Half Burnt by Mariane Enriquez
Escape. Buy a Copy, Support this Author
That is the word on repeat in my head. I don’t understand why. Why would I want to escape such a nice dream? Everything here is amazing. Crisp, clean air. Clear, cloudless skies. The ground is soft like a bed of sweet-scented grass with a thin coating of dew. The skirt of my sundress is damp but I don’t care. Someone holds my hand. It feels rough and warm. He whispers something in my ear, his breath hot and his voice musky. I laugh with a lightness in my chest that I know I never felt before.
Why? I am happy. I feel safe. Content. My heart jumps when an arm wraps around my waist and pulls me closer to a warm body. My own flushes and curls into his. I say something witty. His body rumbles as a chuckle escapes him. My grin only widens. I feel loved.
I try to ignore it because I feel him lean in. Eyes close. Head tilts. The breeze is cool. The grass cold. But his body is all the warmth I need. Our lips meet and I am drawn in his fire.
It’s ruining the moment. This annoying voice. I focus on the kiss and try to lose myself in it. It should be easy, but for some reason it’s not. I go up to my knees and now I am taller than him. Hands on his shoulders, hard muscles under my fingertips. His hands settle on my waist. Mine run through his hair. I deepen our kiss. We begin to fight for control. I frown as the voice speaks again.
Escape before it's too late.
Then all I feel is pain as the dream collapses. I wake up screaming.
Bright blinking red lights assault my eyes and I am dazed. Cold sweat slides down my face. Buzzing fills my ears. I look around and metal clicks into my mind. Metal walls. Metal floors. Metal beds. Where am I? I try to remember but my memories are in pieces. A field, the sky, a boy. Warmth of the kiss, the safety I felt. It is all gone now.
I move to sit up but something restricts my movement. I look down. Thick wires are plugged into my arms; dark purple bruises surround the needles protruding my skin. I yank it out in panic and throw it to the floor. I barely notice the blood as I scramble off the bed. My hand slips. A siren shreds the air as I hit the floor. What is happening? I recall a voice from my dreams. It sounds muffled and faint now but my bones affirm the warning. Escape.
Something is coming. I get up, eyes blinking rapidly to adjust to the harsh light. The pentagon room is small and bathes in red. A large glass contraption takes up the middle, glowing like a silver sun as rays of empty beds surround it. The walls are dark and bare of anything but flickering firefly lights. I am alone but something tells me I won’t be for long. I get to my feet. The screams of the siren fades into the back of my mind as I search for the exit. Noise. I turn. What is once part of the wall juts out from the rest and retracts inside another, opening to a hall. I tense as I wait for someone to enter. No one does. I hurry over and check for approach. When it’s clear, I bolt.
My body is uncoordinated- as if the parts are not used to working together. My body feels heavy and sloppy. But my mind feels light and alive as if it processes at a different speed and my body lags. Half of my face tingles. I rub it with my palm but it remains numb. I come to a stop at a junction of hallways where each seem to go on forever. I frown as I notice my labored breathing and feel my legs protesting from the exertion. In my mind's eye, I am running for long periods of time, across a different terrain, in another life. From hours of endurance reduced to minutes, how long have I been strapped to that machine?
My ears catch a noise over the siren and dormant instincts kick in. I drop to the floor and press my ear to the ground. Running footsteps. A group in pursuit – unsure how many but not far behind. It clicks with an old memory, dusty from the ashes of my mind. Unexplainable dread comes over me and I come up running. I hear a muffled whisper and my gut pulls me to my right. I follow. In front of me are two sets of stairs, going up and going down. I chose the latter. I took it two steps at a time. At the bottom a door stands ajar and another staircase lead to a lower level. The stairs again, but I stop midway and flatten myself against the wall. My pursuers are above me.
"Squad One, proceed to the West Wing. The rest of you secure this floor. Your orders are to find the girl and return her to the Weaver’s Room. Am I understood?”
A booming affirmation then the group splits. One continue their patrol in the floor above as the other rushes down the steps. One stray glance and I might have been caught but the guards swiftly pass through the door. The drum of my pulse drowns out their passage. When they are gone, I sink to the floor. Who were those people? What do they want with me? I know it is not safe to stay here. I’m too exposed. I need to find somewhere to hide so I can think of a plan. But where can I go? There must be security everywhere. People. Cameras. They could be zeroing in on my location now through their eyes on the walls. It’s only a matter of time before they find me.
Click. My head swivels up to the sound. It might have only been the door clicking shut but I take it as a sign to move. I am grateful to be barefoot, even if the floors are freezing. My feet barely make a sound as I descend the staircase step by step. The length of this set is double the first and stretches across the room it leads into. I pause where the shadows end and peek into the lit room. It is not a room but a hall, very long and narrow as it leads up to a glass door at the other end. I see no other way but through. I cross the hall, careful to spot a flash of light on the walls that would give away any hidden cameras. But the walls are bare of anything – even windows. I reach the door. It is made of dark glass making it hard to see what could be at the other side. My ears strain to listen but I hear nothing. I pause to weigh my chances of running into armed guards on the other side but the door makes the choice for me. It swishes open.
The room is pitch black. It seems empty of people, at least no one shouts in alarm at my sudden appearance. The door slid to a close behind me and instantly plunges the room into darkness. I jump a few steps backwards when the floor suddenly emits a blue-tinged glow. The light begins as strands on the floor and gradually thickens as if a river, rushes to the middle of the room. I watch as it grows like glowing stalagmites, in tapering columns, reaching up to the ceiling.
I approach it and I reach out. I notice the light is encased in what seems like glass, exhibiting heat as my hand hovers over it. As soon as my skin come into contact, the walls come alive with color. Deep green leaves, massive trees as tall as buildings, pockets of brilliant blue sky through the branches and the singsong of birds in the air. I pull my hand back in shock. The color drains away from the walls like melting ice, gathering on the floor in a greyish puddle. I stare at my hand and then at the glowing columns.
What just happened?
I reach out again and it transports back into the forest. Amazed, I let go and try a different column, a wider and shorter one. I stand by the seashore, salt in the air, sand in between my toes and the vast ocean unfolds to infinity before me. It all seems so real. I try a different one, a column further inside the mass. My fingers barely graze the surface when I find myself standing in a meadow of green and yellow. A cloudless sky hangs above me and tangy sweetness coats the air. This feels familiar, the ground under my bare feet, the air in my lungs - a ghost of a memory tickles my mind.
Someone yanks me by the arm and pins me to the floor. The walls melt. The room darkens. A wave of nausea washes me as my head hits the ground. I lash out blindly at my attacker but he is stronger than me. In the dim, I can see him reaching out for something at his back. A gun? A knife? I struggled to break free but his one-handed hold is painfully secure. My legs curl in between us and I kick him off. I am on my feet as he comes at me with a shock gun in hand. I dodge, the shock gun missing me by a breath. I knock it from his hand and it falls to the ground. I reach to grab for it when he grabs a handful of my hair. I cry out. A blinding light explodes from the ground. The guard yelps in surprise, reflexively shielding his eyes with his hands. Suddenly, I’m free. I swing around wildly and manage to smack him on the head. I fall to the floor with the shock gun within reach. I take it and with a satisfying click, buzzing electricity sparks to life in my hand. I shove it to his neck. His body crumples to the floor. He doesn’t move as the light disappears. Neither do I as I realize I am standing on glass, hundreds of feet in the air.
Underneath me is a dome. My eyes gravitate to the center where I see the culprit of the blinding light, a contraption similar to the one I was attached to when I woke up, only this one is a hundred times bigger. A sea of people in grey surrounds it and floods the white room. It looks like chaos, people running, though some were eerily stationary. I can feel the vibration of their cries and their shouts from the glass. Darker uniformed people much like the guard I took it seem to be trying to take control, fighting off the people in grey. My heart drops as their number overwhelms me. How can I fight through that?
The sound of buzzing static catches my attention. It comes from the guard. I close the gap in a few steps. I nudge him with my foot. He is completely unconscious. I roll him onto his back and search his pockets for the source of static. It turns out it is coming from something on his arm. I detach it from him for a closer look. It is a thin metal slate with a tiny blinking dot at the center that emits the static noise. I rack my brain trying to remember what it is. A radio. A chill runs down my spine as I realize he could have called back up by now. Are they coming up here? Do they know where I am?
You there. I almost dropped the radio when I realize the voice did not come from it. It’s in my head. I know you can hear me. This is the voice from my dream. It’s real.
“Who are you?”
A friend. I’m getting you out. The words are clear and the voice sounds like an echo from conversations past. I’ll give you directions. Follow them and I’ll lead you somewhere safe.
“I don’t trust you.”
You have no choice. It’s just you and me in here. Now move, they are coming your way.
He guides me through the maze of hallways. His instructions are uncannily exact that it makes me wonder how many cameras he is using to keep track of my progress. I keep my eyes peeled but so far, I have not caught a glimpse of a single lens. He tells me to stop at a junction to wait for further instructions. The siren resumes again as the radio goes silent and my blood chills. The rational part of me realizes that it sounds further from me than before. I like to think it’s a good sign. Or at least a hopeful one. The interconnected halls provide me no comfort. So many ways to go, so many ways to get caught. All I am armed with is the radio on my wrist. I had tried to take the stun gun with me but the boy had said it had a tracker in it. I asked if the radio had one too. He ignored me. He does that a lot.
“Straight ahead.” The boy says. He’s speaking through the radio now which was a relief. My feet inch me forward while my eyes shift from shadow to shadow expecting something to come out at me.
"Where are you taking me?" I ask during one of his longest silences. Again, he doesn’t answer. Instead he tells me to stop in front of a wide door with a placard for caution posted on it. “What’s behind that door?”
“The electrical room.” He says. “Get in. I left a pack for you there.”
I try the door but it is locked. Of course it would be locked. I was about to say so in the radio when I hear a click. “It’s open now.” He says. I try again and it eases open. I enter. Rows upon rows of glass panels line the room. Wires everywhere, starting from the glass stands, running up the walls and up the ceiling where it disappears from view. I close the door behind me and step to the side to avoid the wires. I nearly step on the brown pack that was stowed there.
“Take out the case” the boy says as I pick up the pack. I do as told. The case opens to be as big as my hand. Inside are three pinky-length vials, cushioned by black velvet. A syringe is strapped at the bottom of the case. “What are these?
“Boosters.” He says, “It should help your body cope with the sudden physical exertion. You’ll need the strength if you want to get out of here. You might collapse without so it’s better if you take one every few hours.”
The serum enters my system with a sting followed by a rush of relief. I rummage through the pack to see what else is there. A blanket. Change of clothes. Pills of water. No weapons though. I bite the inside of my lip. A weapon would have definitely helped. Apparently, the boy thinks otherwise. My throat feels dry so I pop a round tablet into my mouth which explodes into a cool, refreshing liquid. I take second tablet before beginning my round of questions. "Where is here? What is this place?"
