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This is chapter 6 of Cliffton book 1. Some of it is vaguely based on bits of the confrontation in chapter 3 of my last rewrite. This time, it's in Kalen POV. Fun fact: this is the third version of this confrontation I've written, and the first was in Kalen POV, too. As always, concrit is much appreciated. Rip me to shreds. I don't mind. Warning for violence, rage issues and some language. Not Devin levels of language, but Brendan is very, very angry.

If you're reading Cliffton for the first time, here are the previous chapters so you can catch up:
Prologue | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

Deadly Weapons
(Kalen--the day of the bomb)

"Time." My voice, thin and reedy, pierces the silence of my bedroom. Glancing up nervously, I read the glowing green numbers on my ceiling. 2:45--four minutes since I last checked. Seventy-odd minutes before I leave home, fully aware I may never return.

Such a short span, after a summer of hoping and a week of planning--but it feels like an eternity.

Swallowing hard to quell my unease, I will my hands not to unzip my bag. I've unpacked and repacked it countless times already; its contents are indelibly etched in my memory. Could I complete the task with my eyes closed by now? My mind reels, losing its battle with my body. My hands reach for the pack as if I have no choice in the matter.

I remove each item inside, taking one last inventory. Ten days' worth of NutriBars, field rations and water for me and Calla. Water purification nanites, just in case. MicroLanterns, night-vision binocs, and my MedKit. The LaserMultiTool Devin gave me, along with a lengthy explanation. Several changes of clothes, folded neatly enough. Underneath it all, there's the bomb.

Flutterbugs take wing inside my stomach--droves of them. The mere sight of it calls them into being.

It appears innocuous enough. Encased in a silvery material soft and thin as skin, its purpose is well-concealed. Its delicate wires, fastidiously bundled, could belong to any device--a robot or a security camera, even a Foodinator.

And yet, it's a deadly weapon--how many people will it hurt?

Devin says not many; I trust his judgment. His intelligence far outstrips my own, even though he speaks as if he grew up in a gutter. Still, there's something he wasn't letting on, the day we built the bomb. There's a way he goes silent and stares into the ether--it reminds me of old times, and it's generally not a portent of good things to come. What did he see that I've missed?

"Time." 2:52. It's still far too early--too many minutes left to reflect.

My prospects aren't good if this plan goes awry--summary execution or life in prison, and shame heaped upon my family. But I've spent my whole life hiding behind other people's expectations. Doing what they did because they said it was right. Paralyzed by my own cowardice, I've toed the line even when it was so blurred that looking at it made my eyes cross.

If I'm to be a man, I need to learn to do what I believe in.

"Time." 2:54. Sighing, I repack my bag. The bomb, clothes over it, and then--

"Where the fuck do you think you're going, little brother?"

My bowels turn to water. Brendan rarely curses unless he's angry, but that's not how I know he's on the verge of one of his attacks. It's as if the air's undergone a chemical transformation--laden with his fury and too thick to breathe. My throat constricts as the bitter tang of his rage fills my nostrils. Hairs on the back of my neck prickling, I scuttle backward like a yellow-bellied sea-crab--away.

Gulping back my fear, I force my eyes to meet the monster's.

"The monster"--Brendan's always called it that. It's an apt enough name; the thing staring me down sure isn't my brother--florid face, bared teeth and fisted hands. Pupils dilated into blackness, oddly unfocused and endlessly deep.

There's nothing human behind them. Brendan's almost gone, and maybe he'll never come home, either.

"Never mind," he growls. "Don't bother answering. It's just going to be another lie anyway."

"Brendan, I--" My back strikes the bed and I shrink into it, mouth going desert-dry. "I d-don't know what you--"

What am I doing? I don't have to let anyone bully me; Brendan taught me that himself, back when he was still my big brother--someone I admired. Anger washes over me, swift and brutal as a storm in rainy season, even as my insides still quake.

