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Undisclosure

Summary

Many years after the post-environmental apocalypse and the reconstruction of civilization and nature, the world populations united as one nation, " the Federal Republic of New Hope", ruled by one government with the slogan "Freedom, Peace, and Justice."

Mankind can be the builder and the destroyer. This is the same old loop. People believed in the world they promised to see; however, some group of human mysteriously gained the special gift. On ther other hand, it became their curse when the government alienated them from normal people. "H01 Case: is the abbreviation of their strange symptom and "the Risk" refers to those who have the symptom. Under the Act 2966, anyone who had been judged to the Risk and the Suspect or the corrupted human must be healed.

In San Bosa, a small district of Irina State, Alexis Davis was a girl whose future shone brightly. One day, everything turn upside down. She was arrested and convicted as the Suspect. The girl was sent to the rehabilitation program with her friends. There, they were caged in the seem-to-be futuristic paradise where the other captives resided together until the proper time for the experiment. No one knew how and which method the authority would apply to test with them. Alexis started to question herself.

 

What really happened during the post-apocalypse and the after?

 

What the purpose of this?

 

What will happen to them?

 

No one can answer.

She must discover it by herself.

 

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Prologue

One day in October, five people sat around the table in the dining room to celebrate Margaret’s sixth birthday. It should have been a special day but the specialty would be elevated to another undesirable level.

The scent of happiness diffused around the room. Well, that how she perceived it. Everybody looked so innocent to the unwelcome incoming incident.

In front of the mountains of cakes was the girl with the curly blonde hair and deep green eyes. That was Margaret. The Stephens shared the same type of golden locks and green eye shades of jade gemstone.

This is the best day ever, thought she. Children always love party, sweets, and gifts, Margaret was no different. Her parents knew how to satisfy their children. Dad and Mom bought her the new released doll house that every girl in the school might have no chance to own it yet and Margaret would be the first one who showed them who was the real boss. The little girl imagined how her friends surrounding just to take a look at the new toy, still forgot that it was impossible to bring the dollhouse to the school. The most significant fact was the school would not allow her doing it. But the girl was so proud to be the first owner of this toy and forgot this rule. Molly, the big sister, brought her Princess necklace which was very lovely on her princess's costumes that her parents had bought for her last week. The only one who did not have to give her anything was Little Mary, her one-year-younger sister.

About a meter away from the dining table, the clear voice of a woman sounded from the television in the wooden frame with the antenna standing on top.

“Good evening, welcome to Cecilia’s Talk. During this dinner, I’m sure you cannot even just sit still because our guest today is Dr. Claster Deans, the Associate Professor of the law school of Hemsworth who heated up the current political situation. Hello, Dr. Deans.”

“Hi, lovely Cecilia.”

“Let’s talk about your article on the 122nd issue of Hemsworth Journals, on page 22-25. (She showed the journal to the spectators.) You declared your opposition against the Surveillance and Control of the Risks to Humankind Act 2966. Many people admired your work so much and how brave you are to speak it out. Me too. (“Thank you!” Dr. Deans said with pride.) Dear my fans in this live show and the home spectators, this article becomes the talk of the town as it has been published. (Her melodic voice totally attracted Margaret’s attention.) Dr. Deans, you’re saying that this law is against our liberation and human rights…”

“Dad, turn the TV off. We’re going to sing the song for little Meg,” Molly, aged sixteen, requested (with the reproachful look). Instead of following her order, her father just turned the volume down. He loved to watch the show and often claimed that Cecilia, the TV host, was “smart girl! She’s my classmate.”

And even six-year-old girl knew that Mom did not like how he demonstrated his adoration to the woman in TV. Moreover, Molly loved to jab her parents by making the joke that Cecilia was his first crush and Mother would be upset.

Margaret licked the sauce on the corner of her mouth, still hearing the voice from the TV.

“…well, we must consider the word to call these people carefully. ‘The Risk’, why do we call them the Risk? They are the same as us but gained or already have some special skill that the science today still looks for the answer. Yeah, that’s the reason why the laws have been enforced, the unexplainable situation. The question is what makes them special? I won’t talk about any religious belief or any side effect from chemical effects that may cause the mutation or even about the change in the DNA. It’s too imaginative but possible as well.

My point is how we value them. We might not found the answer yet but it’s not the reason we dehumanize these people. The fact is there are many people who are talented or own special skill in something and it’s not bizarre or scary. Why do we regard them as the threat to mankind? Why are we treating them like a fearful disease when they’re not? It’s like you are very skillful in painting or singing, or think about some odd ability we always see on TV shows or the circus. Perhaps, this is how we evolve as humans. According to the history, human keeps evolving physically and mentally. Think about it. Or not, why consider it’s just a very unique gift.”

 “…Happy Birthdaaay-tooooo-youu,” they nearly ended the song together, except her father who still glanced at the TV screen with eager interest so he hummed the song like an old vacuum cleaner.

“So you think that they are not sick people. There are the same as us? They deserve the human right as same as normal people.”

“Of course, they are the same and own the right to….”

While her father returned the attention to her, Margaret took a quick look at the television to check if he did turn off but amazingly, the screen turned off itself.

“Make a wish Meg and be careful of your wish.” The girl stopped watching the TV and peered at the cake before her face. “If you wish to have no school tomorrow, it will not be granted for sure. God loves good children and good children love school,” said Molly making everyone laugh.

What kind of the wish was she thinking of? To be like this forever, with daddy, mommy, Molly, and Mary, yes, I wish everything will be as good as today. The girl made the wish and blew the candles. Unfortunately, Margaret’s wish could not be true. Never. The black shadow had stood at the front door. The end of her happiness came too soon.

As she made the wish, the bell rang. Mom frowned.

“Oh, they cease the broadcast already.” Dad cried.

“No surprise. Darling, you have to find your new favorite channel. Say goodbye to your Cecilia. She’s doom.” Mom told him merrily without a single regret but satisfaction and she walked to the front door.

The little girl smiled at the cake and moved her index finger at the bottom cream then licked her finger.

“Hey, that’s not nice.”

She made her eyes pleading with the big sister.

“No, I’m not Daddy. Where’re you going?”

They lifted their head to look at Mr. Stephen. “It’s quiet. I go check your mom.”

Margaret waited for a minute then jumped out of the chair. The age of curiosity, the girl ran to the hallway and hid the tiny body behind the giant ceramic jar.

Two police in navy blue uniform were talking with her parents.

“Please, ma’am. Let we talk with Molly Stephen.” the first cop politely begged.

Molly? What did she do?

“No. I won’t let you take her.”

“This is the warrant under the law that we all know which law is and we don’t have to explain it. Please let us in, Ma’am,” he said in the monotone but a little bit haste too.

 “I’m sorry but Molly has no sign to become the Risk. She was hospitalized to the hospital when she was eight because of pneumonia. Please check her medical history before accusing my dear daughter.”

The risk? What is it?

Margaret ran to the dining room and asked her sister. “What did you do? Why the police come to the house?”

“What’re you talking about?” Molly ignored and stole her father’s french-fries. At this age, girls pretended to keep the daily low-fat diet but always surrendered to the seduction of delicious fried food when they thought no one was watching.

“But…” Then she saw Mary was going to unwrap her gift. “No! Mary. Get away from it! It’s not yours!”

The youngest sister yelped when hearing the thunder shout, in an instant panic, she ran back to her seat.

“Don’t mess with my toy!”

“I want to play!” Mary voiced back.  

“Hey! Shut up both of you. Meg, you should know how to share. She’s your sister.”

“She will have it when it’s her turn.”

Before the three sisters could yell at each other for more, the parent returned.

“Molly, do you have anything to tell us?” the sudden question alarmed the girl whose fingers still dip a French-fries into cheese sauce.

Seeing french-fries on Molly’s arms falling onto the table, Margaret made the face of doubt. Suddenly, she felt like all the lights in the room turned dimmer but actually, they were still as bright as they were. Margaret saw her big sister had the question mark on her face.

“What’re you talking about?”

“I told you! The police come.”  

“Be quiet Margaret. Yes, they come and are waiting for you outside,” explained Momma. “They talked about that law.”

“Which la…” Molly’s face abruptly painted white while her mouth started terribly shaking. The girl jumped out the chair to a corner of the room. “I-I-I didn’t do anything. It just happened. I don’t know how I could do it but…help me. I don’t want to go.” Her sister pleaded. The sudden change of their gestures dazed the other two little girls, especially Margaret who was able to understand the situation better than Little Mary but still not comprehended the whole thing.

“Tell me, baby, tell me what happened!” Mom urged.

“A car…it was a car slid to my direction and…I stopped it. I-I don’t know how I did it but it stopped…just stopped. Okay? I did nothing! Maybe the driver pushed the brake!”

“Please come with us, Ms. Stephen”

No one knew when the police officers stepped inside their house without willing permission. But now they stood in the dining room. Margaret glared at the intruders who were the officials. All she understood was they would take her sister away on her birthday and she could not allow it.

That’s very rude!