They call it ‘the Facility’. The name sounds familiar but I can’t quite recall what I know about it. To put it simply, it’s a factory.
“A factory of what?”
Dreams. Worlds. I would have laughed at the thought but a feeling of dread came along with his voice in my head. Instead I asked, “How is that possible?”
It shouldn’t be. But they found a way. And they proved it can be possible. So they made it happen.
They use people, do something to them to trap them in their own minds where they stay there, believing its reality.
“Then is that where I was…”
That’s where you were before I woke you up.
“How long have I been here?”
A couple of months.
I have been trapped in my own mind for months. That’s a lot of time. It explains the change in my body. A rush of anger bubbles inside me but I quell it to a simmer to keep my mind straight. “You said ‘They’. Who are they?”
The people who run the facility. The people looking for you.
"What do they want with me?”
"I don't understand. What do I have that they want? I’ve been here for months. Haven’t they taken it already?”
He sighs. Someone will explain it to you.
"Why not you?"
That's not my job.
"Then what is your job?"
Getting you out of here. Alive.
"Why?” Suspicion I didn’t bother to hide seeps into my voice. “What do you want from me?"
I wait for a long time for him to answer. But he didn't. In the end all he said is, The first dose will make you feel lightheaded so I suggest you sit tight and rest. I’ll keep them busy for a while longer.
I was running and I knew exactly what from. I dived under an overgrown root just as a feral growl came deadly close. I slid down a muddy slope of sharp rocks and hard roots and launched myself in the air. I landed running. There was no time to pause or look back. I was in a forest, a rocky incline on the side of a thinning mountain. The trees weren't enough to hide behind but they covered me from the bullets fired my way. One grazed my shoulder but the pain barely registered in my head. I ducked. A large shadow covered the ground as a bulk of scales and fur vaulted over me, nicking the side of my head with a claw from its hind foot. It landed in front of me with a sickening crunch of branches and rocks breaking under its weight.
It was a monster with matted skin resembling that of a rotting wolf. It was big, bigger than any dog I have ever seen and almost the same size as a carabao. I felt behind me for my only weapon. A knife, homemade but very sharp. The monster saw threat in it and growled, baring long sharp fangs. Its reptile tail swooped behind it. I placed the knife handle in my mouth. The monster pounced. I rolled forward, grazing its underbelly but earning a face-full smack of its tail. I tasted blood in my mouth as I righted myself and sprinted. The monster took only seconds to go after me. I thought fast.
One second to run. Heavy feet fell behind me.
One second to listen. Feral growls dangerously close.
One second to launch in the air. The monster snapped as it missed me.
I reached for a sturdy trunk and twisted my whole body around it. I landed on the monster's back, narrowly falling off before I found a clump of fur to hold. My knife was in my free hand before the monster could react and I slashed the back of its neck, severing the protective layer of muscle and skin and then plunging it into the monster's embedded hard drive. The drive shattered as well did my knife and I rolled off before the beast could crush me with its weight. There was no time for relief because just then a bullet whizzed past me. I ran again. I was always running. I was taught never to stop. I ran until I could not run anymore. By that time, I had lost my pursuers in the maze of the caves I knew by heart. They either retreated by now or were still searching in vain. It didn't matter. I was long gone.
Instincts woke me up just seconds before the boy could.
"Get up," He says through the radio. "They'll be on you in five minutes."
My face tingles. But the sleep seems to have cleared my mind. My vision is sharp and vibrant. My body feels invigorated. I stuff all the things in my pack. “What do I do now?”
“You're going to kill the lights. The generators are programmed to only keep the life support in the Weaver's Room running for as long as possible. The lights will be cut out to support them.”
"But doesn't that mean you can't see me either?" Assuming he’s watching from a camera of some sort. Though I don’t see any here in the room, perhaps the radio has some sort of camera on it.
Instead of an answer, he leads me to a cabinet at the side with tools. Most of them are tiny but among the largest about the size of my hand, he has me select a blunt scissor with a curved edge.
He maneuvers me through a swamp of cables to the correct set that ran up a wall. “Cut the wires for the lights. They're all in one column.” I reach for the top on my toes and begin. The wires are easy enough to cut but it is hard to separate one wire from the rest. “Faster. They're coming your way.”
I quickened the pace, feeling the column with my left hand as I cut with my right. I reach the bottom just as I heard people outside the door. I snapped the last cable and the room was plunged in darkness.
"Now how am I supposed to see?" I panic. It might be because I just woke up but I usually think before doing something.
“You'll just have to listen to me.”
"Did it occur to you that they would have night vision or something?" I hissed at him.
“Of course it did. In fact, I’m counting on it.”
"Care to tell me how I can hide body heat?”
You can't. But I can. Now shut up and focus, Sam.
I heaved a deep breath and nodded. Wait, what- I stiffen as I hear them throw something inside. A bomb? No. I could hear hissing like air escaping. Gas?
Don’t inhale it. I'm getting you out.
I remember the blanket from my pack. I pull it out and use it like a mask. Whispers.
"I see her." I had been listening for it. Expecting the worst. But still the words sent chills down my spine. I tried to back away but the cables caught my feet and I fell back, landing hard. I tried to kick the cables off but only managed to tangle them even more.
"There she is" the voice is somewhere in front of me, dangerously near. My grip on the blunt tool tightens. I might not have a proper weapon but this would be good enough. It might not kill but it can disorient, if I use it on the right place. If only I could see.
"You there, don't move!" I hear them gather around me. I am still stuck.
"I said don't move" the man barks. I didn't.
There is a curt shout as if the man is taken by surprise and then I feel the rumble of soles as the other guards goes to him.
"What happened? Where did she go?"
"That Weaver rushed me. She went out the door."
"You lost her? Is she armed?"
"No, but she's damn crazy. "
"Let's go. We have to report this."
I hear them leave the room. When they are gone, I quickly untangle my foot from the wires and feel my way for the exit. It isn’t long before I feel the space around me expand and I know I am in the hall. The floor is bathed in total darkness. Few bulbs of light illuminate the ceiling, showing at least where the ceiling ends and the walls begins.
"You're not safe yet.” His voice is hoarse through the radio. “Listen, I bought you sometime but-"
I cut him off. "How do you know that name?"
He stays silent. I try again. "You called me 'Sam'.” My skin prickles at the sound of it. Even the skin on my face feels tight. “How do you know that name?"
"I'm getting you out of here. The exit is still far but I can get you there."
"That's not an answer."
He ignores me and delivers a series of directions I had no intention to listen to. I unlatch the radio from my arm and stuff it in my pack. I run down the hall, trusting the little light and whatever is left of my senses to guide me through the halls. He calls me to listen in my head but I tune him out. I'm not listening to him anymore. I don't know how he knows me or how I'm supposed to know him but he called me by that name. I remember being called many things, living by many names but that one...
The thundering of my heart and his insistent gibbering in my head made me make a mistake. I mistake the silhouette as part of the shadows. I fail to realize there is someone in front of me until I collide with him. He falls to the floor like I do. I am too dazed to stop him as he pulls out a gun and points it at me. "Don't move."
I stare at the barrel of the gun as the boy curses in my mind. The guard brings his wrist to his lips and opens his mouth to speak. I act out. I kick the gun from his hand. The gun goes off. The bullet tears into my shoulder. I yelp in pain. The man pulls out a blade from his belt but I am on him in a flash. We wrestle for the blade. I catch several punches until I finally get the upper hand.
He freezes when I press the blade to his neck.
Don't kill him.
The boy is saying something but my thoughts are on the monster I killed with a similar weapon. Killing this man would be easier. I see no reason not to. These people took me. Trapped me. Did who knows what to me. Now they hunt me. It's time for payback.
Don't do it. The boy is in my mind. I shake my head but he is still there. Relentless.
That’s it. That’s the name he shouldn't know.
Don't do it, Sam. Don't kill him.
A face comes to mind. One as blurred as the boy in the meadow but this one makes my chest ache. It feels more painful than the gunshot. With that face burned into my mind, I made a quick, merciful slash at the man's throat.
He chokes in his own blood and after a fit of spasms, he goes still and falls limp under me. I scramble for the man’s radio, my hands slippery with blood.
"You." I growl at the boy. I know he is listening. "I don't know who you are. But don't ever call me that. "
I smash the radio against the wall and got off the dead man. My shoulder aches like hell and my body groans as I got to my feet. The boy says nothing but he is still there in my mind. I could feel him.
I have to get out of here, I told myself. I have to-
The sirens come on again. What now? A human voice come from invisible speakers. "All personnel return to H.Q. Beast sequence has been activated and will begin in ten minutes."
I stare as the voice repeated it thrice and then silence.
What the hell does that mean?
The pain in my shoulder is giving way to delusions. I am torn in between reality and dreams.
A dull, painful part of me is limping in an empty dark corridor, wandering aimlessly but another part of me, is somewhere else, overlooking an abandoned city. It is easier to be the latter, where the pleasure of the view replaces the pain. But I can’t remember it clearly. Something happened, but all I see are flashes. Faces of people I should know but don't. Places of where I had been and where I have never been. It all mixes up in my head until I am unsure which one is which. I find myself staring at my hands now, sticky with blood. My blood.
What did they do to me?
He is calling me that again. I sink to the ground. I've lost a lot of blood. My arm is numb. I don't know where I am. I don't know how long it's been. Someone said ten minutes. Has it been ten minutes already? What would happen after that ten minutes is up? I didn't want to know.
Bandages, I thought. I need bandages.
The room ahead. It's the infirmary.
I stare at the glass door labeled infirmary in red light lettering. I grit my teeth and push myself off the wall. I wobble and stumble towards the door. I reached for it. It gives way with the barest touch, leaving me to fall face first on the floor. The ground is not soft but I forget the pain for a moment when I find myself in a room full of strangers.
My first instinct is to panic but his voice rushes in. Relax. I brought them here. They can help you.
I stare at them. Five of them all in all, garbed in grey. Men. Women. I see a child among them. They don’t look like guards. Why will they help me?
As if he can hear my thoughts, he answers. They’ve been drugged. They can’t think for themselves. They won’t move unless there’s someone giving them orders.
I struggle to my feet as I eye them warily. They weren’t like the people I saw in that room with the glass floor. None were screaming or panicking but rather they were unmoving. There is something off about them. The stillness in the way they stand. The blankness of their eyes. It almost feels like they are not human. My skin crawls as I approach them. None batts an eye as I approach the one nearest to me, a woman around her mid-thirties. She is around my height. She turns to the sound of my voice but her eyes are unfocused as she looks at my face. As if she is seeing right through me.
“How can I help you?” The plastered smile on her face is cold.