"I don't know what you're talking about." My words ring out, clear and commanding. "You're not in your right mind--"

Brendan grabs me by the collar and forces me to stand. Gripping my shoulders, he throws me against the wall so hard my teeth rattle. An acrid cloud of perspiration engulfs me; his face presses into mine and I gag on the rotting-meat scent of his breath.

When did he last bathe? When was he last home at all?

"I'm not stupid," he snarls. "I know you lied about the camping trip. Where were you really, little brother--or are you too ashamed to 'fess up? I bet you were off with those... people--those insurgent friends of yours."

My heart stops and all my bravado drains away. Sagging backward, my knees weak, I think I'll collapse if Brendan lets go.

"How did you--" I nearly choke on my own words. "Y-you're not going to tell anyone, are you?"

"So predictable, you little shit." Brendan's words send a fine spray across my face, and my stomach heaves. "You've never given a damn about anyone but yourself. Never given a damn about anything but protecting your precious golden-boy image."

Holding myself rigid, I repress the urge to flinch. "I, um--bro, it's not like that, I swear it!" Even to my own ears, my voice is strident, grating--like that of a whining child. It's as if it's that day once more, the one in second year when Brendan bloodied my nose for failing to defend myself. That was when he still knew me--when he'd hit me out of love.

He doesn't know me at all anymore, and that sure isn't love twisting his features.

"T-this isn't about what I want!" I blurt. "It never has been."

"What is it about then, bro?" Brendan shakes me like a combat dummy. He's too close--to both me and the edge. Wracking my muddled brain, I fumble for the words to pull him back. The dull and rhythmic thud of my head upon the wall doesn't help.

It's about the Other Side. I'm not supposed to believe they're people, but I do. They're my friends.

There's Calla, the most formidable woman I've met, who let me drag her headlong into this mess. Strength aside, she'll live out her life as nothing more than chattel if we fail to act--or become yet another casualty of our side's soldiers and rockets. Will she die anyway, if things go wrong today? What's worse, the hope of a dismal future or the fear of none at all?

Then there's Devin; I've known him since ninth year. Back then, he never seemed quite right unless he was putting things together or tearing them apart. Hiding under black clothes, he kept his hood pulled up and his eyes down. He barely spoke at all, but get him started on the War and he'd never stop. I think it nearly killed him once, and I don't want to help it finish the job.

They won't matter to Brendan; he's been indoctrinated the same way everyone has. The way I've pretended to be.

"Dunecat got your tongue?" Brendan demands. "What is it about? It's sure as hells not me, because you couldn't even lower yourself to help me with my schoolwork. What would it have taken, an hour a night? One fucking hour, and I'd have a military career like the one you're so eager to throw away. But oh no, you were too busy being Mr. Everything."

It wasn't my popularity that held me back from helping. It was pure terror; I doubt saying that now is prudent.

Scrabbling for purchase, my mind churns relentlessly. Brendan's uncovered the secret I've held so close. Will he even hesitate to turn me in? Every answer yields more questions. He's made it clear that he detests me, ever since tenth year--why? Will he let me leave the house? If he does, will he know where I'm going? The hollow tree used to be our "fort" when we were young.

"I don't believe in the War anymore." It spills from my lips like vomit before I can stop it.

Blasphemy, what I've just said; I'm actually shaking in my boots. We weren't raised with religion--Father says the gods are antiquated, a bastion for the weak. We still learn their prayers in school, though there are many unbelievers these days. Everyone, however, worships in the house of the one true deity. All must pay their tributes at the altar of the Sacred Conflict.

Stalwart Creators, let me die if I must, that my life not be an offering to a War in which I have no faith.

Brendan's thumbs press themselves into the space beneath my collarbones. Perilously close to my neck, his nails bite into the backs of my shoulders. I'm petrified, replaying in my mind the night those fingers wrapped themselves around Father's throat. Once again, the questions swirl inside my head. What if Father was wrong all along, and the gods do exist?

What if they're answering my prayer right now?
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