I present to you the next installment in my serialized story. For those of you who've missed any of the prior installments, I've added the links directly below.
Memoirs From the End of the World
Alyx rushed up the wooden stairs as if the dangerous thing were behind him, not waiting for him beyond the old, loosely hung door. And as counterintuitive as it seemed, RC rushed up just as fast. When her companion carelessly flung open the door, forcing her to take a small step backward to avoid being smacked, it crashed into the banister. If the unknown guest hadn’t heard the pounding of their feet, they certainly heard that.
RC watched him disappear through the doorway, but she hesitated on the top step. Once she went through, anything could happen. Remember your rules! she silently chastised. You know damn well this is a stupid move on your part.
In spite of that, RC grasped the door frame and propelled herself through. If she went in fast, she might have the momentum to get out fast if it all went bad.
When she emerged into the kitchen, it took a long moment for the scene to make any sort of sense. Alyx stood by the stove, staring in horror at a human figure that loomed mere feet away. She couldn’t distinguish much about this person at first glance, other than general size. That alone would have been intimidating, too. The stranger stood several inches taller than Alyx, and the shoulders were broad enough to block off any doorway. The blood and dirt covering them erased all other features she might have been able to latch on to. Torn clothing exposed patches of pale skin that somehow escaped the bloodbath.
“Ollie?” Alyx’s voice trembled slightly. “Is that you?”
Those words seemed to break through the odd trance that had fallen over them all. “I thought I’d never see you again.” This guy’s voice was deep, though the relief leaked into his words, lightening them significantly.
“What happened to you?” Alyx demanded.
This question made Ollie jump, as if something clicked in his mind. He nervously looked behind him. “A patrol caught me, beat me when I tried to get away, but I managed to run. They shot me with a tracker, and they’ve been after me ever since. I can’t get it out. I don’t know how long it’ll be before they catch up.”
RC’s ears perked up the moment she heard the word “tracker.” Once hit with the rather monstrous dart, a small chip burrowed under the skin and transmitted data back to the patrol that shot it. It served a double purpose: it helped them to track down rogues, and it instilled a sense of futility. Once tagged, most didn’t bother to run. Luckily for Ollie, he had a free brother willing to look after him. Running made sense in his case.
She felt her stomach tighten into a lead ball inside her. Now that Ollie was red hot with a tracker, it wasn’t safe to be on the same city block as him, let alone the same room. You should just run for it, she told herself. This isn’t a safe place for you anymore. These people are a liability.
Yet, her feet remained where they were. She watched as Alyx, obviously uncaring about the messy state of his sibling, moved to give him a brief hug. “It’s okay,” he said with an inexplicable air of calm. “We’ll figure this out.”
Then Ollie turned to face RC, and she got her first glimpse of his green eyes as they surveyed her. “Who’s that?”
“Alyx saved me from a group of bots,” RC replied. The moment she said it, she understood why her feet weren’t carrying her away from the scene. She owed Alyx a debt, and leaving now would keep that debt hanging over her head. Once she repaid it, she could leave without guilt. She quickly declared a new rule in her head.
Rule #10: Exchange favors when possible. Though you shouldn’t form close friendships, you never know when it may be useful to have a friendly acquaintance to call on for another favor.
RC looked to Alyx. “If you keep an eye out for patrols, I can work on getting the tracker out of him. You’re the only one of us who can stall them if it comes to that.”
Alyx nodded. “We can do this,” he declared before he took off for the front door.
Within minutes, RC had searched the bathroom cabinets and uncovered a few things she would need. A mostly empty bottle of peroxide, a couple of stray gauze pads, and half a roll of medical tape. The aliens provided for these needs as an incentive to get people to come without a fight. Alyx and Ollie’s parents must have moved willingly, and the boys must have packed lightly when they ran.
Soon Ollie, shirtless and weary, leaned over the back of a kitchen chair. RC had already removed the dart from the middle of his back. It was no wonder he couldn’t deal with it on his own. The chip would be somewhere near the point of entry.
Somehow she’d managed to instinctively grab Romero and her backpack before flying after Alyx. That alone amazed her. It also assured her that, if she truly was programmed for survival, her decision to stick with the boys through this wouldn’t come back to bite her.
She pulled an old lighter from the bag. Rule #11: Always keep fire at your fingertips.
She used the flame to sterilize the blade of a small kitchen knife. While it was still hot, she palpated the skin around the dart.
“I’ve wanted to have a girl touch me for awhile,” Ollie said conversationally. “I was hoping it would be under different circumstances.”
RC ignored that. The last thing she wanted was for anyone to make a pass at her. She concentrated on the task instead. Within moments, she located a hard little ball beneath the soft, warm skin.
Just as she positioned the knife to make her cut, Alyx burst into the room. “The patrol’s coming.”
Go to Entry #6