“Bandages.” I say. “I need bandages and tape” Her face is placid as if it’s a normal occurrence for a bleeding girl to come in here and ask for bandages. She doesn’t respond. But instead turns towards the medicine cabinets. I watch her rummage through the cabinets. She is soon back with a roll in one hand and antiseptic in the other. A second person follows close behind with tape and scissor. I eye the sharp object but the other only uses it to cut the bandage into strips. I notice for the first time that they had wires plugged into their forearms, much like I was when I woke up. I followed the cable with my eye and saw it is plugged to the wall where a cylindrical tube much like the ones in the glass room is anchored on the wall.
“What happened to them? Why are they here?” When there is no answer, I realize that the radio is still in my pack. I take it out but refuse to put it on. I ask again.
Stewards. He answers. They take care of the facility, making up a majority of the personnel. Without anyone left to give them orders, they are harmless.
“Why were they left behind?”
There’s a priority. Top to bottom. These people are part of the bottom.
Neither speaks but their movements are precise and swift. It is almost as if they were programmed to work together. It is uncanny. The child among them barely came up to my waist. She came holding a basin of water with a towel over one arm for the two women to wash their hands. She was connected to the cylinder as well. I feel a tug in my chest.
“Were they taken too?”
The response is so quick and curt that I feel the urge to retaliate. “How are you so sure?”
The facility won’t waste resources forcing people to become stewards. Not when there are so many people who are willing to volunteer.
“Why would people want to be reduced to that?”
A chance to live in a dream. Without having to worry about food for the next day or if they would have a place to sleep at night. They can be free from everything, trapped inside of their own heads.
The first steward makes me drink a painkiller. Then she pours the antiseptic into my wound. A searing pain erupts from my wound and transparent bubbles tinged with blood covered my shoulder. I cry out but the stewards hold me in place as they clean the wound. Other stewards close in. My eyes are fixed on the small hands holding the bowl of water as the pain washes over me. The child steward returns with a fresh bowl of water and cleans my shoulder. Then I take in a lungful of air as the steward pours more solution into my wound. The pain comes as sharp and fresh as the first each time. It is sometime after the fourth round do I realize they are finished bandaging. A clean and expert bandage, enough to last for the time being. They step away and disperse about the room. The little girl stays, now holding my pack.
Take another booster. I glance at the girl as I pull out another vial. Her eyes are as blank as the rest of them. Does she really think she’s free? I press the needle into my skin and I feel strength surge in me. The ruined city comes back to me, looking promising in the rising sun.
“You should be of l who you follow” I said to the person hiding in the shadows. “Just because I’m a girl doesn’t mean I’m not dangerous.”
“I have no doubt how dangerous you are. Quite deadly.”
He can only mean the camp I infiltrated the night before.
“Come to take me back then?” I asked.
“Then what are you here for?”
“To talk.” He says, “Who are you?”
I laugh at the insignificance on the question. “I’m not a threat to you, if that’s what you meant. Not unless you’ve come to threaten me.”
“I didn’t. I just want a name. Your name.”
I laugh again. “I didn’t realize I was so amusing.’’ I can hear the smile in his voice.
“Your questions are funny” I said. “It just goes to show how you’re not from around here.”
“Found me out so easily.”
“Names here don’t stick.”
“Then how do you call each other?” He asks, sounding genuinely interested.
“We have our ways.” I said, “Not something we share to outsiders.”
“Then what do outsiders like me call you?”
Like all people with no name, I have plenty. “Choose what you like.”
“I heard they called you ‘Sam” He says, “That’s the name they called you in the camp.”
“And what do you think about that, Outsider?”
“I like it.” He says. “It suits you.”
“And you?” I ask. “What are you called?”
“Where I’m from, we only have one name.”
“Practical.” He says, “But we also believe that names are linked to destiny. Too many can lead only to failure.”
“So what is then? What links you to your destiny?”
It’s not something I share to strangers” He says with a hint of a smile. “But I’d make an exception if you’d turn around. I’d like to introduce myself face to face, Sam”
Two minutes left. His voice again. In my head. It should feel like an invasion, so why didn't it? I shake my head as I try to remove the memory from my mind and focus on the present. Who is this boy? And why is he so damn persistent? I could feel the answer rising from the murk of my messed up memories but I push it down.
I look up when I notice the corners of the room lit up. “What’s happening? Did you do that?”
“No. It’s the backup lights. They turned it on because they know the beasts can’t hunt in the dark”
I have a plan. But I need your help to keep you alive. Will you help me?
I don’t answer. Instead I take my pack from the steward’s outstretched hand and take inventory. Blanket, clothes, booster and syringe. It’s all I have left.
He takes my silence as an affirmation. “Listen carefully. We're getting you out of here even if it's the last thing I do."
His plan is simple, which makes us crazy to think it would work.
I take off at his signal, a minute before the sequence begins. My body feels awkward. I could feel the drugs in my system, working to numb the feeling in my arm to nothingness. I feel my blood unknotting my limbs, the odd clicking of my bones in their sockets, the awkward slapping of my feet onto the floor. Slowly, my body eases into the motion, heating my muscles and pumping my blood.
"Remember" He says for the nth time, "The moment the Sequence begins, the first beast materializes instantaneously. The next generation takes fifteen minutes. You only have that much time to-"
"Take out the first before the next one arrives. I get it" I say as I wish he had an off switch. My clothes had been bloody and torn so I had to cut it off as I changed into the clothes the boy left me in the pack. It is a sturdy tight suit that made it hard to slip my arm into but I managed with some help. I keep the pack with the case and blanket inside tied to my body so that it would be out of the way. A steward offers me her shoes but I wave it away. I prefer to be bare foot. "Are you sure you can open the gate to let me out?"
When I step out into the halls, I notice all the corners have been lit up. It doesn’t comfort me to think that these were the same lights the beast would use to hunt me.
"Yes. That's the easy part. The hard part is to keep you alive long enough to get you close to the exit. That will take a miracle."
“Great. Appreciate that."
"You haven't really been making it easy for me." He is quiet for a few seconds. "Listen,"
"What do you think I’ve been doing all this time?"
"Listen" he ventures on, ignoring me. His tone was serious. "Don't do anything reckless. The goal is to get you out of here. Take whatever chance to get out. Don't look back. Whatever happens. You got that?"
I feel my gut churn with guilt. Anger and embarrassment flush my cheeks. What does he think I’ll do?
"I got it already." I snap. "Let's just get this over with already."
He goes silent. I focus on running. It is not long before the boy taps into my mind to warn me.
My body had warmed up well, adding some fluidity to the stiffness in my muscles. Though I have no idea how long my body would last, I'm giving this plan all I've got. In a couple of hours, I would either be free or dead. There's no point in holding back.
I turn a corner just as I feel a shift in the air behind me. I hear the growls first before I feel the weight of the beast land on the ground. I run faster in a sudden burst of urgency. My heart thunders against my rib cage. I round a corner. My eyes are on the trail of blood I follow on the floor. It leads to a pool of deep crimson where I envision the dead guard to be laying. He isn't there anymore. He must have been taken away. But my heart leaps at sight of something else in the pool. I keep running but I had to slow down to pick it up. My hand just closes around the hilt when the beast slams into me in full force. I stumble and slide across the floor slick with the guard's blood. I crash into the wall with the knife in my hand. The pain of the impact is overridden by fear and panic when I catch a glimpse of the beast.
It is twice my size with a bulky body that can crush me. A grim vision of flesh and hair with a horned wedged head and the body of a gorilla. It has wide powerful arms, thick veiny legs and a slit for a mouth. It roars, revealing rows of needle-like teeth and a long barbed tongue. My hands are slippery with sweat. I flex my grip on the blade as I weighed my chances against such a monster. They aren’t good.
It inches closer, sniffing the air with its flat nose in search of me as it has no eyes to see. Then it stretches its head towards me and sniffs. A growl begins to rumble deep inside its body. I lash out at its face. I scramble onto my feet and ran as it rears back in anger. The beast bounds after me.
The boy calls directions inside my mind and I follow, fearing that I would take a wrong turn and end up in a dead end. Finally, the corridors become familiar and I know I am near. The boy confirms it in my mind. I sprinted with all my energy and the beast thunders after me. I find the room gaping open and I dive inside. The beast bounds pass me as I dash into a corner and I hear it stumble into the nest of thick cables. It snarls and roars, twisting and squirming to get out but it is stuck. I know the cables would not be enough to hold it for long so I got to work. Following the boy’s instructions, I go to the side and pull down a metallic cover to reveal a panel of levers and switches. I pull down the levers one by one and with the last one, the remaining lights that are still lit, blows out.
In darkness again, I count to three and push up the levers together. The panel sparks with raw electricity and I jump back to avoid it. The backup lights are back and when I heard the cackling and snapping behind me, I turn. The beast is amidst coils of black wire sparking like eels. The smell of brunt hair and skin assaults my nostrils as I watch the beast cooked alive. The monster roars and shrieks in pain and tries to wriggle out, snapping some cables. I ready my knife in case it got lose. After more failed attempts, the beast is unmoving.
Good job, the boy says in my mind when it is calm enough for me to hear him. I pull out the radio from my pocket.
"Now what?" I ask him, desperately trying to remember how many minutes that took. It took longer than either of us expected, "will this work a second time?"
"No" he confirms what I already know. "But I've got a plan."
"What is it? Will it work?"
"Let's hope so." He says. "I need you to expose the hard drive and give me the serial number you see on it."
I turn to the beast. I can see smoke rising from it and singed hair atop its head. The smell is revolting. I approach it with a wary eye, careful to avoid the wires. A cable has wrapped around its neck and leaves the head to hang and makes its nape easily accessible. I carefully slit the skin to avoid the metal inside and dictate the number.
"Got it" he says. "Stay put."
Where else am I supposed to go?
I look about the room in search of something I could use. The tool cabinet has some options that could wound but nothing sharp enough to kill. I pull out the blanket from my bag and is just thinking about what to do with it when a noise made me freeze. I spin around. The ensnared monster is twitching within the cables. It isn't dead yet. I swear. I take out my blade again to finish the job. I am close enough just as the monster's head snaps back and I stare into two small holes where its eyes should be.
I twist around just as a beast materializes by the door. It pounces. I dive the last minute but it rounds on me and snaps. I pull the blanket over its head, covering the mouthful of teeth with cloth. The beast is too strong. My arms are already shaking. There’s no way I can hold it for long. Its large arms wrap around me, threatening to crush me. The blanket is splitting open when I hear another set of snarls and cords snapping and breaking. The first beast is free.
The blanket rips and I stare at mouthful of teeth as the beast swallows my head whole.
The world gives away from under me and I fall to the floor. I watch the first grab the second and throw it across the room. It slams into a glass panel, sending a shower of sparks in the air. The first paces in front of me, standing between me and the second. A series of snarls and growls resound as both beasts circle each other for an opening. The second lunges, jaws open wide. The first kicks out and the second’s head snaps back. The first snatches the other’s throat in a powerful grip. It tries to escape but the first breaks its throat and releases it onto the floor. As if to make sure, the first lifts a thick veiny leg and crushes the other’s fragile hard drive underfoot.
