The terminal at Fort Mitchell was a big, sprawling, open space, packed with more people than I had ever seen in one place. Faded, yellowing pictures on the walls showed old-world flying machines and urged onlookers to buy weird products that stopped being made before I was born. Blue-clad Waltzer troops watched the crowd from strategic locations; a few more wandered the floor, alert for any kind of trouble. I felt the old anger rising as I looked at them, and stuck my hands in my pockets to keep them from fidgeting or reaching for a knife. I forced my face into a blank mask: Nothing to see here.

The other people who didn't work there had formed up in a series of lines, like herd animals. They shuffled forward sometimes, eyes staring off into nowhere. The place had that mild odor of sweat that happens when you cram too many people into too little space. Marv, Roland, and I fell in at the back of one of the lines, three more members of the herd, shuffling with the rest.

I noticed one of the Blues staring at the ripper on my belt. If he'd been anyone else in the crowd, I would have told him to keep his eyes off my package. As it was, I just stared at the back of the man in front of me. He marched over and stood inches away, eyes going back and forth between my face and my belt. “Don't I know you?” he snapped.

“Doubt it,” I said, keeping my voice bored. “Never been here before.”

“No? How about Fort Purgatory? You ever been there?”

I looked him in the face and my heart sank. His hair had grown out, but I knew him from back home. He was the last survivor of a seven-man night patrol that my people had caught in the open. I chased him, he tripped, and I closed in as he rolled onto his back. He was trembling all over and I knew by his stink that he'd soiled himself. There was no honor in killing such a creature. I stomped his nuts and left, telling everyone he'd outrun me.

This is what happens, I thought, when you let an enemy live.

I found myself in a circle of angry blue men. Much as I hated them, I understood the odds. I held my hands out, empty, and let them take my knives. I could see Marv and Roland carefully ignoring the scene. They didn't know me now, and I didn't blame them.

The Blues bound my hands together behind me with a plastic zip-tie, tight enough to cut off circulation and make my fingers tingle. They marched me to a glassed-in enclosure, sat me on a rough wooden bench, and shut me in. One took up a post outside the door in a stiff parade position. The others returned to wherever they'd come from. The one who'd recognized me flashed me a smile without a trace of humor in it and waved bye-bye with his fingertips, like a child.

My easy surrender had made them careless; the door guard stood with his back to me, and the quick pat-down search they gave me hadn't uncovered the little shiv tucked inside my sleeve. I waited a few minutes to make sure the commotion had died down, then started making little shaking motions with my arms, trying to work my weapon free. I was at it for five minutes before the shiv finally fell; I fumbled with it, nearly dropping it between numbed fingers, then fumbled some more until I got a good grip on it, with the blade against the strap tying my hands. I started sawing at it in tiny, awkward cuts. It was slow going, and I sliced myself half a dozen times, little pinpricks of pain that made me grateful my hands were going numb. There was no chance of fighting my way out of this place – there were just too many armed men. But with my hands free I might at least be able to bring one or two enemies down with me.

I scanned the terminal through the window. Marv had faded into the crowd, but I found Roland, still in line. He glanced at me for a second, then leaned over and punched a man in the line next to his, a solid blow to the back of the head. The man rounded on the person behind him. They started to wrestle. The orderly lines of people dissolved into chaos, some people brawling, others shoving and scrambling to get away from the fighting, Blues wading through it all trying to break it up.

The strap gave, not all the way but enough for me to slide one blood-slicked hand out of it. I left my glass cage and sprinted for the terminal entrance, shoulders stiffened against the shot I was sure would hit me in the back at any second. A lot of the herd people were running for the door too. I bobbed and weaved among them, hoping the Blues wouldn't fire into a crowd. I made it outside and stuck with the largest clump of running people until the fort was out of sight behind me. I found a stand of bushes to crawl into and laid there, as low as I could get, face so close to the ground that I ended up smelling grass for the rest of the day. Marv and Roland appeared ten minutes later, walking casually to avoid suspicion. I came out of my lair and joined them. I couldn't think of anything to say.


There's a rhyme my mother taught me when I was little. When I think of it I still hear it in her voice.
“Now this is the Law of the Jungle – as old and as true as the sky;
And the wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the wolf that shall break it must die.
As the creeper that girdles the tree-trunk, the Law runneth forward and back;
For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack.”

I didn't know it then, but she was teaching me about the tribe, the power each of us gained as a group. I've missed that feeling of being part of something larger, maybe as much as I missed the people I lost.

The men I'm with could have left me in that cage. For their own sakes, they should have. They didn't. We're not a pack, not yet. But it's a start.