Mr Ryan was just as good as his word. He quickly ushered us out of the HQ and no one noticed us. Perhaps sons and daughters of the various generals and officers were regular visitors. He gave us a bag of bread and water, and also a letter of permission. We waited the day out at the farm opposite the HQ, hiding as quietly as possible, and at night we were on our way to Estina again.
It seems like the letter of permission took out all the remnants of our caution away. We started singing wildly on the bikes and on one occasion Toby even managed to sing so absentmindedly that his bike crashed and he came tumbling with a few scratches on the leg to serve as memory. That had prompted a lot of laughter from Isaac and inevitably another fight broke out between the two. Although I would usually have found this to be very annoying, strangely I found it to be a comforting reminder of a safer life before the revolution.
Before the revolution. A memory so distant, so cherished as to become meaningless now.
In the end, after a month we were still not at the coast, mostly because the first prediction of time hadn’t took into account what we’d waste with foraging for food. In any case, however, the one month it took got us to a very interesting place: not the gates of the Revolutionary Party, but instead a sign on the highway at the front of a small offshoot road that said “This Way to Settlement 43”. We all crowded our bikes around it and inspected the sign with interest.
“This must be the way leading to one of the settlements in the country.” said Sophie, chewing on a piece of bread. “Interesting.”
Toby spat with an expression of disgust. “It’s basically a prison camp, no matter what they choose to call it as. Settlements, prisons; all the same.”
“No doubt Estina would a better place to be.” Isaac said. “Come on, let’s not spend too much time here. I want to be sleeping on a proper bed soon. And I’m done with sleeping during the days and waking up during the nights.
“I have an idea.” Anne said quietly. “Let’s break this place.”
“What?” Isaac swung around from his bike and fell over, following in the footsteps of Toby. Isaac quickly got up before anyone could say anything, despite having blood flowing out of an opening in his leg. “What did you say?”
“I think we should try to break this place.” Anne said. “We have a grenade, don’t we? We can bomb the gates or something and have the people escape. The people can escape to Estina or be captured again or something, it doesn’t matter to us. At least we’re helping with the effort in toppling the Great Leader’s regime. Freeing a settlement would be a step forward.”
“Are you insane?” Isaac asked with disbelief. “Come on. We don’t even have to involve ourselves in this. We can just get to Estina and leave all this behind us.”
“You haven’t changed at all, have you, Isaac?” asked Toby with surprising forcefulness in his voice. “I thought you’d improved; at least you don’t complain or whine so much anymore, but you still have that ‘myself only’ attitude. Don’t you care at all about all the millions of people who are languishing under this not-so-Great Leader? We’ve been doing all we could at Greyville to help. Why not do it again now? I’m with Anne here. It’s not going to be hard at us.”
“It’s not going to be hard for us.” Isaac repeated in a mocking tone. “Damn you Toby, get a brain. We haven’t even seen the settlement yet, you can’t be sure of anything. There’s bound to be professional soldiers guarding the whole thing. They’re not gonna let you cycle to the gates, throw your stupid grenade and bomb the thing down without holding a finger.”
“Well, you haven’t seen it too, have you?” Toby yelled into Isaac’s face. “You can’t be sure of anything too!” The rest of us facepalmed at the same time.
In a calm tone (or at least as calm as Toby could make it), Toby gave a compromise. “We’ll go see this settlement together. There’s hours yet until dawn, so it’s still gonna be dark for a long time. We can see what this settlement’s like and see if it’s possible to break it apart somehow.”
“Fine.” Isaac said. “I assure you, you won’t even be able to come up with half a plan.” Anne started cycling towards the small road and we followed, but before I could start pedaling Toby gripped my shoulder.
“You’ve got to help me come up with a plan, my friend.” he said. “I’m not gonna let that bastard win.” I grimaced. I half agreed with Anne and half agreed with Isaac. It was no business of hours to be going around bombing up places, but it would certainly help with the rebel effort. On the other hand, it would be incredibly dangerous; only slightly less dangerous than when we were at the HQ.
* * * * *
It was not very solid. That was my first thought. There were no walls, only barbed wire, but it extended over a huge area, and although we were still too far away to be seen by the guards, we could see them quite clearly. The whole settlement was a large rectangular place and it was clear that just by bombing the entrance nothing was gonna happen. The guards would simply extinguish the fire and keep control. A large smirk appeared on Isaac’s face as we surveyed Settlement 43. We hadn’t expected it to be as large as this, or so crawling with guards.