The remaining beast turns back to me and regards me through its empty eye sockets. I fumble for the radio.
"How did you do that?"
"I don't know" he replies, if possible he sounds more surprised than I am. "I was looking for a way to disable the rest through this one but I discovered something better."
"You can control it" I finish in wonder.
"Yes." He says. "I can. I broke through its security system. I don't know if this will last long against all the other beasts but it should buy us some time until I can get you out. The third will be here in less than ten minutes. We have to keep moving."
As if hearing it as an order, the beast wobbles obediently towards the door, its massive bulk takes up the entire doorway. I make a move to follow but jump back when it suddenly stops and looks over its shoulder. It is uncanny how it seems to see me without eyes.
What are you waiting for? The boy asks me in my head.
The boy relays to me the layout of my prison. All three wings connect to a large dome. One entrance. One exit. We stick to the halls. I had asked if I could take the vents.
“Too risky. The beasts materialize wherever the target is. If you stick to an enclosed space, a monster materializing would be instant death. Best to stick to open spaces so you can move around.”
“Can’t you just control the rest of the beasts in the sequence?” I ask him.
“I could try. But I doubt I can keep it up for more than a few seconds. Besides,” he adds, with a hint of uneasiness in his tone. “if my plan works, we won’t need to.”
We’re now at a part of the wing that I have not been in before. All the corridors have looked sinister and dark, but this one seems wider with a higher ceiling. As if it is opening up to something big. A dark glass door swishes open, gushes out bone-chilling air that made even the beast shiver as it storms in.
“Made it” The boy says. His beast growls as if in affirmation.
It is a dome, hundreds of feet high and stretches far. A familiar glass contraption stands at the center like a skyscraper. I realize I had seen this place before. Instinctively I look up. Sure enough, a dark circle like a pupil is attached to the highest point of the ceiling. Countless stewards in grey crowds the room. The beast moves through the people. Their cries from last I saw them had dulled to a murmur. I can see some pacing, while others huddled around the glowing center. Others had curled inwards, rocking back and forth. There are some who simply stood, still. Others lay flat on the floor, unmoving.
“There’s so many of them.” I say. “How can they just leave them all?”
“I told you. They’re volunteers. They’re replaceable. They would come back later to pick any survivors but they won’t care who survives.”
“We’re near the exit, aren’t we? We can lead them out”
“They won’t listen to you. They can’t anymore.”
“I can make them see sense.” My skin pricks at the thought. “With this many people the chances of escape will get higher. We can easily take down the next beast. They can fight”
“They can’t. Look at them. They’re weak and disoriented. They won’t be able to fight.”
He’s right. When I woke up, I couldn’t even fight off a guard much less a beast. It was only when I injected myself with a booster did I get stronger. The boosters.
“I still have a booster.” I can use it on someone.
“And what do you think that will accomplish?” he asks.
“I can save someone else.” I say, surprising myself. I didn’t really think of that. But now that its here, I realize its true. “I can take someone with me”
“It won’t work. They are not in their right mind.”
“I can try” He doesn’t reply.
I climb up the beast’s back and address everyone in the room, trying to get their attention. “Everyone listen to me” I say. Some turn to the sound but like the ones in the infirmary, their eyes are dull. Others didn’t bother. But none of them would look at me. They stared through me, as if stuck in their own worlds, trapped in their own minds.
“We have to get out of here” I say. “The sequence is starting again soon.”
He surprises me when he disagrees. “No, we’re right where we need to be.”
The beast stops at what seems like a glass door on the wall. It swishes open, to reveal a compartment. He nudges me inside. “What-”
“They are the perfect distraction.”
“And then what?”
“Eliminate all possible targets. Kill everyone in sight.”
He talks over me. “They can always get more volunteers. As long as you get out of here when the killing starts, you’ll have enough time to reach the exit and- What are you doing?” He asks. I didn’t answer. I struggle to get out but the beast blocks my way.
“They are not bait. You can’t do that” My voice gets louder. I can feel the panic in my chest, worse than when I thought of facing the beast with just a knife. “These are still people. You can’t just use them like that.”
“They wanted to be used remember.”
“You’ll be safe in there. Listen…”He says. The door closes before I can get out.
I am already shaking my head before he even finished, not that he could see me. But it doesn’t matter because I am trying to get rid of the thoughts he’s planting in my mind. His plan is insane. But what is worse is a part of me agreed. The part that remembers, somehow, what the rest of me has forgotten. “It’ll be a massacre.” I felt like I am telling myself this as much as I am telling him.
“You can’t save everybody, Sam. Especially people who don’t want to be saved.”
“There must be another way.” The beast emits a low growl as I felt a shift in the air. I knew what that something is before the boy even told me.
“There’s no time. It’s here”
It appeared from where we entered the room. It looked the same as the boy’s beast but this one is newly made and still had all its teeth. The newcomer sniffed the air. It took a few steps forward and began sniffing again. The monster paused as if unable to find me, it shakes its head in confusion and tries to locate me with its nose again. Then I saw its transformation. The boy briefly mentioned it a while ago. I noticed when the process started, when the head began to jerk violently and the monster roars in pain. Just when I thought its neck would snap, the monster stops convulsing. I can now see it has grown eyes that bulged in their sockets. Orange and red pupils looked around the room in search of a target. I can tell the moment the beast began to zero in on its first victim.
All you have to do now is walk away.
I hear another door slide open behind me. I am frozen in place.
“Run” Barely a whisper.
I watched as the beast roars at the sea of motionless people. The scream tears out of my lungs as I bang on the glass. “RUN!”
I see people turning to look at me, the nearest to me, watching me quizzically as if oblivious to the danger. Only a few react to the monsters presence, half running and half stumbling away as if their survival instincts are drunk and confused. Others don’t move at all, cut off from the world. The monster roars a last time and zeroes in on its first victim. The boy’s beast engages with it. Stewards get caught up. Thrown. Crushed. Torn apart. The glass fogs up and I see a blur pass as the boy’s beast is thrown across the room. It is silent for a moment when a large mass slams against the glass. I am thrown back by the force. I can see it snarling through the glass, snapping at a target it can’t reach.
The glass will hold but not for long. Leave, this is your chance.
The monster slams into the door again and I see blood, whether human or beast beginning to stain the mirror. The monster tries again a third time when it is pulled away by the boy’s beast and their fight continues. I force myself to turn and walk towards the exit. I enter a short narrow hall and another door opens before me.
A scene unfolds in front me. Red and orange sunlit walls extend on either side of me, ending at a gaping mouth that opened to a sunset. A dozen armed men block the exit in a semicircle formation, the heads of their elongated disfigured shadows are an inch shy from my feet. They meet me with their guns pointed at my direction, ready to fire.
They said something that I couldn’t understand but I understood their intentions perfectly.
No more. Please no more.
The boy said something about a few minutes. It will only take a few minutes.
They won’t let you leave.
“It doesn’t have to be this way” I say,
The guards were unfazed. It is as if they didn’t hear me. “You are unarmed and outnumbered. Surrender now.”
They won’t listen to my words alone but I have to try. “Put your weapons down. We can talk this out.”
I take a few steps forward. They level their guns to my chest. “Our orders is to capture the Weaver dead or alive. This is your last warning.”
“I don’t want to have to hurt you” The walls come alive as I speak. The guards shout in alarm as the metal plates on the walls begin to shift in a series of clicks and grinding metal. A rumbling mechanism comes alive behind the wall and all together, pockets appear along its surface, with long barrels jutting out of them. The guards stare in shock as the weapons began to straighten as if activated.
“Stand down.” I fumble with my words as I try to pretend I’m in control. “Stand down and you will be spared.” As if on cue, the weapons straightened and zeroed in on their group.
Please don’t shoot.
But the weapons did not fire and the guards finally looks uncertain. “Weapons on the ground” and with bated breath I waited for them to follow. Finally one by one, I watch them drop their guns. The weapons on the wall react to their every movement, readjusting every other second with a click that makes the guards more nervous.
“All weapons down.” My chest tightens. “Step to the side”
They follow, clearing a straight path for me to take.
“You’ll spare them, won’t you?’
He didn’t answer. But I already knew he wouldn’t. I reach the end of the metal and my feet grazes the dry dusty ground. It is no luscious greenery but I feel the life pulsing underneath my feet. One slow step at a time.
I didn’t have to turn to know that something is happening. The back of my neck is prickling. I just feel the force of the bullet hit me and I fall forward. Shots rang out, a culmination of flimsy guns and heavy machinery. It goes on until the bullets stopped. All targets fell. The red of the sky seeps into the blue like blood gushing out of a gaping wound.
I regain consciousness. With something heavy and furry covering me. I crawl from under it and I realize that it is the carcass of the boy’s beast, mutilated to the bare metal. I look around to find no trace of the facility. Only sand and dirt and a trail of giant footprints leading to where we must have come from. The last vial of booster is cracked and a portion already seeped out but I still inject it in me and feel the surge of energy and dizziness enter my body. I notice the wound of my shoulder has opened again. I struggle to stand and with a last look at the beast, I keep going.
My feet carry me over the dust – the sun sets on my left and the moon rises on my right. The solitude of a wasteland – cracked ground covered by a layer of loose dirt. It looks parched, instantly drinking up the droplets of blood that ooze out of my wound despite the pressure of my hand. It’s a shame that I am finally outside but I am unable to see beyond my own feet.
I have lost too much blood, so much so I feel each drop drain me of life. My head is dizzy. My skin is cold. It’s a cruel irony that I escaped the facility just to die face first on the dirt. Perhaps I wasn’t thinking straight, neither is the boy because I didn’t see beyond what would happen once I did leave the facility. I did not see that the very place I is willing to die trying to escape is the only reason I am still alive. I have no supplies. No food, water or bandages. The painkillers have worn off and I could feel each wound and bruise on my body with each step I take. I have no clue which direction to go, and where any of it would take me. In short, I have nothing.
A horrible cackling sound reaches my ears and it takes me awhile to realize it’s me laughing. It’s like my body has finally been wrecked to the point of madness.
What’s so funny? That’s my voice asking now. The boy had long been gone from my mind.
This. All of this is funny. The futile hope that the boy contagiously gave me. The absurd will that drove me to believe there is something beyond the facility, that I deserved something more than what the facility gave me. But do I? I still cannot remember the life I had before, just fragments of it – I’m not even sure if the fragments are of memories or of dreams.
What if I was a bad person? It seems like a childish thought but the more I think of it, the more certain of it I become. What if I was cruel and heartless? How else could I kill that guard so easily? I found out I can use a knife though I don’t remember learning it or what I used it for. Did I use it just for food? Or did I use it to kill people? If so, how many have I killed? Why? When I remember blood, I remember the stewards. The beast tearing people limb from limb and the guards gunned down. How much more blood is on my hands?
