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Hello Defiant chapter two, The Exodus of the Sahni Family

The night conjured up strong winds. They came from the northeast and carried the scent of the ocean- a real ocean- up to the lips of the shore. The moon, a rotund will-o-wisp, was obscured by a fog that would settle down in a few hours. She called in the tide and the tide answered the moon with the scent of the sea washing across the sands. Across the beach ghost crabs scuttled in the ivory dark and somewhere amidst the rolling dunes the cackle of coyotes echoed back to the crashing of waves.

Nestled between an assortment of washed up driftwood a lone tent trembled in the cold wind. The driftwood provided the vulnerable tent a small bit of sanctuary against the oceanic gusts which would have easily ripped it from the ground on the open beach. The people inside could have set it up in the dunes, but from there they'd lose sight of the distant lights blinking out across the water.

Whatever happened they could not lose the lights.

A boy sat outside the tent and peered quietly over a log out to the mysterious lights that sat on the horizon. No wave was big enough to drown out their glow and even with the fog coming in they shone with haunting brilliance. There were over two dozen of them. The boy didn't know this. He couldn't count. He simply observed them with fascination as he tried to ease his unsteady soul. To his back, from the opening in the flap of the tent, a pair of eyes kept vigil over him. Unlike the number of lights, this he knew.

Of course he knew. How many days had he traveled with predators glaring at him from the shadows of ruined places? Hungry things. Desperate things. Fearful things. After spending so much time among watchful gazes he could never forget the feeling. A sepharic caress, lighter than air, that tingled the flesh so it bumped and crawled. It was a laser of gossamer, focused moonlight. He knew he was being observed but he ignored it and kept his own watch on the sea lights.

Who are you? The owner of those eyes, a woman named Neda Sahni, asked. What had the boy seen before they found him out here, half starved and on the brink of death. His body was emaciated. Skin clung so tightly to his flesh he appeared skeletal and spectral. Lesions and bruises covered his body telling a story of the harsh conditions he had endured. Would he ever tell those stories? He barely spoke and he moved with a dreadful cunning a child of his age couldn't have possibly mastered. The boy was a wraith. Sometimes one would wonder if he was even real. How could he be? How could someone so small survive on their own? How long had he been alone?

Neda kept silent. She didn't want to scare him away. He was always on edge, ready to flee if danger presented itself. It was a miracle he hadn't run off into the night. As Neda wondered over the small boy, the boy in turn contemplated about the strange people that had found him.

The two adults were familiar to him. In his journeys he crossed plenty of Big People. Most had been as mysterious and great as the ones that raised him. His mother. His father. These were new feelings. The words for them had not yet been introduced to him, but he knew by the tone in their voices. They were his family, not his owners. He was one of them, not a pet. And the only reason he knew this to be true was because of the two little girls now sleeping between their own mother and father.

It was strange how powerful the link had been. Like waking from a dream. He had seen Big People time and time again. The first time he spied only their boots as they raided his home for supplies leaving him a means to escape the house that would have become his tomb. They saved him. Then there was the old man who took his life with a lonely shot of his pistol and the cannibals who flayed other Big People in their basement. There was no link with these people even if they carried the same number of fingers on their hands. He crawled. They walked. How could he ever be like them?

But the sight of two little girls dressed in tattered clothes holding their parents hands pulled it all together. For the first time in a long time...hell in probably all of his short life, he felt something greater than primal instincts. It was genuine sorrow. A sadness that went deep into the soil of his very being. You see he could never hold the hands of his mother and father like they did. Their hands were dust and bone by now, clung only to one another and the bottle of pills they used to escape the madness of their dying world.

He should've been with them, but he wasn't. He lived. They died. Seeing a father, a mother, and sisters all together, battered but alive, crushed him inside. As Neda wondered what the boy was, Scout wondered who he was as well. One of them perhaps? But not really. Not whole like they were. He was something broken. Savage and cracked like a beast made of glass.