“We have the warrant, the special one. And if you don’t come with us, we must take some force.”

Don’t threaten us!” Mom screamed in anger. She ran and barred her arms around Molly in the act of the true protector. Dad tried to calm the situation down; he warned Mom, “Don’t be silly, Agatha. Please, we have kids here. Let us talk to our girl first. Meg, Mary, go to your rooms. NOW!

Two little girls heard his shouting and were shocked again so they ran to the stairways quickly. Her father normally had never raised his voice like this. Margaret stamped her feet on every step just to show them that they made her angry.

“We have no time. Come here, MOLLY. Be a good girl.”

Who went the rooms? No one. Margaret and Mary sat behind the balcony and when their father looked up, they crouched on the floor to hide his gaze. They listened to their mother and sister who were disputing with the cops. They heard Molly tearfully shouting not to go, yelling that they would kill her. Margaret and Mary began to cry due to the fear provoked by the adults’ heating argument and violent words. They did not want their sister to be killed or taken.

And they heard the noises as if they started fighting. Then Mother screamed. The girls dared not to watch so they wrapped each other’s arms and closed their eyes. Margaret prayed to God, to everything that could stop the violence in their house. Margaret wished her birthday party back.

“Stop it, girl”

“Molly, please don’t do this. You make it worse.”

Molly screamed in her deepest fear. “I caaan’t. I don’t know.”

Father screamed out loud begging, “Please. Don’t do this. I can calm her. There are little kids here, SIR! PLEASE”

“Move away Ma’am. She is the threat to us.”

“No, she’s my baby and you can’t take her…”

There was only one gunshot that ended all chaos; the one shot that destroyed everything. Margaret arms released her sister and hurriedly rushed to see what happened while Mary tailed behind. She still did not know what exactly happened and why her birthday was ruined. In front of the girl, her father screamed in terror and knelt on the floor, desperately wiping. The cruel police stood in silence and they looked at the two girls with eyes widened.

In front of Margaret, her dear mother and sister collapse on the ground. The blonde woman died with her eyes open. On top of her back, the teenage girl’s body shook, her mouth saying, “Mom?—Mom.” Molly’s green eyes met her and suddenly Margaret initially realized that her sister was not there anymore. It was just an empty body without the sign of life. The moment she understood how the soul departed from flesh and bones. Those bright green eyes gradually turned lifeless, the same way the light turned off.

 

God doesn’t exist and if they do, God is the cruel God.  

 

And this was their last birthday celebration.

Chapter 1: Doctor and Nurse

30 Years later,

San Bosa District, 3012,

 

“Have a good date, Erin”, said the doctor to the chief nurse. The recent emergency case almost spun their head around. Caleb’s team had changed their clothes from the surgical gown to the normal medical uniform and some returned to their offices.

Only Erin left the hospital early due to the important appointment with a nice guy. Who knows? He might be her last train.

“Thanks, Doctor. Really excited. Have a good evening.”

Seeing Erin galloped to the door, following her heart like a young girl forced a smile on his face and the others’.  

Caleb shook his hand with the others and thanked them before going back to his own office. 

The operation was successful. The team could take off the spoon out of the patient’s stomach even though how it went through his esophagus was still a mystery.

Caleb Davis was a forty-five-year-old man and a surgeon working at San Bosa Hospital. It was a small hospital in the small town. San Bosa was a district in Idrina State, located in the southwestern region of the Federal Republic of New Hope. A peaceful town and yes, not very big, so most people knew each other well. Like the latest patient, he was a restaurant owner in the heart of the city. His business had been run from generation to generation.

The case like this was not a regular one. What kept them busy was the patients who thought they were nearly dead and even the reaper had not taken any glance on.  Caleb secretly admitted that once there was an emergency or serious case, it kindled the old fire in him but also the guilt of his unacceptable eagerness too.

On the wall behind his chair, there were many photos hung on it. One was the photo of Macario Delgado, Head of San Bosa District, who cut the ribbon to open the celebration ceremony of the hospital’s renovation. They received the budget for the renovation after three years of the request. It was two years ago. In the photo, Caleb stood behind Delgado with his eyes fixing on something that was not in there (and he could not remember what he had been looking at). His bronze skin was a little bit glowing due to the sunlight reflecting on the sweat. Lean and tall, Caleb was outstanding from the others. His daughters said that he was very handsome in that photo with the giggle when saying that. He knew they mocked him because he also saw himself looking funny.

Next to it was the photo of President of the Federal, Georgina Lawrence with short pixie red hair. Every governmental office must have her photo as one of the main decorations. For the other photos, they were his family.

“Farewell the age of terror! My New Hope people, today, we’ll celebrate the glory of our new freedom, our forever peace, our true equality!”

New freedom…it was a lovely choice of word. What kind of ‘new freedom’ she meant, he questioned to himself while recalling Ms. President’s speech. The news today demonstrated how the world came up against plenty of serious problems but people were brainwashed to be obsessive in the unnecessary information. Every day, he would hear the small news about terrorists in borderlands, robbery, thieves, while the prior topic the media kept re-informing them was celebrities’ dating. Freedom was only a beautiful word to lure people when the options were limited.

 He caught sight of someone’s shadow through the gap of the door and sighed when that person opened it without asking for permission because there was the only one person would keep performing the reckless manner.

The guest was a good-looking woman wearing the clean white uniform that transmitted the scent of a fabric softener mixing with the intense fragrance of her perfume. She had her shiny blonde in a low bun. With those jade green eyes, she used them to stare at him. She was one of the nurses here and a long-time friend…well, ‘friend’ was the word preserved to Caleb only. Her reputation was quite unpleasant here. This woman loved flirting with the co-workers. Once a man gave her his heart, she cruelly tore it. Caleb was one of her unaccomplished missions even though he was married. She had the problem to aware of morality. 

The way she looked at him consistently made him uncomfortable. Therefore, Caleb shot her a reproachful glance. He did not like her naughty childish game.

“Why are you looking at me like that? I come here to talk about your daughter. Here, in this magazine, I saw her. I want to know about the scholarship too.  Does she win?” Her voice declared she was very excited.

The woman opened the magazine called “Femme”. Caleb saw many beautiful girls in ‘Lexy’ jeans, a popular fashion brand among adolescents nowadays. Ripped jeans, he did not understand why the young people loved ripped clothes. He spotted a girl with light-brown and medium hair who owned a pair of illuminated blue sapphires in her eyes. With that kind of face, she could conquer the world. The face that ‘they’, the staff at the child adoption center, named her ‘Angela’ before Caleb and Bianna took her to their family and she became their ‘Alexis’ since then.

“She’s so beautiful, Caleb. The girl is prettier every time I see her.”

“Yes, she is.” Caleb could not hide his proudness though he was familiar with the positive words people complimented all of his children.

“Congratulations father of the year—no of every year, I think.” She gave a wink.

Caleb shook his head modestly, “You overrate me. They are naturally special and smart. God gifted them the gracefulness. Bianna and I are very lucky parents.”

She rolled her eyes when he mentioned the word ‘God’; it was like that word irritated her ears. “You raised them well, you and Bianna. No god’s work, honey. I just heard that she got accepted to the Medical School yesterday. Amazing jobs, doctor. They’re amazing and you too. All of your children are good and smart. It’s because of you. Don’t be humble. Tell me, which one does the girl choose? Medical school or modeling job?” She did not just speak but rubbed his feet with hers.

The doctor politely removed his feet from the dangerous position. His heartbeat eccentrically danced, not because of the sexual arousal, but the fear of her quick move. Caleb had neither fallen into the trap nor curious to learn her charm. On the contrary, he was afraid if someone came and mistook the situation. The only ones he cared were his wife and his children, the most precious treasure he would never let anything taking them away.

“I’m married and I love her so much. How many times did I tell you not to do this? I don’t like your game. I despise it. Delete my name on your list. Please!”

“Okay, relax.” She gave a shrugged, no sign of understanding. “So?”

The doctor held his breath with a lot of patience. “Alexis wants to do both but it’s hard to study and work at the same time. When she’s going to be a medical student, she will focus on her study only. This work…” He tapped his finger on the photo, “…just a part-time job. She earns good money but she knows what she has to do,”

The woman chuckled. “Sound like your answer, not hers. How about the scholarship? I heard she tends to win and that means a lot of money. And your family may have to relocate.”

She talked about the government scholarships offering to five students who had excellent grades and live in the fourteen states. It meant the big fortune for the winners. They will be admitted to the private University of Futuristic Metropolis, the same title of the capital, where all the elites and the best of the bests education courses were there. After the graduation, the scholars would be admitted to work in the governmental organizations subjecting to their field. It was not only about money but also the bright future.

“The result will be announced next week. There are almost hundred candidates from all over the nation. Honestly, we wish she’ll win but the other kids are the crème too. Well, since Jesse and Bryce couldn’t, we tried not to hope because we don’t want to pressure her. Just see their names as the candidates, we’re so proud.”

“I see.”