All of these questions causes me to laugh again but to my ears, it seems like a cry. It is a mistake to leave the only place that can give me answers. It is a mistake to leave behind the only person who can explain. It might not be too late to go back. My footprints are still fresh. I had no strength to cover my tracks. I can easily follow it. Even as I think it, I know I won’t. My freedom is worth to more than my life. More than many lives apparently. Maybe I am supposed to die here. To atone for my mistakes. To make up for my selfishness. It wouldn’t be hard to die here. A simple gust of the wind can knock me off my feet. One does, a force of air knocking me from the front. I lean my weight forward in order not to fall and I don’t, but the act uses up the last reserve of my strength and I end up on my knees, head thrown back by the wind, eyes to the awakening stars. Just in time too, for they’ll have the chance to see me die.
Get up. Keep moving. The obstinate part reminds me. The facility is still too near.
It’s over, I try to tell it. Just let it go. But it won’t stop reminding of the possibility of capture – had the boy failed to kill them all. It tells me to stand, to keep on going somewhere, anywhere but here.
But I stay, kneeling at the sky. My body is in agony but the night breeze feels cool on my skin.
Let me stay here, I speak over my obstinate part soothingly. Just a little while longer. Just for a little while.
“I’m staying” I had told him. I was looking up at the night sky when I said, to soothe the tight nerves under my skin and drown the tears threatening to fall with moonlight. “I can’t leave.”
“They are coming” He was perched up the tree, among the shadows of the branches. He always loved to climb when he was troubled. As if he can somehow get high enough where his problems won’t reach him.
The night air is cool unlike the burning of my body, my blood and my eyes. “Let them come. This is our home. Our place. We can fight for it.”
“These are not the kind of people you can win against.” There was no pity in his voice.
“How can we know if we don’t try?” I say.
“There are other places out there.” I can see him flourish a hand over the lands beyond the forest that only he has seen and places I can only dream of going. “This is not the only one.”
“This is home.” The dirt underfoot, the towering trees, the mountains and the ashes of half burnt houses.
“Is it worth dying for?”
“Yes. This place is. These people are.” I said. “We can rebuild what they destroyed.”
“Not if we’re dead.” He said, “Land is just land. There’s more of it out there. Come with me and we’ll find a new home”
“It is not home without these people” I say. “These people will not leave. Neither will I. I’m sorry.”
It took him a long time to reply. When he did, it’s barely a whisper but the night breeze carries it over to me, resonating a good bye. “Then I’m sorry too.”
“Is she dead?” One asks, somewhere from my right.
A second speaks. “She’s breathing, I think. What do you think she’s doing, kneeling like that?”
“Does it matter? She’s alive. We made it just in time. Help me out here” A third.
There are at least three people and from their voices I can tell they are male. I don’t move as they speak. But when I feel the ghost of hand on my arm, my eyes flash open. My uninjured arm lashes out and blindly grab onto a limb. The boy is too surprised to resist. I yank him down and is on him in a heartbeat. He gasps in pain as I pull him by the hair and exposed his neck. My knee poised to crush his throat. Buy a Copy, Support this Author
I make a quick scan and add three more people to their tally. Each were armed with blades and I see at least two with a gun at their belt. The boy underneath me has a blade as well, the sheath peeking through his shirt. He makes a move to get it, but I stop him with a warning press on his neck. I might be weak, but in this position I can easily kill him with just my weight and a little force.
His companions react a few seconds later, crying out in alarm as they drew their weapons. The nearest had a makeshift spear in hand and pointed it to my face. “Get off him”
I made a sound that can only be a growl and press my knee into the soft skin until the boy underneath me cries out. He tries to push my leg away but I ball my fist deeper into his hair and slam his head back on the ground.
“Cut it out, Bran” came out his raspy voice, “Stand down, all of you. I- I can’t breathe.”
After a moment’s hesitation, they back away. I eye each of them closely before easing the pressure of my knee. The boy gasps for air.
“Who are you?” I ask him. “What do you want from me?” I first think they might be from the facility but they seemed too young. And their clothes and weapons weren’t like the guards in the facility.
“We’re not here to hurt you” he says with one hand on my wrist and another poised to push away my knee. “We were told that we’d find you here”
“Who? Who told you?”
“He did.” He said, “He helped you escaped from the facility, didn’t he? He woke you up and helped you get out.” I did not answer. The boy continued as if I did, “Well he helped us too. All of us here and more, back in camp.”
My mind is processing a hundred things at a time but I try to focus on the important part. “You have a camp?” A camp would mean food, water and shelter.
He nodded eagerly, “We can take you there. You don’t have to be afraid.”
I growl at him at that insult and is about to retort when I bit back my tongue. These people can help me. If I am smart about this, I can live through this.
“How do I know I can trust you?” I ask.
He looks at me for a moment and says, “You don’t. You’ll just have to.” Those words echo in my mind. “Like you trusted him.” He caught my eyes and he knew I believed him.
I don’t speak but I got off the boy. His companions rush at him to help him up as I fall on my side and try to crawl away from them for space. He’s up by the time I put some distance between us. I watch him closely. He has not drawn his weapon. His companions still seem to be on edge, waiting for a cue or a signal. Then he takes careful tentative steps toward me, stopping just beyond reach and stooping to my level. His eyes take me in. I glare at him.
“Your shoulder seems pretty bad. We have a doctor to take a look that. The camp isn’t far, but can you walk?”
I debate whether to lie or not, but I quickly see how fruitless the lie would be as I would fall face-first in the dirt the moment I try to walk again. But I have no intention of being carried.
“Not alone.” I admit. “I just need a little help”
“Okay, we can help.” He says. He comes in slowly, watching me to see my reaction. He makes the slightest nod of affirmation before his arms go around me. He calls for someone else to take my other side and slowly we got to our feet. He remains standing for just a few more seconds, as if trying to get used to my weight. Then he calls the group to move out. His companions fan out around us, keeping us mostly in the middle of a circle.
He's speaking to me but his words were carried away by the wind. Then I catch him telling me his name. “Mal” I test his name on my lips. It feels foreign. I must have never met anyone with that name before.
“Do you have a name?” He asks.
I tell him I didn’t have one.
“Then you are very far from home then.”
Home. I have one. Somewhere. That thought didn’t even occur to me. It is slow progress. My body is threatening to give away, while my mind is drowning in dreams again. But I tried to keep it together for as long as I can until the world just blacked out.
My life for the next few days is confined in a tent. I had awoken to it gasping, sweating and alone. The draping is dark and heavy, so much so the inside is dim and stuffy. I is on a makeshift bed of rags and matts that is lumpy but covered by a spread of clean and light sheets. My clothes had been switched to a light airy material. I push the sheets aside and swing my legs over to the side of the bed. The light in the tent is dim but I notice a strange discoloration at the side of the left leg and I bend down to touch it when someone entered the tent, bringing a flash of light and gust of air and dust with them.
“You’re awake.” the voice said when I winced as the light hurt my eyes. It is a middle aged woman, with a thick waist and plump body. She turned to someone outside the tent. “Go tell the doctor”
The Doctor came for me, to check on my recovery. He is surprisingly young. If I could guess he is no more than fourteen years of age but he had calming voice that is beyond his years. The woman, who seemed to be his assistant, differed to him.
“I’ve seen to your injuries. You won’t be able to use your arm for a while but the good news is you get to keep it. You’ve lost a lot of blood but we’ve already attached transfusion packets on you so you’ll be restored in no time. ”
“My back” I say.
“You have deep bruising in between your shoulder blades.”
“I was shot” I recall. “The suit I wore.”
“Is bulletproof” he finished for me. “Very lucky. Otherwise that bullet would have paralyzed you. Do you remember anything from before the facility? Is anything coming back to you?”
I shake my head.
“I see.” He looked disappointed. But his expression quickly dropped. “But now that you’re awake, we have to discuss the issue with your face.”
He gave me a mirror. I haven’t seen myself in months if I was correct and I’m surprised at the face I see in the mirror. It seemed like there’s a healthy glow to it, not one you’ll expect from a prisoner. My dark eyes stare back at me in awe, drinking in the details of my reflection.
The doctor points to the right side of my face “They seemed to have attached synthetic skin here and here. You’ll notice there is a slight discoloration” I tilted the mirror and I did notice it. It’s very subtle but at a certain angle, I see how unnatural it is. “It is the same to other parts of your body. My guess it that you had physical injuries that the facilities deemed necessary to cover up.”
“Why? Why would they care what I look like?”
“There was a time when they didn’t. And when potential patrons opt to see the Weaver’s, the patrons were horrified to find them damaged. Ever since then the facilities took great care in keeping Weavers uninjured or at least keeping up the appearances they weren’t. Our concern is that you might have tracker embedded into them. We can’t return to the main camp unless we’re sure. You have the option now to have quick removal or we comb through it slowly. No damage will be done to the synthetic skin and you’ll be able to keep it.”
I stare at myself in the mirror, memorizing everything about it. What is so horrible under that synthetic skin? “I want it gone.”
“Are you sure? I cannot put it back on if I do.”
I am looking at myself in the mirror and I tell myself. “I don’t want anything to do with them.” The girl staring back at me agreed defiantly.
“Alright. I will start the procedure in a while. You will see the result in the morning.”
I picked up on a few things in my days in the satellite camp. First, everyone in the satellite camp was rescued from a facility, around ten people who volunteered to pick up stragglers. But there were more in the main camp, hundreds if Mal wasn’t exaggerating. And people here have names. So many of them that I find it hard to keep track of them all. Second, the boy was spoken about like an unknown entity. A hero with no name. Just a voice in the radio, much like he was a voice in my head. He was not in the satellite camp. He wasn’t in the main camp. In fact, no one knows where he is or who he is. I learned more about the people who ran the facility and how there are hundreds of other facilities just like mine. And that he, the boy, as far as everyone knows has access to every single one.
“How?” I asked Mal while he accompanied me in the healer’s tent.
“We don’t know. But everyone has been having theories.”
“It’s I’m not yet sure. If it’s true though, then it would explain a lot of things.”
“My theory is he’s part of the system.”
“What do you mean?”
“Somehow he’s connected to the system itself. He’s inside it.” When he saw my expression he gave a rueful smile. “I don’t know. It’s still a working theory. But its better than nothing.” he said. “But of course other people have their own stories. None of us have proof so my guess it as good as theirs.”
“Why are Weavers different?”
“I don’t know. He just said something about them being ‘made’. What is that about?”
“All I know is that Weavers can still dream. When everyone else has lost the will to dream.”
“Don’t you dream?” I ask him. “When you sleep, don’t you dream?”
