AUTHOR'S NOTE: This flash fiction was written for Three Word Wednesday. Although it is concurrent with the novel Steal Tomorrow, it contains no spoilers. Be sure to drop by Three Word Wednesday for more fun.
Good warriors cause others to come to them, and do not go to others.
Julilla frowned over the sentence, trying to ignore the shrieks of the children playing trivial games in the hotel lobby. The book's spine had crackled when she opened it, suggesting she was the first to read it. At the rate things were going, she might also be the last. She closed The Art of War, walked to the balcony rail and looked down on the scene below. It appeared to be a game of tag, but one could never be sure.
Anyone too young to work was supposed to be under the tutelage of sixteen year-old Alaina who had been tapped to be the school teacher for their gang of pandemic survivors. The children were often lazy and defiant, though, unable to see the value of an education. Julilla didn't blame them. Everyone, even the littlest, was infected. It was only a matter of time before they died as their parents and all the other adults had. What was the point of preparing for an adulthood you would never see?
Still, the survival instinct ran strong in all of them and Julilla was no quitter. There were rumors of a hidden bunker and scientists who had somehow survived and were working on a cure. She gave a little sniff as she sat on a scuffed upholstered chair and opened her book again. The Telo cure was about as likely as an Easter Bunny, but any hope, no matter how minuscule, must be pursued. She found her bookmark and frowned at the words on the page. How was she supposed to translate ancient Chinese war tactics to teenage gang fights?
After awhile she hear familiar footsteps and looked up.
"New form of guard duty?" Alex asked, smiling in the fond way he reserved for the times they were alone.
"You know what's on the rota. I'm on break. Besides, I'm working on strategy." She held up the book so he could see the title. "You recommended this, remember?"
Alex took the book from her hands. "Yeah, but I never actually read it. It was on my ROTC reading list." He opened the book and flipped through a few pages. "'Management of the many is the same as management of a few?' What kind of deviant would write something ridiculous like that?" He handed back the book.
Julilla took it with an injured air, but the brief touch of his hand on hers forestalled a cutting remark. Why did Alex affect her this way?
"If this is the best you can do with your free time..."
Julilla sucked in her breath. She had allowed Alex to kiss her once but had vowed never again. As head of their gang's guards, he was technically her boss. Then there was the matter of getting emotionally attached in the first place. Alex was nineteen and would be dead soon. Her beloved Aunt Veegee and her high school basketball coach had taught her to not let emotions distract her from her goals, and right now her goal was to figure out the best way to fight for the Telo cure, should the mythical scientists be found. "It is the best I can do," she said.
Alex gave a little shrug as if it was all the same to him, and Julilla felt a pang of regret as she watched him go away. Was she acting the fool by burying her nose in a book on the off chance there really were some surviving adults who could cure Telo? Was she throwing away the only chance she'd ever have at love?
For a moment she considered going after him, stealing a few treasured moments in one of the hotel's many unused rooms. Then she remembered: good warriors cause others to come to them, and do not go to others.
Alex would be back. She felt sure of it. She would be a good warrior and wait.
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