It’s Not as Fun as It Looks

Jak slammed the medikit against a boulder.  With a hiss, it popped open.

“Nobody’s going to die of infection,” he announced, coming up with a tube of topical antibiotic.

Cheela closed her eyes and feigned sleep while Jak knelt to care of his friend, but Dyan couldn’t look away.  She saw now that Eirig had a tourniquet around his arm, and that the wound at the end of his stump was bandaged with strips of wool that had been torn from Jak’s shirt, and were now soaked through with blood.  Jak peeled away the bandages, smeared antibiotic ointment over the wound, and then wrapped it in gauze from the medikit.  Eirig bit his lip the entire time, in obvious pain.

“On the plus side,” the injured boy said, “it’s a clean injury.  No bone fragments or anything.  You have to admire the precision of an Outrider’s bola.”

“Outrider-designate,” Dyan said.  She said it automatically, not meaning anything by it, but Cheela obviously took offense.  Without opening her eyes, she kicked Dyan hard in the shin.

“You’ll want a painkiller,” Jak said, digging through the medikit again.

“I’m fine,” Dyan said, though it smarted enough to bring tears to her eyes.  “I just wish my hands were free so I could rub it.”

“I’d rub it for you,” Eirig offered.  “You know, if I had two hands.”

“Funny,” Cheela snarled.  “I’d have thought one hand was enough to accomplish everything a guy like you ever does.”

“Painkiller’s not for you,” Jak said, popping open a canister of pills.  He tapped two of them out into his palm and gave them to Eirig, who swallowed them.

“Thanks.”  The injured boy leaned against the wall of the cave and closed his eyes.

Jak stood and faced his prisoners.  He looked tall, standing over them, and Dyan looked away.

“You look like you know what you’re doing with the medikit,” she said.  She meant it as a compliment, though it sounded painfully tiny in the cave.

“In addition to carefully marking which of us should be slaughtered,” Jak told her, “Magister Stanton occasionally dispensed minor medicines.”  He paused for long seconds.  “Now,” he said slowly, “tell me why I shouldn’t kill you.”

“Because,” Cheela growled, “when the Outriders catch you, they’ll make you wish you’d never been born.”

Jak’s laugh was hard and thin.  “Too late.  But if you mean they would kill me, that’s already on the table.”

Cheela spat on Jak’s shoes.

“We could plead for mercy,” Dyan suggested.  “For you, I mean.”

“Mercy for what?” Jak asked.  He looked amused.  “I haven’t committed a crime.  All I did was do well on the tests in school.”

“Kidnapping,” Cheela suggested.

Jak ignored her and kept talking to Dyan.  “You said it yourself, I’m no criminal, I’m not a bad person.  The System just wants to kill me because I’m smart.”

“That’s not true,” Dyan said, too quickly.

“You’re right.”  Jak bowed and grinned.  “It wants to kill me because I’m smart… and a Landsman.”

Dyan had nothing to say to that.

Eirig popped his eyes open.  “We may need them,” he said.  “We may need hostages.”

Jak scrutinized the girls.  “That’s a good reason to keep one of them alive,” he admitted.  “I don’t see that a second hostage is going to make any difference, unless we literally use them as shields.”

“Please do,” Cheela snarled.  “I’ll beg the Outriders to cut right through me.”

“I should warn you,” Eirig said, his voice heavy and slow, “it’s not as fun as it looks.”

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