Caleb stood up and arranged his bags. It was eight and his wife might finish her shift. Bianna might be waiting while chatting with her mates. He would not risk his life letting her find him with this woman alone in his office. Women had the superior sense than men, especially towards women. And Bianna was a woman who knew this nurse’s notorious reputation well. His wife was not too positive to think they were just talking. This woman had few friends among the other nurses here.

“You’re on duty? Night shift?” asked he.

“Yes, night shift. You don’t have to shorten our conversation, doctor. I know you love her but just talking to me for a few minutes will not hurt anyone. Can you just give me sometimes?” She bent her head like a little girl begging a sugar daddy but Caleb was not her daddy.

“You don’t think people know you are the real heartbreaker? Last month, Phil kept himself and spoke to none. Last year, you broke Nathan’s heart into pieces and he had to request for transfer. Oh, and there are many men out there. We’re getting old. Why don’t you stop playing and find someone like your sister did. I mean to find the right one?” His tone sounded like a father in the church.

She almost opened her mouth to make the counter argument but Caleb stopped it.

“Don’t,” he said glaring at her pretty face. “Don’t argue. And don’t come into my office like this again. Next time, I report to Erin for sure, I will.”

Yeah, that Erin who had the first date of her forty years and also the head of all nurses here. He hoped to see the fear in those bright green eyes. Funny to do this, everybody knew she had no fear.

She stood up with an arrogant smile. “Your words hurt me enough, Caleb, such a cold.” She pinched her voice just to make fun of him.

See?

However, before she walked out of the room, Caleb inhaled and left the final message; intended to kill her stubbornness and this time was colder than ever, “I’m serious, Mary, please has some senses. You’re not a child anymore.”

Chapter 2: The Davis

A small house was situated two blocks away from the city park owned by the Davis. It, painted soft white like an egg shell, was Caleb’s paradise on earth. On the lawn at the front building, the small wood workshop stood timidly, in which Caleb would build small toys and some crafts that helped him earn small sum. It was Alexis’ idea. She took his crafts, uploaded the photos of his works online, and printed the small brochure to promote his works for sales. She did not do it for money but to make her father proud of himself. Of course, he was proud and satisfied with his little angel’s cleverness.

He parked the vehicle inside the garage. This old gray mini-van served them faithfully for about twelve years. Caleb helped Bianna got down in an act of the true gentleman as he kept doing since their first date. Her big dark-brown eyes had seen through his heart, which were powerful enough to warm it. Her dark bronze skin was the same shade as his but more beautiful, thanks to the smoother and healthier skin. Bianna was a chubby woman with narrow shoulders, however, she had the brightest smile that anybody could compare with. They dated for two years and Caleb asked her to marry him. After the effort to have their own child had failed, they adopted Jesse. Seeing the boy playing alone made them dissatisfied so they adopted Bryce two years later. Another three years later, Alexis came to their family. They thought the family was big enough but as their children grew up, the couples were afraid to be left alone so eleven years later, Charlie became their fourth and the last adopted child.

No, they were not rich; the Davis’ belonged to the middle class. The house, in fact, was available for four members to stay comfortably but with six members under the same roof, it was no different to a rabbit hole. Still, they did not get obstructed but unable to be prodigal.

Caleb and Bianna walked into the living room where Charlie was sitting in front of the television watching his favorite cartoon. The boy was only six. When he heard his parents’ arrival, he turned his face to show the red cheeks like the tomatoes in Bianna’s backyard. He was the only blond in the family and had the ivory-white skin. Everyone called him ‘Little Charlie or Monkey (or Shorty Charlie by Jesse when he was moody)’.

They were lucky that Bryce stayed home for a few weeks during the summer vacation so she could take care of her little brother while Caleb and Bianna went to work. Without Bryce, they had to leave Charlie with the old lady who was their long-time neighbor. Sadly, the boy hated going to her house because she would not allow him to watch his favorite TV show because she was addicted to a melodrama series and could not miss any episode. Without Bryce, Alexis would do the job but she had gone from home this week due to the part-time job as a young amateur model Caleb disapproved of.

“Be a good boy today?” The doctor carried his son just when Charlie bumped his forehead at his legs.

“Yeah, I’m always a good boy.”

Caleb giggled and snuggled the boy into the father’s warmth.

“Had a serious case?” the girl in the oldy orange t-shirt and white track pants asked. Her skin was golden tan but the most eye-catching parts were the straight black-raven hair, high cheekbones, and angular jawlines. Her height was not that high. Bryce was studying medicine at the University of Delphi where Alexis would continue her study too unless she could win the scholarship.

“Yes,” Caleb told the daughter releasing his son to the floor. Bianna rushed to the kitchen without greeting her daughter. Amused at how straving she was, Caleb laughed through his nose. “I left the chicken stew in the fridge. Did you see it?”

“We already cleaned the pot, dad,” the girl said and laughed with her bell-like voice. Her father was very good at cooking and his stew was the best in the town. Due to the job at the hospital, he rarely performed this marvelous skill.

“Alex is already home. Just so you know.”

Caleb raised his brows. “She came early. I thought that it will take a week.”

“Yep, but the star boy is missing. I can’t remember his name but my friends…everyone is talking about his news. Ask her the details, dad. I have to do my assignments now so…gotta go.” Bryce gave him a short hug and walked into her room that she shared with her younger sister.

In the third year, the study was tougher than ever. Bryce could not allow herself spending more time for a little chit-chat even in the vacation, that was why Charlie kept himself addicted to the television when his sister would appear during meal times only. Bryce was close to Alexis but they shared no similar traits. His oldest daughter was not the kind of talkative but strict to her schedule so if she meant no time, she really meant it.

“Don’t be so hard on yourself, young lady,” he shouted and shook his head when the girl collected her voice to focus on her study desk only.

“Darling, they left your stew for the two of us.” Bianna placed the pot on the table. Both of them smiled at each other, Bryce just told him they cleaned it all but she lied. The kids knew that their parents had no time even to buy the instant meal outside. The daughter kindly warmed it for them. Caleb and Bianna were the parents that would never leave home if they had no work to do because they preferred the family time more than anything else. 

When his parents were messing with the meal, Charlie went back to his seat to continue watching. Caleb sighed, thinking that he should spend more time with the youngest son and wondered why Jesse and Alexis hid in the upstairs instead of playing with the little boy. 

“They’re talking. Maybe something serious,” he initiated the suspicious thought to Bianna. Caleb always interested in his kids’ business. A little bit bossy dad he was. Still, he had an excuse, because unlike Bryce, Jesse and Alexis were the kinds of entertainers and they normally did not leave Charlie stayed alone like this if they were at home. Teenagers loved to keep the secret from parents and Caleb was not the cool one. He died to know what they were hiding.

His wife seemed not to be interested. Contrast to the husbad, she was the kind of a mommy who understands how teens are.  “Why? I mean why you have to be so curious? They’s kids. It’s their business. They will go down soon, don’t worry. Come on. Sit!”

When Bianna gave him the disapproving glare, Caleb sat down and focused on his meal quietly. He was the one who had never agreed on Alexis’s decision to work as the part-time model. Thinking it was risky to let the child involving in the business that regards on the appearance more than the brain; on the other hand, Bianna thought it was another big opportunity for Alexis to have one more choice for her life. Caleb knew wholeheartedly that the main reason the girl joined the modeling agency because of money and some privilege discount or free clothes from the brands, but he could not find himself in peace due to underlying reason that caused him worrying. Comparing to Bianna, he was more conservative and overthinking.

“They grow up. They have lovers. They have to leave us someday. It’s their lives. It’s okay for them to have some secrets that we have no idea about it.” She grabbed his hands and looked at him like a mother teaching her little son. His heart melted, surrendered to those eyes and her reasoning as always.

“It’s okay to be worried as a parent but we know well how they are. They’re wonderful kids. You know that.”

“Yes, you're right. You’re always right.” He tried to be agreemable with his wife. “I don’t know why I always concern about her more than the others. Maybe because…”

Bianna understood what he was going to talk about so she stopped it. “Oh, come on! Don’t start it.”

The husband did not listen. “You know I always dream that she leaves us. I always fear that dream.”

“Oh, I know,” she replied, uninterested.

In the nightmare, Caleb saw Alexis stood on the cliff. He told her to come back to him but the dark wave swaps the girl away. He could saw her face, hearing her voice against the furious wind, saying goodbye and waving a hand. “I’ll be alright”, she said.

But the father is not.

It was weird when he kept dreaming of it. Sometimes, the scene changed and she was dragged away by mysterious hands. Caleb told Bianna just one of the nightmares.

“It’s just a dream, honey,” her voice was not stable as before when Caleb switched to the serious mode. The dream was only a dream but the same dream he kept dreaming…was dangerous to the heart.

Sometimes Caleb believed in predestination but he tried not to believe in these bad dreams. All of their children were good and smart but Alexis had something more than that. The secret that the parents had never talked to each other and anyone else, they tried to forget it and let the girl lived her life. Even Alexis had not been aware of the danger from her talent.

