Summary: Set during the Season One episode where Runner Five gets stranded outside Abel overnight and Sam keeps a vigil.
[I'm really sorry, but I just can't get the cut to work!!]
My heart sank when I saw I’d drawn cleaning duty in the comms shack. Sam Yao was a renowned slob and it was impossible to predict what horrible mess I might encounter when entering his lair after hours.
Still, it was important to pitch in and help out where it was needed. Everyone in Abel had to contribute and I didn’t mind a bit of dirty work, in exchange for the safety and relative comfort of the compound in the post-apocalyptic world we now lived in. So, I collected a cleaning kit from the supply tent and made my way over to the comms shack.
I was surprised to discover a light on when I got there, and Sam’s voice clearly audible through the door. Could I be early? I glanced at my watch and saw that I was exactly on time. I was reassured; I pride myself on my punctuality, never being late, but also never being early. I like to present a reliable front, and it also helps me feel as if I have at least a little control over life in these uncertain times. So, what was Sam doing still in the comms shack, long after his shift should have ended?
I opened the door quietly. Sam was hunched over the control desk, and didn’t react to my entrance.
“Runner Five, if you can hear me, I’m afraid they’ve closed the gates for the night. I tried to get Janine to extend the curfew, but she refused. You know what she’s like. The gates have to be locked up tight as soon as it gets dark and nobody can get access again until morning. So, even if you did make it back to Abel soon, we wouldn’t let you in. Your best bet is to find somwhere to hole up overnight and then get back as soon as possible when it gets light.”
I was shocked. One of the runners was stuck outside Abel after curfew? That wasn’t good at all. Everyone knew it was even more dangerous to move about after dark than in daylight, and only the bravest people even ventured out of the compound during the day. I would never be able to do what the runners did. But if one of them was out there now, the likelihood of them surviving the night was pretty slim.
Sam was still talking.
“Everyone else already thinks you’re dead, and I admit the fact that you’re not responding to comms isn’t a good sign, but I have to believe you’re still out there, and that you can hear me. Regardless, I’m going to stay right here and keep talking, so you know you’re not alone. You’ve just got to stay sharp, Five, and keep running, and you’ll make it, I know you will.”
There was a hint of desperation in his voice, and I knew he was trying to persuade himself as much as he was offering support to the missing runner. I had heard about his relationship with the previous Runner Five, and the way he had reacted to her loss. I didn’t want to consider what might happen if the new Runner Five never came back.
I still had a job to do, though, so I just went about cleaning. I started with the edges of the room and gradually made my way in a spiral towards the control desk. Sam kept talking, unselfconscious. He did acknowledge my presence with a nod and an effort to move a few things out of my way once I got to the actual desk, but he was unwavering in his dedication to keeping up a running commentary for Runner Five. He talked about his past, and his losses, and apparently whatever came into his head.
Once I finished the cleaning, I didn’t feel like leaving him to his vigil alone, so I made a pot of tea and put a steaming mug down at his elbow. He spared me a brief smile of thanks and then went right on back to his monologue. I took up a position at the side of the shack with my own cup of tea and bore silent witness to his act of possibly fruitless support. I left briefly at several points to make some sandwiches, and returned with them a few minutes later. Sam wolfed them down between breaths, apologising to Runner Five for talking with his mouth full.
It went on like that for hours, until Sam was hoarse and clearly exhausted, but he didn’t let up. Eventually, the first rays of sunlight started to shine through the windows, and he had acquired a rather glazed expression. I don’t think he was even really aware of his surroundings by this point, but he was still talking.
I was feeling quite punchy myself, but a flicker of movement on one of the camera screens caught my attention.
“What’s that?” I said, gesturing at the screen.
Sam jumped at the unexpected sound of my voice, and struggled to focus on what I was pointing at. Then he suddenly straightened in his seat.
“Five!” he exclaimed. “Is that you? I can see you on the monitors! You’re really alive! Oh my god, you’re nearly back at Abel! Raise the gates! Raise the gates! Runner Five’s home!”
He looked round at me, his eyes shining above the widest smile I’d ever seen.
“Runner Five’s home,” he said again.
Then, he launched himself out of his chair and dashed out of the shack towards the gates.
I looked around the shack and saw that it was littered with the detritus of the night’s vigil. Mugs with dregs of tea were scattered on every surface and the floor around the desk was covered in food wrappers. I checked my watch. It was exactly the start of the morning shift. Punctual as always, I gathered my cleaning kit together and got to work.