The scenery outside the train brightened as it ascended on elevated tracks toward Mason Plaza. The city spread around and beneath them like a well filled with warm electric lights.

A fragile peace had settled inside the train. Sakari settled in the seat next to Cara, and Bern in the one next to Mia. David overheard pairs and trios engage in small talk. Like how Cara and Mia grew up near a military base, how tremors from bomb tests and artillery practice were a regular occurrence. David was content to stay out of them. Instead, he took his phone out of his back pocket. He still needed to tell Nico what was going on. Since the last time David checked it, Nico sent a simple follow up message.

N: Well?

D: Not over the phone. It isn’t safe. Are you going to Coldessi Park?

N: Yeah.

D: Let’s meet there. I can’t promise answers, but there’s a lot I need to tell you.

A boom rattled the train. The lights flickered. Everyone was jolted on guard.

“What was that?” Sakari asked.

“That ain’t thunder, yo,” Bern said.

“That felt like a bomb,” Mia observed. “But here in the city?”

They heard similar booms in the distance. White light flashed outside the train windows. Cara stood up to get a better view, grabbing the nearby pole to steady herself.

“No one’s dropping bombs on the city, are they?” Mia asked her.

Cara was silent as her mind reeled with possibilities.

“What do we do, Cara?”

Cara noticed everyone staring at her. They all had varying degrees of worry in their eyes. Less so David. His was more of an expectant look.

She remembered. She had definitely seen that look before.

The policewoman asked if David was a part of Cara’s school group. He wasn’t wearing the tennis team’s t-shirt.

Cara caught David’s expectant look. Taking her cue, she quickly spun a tale of buying chili dogs from a vendor in Stone Crossing. She told the policewoman how David spilled chili on his shirt and going back to the hotel so he could change.

David supported her story with “My mom insisted I pack extra.”

The policewoman chuckled, buying Cara’s explanation. She sent them on to Paulownia Square, where Cara’s group was gathering.

“I can’t believe I just lied to a cop,” Cara said as she and David walked away.

“Don’t let them hear you,” David warned.

“You know, I don’t feel as bad as I’d thought I’d be. I… I must be a rebel.”

David smiled. “Yep. The system won’t keep you down.”

Cara giggled. “Hell yeah! Fight the power!”

Cara realized that David might be that boy from twelve years ago. He might not even be human. Whatever he was, shadows clung beneath his eyes. David’s hurt. Mia was here. The others are just kids. Someone had to step up. Being the oldest, that responsibility fell on her – the responsibility to fake it, at least.

Cara straightened her back and breathed deeply through her nose. “Everyone, this is the best place we can be,” she began, adopting her best leader-like tone. “Soon as we leave Mason Plaza, we’ll be heading back underground. If those are bombs out there, underground is the safest place to be. But bombs or no bombs, we are going to Coldessi Park. So long as the subway keeps running on schedule, we’ll make it before the deadline. Whenever we stop – be ready for anything. But no one leaves this train until we get to Coldessi Boulevard. Got it?”

“Right,” Mia answered, relieved.

Bern and Rianne gave Cara firm nods of understanding. David smiled his approval.

“You got it,” Sakari told Cara enthusiastically. He leaned over the empty seat between him and David. “Don’t worry, David. I’ve got your back.”

David’s phone buzzed in his hand. Nico’s reply appeared on the screen.

N: Alright. See you there.

“Thank you,” David said aloud to both Sakari and Nico.

©2021 Joyce Lewis. All rights reserved.