However, while Caleb worried and Bianna denied her instinct, in their deepest consciousness, both perceived the strong signal from the premonition telling that Caleb’s dream would become true someday. Bianna tried so hard to be rational but she was spiritual more than she attempted not to believe she was.

“When I was young, I saw the oldest son of my neighbor beaten by the cops. He was arrested and disappeared. Those who protested the laws and those who requested to amend it, they disappear. No more sound, no traces, no witness, they’re gone.”

“It’s long ago. This is the new age, love.”

New freedom meant the new method to terrify us, Caleb opposed but did not speak it out.   

It was the act 2966 that turned the society into the age of terror until the Revolution by the law enforcers themselves. Later, as President Lawrence declared in her propaganda, “New Hope, New Freedom.” It seemed like the situation had been ameliorated. In fact, the terror kept hiding out of the light. People knew the terror of this law still existed. 

Bianna turned her face away from him. Caleb knew she did not want to hear the truth. “This is why I want her to keep the low profile. Be a good student is the pride of us. Be bigger than this…”

“She told us—confirmed us that it’s just part-time. Honey, it’s just small work. No one talks about our girl. No one recognizes her except her friends. She chose her path already, to be like you. She’s gonna be fine.” Bianna insisted her thought.

Then Caleb thought of Mary, a nurse and colleague in the hospital, the one that tried to seduce an unattractive married man like him. She was not born here but moved from the other city with her sister’s family ten years ago. Apart from her heartbreaking behavior, she was nice and clever. Until one day, when he took little Alexis to the hospital just to survey his workplace, Mary insisted on playing doctor with the girl. After he came to take his daughter back, Mary had registered the girl’s medical history into the database that connected the hospital networks all over the nation. Moreover, Alexis profile indicated that she was allergic to dust.

“But you’re not!”, he said to the two. “What’re you doing, Mary? You put the fake profile in the data. If they find out…”

“She didn’t, Daddy. I do have an allergy. I always feel sick—I think I get a rash every time I clean the room,” the girl opposed and started to fear the symptom the woman had planted inside her head. 

“Oh for god’s sake!” He eyed on the nurse fiercely. “Let me edit her profile.”

The nurse shut the computer down and smiled at him. “We have done some tests, Doctor. Don’t be serious. Think about your daughter carefully. I save her.”

The message inside those green eyes implied everything. She had discovered the girl’s secret. Caleb found out that Mary did not do it to Alexis only but with few kids too. He had mixed feelings every time he saw his daughter covered her nose and mouth and feared to be sick when she had to do the cleaning and asked for mask every time. Ten years later, Celeb still wondered why he had not edit the girl’s profile and why he had agreed with this woman.

“Are you alright?” asked Bianna, concerning his silence.

He shook his head, “I’m alright. Let’s finish it.” He pointed his finger at the bowl.

Chapter 3: The Missing of a Teen Star

He was gone and might be for a while, and no one had no idea what had happened to him. It was mysterious and surprising for Alexis when she saw the news reported the missing of John Lloyd.

“…a 19-year-old girl, Sally Mumfords stayed at the resort with her family on the day before the disappearance of the teen stars and the other three youngsters. The girl witnessed Lloyd and his gang enjoyed a wild party before they went missing. The police found some illegal drugs and mixed alcohols in their villa that they might use during the party. As he went missing longer than two weeks ago, Lloyd’s family said his manager informed them that Lloyd was busy. Due to his non-stop works and events schedule, his parents had not been skeptical. The police said that, according to the primary interrogation, Tim Young, Lloyd’s manager, tried to cover the disappearance of John Lloyd with the purpose to cover the illegal evidence that connects the actor to unlawful drugs. However, his true intention has not been clarified if it was about drug or the other reasons.

Regarding Carl Park, the Inspector of Police Head Office of Riverland said, due to the fact that the villa stood next to the cliff, it was possible they jumped into the ocean because of the hallucination from drug’s effect. Now, the marine police also joined the investigation team in the search of their bodies while the forestry department unit of Riverland was searching for the traces of the missing teens in the woods.

John Lloyd, ages 20, is the new rising star from Blue Bell. The movie led to his fame is “Sunrise in the west”, a very famous romantic teen movie. He becomes the face of Lexy Jeans, Rowan Watch, and Ambrosia Drink. Now, “The Fall of Ozymandias” has been delayed its production, in the search of the new young King Ozymandias.”

Alexis closed San Bosa Post newspaper and said, “The news is funny.”

The girl was still in a slim t-shirt and long skinny jeans. Her backpack lied peacefully on her brother’s bed. Those elegant long legs stretched in a chilling manner.

She had the opportunity to play a minor role in the advertisement for the government’s campaign ‘Drink Milk!’ which John Lloyd was the main role and he was the brand ambassador who had been absent for the whole shooting, resulting in the cancellation. The location was in Paradiso, the special economic zone where people would spend their time to impress the blue diamond ocean and white sand beach. Alexis almost had one free day to travel around the Escape Island but had to return home early because of John’s absence, (and because it would waste her money to spend time on the luxurious paradise on earth.) Well, she got paid for the waste of time but the girl hoped for the full payment rather than the small compensation. The campaign arranged by the government and her face would be on-air all over the country. This could be the big opportunity for the beginning of fame.

“Why it’s funny?” asked Jesse. He was a twenty-two young man. His graduation ceremony would begin within two months and he had enrolled at the law school for the legal master degree. Jesse worked as a Junior Legal Officer of a small company in Hemsworth.

“John cannot drink alcohol. He’s allergic to it. Another thing is why the resort staffs have no idea about their customers disappeared? What the hell they were doing?” Emotional? Yes, she was.

He saw her point. “Yeah, that’s weird.”

“It’s illogical!”

Even though John Lloyd was the superstar but he was far from some haughty celebrities Alexis had met. They became friends during the shooting for Lexy jeans on Femme Magazine. It was her luck to have two chances working with him twice. For this reason, she could call him a friend. After the last shooting, the studio had organized a small party to celebrate, especially for an unexpected long-time job (because the main actress was so demanding). Everyone knew John could not drink alcohol so the team served him only juices, soft drinks, and water. It was the fact, not calling for attention.

“But he might use the drug,” the brother assumed.

Alexis rolled her eyes. “Many parties have pots, I admit. No! I’ve never used it. (“Not a good liar!”) No! Don’t judge me when you’ve tried it. (“Never!”) Stop! Don’t make me out of the topic! John will never touch those things and he warned everyone not to. This is why people love to work with him. He is no brainless. Those drugs might belong to his friends. I remember John once told me that to be successful in this path is hard but to remain bright and shiny is harder so he dares not risking abusing his fame.”

“Aha, you seem to close with him and he kept talking to you about his career and his dream…blah…blah. And how about your Davy? Where is your sweetheart?” The brother gave the cunning grin.

The girl glared at the beautiful hazel eyes, the same color Davy owned. Alexis knew her brother was teasing but she did not like it. He and Bryce often said ‘Your Davy’ in the mocking tone as if having a boyfriend was shameful. Yes, she was the only member who officially had a lover. Alexis and Davy expressed their love to the public freely like general lovebirds, causing jealousy to Jesse sometimes because, in contrast to his sister, he had to cover his own romantic relationship. 

 “It’s not like that. Do you think a boy like John will fall for me? Impossible! We’re friends. That’s all. I know I know too little about him but I can say that he’s not what the news trying to make us believe. And Davy is the one…” she shut her mouth, being aware of the spoils of her words but could not conceal the red radish face when talking about her bae.

“Aha,” Jesse stopped teasing his sister but still grinned. John might be a superstar but Alexis was not ordinary attractive. As the big brother, he saw how boys looked at her and understood how they admired her. She was one of the most popular girls in the school or a dream girl and was the recent prom queen. How possible would this superstar not fall for her?

“Okay, I won’t tease you. Let’s be serious. I think he’s not dead but is under arrest.”

“Under arrest?”

“You know the law, the act 2966.”

The girl shook her head. She surely recognized the law but denied his assumption, “But he has the allergy.”

“Well, if he did something apparently catching the eyes of the authority, he won’t survive the accusation. Honestly, even if he suffers from every severe sickness in this world, it won’t help.” Jesse threw some paper sheets onto Alexis’s laps. “Read it.”

Her eyes scanned all the letters “…Clause 1, paragraph 4, those who possess any special alienated ability which is excluded from the natural human’s gifts must register as the Risk at any local administrative organization or the police station…..Clause 2, paragraph 1, everyone owns the right to tip off the police about any clue, trace, discovery, and suspicion of those who are qualified or tends to be the Risk or the Suspect. In the case of H01 case, the act to protect the Federal is not regarded as privacy violation…”

“This is...”

“The Surveillance and Control of the Risks to Humankind Act 2966,” replied Jesse. He brushed his frizzy dark hair with his fingers. It was forever messy.

“You think John has been arrested on this charge?”

Her brother nodded. He searched for something on the desk, then smiled and submitted another paper to her. Jesse was familiar to share his thought with Alexis rather than with Bryce who mostly made the annoying face to him.