“Yes. But I don’t know any more which are mine and which are someone else’s”
It was when the doctor deemed me ready, did we break camp and we make our way to the main camp. I was noticed right away. Perhaps because I was new or perhaps it was because of the burn that disfigures the left side of my face. When doctor first gave me a mirror after removing the synthetic skin, I didn’t cry. I didn’t speak. I merely stared. It was much later in the middle of the night, when everyone was fast asleep did I let the tears fall as I remembered my broken image in the mirror. I let myself cry then. It was only normal. When the sun rose the day after, I didn’t let myself shed another tear. I walked between the sea of parted people of all ages. Eager to welcome home their comrades but also eager to see the newcomer.
I was brought into a tent, off to the side of the camp and made me stand before their leader. She was an old woman, hunched with thin greying hair. Her face was heavily lined but her eyes were deep, dark and piercing. Her eyes watched me as I sat down, hovering over my burns before meeting my eyes.
Then she spoke with a raspy authoritative voice and asked me questions. About me. the facility. The boy. They wanted to know more about him. I described the things I could remember. When I got to the point about the stewards, I stopped.
She didn’t press me for answers but instead move on to another question. “How was your world like?”
For the past few days, snippets of the world I created has been coming back to me. I told her it was a place where the sky was forever a sunset. It was a world where no one was alone. Even if you were, it never felt like it. I never had to put my world into words before. I never had to describe it to someone else. No matter how I tried, my words seem to fall short. There were memories mixed in when they came to me, and I knew they weren’t part of the dream because they felt too real. Too painful. When I look back on my dreams, the feel like a balm after a burn.
“It sounds like it was beautiful” she said.
I looked at her. And in all honesty, I said, “It was and I wanted to stay.”
She looked at me. “But you couldn’t because he took you out.”
“Yes” I said. “He woke me up. I heard his voice telling me to escape.”
She looked to Doctor who was also listening in. He too had the same expression on his face.
“Why?” I look to both of them.
“Was he in your dreams?” he asked.
There was someone in my dreams. A boy. But is it him? “No, I didn’t see him. But I heard his voice.” I finally say. “Is that unusual?”
“No. Lately, people have been saying the same thing. Always a voice but never him. We guessed that its perhaps because they were stewards, unable to retain the dreams. Weavers, on the other hand, had a unique ability to absorb their dreams.”
“I didn’t see him though. Isn’t there another Weaver who we can ask?” I say.
“You have only been the second weaver we got in this camp.” Said the leader. “The doctor was first, taken at a young age. Released only a year ago. But so far he cannot remember the events leading up to his awakening. But his insights are invaluable.”
“My world was of endless medicinal breakthroughs. I retained most of them when I awoke but nothing else.” I realize what he meant and why he was only ever called doctor. It seemed so natural that I forgot to think that perhaps he had a real name. But all of it, erased.
“Don’t be.” He said. “I’m more useful this way.”
“There is something else that does not make sense.” The leader looked at me. "What reason would he have to choose to rescue you?”
I had nothing to say to that. Among hundreds of people, why was I the only one who survived?
Memories rush pass me, slipping through my fingers like water, leaving only a fragment imprint on my mind. Music and laughter lighting up the summer nights. Hands braiding my hair. Wooden houses turning gold in the light of the bright fire. Dancing feet, light and quick, flitting over the shadow and silver streaked ground. Warm bodies melding into one in liquid moonlight. Innocent caresses. Whispered declarations. Clear pieces blur into each other until I find myself staring at the darkness that was no longer there.
I dream of a burning village in tiny fragments. Dead of the night. A tiny glow among the silent shadows of the towering ancients. Acrid smell and fiery red-orange blaze. Screaming. Cackling. And heat. Intense, mind-numbing heat that turns into a burning pain.
“It’s gone. It’s gone” I wake up gasping the words, cold and sweaty under the covers. I throw them off and jump out of bed to get fresh air.
I quickly realize what the leader meant. The doctor has countless of books. I realize when I see him late at night that it’s him who wrote all of it. Countless books of the remnants of his dreams. He has students under him, volunteers who wants to help. I listen in sometimes. My work has been around the medic’s tent. Bringing water. Changing sheets. Bringing food. Repeat. I do the work where no special skill is required. My arm is getting better. The doctor checks on it once in a while. Repeat. I do the work where no special skill is required. My arm is getting better. The doctor checks on it once in a while.
“Were you the only one?” I ask the doctor when he is inspecting my arm.
“What do you mean?”
“Were you alone when he got you out?” I ask. “Did you see other people?”
“I was and I did” He says. “That’s our price as Weavers. Others don’t make it. But we do.”
I was in the leader’s tent when the radio picked up a signal. And then all of a sudden, I am back in the facility, with only his voice in my head. But this time it’s not in my head. I can hear it through the radio, his voice that I’m listening to.
Numbers. Many numbers. My companion noted it down. I stared at the radio. I already knew there was no way to reply. He just gives directions and expects us to follow. At least that I knew about him. But I felt the yearning to talk to him. As well as the yearning to just hear him speak. He repeats his message two more times and then quiet static again. My companion runs to inform what just happened. I remain by the radio, just in case it speaks with his voice again.
The next day, they ask for volunteers for the next rescue mission. I was the first to volunteer.
We travel at the break of dawn. There were fifteen of us in total. I was one of the new ones. Mal oriented me along with three others. Our job is essentially to provide able bodies around the satellite camp. Gather and carry supplies. Keep a look out for both stragglers and enemies. Among the volunteers were Doc, his assistant and three other helpers. Mal said it was a lot for a medic group but it seemed this next group is a big one. Mal and his group were there for protection, among many other reasons.
We worked as a group, making camp and breaking camp to keep on going. Days and nights passed this way that came to a point that even Mal’s group began to enjoy my company. We had a child with us, Mal’s sister.
“Why is she here?” I ask Mal as the group gathered around the camp fire to keep warm. Lookouts have been posted around camp. My shift just ended.
“A child is coming out with this batch. Will feel more at home if they see we have a child in our group too.”
“Doc doesn’t count, of course. I don’t think anyone can see him as a child. He’s older than all of us.” Said one of Mal’s friends.
He saved Doc because he knew it was necessary to keep the process going. To keep the people he saved alive. But then I think about me. What did I do? What can I do?
“How did you find each other?” I ask him.
“She found me actually” Mal smiles at his sister’s sleeping form. “She was already with the camp when I was saved. She was their lookout when she saw me wandering by myself. And she just ran at me. I didn’t recognize her at first. She grew up so much while I was away”
“How long have you been in there?” I ask.
“Four years” he says. “Four long years.”
We set out to look for the stragglers. Mal had briefed me of what to expect. Especially since it’s a large group, our lesser number would less likely intimidate the stragglers than our weapons. At a point, they may try to rob us and it was our job to look as trustworthy as possible. He put his sister in between him and Bran safe enough to be spotted without being an easy target. I was put at the back.
“Sorry” Mal said, when he told me the plan. “We could use you in front but we can’t take the chance of shocking them”
“I get it” I said. I did. My burn would scare anyone. If not scare, it would make them uneasy. It shocked me the first time I saw it. I hung back as the rest marched on. We found the group struggling up a mound. They looked weakened and pathetic but at the sight of us their eyes narrowed.
“These people look frustrated. Be on alert.” Mal said.
One stood up a little forward than the rest. “Who are you?” He eyed Mal’s weapons.
“We’re here to help. We know you escaped from the facility” Mal began but at the sound of the name, a member stood up with a gun.
“Woah woah” Mal said, with arms spread on both sides stopping his group from making any sudden moves as well as the stragglers. “We’re not here to hurt you”
“We can’t be sure of that” the one with the gun said. “Look at them. They look well supplied. We’ve been starving for days. They must be from the facility.”
“We have a camp. It’s just near” Mal tried but the stragglers saw that as a threat and began to huddle together. The child in their group started crying. The leader and the armed now looked dangerous. I see the rest of the group tensing up. Mal’s sister has retreated behind me, a frightened look in her eyes. She looked at me and I saw the plea in her eyes.
“Back up back up” Mall was telling the rest of the group when it was clear the stragglers did not want to come. The leader was restricting the armed one in an effort to disarm him but he struggled. I can already see what would happen. The leader was in no doubt of stable mind but weaker body and the other was too frustrated to think straight. If he breaks free, Mal would be the first target.
I swerved through the group and was beside Mal in a second.
“Mal” I said. “I’m gonna try to disarm him.”
“I’ll take him down and you guys close in.” With that, I went forward. The leader saw me approach and was about to say something when he was knocked down by the armed one. He was about to turn when I rushed him. I grabbed his extended arm with my left hand and disarmed him with my right and quickly dragged him to the ground. He came down with a scream and the leader stepped up to defend him when I pointed the gun straight at his chest.
“We’re not here to hurt you” I told him. “Like he said, we’re here to help. Now you could die here. Or you can come with us.” I met his eyes and saw the fear in them. I flipped the gun in my hand, and offered it to him, handle first. His eyes widened. “Make your choice.”
“Why are they pointing at me?” I asked.
“Your burns” the leader said. “They’re pointing at your burns. When I saw them, I knew I could trust you.”
“How?” I asked.
“He told us” The leader said. “He said you’ll come and you did.”
The leader took the gun and looked at his companion under me. He nodded and put the gun at his back. Mal was instantly at my side and took my place at holding the struggling man. I stood up and turned to the rest of the stragglers. I was surprised to see their faces lightened up at the sight of me.
He knew what I was doing. My mind was reeling as we guided them to safety. They had two injured among them, none serious. I can see Mal’s sister was holding the hand of the child, who was a few years younger than she was. Between Mal and I, we carried a man with a wound on his leg. I am lost in my own world as we make our way back to camp. I don’t know how but he knew I would volunteer. I sometimes wonder if I can still speak to him in my mind. If he can still somehow read my mind. I call to him in my head sometimes. He never answered. But it never stopped me from trying.
“He was telling people about me” I told Doctor. “Why would he?”
“I do not know. But it helped. These people are more willing to come with us now. I remember you tried to kill Mal.”
“She did. And it hurt” said Mal. His group laughed along with him.
I gave a rueful smile. “What happens to the facility when the stewards get out?” I asked.
“Nothing much. I think the reason why we’ve been getting away with it is because stewards are easily replaceable. People who volunteer are usually the ones who don’t have enough to go on everyday. Not enough food or shelter. Being steward solves all that. There are just those handfuls who realize that being a steward is not as good as its presented to be. But they can’t get out of it without help.”
“What if a Weaver gets out?” I asked.
“The facility dies. Slowly it dies, along with everyone in it.”
We escorted the stragglers to the main camp. I was continuing my duty of lugging water to the medic’s tent when the Leader approaches me and confronts me with her suspicions.
“They are beginning to have a name for you. The half-burnt.” She told me. “He is using you.”
“He is. But I don’t know why.” I say. “What does he want me to do? Save these people?”
“I will be plain with you. I have been wondering why he would save you, at the cost of all the others like he did the doctor. You must be very special”
I match her gaze with one of mine. “Well you’re mistaken. I am not”
“I agree.” She was nodding placidly. “I see nothing extraordinary about you. But you mistake my meaning. You must be very special to him.”