“So, what do you think?” Isaac asked in a pompous tone.
“It’s going to be…difficult.” Sophie said slowly.
“So I was right, wasn’t I? I’m pretty much always right, anyway.” Isaac declared with pride. I saw Toby reaching to slap Isaac on the face, but he couldn’t reach far enough because suddenly Isaac turned around to face Anne. “So, Anne, can we head towards Estina?”
Anne shrugged. “This is still worth a try.” Isaac’s mouth simply fell open at that.
“Wh…wh…what?” he spluttered. “Don’t you see how large this thing is?”
“I do.” Anne conceded, “but I think it’s not going to be impossible. Who here thinks it’s impossible, raise your hand up.” Isaac immediately raised his hand, and when he looked around and saw that the rest of us thought it was possible, he put his hand down immediately. Isaac paused for a moment, obviously in deep thought. Finally he nodded. I was surprised at the act. Isaac agreeing?
“Guess what. I’m not going to argue about this anymore, as much as I think it’s a ridiculous idea. We’re just going to waste time arguing, and if you guys want to do this, go ahead, but do it as quickly as possible. I want to be back at Estina soon. And I will not take part in this.”
We all hesitated at that. If Isaac wouldn’t agree to take part in this, it reduced the people we had from five to four. Our chances of succeeding would also be slimmer. After a short silence, Toby gestured to the air and said, “Then get out.”
“You don’t need to wait for us to go to Estina. Go. Just go now. We don’t need you lounging around and growing fat on Mr Ryan’s bread while we work hard to save the country.”
Isaac shifted uncomfortably and he was obviously stunned. I wouldn’t dare to travel to Estina alone, let alone the cowardly Isaac. I finally spoke. “Then give us your word, Isaac. Promise us that you would help in this with your full effort. After that, we will go to Estina together.” Isaac was stunned again. After a long silence he nodded sullenly. I breathed a sigh of relief. It was merely a gesture, nothing more, and Isaac could break his promise, of course, but at least a promise was better than nothing.
“Very well.” Anne said. “We’re already on the road to Estina. Just one last mission wouldn’t hurt, even if Mayor Philip isn’t here to give the orders. We’ll show them what freedom means.”
“So what’s the plan?” Toby asked. Everyone looked at me immediately and I sighed. I should never have started coming up with plans.
Now I felt like the weight of success or failure was always on my shoulders as I watched each plan be applied. There was no going out of it though, and I’d already thought of a plan while looking at the defenses.
“To do this, we’re going to need more than just a grenade.” I said. “First, we need to create a diversion. Start a fire or something that will direct the majority of the soldier’s attention away. We need to prepare banners that say something like ‘escape’. Open up all the gates, if there’s more than one, and then put the banners up. Once the crowd starts running away, it will be easy. No amount of soldiers can’t stop them then.”
“That doesn’t sound very complicated, does it.” said Anne. “Can you come up with something a bit more detailed and better than that?”
“Well, to be honest we don’t know a single thing about this.” I said. “We don’t know what’s inside or how big this thing actually is. It’s not like we have satellite images to consult. If we actually want to do this a lot of it will depend on luck. So this is just an outline.”
The others nodded. Sophie said, “This is gonna be dangerous.”
“There’s never a moment in life since the revolution that hasn’t been dangerous.” Toby said. “It’s just a matter of what’s more dangerous and what’s less dangerous.”
Anne chuckled. “Deep, Toby, deep. And anyway, your daredevil spirit is now with all of us. Oh, and Isaac, would you like to consult that Art of War book you’re always talking about when going on missions right now? I’d like to know a prediction.”
Isaac groaned. “Anyone with common sense wouldn’t need that to know the odds are heavily stacked against us. Especially since we only have a short, unclear plan to follow. I still really think we shouldn’t do this.” To be honest I was having my doubts too. A better plan was needed.
“How about this?” I said. “I’ll try to be more specific. Two people will need to be the one launching the distraction. Three people will be involved with opening the gate. We don’t have to use the grenade unless the situation requires us to create a second distraction. Does that sound a bit better?”
“A tiny bit better, but not quite.” Isaac admitted. “It’ll come down to our luck still.”
Toby smiled. “Don’t worry. We have loads of that.”
I wish I was as sure as him.
“No good staying here and talk.” Anne said. “We need to discuss the plans in greater detail. We still need to figure out how to get in and such.”
“For once, let’s remain awake during the day.” I said. “We’ll be doing a lot of talking.”