“The mysterious disappearance of the celebrities who have been accused as the danger to humanity by the Act 2966: a study case of Desiree Dalka -- shit!” she snapped a bad word after seeing the stamp on the paper’s head written “CONFIDENTIAL” and “DESTROYED”. The date was one year ago.

Someone did not follow the order and this ‘someone’ was her brother.

“Jesse, you shouldn’t have it. No, you should destroy it.”

“Yeah, I know but read it, quickly,” he urged, a little annoyed of her over-panic.

They heard the sound of the car engine, their parents just arrived home.

“I should surprise them.” Jesse stopped his sister and pointed at the paper. “Bryce will tell them. Just read it, okay? No one’s watching us!”

“Okay,” she replied tiredly and quickly scanned the document again.

All the information she learned was Desiree Dalka was found missing two years ago. She was the lone heir of Dalka corporations. As her parents died from car accidents when she was thirteen, her uncle took care of her but also died when she reached the age of fifteen—murdered by the girl in compliance with the rumor. But since there’s no clear evidence, she was free from the accusation. In the mature age of eighteen, Desiree sold all her shares to the shareholders and spent the money on parties and travels. People said she became promiscuous, party-animal, and gone-wild. Two years ago, Desiree disappeared from all the gossips. The news reported her missing and assumed it was about kidnap or crime or drug dealers but the next day until today, no channel or newspapers reported the progress of the investigation. Since then, her name fades away from the elite society of Futuristic Metropolis. Her name and her identity have been forgotten.

Alexis returned the paper to the brother. “Your fast reading always amazed me, phew.”

“You think he’ll…” 

“Yes. Believe me, if your friend involves in this case, another few days, we would not hear his name again,” Jesse confirmed.

Alexis leaned her back on the wall where Jesse had hung the poster of his favorite band. If John encountered this case, there would be no more John Lloyd and that was really sad to think. Hoped this would not happen to anyone. This law went against the human right. They declared “New Hope, New Freedom”. If they really gave people the real freedom so why did this law still exist?

It’s the new freedom, not the real freedom, so it’ll be the artificial freedom. The voice in her mind answered it.

The e-mail popped up on the screen. Jesse hurried to his laptop. Her eyes could catch the sender’s name “Joshua”. Her turn then, she revealed a mocking smile in revenge when he read his boyfriend’s e-mail. Then she thought of Elodie, her best friend who secretly got a hard crush on him since she was twelve. Elodie dated some boys but could not get over Jesse. Unsurprisingly, when Jesse was in the high school, he was the team captain of the school’s soccer club and one of the hottest guys. Like other girls, Elodie fell for him but all she could do was just secretly love him.

“They know who you really are and whom you love. They’re just waiting for you to tell them the truth.”

Her brother did not give any answer. He just shrugged and let the topic sank down. 

“I think it’s time to greet dad and mom.”

“It’s alright, just a mail,” he said. “You haven’t told me about the scholarship yet. How was the interview?”

He mentioned the scholarship which she died to win it. The scholarship offered by the government was the best financial aid and opportunity to everyone who could win it. The key to success was to live in the capital. Futuristic Metropolis was the capital city of the Federal Republic of New Hope, and the central technology, education, and innovation. The majority of populations were the upper class. Delphi might have a top medical school but the medical school in the University of Futuristic was the best. So if she had to choose, she prefers Futuristic. Additionally, after the graduation, she could admit to any hospital in the capital where all equipment and salary were better. It meant they stepped up from middle class to the upper middle class or to the upper class if she could make it. Jesse and Bryce were also the candidates during their years but could not win. Alexis knew she was the last hope. Or else, they had to wait more than ten years for Charlie to grow up.

“I try not to hope but I think there’s the chance. They seemed to interest…in me, quite a lot” She told him with eyes shone the light of confidence.

Jesse arched one of his eyebrows, skeptical. “Did they ask about the government, laws, or any social issues?”

“Of course, they did. There was one question about the newest military regime against the terrorists. I protested it.”

“What?” Jesse made the face as if he could not believe what he heard.

“I know it’s odd that I protest but I do and normal people do. The regime has zero concern for the citizens in the borderlands. You know that! It’s too rigid and inhumane. I may disapprove but also demonstrate the alternative choices and, yes, the better. They said, ‘my dear Ms. Davis, you speak our mind and suggest very helpful ideas to us.’ And that’s cool, right? They also asked me about…H01 case and the Act.”

The H01 case was the short term word to describe those who had the superior gift which the government regarded as illegal and disastrous to the nation. It was the origin of the act 2966, leading the world to the age of terror many ten years ago.

Jesse laughed so loud. “Oh my goodness…I’m sure you explained how you want it to be abolished and the new way to cope with the Risks.”

“Yep” She nodded as if it was not a big deal.

“You lose, totally lose. No hope, I mean it. Tell Bryce what you answered them, she will tell you the same.”

His words smashed into her head like a boomerang. Alexis could not understand. She even remembered how they looked at her with the great admiration.

“No, they…”

“I know you’re always smart but sometimes your positive side makes you blind—plus, your over-confidence as well. Alex, think carefully. Why they want the student who disagrees with their policy to work with them?”

“It’s not about to find a puppet…but…but.” Now her words opened up the eagle’s eyes mode. After the graduation, the scholar would work in the governmental organization and Jesse had the point. “Is…it? Damn it.” She cursed herself more than any other times. Alexis desperately needed the scholarship so much.

“Oh Alex, you’re so naïve.” Jesse combed her hair. The girl brushed his hands away. “So…why don’t you win?”

“Because I was Mr. Naïve like you are but now I become Mr. Brightside.”

Alexis bumped her head into his chest. “Jesse!”

He laughed, “What? I told you the truth.” The big brother softly moved her head away.

“I still have faith in myself. So let’s see the announcement next week.” She stood up glaring at him stubbornly challenging and grabbed her backpack. “I bought some local snacks. Don’t forget to try.” Her room was on the lower floor and she shared it with Bryce. If she could not win the scholarship, they would share the room again at Delphi. Living with Bryce was not the problem. They might fight about the territory sometimes but never had the big fight. Like other teenagers, Alexis loves to have her own room.

“Alex,” her brother called.

“What?”

Jesse was thinking of something but Alexis could not find what it was. Then, he said, “Perhaps, I’m wrong. You may counter their regime but you are an obedient girl…if they see that…if they take notice of a rebel in you. They choose you.”

“What do you mean?”

Jesse exhaled. “Nothing. Hey!” He stopped her again. “Don’t worry too much about money. I’ve got a job. Master program is tough but I still have time. And you can do your part-time job during the first and second year like Bryce did. After that, when Bryce and I graduate, we’ll have a full job. Everything will be better. Trust me.” He ended his sentence with the charming wink.

Alexis smiled a little and nodded. The higher education, the higher cost, they tried their best to reduce their parents’ responsibilities. Like the time, age has never stopped increasing, so do they parent. The Davis children wanted Caleb and Bianna to retire from hard work and have a good living for the rest of their life.

“Hey. One last thing, it’s summer but dad and mom are very busy. Maybe, we can persuade Bryce to go out tomorrow. Take Charlie out and find something to eat. Take him to the park and eat ice-cream. He loves it. You may invite June, your Davy, and Edie.”

Alexis chortled. “June and Edie? You want to the see the cat fight?”

“Edie and Davy or Davy and June…but I like talking with Edie more so…Edie and Davy.” He sighed, “I don’t understand girls anymore. They hate each other but group together. And you’re standing in between.”

“Nah, let’s talk later. I have to take a shower and have to see them.”

Jesse ducked his head and backed into his room. As soon as Alexis sneaked to the downstairs, her parents changed their face when they saw her. Alexis realized which topic they were talking about.

Not only young people love gossiping.

Chapter 4: Lovesick Teenagers

Alexis made her hair in a ponytail. She did not forget to apply mascara and painted lips with rosy pink lipstick that would be matchable for the summer look. The girl checked her final appearance in the mirror. Great, told herself. White t-shirt, black leather jacket, jeans (of course, she wore Lexy jeans), and a pair of grey sneakers. The same old style but it was her favorite look. Sometimes she wore a pretty dress but jeans always made her feel herself.

“It’s summer.”

The girl bit her lips when the older sister bluffed with the amused smile. “Hot sun and jacket?”

“It’s not that hot,” Alexis defended herself but removed the jacket from her top and roped it on her waist.

Inside the room, there were two single beds. The room had been separated into two zones, Bryce’s territory and Alexis’s territory. In Bryce’s space, there was only a country band poster on the table desk and one mahogany guitar. Bryce was very good at singing and playing guitar but she rarely showed it because of the shyness character. Alexis played guitar too but compared to her sister, it was like the talent and the wannabe. Bryce’s belongings were in order while Alexis’s was a little bit messy and seemed to intrude the sister’s territory. The younger attached many posters of the singer and songwriter named ‘Carmen’ on the wall including her other favorites actors and actresses. Moreover, on her own desk, there were many photos of her friends decorated. At the corner of the shelf next to the desk, a plastic crown hung on the piles of books and it nearly fell on the ground.

