quick pidgin and hand signs an IOU was tossed in. Octavia realized they’d found one more point in common between to the two groups.
On the half-court, Lincoln pressed harder, every move Bellamy tried to take blocked. Finally Bellamy dropped back a step, palmed the ball into a slow, looping overhead pass, darted around a shocked Lincoln, caught his own pass and sank the layup to win the game, coming off his landing to leap up to rub the top of Lincoln’s head before spinning away in triumph.
“What the hell was that?” Lincoln said, as Bellamy danced away, hooting with his victory, bowing and waving to their laughing and clapping audience.
“Space Ball rules!” Bellamy said. “Passed to myself. Sank the basket. Won the game. Woo HO!”
He pumped the air with his fist, and the crowd yowled in return.
Matyn leaned close. “True rules?”
“Sure.” Octavia nodded. “Regulation rules for games with referees. Space ball rules for games like this. Don’t you have both too?”
“Two out of three,” called Lincoln, his eyes narrowing.
“Sure you’re up for it?” Bellamy crowed.
“Pass me the ball. Home court advantage.”
The next game was slower, both Lincoln and Bellamy playing such aggressive defense that at least twice they ended up in the dirt in a tangle of feet and arms. Finally Bellamy got so frustrated he yelled, “Yo! Jackson! Head up!” and passed the ball to him where he was standing on the near sideline.
Jackson caught it, then with a deep knee bend, rose up into a smooth jump and sank the ball, surprising himself as much as anyone else, Octavia thought, judging from his wide, shocked grin.
“Miller!” Lincoln yelled. “Pass it in.”
And just like that it was two on two. The next game was three on three.
In the end, everyone pitched in to clean up the remains of the meal.