The Compound was a large lot of land that lay a hundred yards inland from the river, north of the Edge, and south of the Ghetto. Where the Edge was uneven and scattered with rubble, the Compound was flat and bare, clear of debris. Baked hard as rock by the unrelenting sun, the dirt surface of the Compound was populated with small groups of people and their camps. To the north were the remains of buildings, foundations of long gone structures jutting out of the ground. Even farther north and east, the empty buildings of the Ghetto could just be seen at the horizon line. To the west, Velo City rose in sparkling glory across the river, its glass buildings twinkling like stars as the sun began to set behind them.
Braddha, a tall, muscled man in his twenties paced the hard ground of the Compound near a campfire on the north end. He wore dirty black jeans and a dark T-shirt, like all the other gang members, and a long knife hung from his belt. His face and arms were dark with tan, his black hair hung almost to his shoulders. The look on his face was a mix of anger and impatience that made him look older than he was. He stopped his pacing and looked out over the Compound.
He knew that the power he wielded over his people lay in keeping them on the edge of hunger, but not too far over it. He knew that in order to keep them compliant, they had to believe in his omnipotence. He also knew that he couldn’t let anything interrupt his show of strength because any sign of weakness was an invitation for someone to challenge him.
He had come from the north camps to live south of the Ghetto only a few years ago, but he had built a strong gang that ruled the territory east of Velo City and south of the camps. When the traders came down from the north, they knew they had to work under his rules, and pay him his tax, in order to barter their wares. He ruled the Compound, the Ghetto and everyone that passed through.
He had set up a clear border and had so far been unchallenged. The only test to his authority was the recent appearance of the Teller. That defiant annoyance was putting disquieting thoughts into the heads of the people. Ideas that could distract them, diluting their focus on what was important, like obeying him. The Teller was trouble, and it was Braddha’s job to eliminate trouble. That’s how he secured his domination.
Young men and women in their teens and twenties, moved around the camp. Some roasted meat on campfires, or stirred pots, some huddled in groups playing quiet games. They all were dark haired and thin. None wore a smile or made a sound. They felt Braddha’s anger like a heat wave and had no wish to tempt it to turn in their direction. They knew that as long as they followed him and obeyed his rules, they would be fed and safe. But they also had to avoid Braddha’s wrath.
Two young men, dressed as the rest, one with diagonal scars on his face, came walking from the north and entered the camp slowly. They approached Braddha, the scar faced one in the lead. Braddha turned to look at them. The two men stopped in front of him, looking at the ground, silent.
“I see you’ve come back empty handed and empty headed.” Braddha growled. “You’ll be the last to eat tonight, if there’s anything left.”
A teen brought Braddha a piece of the roasted meat on a long bone. He took it in his left hand and sat on the ground. A few others sat with him, their share of the meat in their hands.
“You’ll go again tomorrow, to try to find where the Teller sleeps.” Braddha barked, before he took a bite of his dinner. “If you come back with nothing, you’ll get nothing.”
Braddha tore the meat off the bone with his teeth. Watching him, the others began to eat as well. The two men stood in front of him, looking hungrily at the food. Then they slowly backed away to the edge of the group. Braddha kept his eyes on them, burning with anger. The only way to make them do what I need, he thought to himself, is to make them want it bad enough.