“When I went away, you ruined our room.”

“I didn’t!” Alexis denied but started to collect her belongings in order.

Among the photos, one that Alexis loved so much was the photo of three pretty young girls wrapping their hands around each other’s necks, smiling to the camera. The tallest girl in the center wearing basketball apparels smiling broadly was Alexis. The auburn-haired girl on the right side named June Joyce, Alexis’s best friend since kindergarten. The girl looked beautiful as Alexis but more maturely gorgeous than her friend who was a little childish. It might be because of those fierce emerald green eyes and the scornful smile that made the girl had the eyes of the grown-up who had experienced many bad things. The left side named Elodie Li, a pretty small girl with dark brown silky hair. The girl smiled brightly like the morning sun. The photo had been taken recently after the final match against Amora Team from Riverland District. Although San Bosa team lost, it was the most memorable match because they had never reached the final competition before. It was the second biggest news reported by San Bosa Post (smaller than San Bosa Soccer Team won the trophy of High School Soccer Championship.) In the photo, the three young ladies might look like very close friends (Alexis also wished too); however, two girls on the left and the right loved each other like cats and dogs.

“How’s June and Edie? Do they get along?”

“The second apocalypse still has the brighter future than their relationship.”

Bryce chuckled.

Alexis thought of how Jesse questioned why June and Elodie were stuck in the same group. Well, it was not easy to understand girls’ rationality even though she was a girl too.

The beginning of the trio began when June, who was the most beautiful girl in the school that boys dreamed of, and Elodie, one of the most popular girls and the captain of the cheerleading team made the agreement. June’s mother used to have some big roles in the film industry around twenty years ago and forced her daughter to dream big. As June had to bear her mother’s expectations and gained a small reputation like the other children of celebrities, she had the habit of keeping distance to people and thinking everyone was below her. She regarded Alexis as one and only friend. At the school, although June was the star, she was the kind of a girl that girls hated but wanted to be. For Alexis’ friendship with Elodie, it began in the literature class. Elodie came to sit with Alexis during lunchtime more often. At first, June got paranoid to see ‘the other’ sitting with her but as their group gained a lot of attention because Elodie could call her team and other sport teams to sit with them. That was why June accepted the new member. They became the influencers and the ‘cool people’ of the school society. How cool was it to be a celebrity even in the school? Alexis might not like how they agreed to make the terms of building ‘the image’ but she admitted that being one of the most popular group made her life in the high school be one of the best moments.

Alexis still persuaded Bryce to leave the study desk. “Just leave your books for a day…not a day exactly, just three or four hours. They won’t blame you, I guarantee that.”

Bryce was really stubborn. She insisted on studying during her short vacation. The big sister eyed on the younger, annoyed, “I cannot leave the house. I have to memorize every word. If I can eat them, I eat.”

“Just chill out. You can continue your reading at night. Please, for Monkey. Edie comes too.”

“Too many people. You can exclude me.” 

Alexis placed her elbow on the sister’s chair. “I called Davy but he didn’t answer the phone. Well, he doesn’t know I come back. Maybe he’s busy. I’ll visit his house to check if he’s there. Jesse and Edie will take Charlie to the mall first. You can go with them. I meet you there. Please Please Please!” 

“I can’t.” Bryce moved her chair to free from the younger sister. “You will understand me, Alex. Soon. I know even a brain like you can’t make it easy.”

Alexis sighed. “Okay, so do you want anything?” The girl raised the white flag.

“Poppy Gelato’s chocolate mint,” she made the order. Alexis groaned, “Grrrr, I love rich chocolate and I don’t want to eat all the quart!”

“You can eat it for a week.”

“You know it’s hard! How can people eat ice-cream and save it for another day? We must eat them all.”

Bryce turned her head from side to side. “Stop being dramatic. Rich chocolate, dark chocolate, milk chocolate, all you love is only chocolate without anything else except milk and sugar. Boring.”

“I love chocolate almonds and macadamia or added salt caramel.”

“How different! Look at the time! Hurry young lady, the two gentlemen may be rooting the floor.”

“They may get out already.Don’t worry Mom, see you.” Alexis closed the door. Instead of getting their butts out of the house, Alexis saw Elodie laughing with her two brothers. They should get out right now but they seemed to have the fun time together at home. Sometimes, Alexis thought if Jesse preferred girls, Elodie might be his first choice because they were really getting along well and Jesse liked Elodie as if she was another his sister.

Well, another sister.

“Sorry,” Alexis interrupted. Charlie jumped in his happiness. “Yeah, can we go now? Where’s Bryce?”

Alexis made the sad face, “She insists on studying so there’re only us and maybe Davy. But tell me why you guys’re still here.”

Elodie stood up, “Oh, I forget to tell you. I’ll go with you.”

The girl in white t-shirt looked fixedly at her friend in disbelief because she wanted to visit her boyfriend’s house alone. That’s not the deal. Elodie forced Alexis through her eyes, “Just agree with me”.

The big boy switched his eyes from the sister and her friend, did not understand what they were playing.

“Hey, young ladies, so?” Jesse asked.

“Okay, as she said,” Alexis told them. Jesse was still skeptical but grabbed Charlies’ hand anyway then walked out of the house. Alexis and Elodie followed. Her friend brought her own bicycle. Charlied sat behind Jesse and Alexis used the other one.

“You said you want to go with him,” Alexis spoke out since her brothers were gone.

The small girl smiled tiredly, “Sorry Alex, I change my mind. He doesn’t like me, not at all, just a sister’s friend. It’s good to be with him but it hurts too when he keeps talking about his Joshua. And he loves to talk about him.” She paused for a while as if just realized something important. “I’m sorry. I forget you may want to sneak into Davy’s bedroom and whisper at his ear ‘wake up, darling’ so you can see his top naked. Davy may sleep in his boxer. Right?”

The brunette hair groaned.

“Tada! Surprise! Muah-Muah,” Elodie laughed mockingly. “Or…more than a kiss?”

“Shut up.” Alexis rushed to the bike with her red face. “If you won’t stop, I tell Jesse how you feel about him.”

Smiling in victory, Alexis knew her friend would not dare. Elodie hit her arm and rushed to her own bike with the red face. 

“Oh, almost forget.” Alexis gave a lipstick palette to her friend.

“What?” Elodie’s eyes widened. “I love you!” She locked on Alexis’s neck. “You get if for free? I start to like your job.”

“Of course not. You think I’m the big one? I got the discount from the senior. And this perfume is for June.” Alexis showed the small pink diamond-shape bottle. “I saw it on her wishlist.” Elodie closed her mouth when her friend mentioned the rival’s name.

“You called her too?”

“No. I don’t like the cold war between you and her. I just think about visiting her house this evening. Of course, without you. Come on! We already graduated Edie.”

“So what? She hates me. I hate her. Nothing can fix that.”

“Okay…okay.” Alexis surrendered her friend and dared not mention anything about June anymore so they could ride to Davy’s house together without any quarrel.

 

**********

 

Davy’s house located on the south avenue, a little bit bigger than the Davis’. When the two girls arrived at his place, it seemed like there was nobody in the house except that his bike was still there but the car was gone, which meant only the parents were absent since it was a business day.

“He’s here. Why doesn’t he answer the phone?” Alexis murmured to herself.

“He glued himself to the bed,” Elodie said. “Does he snore?”

Alexis pretended that she did not hear the question. But as she turned her head, Alexis saw the mysterious bike near the garage. It was painted orange, June’s favorite color.

Not only the color, but it was her friend’s bike. 

Elodie followed her eyes and muttered, “Actually, I thought about talking about it for a while but since I have no clear evidence…”

Looking into Elodie’s eyes, Alexis saw her meaning so the girl slightly shook her head in denial. Davy was her first love and would be the last. They went steady for a year and everything went smoothly. He had no characteristics of being a cheater and the fact that June was her best friend could clear any suspicion.

“They’re friends, like you and him, come on…” Elodie restrained her hand and whispered. “Try not to make a sound. Don’t lie to yourself. Why June’s with your boyfriend when his parents are not home and they think YOU-are-out-of-town.”

“She’s our friend, our best friend.” Alexis tried to deny Elodie’s suspect and ignored the bad thought that paraded in her head. “You’re close to him too. You know he’s not like that.” The girl had not realized how she stressed her words to make herself believe in it. Her heart beat like crazy as if it wanted to break out from her chest.

“Please let me correct, first, she’s your best friend, not mine and since you joined the modeling agency, I don’t think so. Secondly, Davy is just a boy.” The girl added. “And in general, no one stays with best friend's boyfriend in his house, with or without parents.”

“They may be talking.” Alexis tried to give an excuse for them but the more she spoke the more she looked stupid.

Elodie rolled her eyes, “I hate your over-positive thought. You try to deny it, do you?”

The sentence was familiar to what Jesse told about her.

“I’m not over-optimistic! I…”

“Shhh, okay you’re not but you’re lying to yourself. I know you see my point.”