Months passed and I’ve been to a dozen rescue missions. All of the were the same. Groups of men and women of all ages, stragglers. Always a group. Never alone. They would say the same thing. They were rescued by him. They don’t know his name. But somehow he shows me to them.
I met a girl who came up to me, speaking a language I did not understand. Someone from their group stood up and translated. “She saw you before.”
“She saw you in her dreams. He showed you to her and told her to find you.”
“He’s up to something” Mal tells me.
“What do you mean?”
“Usually months would pass before we get a call. But now we get twice every month. It’s like he’s on a spree”
“It could be he just found a way to release more people at once.”
“Maybe” Mal says, “But I feel it. Something is going to happen.” He’s not the only one. The leader has taken into asking recued stragglers about messages the boy wants to give us. So far though, there has not been any.
We were out in the field searching for the next batch of stragglers. We see them and approach, but we instantly knew something was wrong. They were bloody and in the worst condition I’ve ever seen.
They explained that everything was going well when the facility got out of control. “He lost control. We lost half of our group.”
“But he got us out at least.”
I turned to Mal. “How is that possible? How can he lose control?”
“Something must be wrong” said Mal. “Did he say anything else? Anything at all?”
“He did say something” one of them speaks up. “He was faint but I think I could still figure out the words.”
“We don’t know for sure” One tried to say, “We might get it wrong.”
“Just tell us. What did he say?” Mal asked.
“He said something about being done. This is the last. But it didn’t make any sense. The last what?”
“The last group” I say aloud what everyone else in our group was thinking. “You’re the last group. He won’t free anymore people.”
The news spread like wild fire and soon the camp is filled with rumors. The leader calls us in to discuss our next move.
“We have to find him. There must be a reason why he just suddenly stops right?” says Mal.
“We already tried to looking for him. But there’s no way we can narrow the search area. We don’t even know where to start.”
“What if he can’t continue? What if they found him or they’re already tracking him down?” someone else says.
“Then looking for him would be as dangerous as walking out there blind. How can we risk people’s lives for that?””
“We have to find out what happened to him.” I say.
“But how? How do we do that?”
Someone knocks. We all turn to find the Doctor with his patient.
“Doctor, what is it?” the leader asked.
“I have someone who would like to be of assistance” said the Doctor. It looked odd seeing him beside the newcomer whose size dwarfed the Doctor.
The giant spoke with a low tone. “I heard you have a radio?”
“Yes but it’s only a one way-” began Mal.
“It doesn’t matter. I’ll just need some tools.” The man said.
Mal and I looked at each other and then at the leader for confirmation. Mal spoke for all of us when the leader affirmed. “Tell us what you need and we’ll see what we can do.”
The giant was a genius it seemed. The tools were small but they were tiny in his hands. He hunched over the table with the radio and his tools. Doctor stood beside him in fascination. The two seem to be the only ones to understand each other, talking about numbers and figures and scratches of paper that seemed to be another language to me.
Mal distracts me from watching the giant and the doctor working together.
“This means he’s helping us right?” Mal said, he had the light back in his eyes. Hope.
“What do you mean?” I ask.
“What are the coincidences a giant with knack for tools gets out just when we need one?” Mal said excitedly. “He’s planning for something.”
I didn’t reply. I didn’t want to ruin his hope and tell him about the part of me that tells something else. The part of me that believes he doesn’t want to be found.
It took a day for the giant to finish and another few hours to explain how it works. He explained soundwaves and signals and a jumble of numbers that were beyond me.
“Let me get this straight,” Mal says, “We can find him. Using this radio you’ve modified.”
The giant nods.
“Following coordinates that you come up with using your imagination-“
“Formulas” Doctor says, “Mathematical formulas”
“Right and this will all lead us directly to him.”
Doctor and the giant nodded. Mal turns to everyone else in the room. “Can anyone tell me how this is supposed to makes sense?”
“See if you follow this formula on the board,” Doctor seemed to be ready to start from the beginning of his lecture again.
“Is there some way you can translate that in a language everyone understands?” Mal cuts in. Doctor gives him a thoughtful look.
The giant cuts in, speaking for the first time. “It supposed to mean that we’ll use two points to solve for a missing third point. Find a signal and close in on its location.”
“Right” the Doctor said, pleased. “The only thing we have to do now is to look for signals and investigate.”
The catch is that there are many places that can emit signals. A camp. A facility. A rover. The radio simply gives out a location with no way to tell what we’ll find when we get there. Every signal we get is crucial. It can lead to him. The usual rescue crews has been divided and distributed. Most of them were led by Mal and his friends. I lead one of my own. The medics swapped groups once in a while and today I had Doctor in mine. We have four other people in my group, all of them were stragglers I helped pick up save one girl who had been training to be a medic under Doctor.
My group was assigned to a dead facility. I had asked Doctor before what would happen if a Weaver leaves but I never thought I would see it for myself. Like the boy had said, three wings connecting to a main body. But two of the wings have been damaged, one burnt and another collapsed as if a war erupted within the halls. We have no idea if he will be inside. Or if he will even be alive. The entrance had caved in, preventing us from entering. We found an opening through a collapsed wing and made our way to the surviving wing. We scoured the surviving wing. It seemed like it was caught between the war, some rooms had collapsed and parts of the building were burnt. But there were others that was safe from the fire and we managed to look into each one we passed. A smell of death hung in the air, of rotting corpses. There were bodies everywhere but were neatly laid with a white cloth on top of them.
“He could be here” said someone from my group.
“It could be anyone.” I say, “Stay alert”.
But my warning felt dull even to my ears. Our hopes rose.
We came across a Weaver room with a lone occupant. It had no white cloth on him and we realized why when convulsed. We could see he was holding on for life, hear the raggedness of his breathing and his chest heaving. His skin was pale, body just skin and bones. A starved Weaver.
“What should we do?” one of my companions asked me. I looked into their eyes and I saw my own thoughts reflected in them. Kill him. Put him out of his misery.
One of them took a step forward, unsheathing his knife but I stopped him with a hand. We didn’t know what kind of alarm that will trigger. The last time I killed someone, I activated a security system that almost killed me. If the same thing happened now, we’ll lose our chance at finding him here, if he is here.
“Leave him. We’ve got a job to do.”
We entered a circular room that was familiar. “
“It’s dark in there” one of them said the door slid open. It closed behind us with a noisy clink.
“Turn off the lights.” I said.
“But-“ they began.
“Just do it”
They did. And for a moment I thought I was wrong. Then the floor glowed with lines and like before pooled at the center of the room, rising in the air through glass columns. I noticed some were cracked and broken. But there were still some that glowed. I took a few steps forward and touch it.
Instantly the room transported me to a familiar scene, a meadow with sweet tangy air and sun-kissed warmth. I pulled back my hand in shock of what I saw. He’s here.
My group gathered around the columns in awe. They’ve never seen anything like it before. Doc reached out to touch the cylinder and once again the room changes into the meadow. I circle around the center. I reach out to touch another. The ruined city is in the distance.
I didn’t ask you to find me. I stilled. His voice in my head.
“I had to find you” I say. “We need you”
You didn’t. Not really. You just thought you did.
“What do you mean? Isn’t this what you wanted?”
I can’t be what you want me to be, Sam. I did my part. I’m tired. I’m done.
“I didn’t expect you to be so weak” I say, trying to spite him. Where could he be?
I’ve always been weak. You were the strong one. You were always the strong one. You have to let me go.
“Tell me where you are” I said.
You already know where I am. Deep down you already you know where I am.
I withdrew my hand. Everyone was looking at me. I blinked back the salt in my eyes. “We have to go back.”
The Weaver looked weaker than we last saw him, if that was even possible. The fire had not reached him but he was already damaged another way. His legs were bent at a weird angle. We could see he was holding on for life, hear the raggedness of his breathing and his chest heaving. His skin was pale, body just skin and bones. A starved Weaver.
“You’ve got to be kidding me” my companions said. “This will be our great leader?”
“Is he even alive?”
I feel his pulse. “Just barely.”
Please. Just leave.
I stood over his body. “Doc check him please”
“He’s weak but If we can take him to camp, we should be able to bring some strength back.”
Sam. It might have been my imagination but it seemed like his lips moved to whisper my name.
“Just shut up already.” I told him to his face with my fist clenched at my side. “I’m getting you out of here even if it’s the last thing I do.”
His legs were crooked. They were forcibly broken and they healed without proper medical attention. Doctor said that he must have been part of the first batches of Weavers, when the facility didn’t realize the importance of keeping their Weavers looking healthy, young and beautiful. The way they tried to keep me. He was better than we thought him to be, though still terribly malnourished and dehydrated. The facility had been working well to keep him alive. Mal reckoned the facility he was at had been abandoned for possibly years. It really was the perfect spot to infiltrate the system. No one would think of looking for him there. Even we doubted it.
He woke up when I wasn’t there. Doc told me the morning after when I came to take the next shift. He had woken up, in the middle of the night, screaming as if from a nightmare. Doc gave him a sedative. Doc said he had been screaming a name. A name of a girl. I guessed right away what name that was.
The next time he woke up, I was there beside him. With Doc on the side, debating with another member yet again whether it was best to move him now or wait until he woke up. I had been watching his chest, rise and fall steadily with the beating of his pulse on his wrist. It was comforting to see he was alive, even if he didn’t move. And then I felt the eyes on me and I looked up to his face to see him watching me. His eyes looked bright, not like the dull empty ones back in the facility. I had no words.
He spoke, his voice strained but rang instantly familiar in my mind. Doc rushed over when he heard, but the boy had fallen back to sleep. Doc asked me what he said.
“Thank you” I said, looking at his hand that somehow now held mind. “He said ‘thank you’”.
The next few days, he was more lucid.
They had propped him up on pillows to help him sit up. Doc on one side and me usually hovering by the entrance, unsure of where else to place myself in the tent without being in Talia’s way as she flitted back and forth from the bed to the boxes of serum.
“How do you feel?” Doc first asks.
The boy didn’t look up from his hands as if they were something he could not quite understand. “Good” he said and he jumped slightly, as if surprised at his own voice. He looks up to Doc. “You saved me.”
“You saved me first, remember?”
“I do.” The boy said. “I can’t forget”
Doc and I exchanged looks. Then Doc said, “How did you do it? How could you control the facilities?”
“It just happened.” He said. “They shut me down when I stopped fueling my facility. They let it die along with everyone else in there. That’s when the world I created had begun to fall apart and I knew I would go down with it. I found a way out which was to go in deeper. Deeper and into a web.”
“A web of consciousness, stringed together holding up different worlds, different dreams and that was where I knew my consciousness was somewhere else entirely and that I could survive longer there.”
“Does that mean you couldn’t wake yourself up?”
