0049 – Cap: Step Up, Part 4

Cap had expected to be frogmarched through the village by Button and F’Knah, as a plausible cover for their movements together. This wasn’t on the cards. The story had to be that Button had sprung Cap from jail without F’Knah’s knowledge, so even one sighting of them together could prove fatal in the long run for the Leftenant.

F’Knah walked ahead of Cap and Button, striding in plain sight while they skulked and crept behind. In this fashion, he attracted salutations from any soldiers stationed around the village. This alerted his comrades to their presence, and gave him ample opportunity to distract them while Button hurried Cap past.

Cap’s heart was pounding, even though of the three, he stood to lose the least. If apprehended, he would likely simply be thrown back into prison. Desertion and treason were not charges so easily dismissed.

After streets and streets of subterfuge, the trio finally arrived at the house of Cap’s mother. For the time being, it would remain as such; the legislative wave that stripped occupied peoples of their right to own property, or to inhabit and police their own areas, would follow soon enough.

Leftenant F’Knah made no direct approach to the house, opting instead to make conversation with a Private posted on the corner of the next street. It was clear that he intended for Button and Cap to arrive at the house before him.

“You’d better be the one who knocks.” Button told him. “We don’t want to panic your mother.”

“But I never used to knock.” Cap said. “I’d always just burst in.”

Button shrugged, and Cap pushed the door open eagerly and sprang inside onto the thick, dusty rug. Something about the familiar childish sequence seemed ill-fitting to him now.

“Cap?” His mother called, her eyes wide in shock, mouth hanging open. She was sat at the kitchen table, her eyes red and puffy. She looked a little thinner than he remembered. He wondered for a split second if she had been neglecting herself, but the kitchen was immaculately clean, with not a dirty pot or pan in sight.

“Mum!”

He ran to her, arms wide, to fling them around her waist. Before he could, she picked him up and clutched him to her chest, enveloping her son in her arms.

“Cap! Cap!” She repeated, holding his head to her bosom, cradling his small body as though he were a baby again.

“Mummy!” He hadn’t called her that in years. Before he knew it, uncontrollable sobbing made his body heave and shake. He wailed into her apron, unable to stop crying. Even now, even in this moment of reunion with his beloved mother, he could not shake the thought that he would have to leave her again.

Button stood patiently by the door, watching the emotional reunion with sad eyes. It had brought to a mind a scene from his own lost family, back in Sita. Before long, F’Knah stood beside him.

Cap’s mother noticed the two soldiers and let out a terrified shriek, hugging Cap closer still. “Don’t take him!” She screamed. “Don’t take my boy away again!”

“Sheze too lowd! Ecksplane! Qwiet herr, hurry!” F’Knah desperately urged his subordinate.

Button was already making a shushing motion with his finger, though his mask rendered it ambiguous and frightening. He shrank down into a non-threatening posture, eager to reassure her.

“We’re not taking him! Please, be quiet! We’re helping him escape!” He managed to stammer out.

It took a few moments for his words to register in the panicked face of Cap’s mother. Her pinprick pupils, contracted with adrenaline, shook in nervous appraisal.

“You’re what?” She asked quietly, letting Cap breathe at last.

“Something came up. He’d never get out of prison if we tried to go through the proper channels.”

Cap’s face was still wet with tears. His mother had looked down at him, intending to ask him if the Auxiliary’s words were true, but she sensed real anguish in his face.

“Darling, what’s wrong?” She asked her son tenderly, wiping a fresh tear from his cheek with her thumb.

“I can’t stay, mum.” He told her, failing to look her in the eye. “Stem’s somewhere out there.”

“Honey, oh honey…” His mum tried to comfort him, feeling the wrench of sadness in her own stomach. “Your sister… she’s probably….”

“She’s not dead.” Cap said with conviction. “You don’t know, mum, but she was out there in the forest with Grazer the day the soldiers came.”

“With Grazer?” Her tone was questioning, but already she could see how it made sense.

“Yeah.” Cap nodded, managing a smile. “Grazer had a plan for killing his Lurker. He must be tough. And he hasn’t come back either, has he?”

He had almost convinced himself with this line of reasoning, but if Cap truly thought Grazer was capable of handling a Lurker, he would never have tried so desperately to help the boy in the first place.

And then he looked at his mother’s face.

“Grazer has come back!” He realised. He wasn’t sure whether to be happy or sad. “But Button – that soldier over by the door – he said there wasn’t a Grazer in their records!”

Cap’s mother eyed Button and F’Knah suspiciously, even though they had risked their careers and quite probably their lives to free her son. What she was about to divulge was not to be spread lightly.

“They won’t be on the records.” His mother said, testing the water. The officer looked confused, but patient, but the scruffy soldier was listening intently.

“They?” Cap asked.

When she went no further, Button spoke.

“Ma’am, you needn’t worry. My superior here doesn’t speak Agarthan, and he’s a good man anyway. Myself, I’m deserting. There’s nobody for me to tell.”

The woman fixed Button with a protective, appraising stare for a few moments before she turned back to Cap, and addressed him once more.

“Grazer and Biter are in hiding.” She told him. “Only Stem is really missing.”

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