Admittedly, Alexis lost the courage to go inside the house. Her hands were cold and her feet turned numb. Half of her heart believed in Elodie’s suspicion but another half tried not to cause pain to herself because as they were arguing, many invisible needles nailing into her heart.

“We won’t knock the door.” The smaller girl checked on the window. “It’s not locked.” She opened it and tried to climb inside the house.

“Help me!” Elodie urged Alexis.

They almost walked on tiptoe but as Davy did not stay at the downstairs, it was easy to sneak up to the upper floor without notice. The more she got closer to his room, the more her heart skipped a beat. Her friend’s logic was making sense but she wished that Elodie was wrong.

Elodie gradually turned the doorknob; it was not locked again. Suddenly, she pushed the door open. At that time, Alexis’s heart stopped beating completely. She felt grateful that Elodie came with her instead of going out with Jesse so she would not have to see this scene alone.

June and Davy were really together as Elodie suspected, on his bed, under the blanket, arms on arms, both naked. Their clothes scattered around the room. They seemed to have a wild night.

A trophy flew to them and fell on his stomach. No, it was not Alexis’s work but Elodie who shouted and cursed them like crazy, “See! I told you! Dave, you’re such an IDIOT! And you’re WHORE” Their eyes wide opened, awake and alarmed. Alexis was not sure how she felt at that moment, to be angry, jealous, mad, or disappointed. The only thing she could feel was the empty space in her chest as if the heart was not there anymore.

I thought we’re in love.

Two best people in her life betrayed her cruelly. Sometimes the emptiness is the worst level of pain. The scene knocked her speechless.

How can they do this?

“Alex, li—li—listen to m—me.” Davy hurriedly wrapped the naked body with the blanket so June had to rush to her clothes trying to cover herself. His beautiful hazel eyes were full of guilty tears. “I—I can explain.” His charming husky voice now turned to hoarse. His mouth was trembling as if he was the criminal and Alexis was the police. His sexy bare chest was painted red by June’s lipstick and interesting bruises that she could imagine how he got them and when she saw the kiss traces on his face, she tried so hard to resist her hands not to throw all the anger on his handsome face.

Tears gradually flew on two cheeks. Alexis tried not to built waterfalls but the dam was broken. How can they do it? Why does it hurt so much? Alexis thought her life came to the peak and might be better and better until Davy screwed it up.

My life is nearly perfect. ‘Nearly’ can't be ‘totally’.

Their eyes met, June’s and Alexis’. No tears, no pleading, no apology, June stood still and slightly avoided her gaze, trying to get dress in the calm manner as if they were inappropriate to intrude to their room. Alexis could not hear anything until Elodie spoke to her ears.

“Alex! Don’t be sad.” Then she turned her eyes to June and cursed again, “Whore! How can you do it? Both of you!

“I’m sorry. I—I—I” And Davy spoke as though he got an instant tonged-tie.

She did not understand why and how they got together when June never showed any sign of interest in Davy and never took her eyes on him. June dreamed of a man, not a boy, a man who was mature and perfect. Of course, Davy was hot and handsome but June always said he was a big baby boy.  Yes, he was a boy, shy and untalkative. And Davy, he told her he loved her…, loved like never loved anyone before. They would grow old together, share dream and life. Everything he promised to her from the first day they kissed until the prom night, all had been broken. But of course, June was beautiful…extremely beautiful, the most beautiful…my best…bitch.

“You love her? Tell me you love each other and I’ll be out. No, I’m out now.” That was the only thing Alexis could say: asking them, sacrifice her love for their love.

“No” Davy assured. This time, his speech did not betray him. “No!”

His answer triggered the conflict between them. Two cheaters suddenly met their eyes and June glared at him furiously. The first word she split it out was, “What? No?”

“Come on! You know why you’re here.”

“And why you have me here?”

“Okay, I let you guys smooth out.” Alexis grabbed Elodie’s arm while Davy caught hers.

“I’m sorry. Yeah, I—I did like June before. It was long ago before I love you. And I love you, Alex. I love you, I do.” He gently touched her face to regain her trust. “It’s m-my fault. I hurt…you, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean it. Please forgive me. Please?”

Alexis could hear Elodie tried so hard not give June a mocking laugh but she did not feel like winning to be chosen. In contrast, it made her feel wasted. Watching around the room, seeing the kissing traces on his body and their clothes, Alexis wondered how many times they did it behind her back? And he said he didn’t mean it? Excuse me?

The thing she did not understand at all was why June committed this action. They were best friends for a long time. Was it because Davy became the star midfield, the key to win High School Soccer Championship, and the newest prom king?

But...why did she make this ugly decision when she knew well that he belonged to her best friend? Alexis thought her friend loved her like she did.

“So June seduced you?” Elodie asked, still stared at her frienemy. They had never been friends even they were in the same pact and both claimed to be Alexis’s best friends.

“Shut up, no one asks your opinion,” June scowled, still frustrated with Davy.

“It’s my false only. I’m sorry.” He turned to June, “I’m sorry to you too.” But her friend could not accept it.

“You’re such a prick. You want me. You spy on me. You kiss me. You sleep with me. And you say you don’t mean to fuck me. Coward!”

Like another big knife stabbed deeply at her heart, Alexis gave the demanding look to her boyfriend.

“Yes, it’s just my curiosity, my fault. I’m just a man! I know you use me just to revenge on Alex. Yes, I’m stupid. I’m selfish.” Davy confessed.

“Wait. Why you have to revenge on me?” Alexis blurted out. This was new to her. “Why June? What happened to us?” The hand that carried the souvenirs shook helplessly due to the anger.

Alexis locked her eyes with June’s beautiful greens, there were tears in them. It was the first time the girl realized that she had never understood her friend.

“The bitch’s jealous of you.” It was Elodie who answered that question.

“Jealous of me?” Alexis hardly believed when the girl in front of her possessed the natural beauty and financial prosperity without effort.

“Of course not!” June’s opposed. “Alex, you separate yourself from me. You choose that bitch! Your family loves that bitch more than me! You’re not my friend anymore.”

“I don’t choose my friends. You’re both my best friends. I love both of you. Why don’t you talk to me? Why? Did I do any other thing wrong to you?” Alexis asked but it seemed like shouting. “Because I won that plastic prom crown, is it? Tell me!

“Oh, forget it! It’s not that plastic crown. You left me and you take everything!” She scolded in return.

I’ve never left you!” Alexis threw the perfume bottle on Davy’s bed. “That’s your wishlist, is it? Tell me June, what did I take from you? This is how you revenge me? By sleeping with him? This is how you try to reclaim what I stole you? Say it!

“Don’t force for more. She’s jealous. The bitch should not blame you but her slutty arrogance,” Elodie interrupted the heat conversation between Alexis and June. But it maximized June’s rage. As the former Basketball player, Alexis grabbed the glass of jar, that was flown to Elodie’s direction in time. Elodie’s head was saved.

“Shut the fuck up, big mouth!”

“Thanks for your skill, Alex,” said the girl behind her. “She’s mad. Just a toy for your boyfriend.”

“Not a toy!” Alexis unintentionally corrected Elodie’s word. “He’s not my boyfriend anymore,” The girl concluded.

Davy moved closer trying to beg for forgiveness.

“You know what she thinks?” The one who had been cheated asked the boy while left the jar on the floor. He nodded. “And you still sleep with her instead of telling me?”

“Alex…it’s just sex,” Davy gave the excuse and it was the bad one.

“Can I say that when I sleep with other boys?” she hit back.

After a short analysis through the fact that he knew how June thought of her but still jumped into the trap, Alexis found the answer. It was not the trap but his own insufficiently sexual greed. The fact that he knew June was her friend, instead of remaining faithfulness, he took the knife and decided to help June stabbing the girl he declared his love to. It was about sex only that he wanted to say. Yes, Alexis agreed with that but it was not the acceptable excuse.

It did not make her feel better at all. I should believe what adults say! Davy who was standing facing her at this moment was not the Davy she loved, not the one that she sacrificed her innocence for.

Alexis did not want to hear anything so she threw the other souvenirs to his face. “I bought them for both of you. Check it. Have to go.”

Davy was blocking their way.

“Please, we can fix it,” he begged.

“Get dress.” She told him, “Don’t waste more time, Jesse and Charlie are waiting for us. I don’t want to ruin Charlie’s day. Please excuse me, Mr. Montes.”

His tears dropped but they could not move her mind. The mascara on her eyelashes might ruin her face enough. Davy knew he could not fix their relationship. The coldness Alexis gave him made him backed away.

Their relationship had come to the end.

 

**********

 

Her view towards the town changed. The day was not as bright as she had seen it. Alexis had not noticed the clouds before going out.

“How long did you suspect them?” She asked Elodie. They were walking, with their bikes along with their side.

“A month, after the soccer team won. I should tell you earlier but…I’m sorry. Hardly believe he joined her doom.”

“No need to say that. It’s not your fault.”

