0046 – Cap: Step Up, Part 3

The bunk was hard, but Cap had grown used to it by now. There was no moonlight in the Earth’s interior, but a pale light shone at night, when the opposite side of the interior face reflected the bright light from the revolving core sun.

The Shroud’s thick, permanent, localised atmosphere of mushroom spores dampened sunlight at the best of times, but it made seeing at night virtually impossible for all but the pale, speciated Shrouders.

It was this dim, blue light that shone in through the jailhouse window. Cap stared through it, watching the faint, swirling clouds of spores in the night sky.

Normally, Cap would have been asleep by now, but the anticipation of his trial (about which Button had informed him, the day after his interview) was keeping him awake.

He just had to get through this. He just had to play the Regulan game a little longer, and then he’d be out of this prison, a free boy again. He certainly wasn’t going to sit around for another five or so years, join the army, and slog it out like Button. He was going to find his sister.

Cap didn’t really know what he was going to do after that.

The approaching noise of a mechanical breathing mask would have warned him of a soldier’s approach, even if the sucking, slapping noise of jack-booted footsteps hadn’t served as a dead giveaway.

Cap had plenty of time to sit up on his bunk and ready himself. As it turned out, the soldier knocked politely anyway before entering. A second later, the door swung open slowly, as though the entrant was trying to keep quiet despite announcing his presence a moment before.

Cap’s shoulders relaxed as he made out the scruffy, mismatched uniform. It was Auxiliary Button.

Button drew close, kneeling down next to the bunk. It was hard to hear his whispers through the mask.

“There’s not going to be a trial.” Button told him.

“What?” Cap’s eyes widened, assuming the worst. Was he to be executed?

“It’s ridiculous, like everything else about Regula.” Button’s tone was seething. “Even if they prove you innocent – which should be easy – you can’t actually be absolved until the true culprit is charged in your place.”

“But that’s my sister.” Cap stated. The problem dawned on him immediately.

“Exactly. You said her name was Stem. We’ve checked again and again, but there’s no girl called Stem among the villagers. When we asked your mother, she just broke down in tears and begged us for any news of her.”

“So I’m stuck in here.” Cap said.

“Not on my watch, you’re not.” Button told him with a wink. “I’m springing you.”

“What?” Cap asked, disbelieving. “They’ll punish you!”

“They’ll have to catch me.” Button told him.

Realisation dawned on Cap’s young features. “You’re running away?”

“It’s called ‘deserting’ in the army.” Button beamed.

“But why?” Cap asked. “What about your twenty-five years?”

“Your face said it all, really, when I explained how it works.” Button had not been able to look Cap in the eye at the time, but he was fixing him with a confident gaze now.

“But what about Sita?” Cap asked. “You won’t be able to go home. They’ll arrest you.”

“If I slave away for these bastards for twenty-five years, I might be able and permitted to purchase a little farm in my homeland. But Sita will never be free unless there are men like me willing to fight for her.”

“Are there any others? Sitan rebels?”

“I’m not sure.” Button shrugged. “If there aren’t, I’ll found them. Some things in life, boy, are worth struggling for. I have to do this.”

Button stood back up, sidling over to the doorway. He poked his head out into the street, glancing left and right, and then motioned Cap to him.

“It’s now or never, lad.” He said.

Cap made up his mind. He wouldn’t be able to go home to his mother this way, but then again, he’d need to leave her behind in order to find Stem anyway.

He made his move.

Right into Leftenant F’Knah.

The officer had appeared from seemingly nowhere. He stood, hands in the pockets of his long black coat, his whole head and face obscured by the combination of his hat and breather.

F’Knah said nothing.

Button sprang into a defensive stance, drawing a knife from his belt. His other hand pushed Cap behind him, back into the Jailhouse, out of harm’s way.

“Sorree, suhr, buht ai kan’t lett yoo shtop as heer.” Button told his superior. His tone was icy, no joy taken in his insubordination.

Cap couldn’t understand the words, but he certainly grasped the seriousness of the situation. F’Knah catching them in the act of escape was enough, no doubt, for him to order Button’s execution. The Auxiliary had vouched for the Leftenant as a good man, but even Cap could tell how rigid the rules were in Regula. There might be no choice but to administer a severe punishment.

Here Cap was, having just resolved to rescue his sister – and eventually, his whole village – regardless of the cost. And yet he was cowering like a little boy behind an armed man.

He was powerless.

The officer’s reply came.

“Ai wozn’t planin too. Yohr uh bludy fewl, packton, buht yewve gott uh big hartt.”

Button’s stance softened. Cap realised, with some embarrassment, that he’d been clutching the back of the Auxiliary’s faulds.

F’Knah ushered Button back into the cell, and conferred hurriedly with him in whispered, rapid tones. After a few moments, Button turned to Cap, to offer a translation.

“He’s going to help us.” Button explained. “He’s going to make sure we can at least get you to your mother for a few minutes. Maybe she knows a relative who can take you in, outside of Dark Hollow.”

Somehow, Cap wasn’t surprised. But this had to be said.

“I’m not going to a relative. I’m going to find my sister.”

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