A single tear rolled down his cheek.

Neda couldn't see it and Scout knew this. He cried into the arms of the night and the wind mourned with him. At some point Neda drifted off while Scout lingered on in the company of faraway brilliance. Then he too was taken by sleep. His cheeks, salted by his heartache, kissed the beach goodnight. The ghost crabs scuttled on as if nothing in the world had changed. That's the way things go.

The snap of a popping ember woke Scout from his sleep. The man, Mohinder Sahni, poked a small fire just outside the tent. He didn't seem to really notice Scout. He just quietly stirred the coals of the fire. Two cans of beans jutted up from their center. Steam rose up from their circular mouths. Bodies moved in the tent.

The morning was less cruel than the night, but winter was on its way. Scout edged closer to the fire to keep warm. Mohinder didn't move. He could see Scout's slow cautious creep. Even in the day he had a supernatural quality. If Mohinder hadn't been facing him directly he would have likely never noticed the boy crouched there on the sand. His wife worried for the boy, but Mohinder was a little afraid of him. What made it worse was the feeling that the boy could sense it.

But Scout couldn't. The stoic presence of Mohinder only made him more wary. Everything nowadays moved too fast. Animals. People. Fire. Water. It all had a deliberate and sometimes fatal quickness. All of it had a deadly awareness. Mohinder was a stone.

The beans in the cans hissed. Mohinder pulled out a rag to guard his hands and removed the beans. He left them on the ground to cool before whispering into the tent and handing the cans to two small hands. A third remained on the cinders.

Mohinder kept his gaze lowered when he got up, went around the fire, and set down the can of beans in front of Scout. Scout's eyes, however, skittered all over Mohinder studying him as any wild animal would. The man wasn't physically intimidating. He was too short and frail. Even wearing his tattered once-white button up Scout could make out the angles of his bones. There was hardly any muscle on him.

But of course there wouldn't be. Mohinder was a man of finance. All his strengths were in his ability to manipulate numbers. Not just any numbers. He could never be a physicist or chemist. Mohinder knew money. Numbers alone meant little to nothing, but adding a dollar sign changed the game.

Of course living in a dead world made his skills obsolete. Money was nothing but paper once again. All of its worth, the rat race humanity had put itself on, turned to ash. The madness of wealth that seemed to logical at the time was now looked down at as a true psychosis it was. Survival was the new drug, a natural one every living thing on the planet was addicted to. Food and supplies were the new currency, and Mohinder was starting to understand this. It would be a harsh transition, but so far the frail man had managed to keep his family safe. Though scars on his face and arms told Scout he had not survived unscathed.

“Go ahead and eat Scout,” Mohinder said softly. His Indian accent had long vanished. He had become Americanized, something his parents feared.

The only words Scout understood was his name. It was the parting gift his dead mother and father left him. The only thing keeping him from becoming truly feral. Sure he looked as they did, as Mohinder, Neda, and his children, but they were not the same. They were people. Scout was a shred of one. His name was the shred.

Scout studied Mohinder then noticed the girls watching from inside the tent. Everyone was waiting to see what he would do. Neda wondered if the child had ever tasted a cooked meal.

The aroma was tantalizing. The invisible draw of the beans pulled Scout to the spoon jutting from the can. Inside they bubbled and hissed, brown beads of deliciousness. Scout took the spoon, examined it as well, then following the example of the girls carried the beans into his mouth.

The taste was even more savory than the smell. The beans were nothing to Mohinder and his family, who once dined on expensive fish and steak in the most illustrious restaurants in the city. For them beans were the scraps of the new world and sign of how far they had fallen. For Scout they were a feast. Every bite exploded with flavor even though it scalded his mouth. In fact the burning sensation of hot food was also new to him. How long had he survived on cold dead rat and other filth, including the kind from his own body when times had been desperate.

In no time the beans were gone. Scout burped in satisfaction.

“Enjoyed that did you?” asked Mohinder.

Scout smiled.