The Compound (Crossing Over 3)
The Compound was a large lot of earth that lay a couple of 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. In sight 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, older than most, but still much younger than old, paced the hard ground of the Compound near a campfire at the north end. He wore dirty black jeans and a dark T-shirt, like all the other gangers, and a long knife hung from his belt. His face and arms were dark with tan, his black hair worn short, a full beard covering his face. He wore a look that was a mix of anger and impatience. Where are those two fools? It's almost dark. 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 entire 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 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 all the way from the camps, south to his gang. 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. Surely those two fools have failed again. There's no doubt that I'm going to have to take care of that one myself.
Men and women in their teens and twenties, moved around the camp. Fires were lit at the corners to keep them safe from the dogs as night would fall soon. Some of them roasted meat on the campfires, or stirred pots, some huddled in groups playing quiet games. They all were dark haired and thin. None wore a smile or made much noise. 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. Obedience did not always mean they were safe from his temper.
Neece was taller than most of the women, and well muscled. She'd been living with the gang since she left the factory farms some years ago. Once she had grown old enough, she knew she'd be forced into a marriage she did not want which would follow with bearing children she did not want to bring into the world. She fled the farms before they could put her on that track and she found her way south to the Compound. Living with the gangs was her only choice since she had no trade or family, both of which she would need in order to survive. No one could survive alone this side of the river, they had to work in groups to guard each other from the dogs at night.
Neece helped protect the women from Braddha and the other men in the gang, and they trusted her to speak up for them. She was closest to Mia and Tam, who followed her lead in helping the group to survive, as well as keeping the women strong against some of the men who felt it was their right to use or abuse the women. Tam was especially good at motivating the younger ones. She felt closest to them, in age and attitude, especially the orphaned ones, and was able to keep them calm and productive most of the time. Mia was one of the lighter skinned gangers, and considered quite attractive, although she did nothing to further that appreciation. The men were always after her, but she was tough, she could fight the best of them. Not just because she was strong, she was fast too, and, more importantly, smart.
Tank and Bone came walking from the north as the sun set. They were more dusty and sweat streaked than usual. They approached the camp quickly but their pace slowed as they came closer to Braddha. Tank was in the lead, a forced scowl on his scarred face. Braddha turned to look at them. The two men stopped, casting their eyes toward the ground silently.
“I see you've come back empty handed and empty headed as usual,” 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 stick. 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 turned away from them and tore at the meat with his teeth. Watching him, the others began to eat as well. Tank and Bone stood in front of him, looking hungrily at the food, then they slowly backed away to the edge of the group, Tank pushing Bone ahead of him. Braddha's eyes burned with anger as he chewed the tough meat. The only way to make them do what I need, he thought to himself, is to make them want it bad enough.