“I found out how eventually. But it didn’t matter. I couldn’t leave anyway. Not with these legs. So I tried to wake up the stewards. I thought if I could do it. Then so could the others. So I tried to free people in my facility.”
“They died, each one of them. Stewards can’t escape like Weaver’s can, not if the dream collapses. They are trapped in it, both body and mind. They cling to the dreams. They thought that was reality and this place is the nightmare. So to survive longer, I took away their supply and reverted it all back to me.”
No one else spoke.
“Is that why you only free either Weavers and stewards? What happens if you free a steward?”
“The Weaver feels it. He or she feels that threat to the system and as a defense mechanism, they plunge deep into the web where I can’t reach them. There are people, like you, who could let go. There were others who didn’t want to. And others, far too deep inside to even hear me. Those I could save I did. Those I couldn’t, I let die.”
“We saw someone by the control rooms” I ask.
“A Steward. He was one of the people who woke up. But they quickly found out that their bodies can’t last long without the system pumping the drug into them. Some went crazy and started killing other stewards and eventually killed themselves. He decided to help me. He survived the longest.”
“You kept him alive.”
“I kept both of us alive.” He says.
“Why did you stop?”
“The facility was reaching the last of its reserves. I was dying. He was dying. I nearly blacked out the last time and look what happened. Only half survived. There’s no point in waking them up if I can’t get them out.”
They had asked him his name and other things and he answered. But his eyes were fixated on random things like his hands, or the small plant that grew just at the foot of the tent. But mostly I would find them looking at me. And I would be flustered at the intensity of the gaze. Enough to be driven out of the tent during one of the interrogations.
It still irked me, even now as I stand across the room from him, watching a girl try to feed him his supper.
He waved away his dinner.
“But the doctor said that you have to eat this to regain your strength.” The girl said.
“Not hungry” he replied.
“I’ll do it” I told the girl. “Give it here” I walked over and the girl passed me the bowl and vacated the seat behind the bed.
He looked at me. I held my ground and stared back. Meeting his gaze caused a ripple somewhere in my brain to trigger and suddenly, he smiled. A genuine smile that was too wide for his thin face.
Finally. I wondered when you’d look at me in the eyes.
I stared at him, shocked. He entered my mind like a gentle whisper. He looks at the soon in my hand and said, I already said I’m not hungry.
“Open your mouth or I’ll force it open.” I said, viciously enough to make the girl shoot me looks of concern. The boy merely grinned and obediently swallowed the next spoonful.
There were so many things I wanted to ask. So many things I needed answers to but the ridiculousness of that smile made me forget them for the moment.
“You were doing it on purpose, weren’t you? All that staring is to tip me off.”
He cocked an eyebrow at me with the corner of his lip raised. Well after all you’ve been through, I didn’t think you’d back down to a cripple.
“Doc can still help you. He can fix you.”
I am broken and I accept it. He said it to me. I’ve accepted it a long time ago. But other people can’t seem to. Not even you.
What he said was true. I didn’t realize how true it was until he pointed it out to me and suddenly I feel like the whispers had gotten louder. They were a reflection of what I had first thought when I saw him and for that I felt anger and disgust mix with my own shame.
I saw it in Mal whose group met with us the day before we planned to set out. I saw how Mal looked at him as Doctor was explaining. I saw the anger and disappointment in his eyes as he walked out the tent.
“Aren’t you going to ask why I saved you?” He asks me during my shift. “Mal did. That’s the first thing he wanted to know.”
“I used to want to know. Now I’m just thankful you did.”
“Do you still want to know now?” He ask. “Will it help you to know why?”
“You asked me to” he says.
“Each one of you did. I hear people who wants to get out. Whether they know it themselves or not. I saved you because you wanted to be saved and because I believed that once you were saved, you’ll do some good for the world.”
“And you still believe that?”
“I haven’t been wrong yet” he smiles.
It got worse when we reached the main camp.
People first thought that something had gone wrong during the rescue. Someone made a mistake. We had saved the wrong person. They had expected that when the boy came they could rally together under his leadership and destroy the facilities. But when they realize that there was no mistake, the dissatisfaction etched on their faces as he passed them. It was enough to make my blood boil but my head bow in shame knowing I had been the same.
“People decide among themselves what hero they want. It doesn’t matter who the hero really is, as long as it fits what they want and does its purpose. But once the hero fails to meet their standards, people feel betrayed.”
“Why did you tell them about me?” I ask.
“I was dying. I wouldn’t have last too long if you hadn’t found me. They needed someone to look the part of the hero.” He said.
“How do I look the part?”
“You’re the half-burnt. You survived the fire, got out of the facility and saved stragglers.” He said. “Compared to a cripple, they would gladly follow you.”
“That’s..” I tried to say something but there was nothing I can say.
“Jokes on me though. You dragged me out of hiding to face the limelight.”
The camp is at a loss to what the next move should be. He was questioned when we got back to camp. The leader, Doctor, Mal and I along with others were in the tent. I stood beside his chair as they asked him questions. The boy relayed what he relayed to us.
“What was your world like?”
“Mazes. Endless mazes, each path leading to a new place entirely, not one place repeats.”
“Why did you save us?” Mal asks suddenly.
“You already asked me this and I told you, I heard you. You wanted to be saved. You were calling out.”
“And that’s it?” Mal says, “You didn’t plan ahead? No next move?”
“I’m sorry. I had expected to die. I didn’t plan anymore beyond that.”
“We expected so much from you.” Mal says, “And this is what we get.”
“Mall” the leaders says warningly.
But Mal continues, “a cripple. He is the one whose going to leads us against them and he can barely walk.”
I stood up. “It isn’t his fault that he can’t walk.” I says. Buy a Copy, Support this Author
“Maybe he shouldn’t have allowed us to believe he can do something he can’t”
“He didn’t allow us anything. It’s us who wanted to make him something he wasn’t.” I say, “You have minds of your own. Are you incapable of making your own plans?”
“She’s right, Mal” Doctor says. “We weren’t promised anything. People simply began to assume and we let it grow as we wanted to believe it ourselves.”
“That is true” the leader says, “The fault is ours. The people needed someone to look up to and he was the most convenient target.”
“And I knew that” the boy said. “I expected it which is why I was beginning to appoint someone else to take my place. I didn’t expect you to find me. I didn’t want you to. But you did and we’re all here. I can’t be what you wanted me to be. But I am willing to help you in any way that I can or am allowed to. What you should be asking is what are the dangers that are coming your way if you do decide to go against them. If you know exactly what’s at stake here, are you willing to face them? Is your camp ready to face them?”
The whole camp was gathered. Hundreds of people sat before him. Their faces betrayed their emotions. He looked small and tiny but when he spoke his voice was clear and his word were strong. It was clear now that a discussion needed to be held. The camp was divided. Some wanted to go into hiding, stay far away from the facility. Others want to fight. The elders had to make a decision on how to protect the interest of both parties as well as keep everyone safe. It was soon decided that the camp would part ways. The elders will lead the people into hiding, bringing with them most of the supplies gathered from the facilities. Those who want to fight will fight, led by an appointed leader. The elders promised shelter and protection for those who want to fight in case they need help however no help beyond that will be given.
Those who want to fight realized that the best way to fight is to attack the main facility, the capital. The boy can help through the computers. It wasn’t going to be easy. But at least they were going to try. It wasn’t just about payback. It was about freedom. I was one of the first to join them. I already knew it was what I wanted. To everyone’s surprise, the doctor left his books to his assistant and came with us. Mal and his crew joined as well. The boy came as well, despite the elder’s welcoming him, he said he can help infiltrate the computers. He had a look in his eyes as if daring us to use his disability against him. We didn’t. We knew we needed him even more.
On the first night, he showed us a sketch of a map. He had been drawing all day, waving away inquiries. Now he was ready to show us.
“This is a map.”
“We can see that” I told him.
The twinkle in his eye told me he appreciated the sarcasm. “It’s a map of our allies.”
“Well you’re not the only rebel group out here you know.”
“We’re not?” I mocked him. He gave me a look and I said, “Well of course there was always a possibility. But as far as I know, there was never contact with any of them.”
“That’s true because as you can see, all of them are scattered.”
“How did you know about their exact location?”
“Because I formed most of them. I couldn’t rely on only one group to pick up escapees. Not when the facilities are so far apart.”
I took a closer look at the map. “You’ve been busy”
“Well I did have three years to look” he paused. “Point is we’ve got a plan. Well it’s an option anyway. Unless someone else has a better idea of course.”
No one did. Why even ask the question, I wonder. But then I noticed their shifting eyes. No one had a plan. It was obvious this was the best option we had. But no one wanted to take responsibility of betting on him again. As if somehow he failed before. It angered me but a part of me understood them. I realized that he too understood them.
“I say we go with this one” I said, making everyone turn to me in somewhat of a shock. I saw him smile slightly and I wonder if he knew that I would be the one to do it. “We’ll need allies.”
They agreed, some reluctantly, others a little faster. And soon at day break, we began to move.
I found myself gravitating to him as we walked. It didn’t feel right to walk behind him or in front. But I found myself beside him, not too near that we would brush against each other but not too far that I couldn’t reach him if I stretch out my arm.
We make camp. He was propped up on blankets and rags as he stared into the fire. My lay beside him on my back, watching the blank night sky.
“I have always wanted to ask” I begin softly. He looks away from the fire and I feel his eyes on me. “Do I know you from before? Our dreams. I saw a glimpse of yours and they were like mine.”
“I don’t know. I don’t know which dreams are mine anymore. I’ve been in so many” He says after awhile. “But your dreams stayed with me the most. Or I clung to your dreams the most”
“Why?” I ask.
“Your dreams were what I needed to keep going.” He said. “They might not have been realistic. Or practical. But I found hope in them. And beauty. And love. All things that make me want to fight for the chance to keep them.”
I am glad that the shadows hide my face. “I see a boy, in my dreams. He’s in my memories too but really what’s the difference between them now?” I ask. ““So the boy. Is it you? Are you him”
“I don’t know.” He says finally. There was a silence when he says. “I wish it was me. But I’m sorry I’m not”
“I don’t really know if I want him to be real.” I say after a while. “A part of me wants to meet him. But more hopeful part wishes he’ll remain a dream. So he can remain perfect, beautiful. Away from the ugliness.”
“Then I’m glad it isn’t me then.” He says. “I don’t mind being imperfect and live in this ugly world if it means I can live in it with you.”
I don’t reply. I have no beautiful words to return to him. Only my dreams reflect beauty while everything else about me is ugly. So instead, I reach for him the shadow of the fire, his hand in the space between us and slip my palm onto his. His fingers fold over my hand, lightly, a grip so fragile one move can break it. But I don’t move. Nor does he. His hands are warm and his touch is gentle. His hands may not be the same one as in my dreams. But I’ll take it and hold on to it, for the beauty that it holds, for the beauty it can make. Buy a Copy, Support this Author