I'm posting late in the day again, but it's better late than never. Busy days can make it difficult to get everything done.
In case you haven't read the previous installments, follow the links below.
Memoirs From the End of the World
RC balanced the diary on her knees. Her back was pressed against a damp stone wall, her legs stretched out straight ahead of her. Her muscles ached from the brisk march Alyx had led her on through the back alleys of town, and she wished she had something more comfortable than a concrete basement floor.
The search for Alyx’s brother proved unsuccessful. They hadn’t seen evidence of anyone, and his spirits were suffering. He kept up his end of the conversation, but his words became quiet, subdued. Now he sat on an inverted metal bucket along the adjacent wall. The way he hunched over with his chin resting on his fist vaguely reminded RC of a statue that she’d seen in a previous life. The long silence, which she had filled with her thoughts as she transferred them to the page, finally began to bother her.
“You okay?” RC asked tentatively.
“It must be nice to have someone to vent to,” Alyx commented, his eye falling on Romero. “A diary’s better than I’ve had since Ollie disappeared.”
RC remembered that she forgot to mention Ollie’s name in Romero. She made a mental note to do that next time. Rule #7: Though people may not remain close to you, it’s still a good idea to remember everything about them you can. Information is at least as valuable as a good meal.
“I make do with what I have,” she replied dismissively. She definitely didn’t want to be the topic of conversation. Rule #8: The value of information means it can also be used against you. Don’t give away too much about yourself. “So, do you know where we are? I’ve never been in this area before.”
There was a reason for that, of course. This abandoned section of the city sat right on the edge of the central habitation area. Only a few blocks over, people went about their lives, living and working. Those who weren’t in the meat locker, anyway. If it weren’t for Alyx’s determination to look after Ollie, he could live a normal life there. He’d never be around anyone his own age, but he work in a nursery where the children who came from the meat lockers were raised. Or anything else the overlords didn’t want to do themselves, for that matter.
“I know this area fairly well,” Alyx replied cryptically. He ran his hand through his hair, which looked like it might be blond after a strong stream of water knocked all the caked dirt out of it.
“Any reason?” RC didn’t have a reason to be suspicious of him, other than good old Rule #6. Yet, if she let her guard down and was betrayed when she knew better than to let anyone get too close, she’d kick herself all the way to the meat locker. Then she’d be trapped. She couldn’t stomach the idea of sacrificing her freedom for someone else’s benefit.
He shrugged. “I knew people who used to live here. Since it’s familiar, I figured Ollie might have come here.”
That made some sense, but it also made RC cringe as her third rule came back to her. Avoid old patterns to avoid predictability. Yet the home field advantage couldn’t be dismissed entirely. Balancing these two contradictory ideas in her head, RC quickly drew up another rule. Rule #9: Operate in familiar territory with caution. Becoming too relaxed or lingering in an area for too long quickly negates any advantage gained by familiarity.
Returning her attention to Alyx, whose shoulders slumped so far forward it seemed a boulder must have fallen on them, she realized his hunch was more than a passing thought. “You really thought he would be here,” RC pressed.
“I’m worried about him. The longer he’s gone, the more I think he might’ve been caught.”
This had been the unvoiced essence of her thoughts for most of the day. “Even if he has, he’ll be useful to them. They’ll only hurt him if he resists.” Like Pete resisted, she added silently.
Alyx laughed wryly. “If you’re so sure of their good nature, why are you running too?”
A fire sparked in RC’s chest. “Hey, I hate those pisswads as much as anyone else ever could, but I was trying to make you feel better! That’s what a decent person does!”
He recoiled, analyzing her with startled green eyes. “Sorry,” he murmured. “I didn’t think I’d strike a nerve like that.”
“Well, you did,” RC spat, though her anger was already ebbing. Something about Alyx’s expression disarmed her fast, and a little alarm sounded in her gut. Be careful about getting attached, she warned herself.
A silent moment passed between them, and RC avoided his gaze.
Then the sound came. The rhythmic sound reminded her of a heartbeat pounding through the floorboards, but the reality was much worse. It was the sound of heavy footsteps.
“Ollie!” Alyx called as he leapt to his feet.
RC suddenly wanted to shake him. “Shhh! How can you possibly know that?” she hissed.
Alyx looked sheepish. “I know this neighborhood because we lived here. In this house. I figured if I was going to find him anywhere, it would be here.”
Now she wanted to slap him. “The security bots scanned you. For all you know, there’s a patrol coming in here to ask you questions about why you’re lurking in the restricted areas of the city.”
Alyx looked up, as if trying to see through the ceiling. The footsteps were traversing the floor above, but it was still only one set. “Stay down here. If it’s a patrol, I’ll make sure they don’t find you.” Then he bolted for the stairs.
Her stomach turned. If she were smart, and if her rules meant anything, she would listen. That’s why, when she found herself jumping up to pursue him and knocking Romero to the concrete in the process, she knew she was the one who needed to be slapped.
Go to Entry #5