Alexis tried not to look back at Davy’s house. Jesse and Elodie were right. She had no clue at all, especially for June. Over-positive, over-trusting, she was. It was too late to pull out the knife. This knife was sharp and she would run out of blood.

“He’s fool,” Elodie said.

“He’s not. I am.”

Alexis laughed to herself but the laughter sounded mad rather than funny. “You know? I even imagined my wedding dress and a flower crown. I’ve never thought I’m so daydreaming and stupid.”

Elodie shook her head. “You’re not. I used to dream of me and Jesse too.”

Everything turned upside down within an hour. The short period of time that Alexis learned the truth and it cost two important persons in her life.

Chapter 5: Lighthouse

Very unusual, very very unsual. Everything was so quiet even the television had been turned on but it was like the time was dead. Little Charlie was left alone again and he was silently drawing the new art on the wall which Caleb had painted white a month ago. He might think it was too plain so he decided to add the new patterns on. It was an animal that might be a giraffe with the four legs that looked like snakes. On the dining table, six quarts of Poppy Gelato’s Ice-cream was left melting. No, he looked closer; the sherbet flavor quart was empty. Four quarts of chocolate mint gradually melted, also the quart of chocolate with caramel and Macadamia. In the kitchen, the cooking pot on the stove was almost burnt. Charlie ran to them while Bianna closed the door. There were the traces of sherbet ice-cream on his rosy cheeks and lips.

“Why do they leave Charlie alone again?” He spoke to himself struggling to free from Little Charlie who ran around him jovially.

“They’re melting, love” Bianna collected the ice-creams in the fridge and turned off the heat on the stove in her signature—calm manner. They still smelled the pot burning.

Charlie still played with his father saying “Jesse and Alex took me to the mall. We ate Pizza at Mr. Binochino and they took me to the park. I met Olly and Kaysey. We were playing together.” His voice did not conceal the jolly. “Alex brought us the ice-cream. It will be the best day if she doesn’t look so sad. I can’t wait so I eat my part.”

“Wait? Is your sister sad? Why?”

“I don’t know.” Charlie pointed his tiny index finger to his eyes, “her eyes were red and she barely spoke.”

Caleb and Bianna looked at each other. They could perceive that something smelled fishy.

 “Where’re your brother and sisters, Monkey?”

The little one smiled and pointed to his sisters’ room. “After we arrived home, Alex keeps herself in her room. Jesse and Bryce thought she turns strange so they went inside. Alex said the dust was in her eyes. I think it’s still in her eyes so Jesse and Bryce have to help her.”

“Oh my dear,” Bianna touched his shoulder. “I’ll go see her. There must be something wrong with her. You take care of Little Monkey.” She said. Caleb nodded even though he died to know what had happened to his daughter. However, before his wife reached the door. It opened. Jesse and Bryce walked out.

“What happened?” asked Bianna.

“They break up. I mean our Alex and the dickhead Davy...sorry mom. Well, she found him fu…I mean with June,” the big brother told his parents in a good short summary. Jesse also added, “Alex needs sometimes…alone. Mom, don’t look at me like that! She asked for it. Not me!”

“What did Davy do to Alex?” Little Charlie asked. “I don’t understand what Jesse said.”

Caleb eyed at Jesse. The big boy sighed and took the little brother away. “It’s something you don’t have to understand yet, shorty monkey.”

“But I want to knoooow” 

Caleb turned to Bryce and she gave them a shrug then walked to the kitchen.

“This is not how I raise you!”

They could not allow themselves leaving Alexis alone. At this time, the girl needed the encouragement and the good recharging more than ever.

Bianna did not wait for long so she entered the daughter’s room. Caleb followed. He wondered why these kids hurt his child, especially June. He saw this girl since she was little. Not very talkative but she got along with Alexis well. They looked resemble, like adorable twins. Hanging out together, talking to each other, and be good together for many years, June became one of their family members for a long time, he saw them like the gracious rose and the lovely white jasmine. She would be a bigger star like her mother someday if the girl followed her mother’s path. So why?

And the damn Davy, he was shy and polite as Caleb recognize. As a man, Caleb could see his feeling for Alexis was sincere. How could he be so blind? He was the adult and the father. He should have protected his daughter from this boy. Shame on me.

Caleb did not think he would saw Alexis wailing dramatically and he was right. The girl sat alone in the corner behind her bed. As they approached, they see the girl was looking at the photos of herself and June from childhood to these days. Alexis sat in despair but still in the amazing calmness.

She did not cry or mourn for the loss of love and friendship but they could see her watery eyes. Bianna sat on her left and he sat in front of her. The last time they comforted the little one might be five years ago when they lost Blacky, the husky dog aged twelve.

“You’re not ok. Cry, my love. Release all your tears and tomorrow everything will be better. Don’t keep it,” Bianna told the girl.

“I’m alright. I cry enough, mom. Look at my eyes. You don’t have to worry about me. Just…a few days, I need just a few days for…and I will be the same girl you know,” she smiled but it was a very sad smile. Not her nature for being sad. Caleb loved her smile. It was so beautiful and bright as if she was the happiness bringer. But now the bringer was drowning in the sea of despair.

It seemed like everything went well for the girl, education, friends, lover, and career. But life is life. The storm takes a visit when everything goes on peacefully. Before people are aware of the danger, the heavy rain cruelly flooded the home.

“My daughter is always strong. He’s not the right one and that’s okay to cry and talk to us, my dear.” His hair caressed the girl’s hair gently. He tried his best to comfort his daughter. Even though they were the entertainers, Alexis had some different traits from Jesse. This third daughter shared some characteristics of him, her father. Caleb usually concealed his emotion, to keep everything inside. Alexis was the same. So he knew well that it was not good to keep the pain within herself.

Alexis listened to his words so she started talking. “I don’t understand. Why did they do this to me? I don’t understand June at all; I thought we were best friends. How could she hate me so much? She blamed me that I left her. Blame us that our family preferred Elodie. I’ve never left her. And Davy, he said he loved me…so much.”

Young lovers, a few could make it to the finish line.

Caleb felt like these two youngsters also stabbed him in his back as well. Alexis’s pain was also his. Davy was a good kid as he knew earlier. Anyway, there were two things: first, time changes people through experience and second, they just reveal their true color. Bianna looked at him urging to speak something because the girl was quietly crying. His wife was too sensitive when it was about her children. To see her child in this state and situation, the mother could not even speak but shared the girl’s pain.

“Because my girl is good, you deserve better friend and better guy. I cannot answer why they did it to you, to hurt my daughter. But all I know is you will move on. Some love may die but my love for you; the love of our family will never die. I don’t want you to cry all the time or lament for their betrayal but just cry for this moment. This cry will remove all your sadness, I promise. I want you to understand this isn’t the end of your life. One day the happiness consumes you from head to toes and then people, things, even a fly can make you cry. Think that it’s your luck that you know them earlier. You’ve found many true friends like Elodie and the others. And we love you too. We care for you so much and will support you in every way.”

After he finished the speech, Alexis raised her head and they saw the tears dropping.

“Dad,” the girl leaned her head on his chest and cried eventually. He and Bianna sighed in relief.

“My child, my sweet child,” Bianna softly kissed on the girl’s cheeks.

“My face is ruined. My mascara…”

Caleb and Bianna smiled at each other. The girl still had the mind for a joke. “Nothing hurts your face, my dear. Your mascara is apparently waterproof.”

The girl laughed with tears. Caleb hoped his love would send it to her and all the agony would perish.

“Do you think I’ve done anything wrong that make her feel I prefer Elodie?”

Caleb fanned his head from side to side. “It’s not your fault. To be honest, Alex, you stay with Elodie more frequently than with June. She might feel bad about it but I don’t say the way she did to you is right. You are friends. You should talk.”

She bobbed her head in agreement. “That’s what I thought. I love them so much and they’re so mean to me.”  

They talked and talked and comforted the girl until she fell asleep. Rarely people will find that their first love will become true love. Well, at least his daughter was lucky to know how Davy was before they continued the relationship to the serious level and with the wrong person or got married or having children. It was the first time they saw how fragile she was. She tried not to be dramatic about it but witnessing that scene built the bad trauma for sure. So when they looked at her peaceful sleeping face, they knew she still dreamed of them. Caleb and Bianna kissed the girl’s head, left the room, and let the night healed the broken heart.

Jesse, Bryce, and Charlie were waiting for them on the table with the easy dinner meal Bryce had made, sandwiches. The burning smell still diffused all over the room but no one mentioned it or claimed to take the responsibility for nearly causing the house on fire.

“How is she?” asked Jesse, eagerly.

“She’s sleeping now,” Bianna replied.

“But she doesn’t eat anything.”

“So you want me to wake her up?”

The big boy frowned. “I didn’t mean that!”

“Let her rest.”

“Is she okay?” Little Charlie asked. He might not really understand why his sister was so sad because of the damn dust and what Davy had done but he wanted to join the conservation.

Caleb nodded. She will.

It was eight and a half. The dinner passed slowly and they had to listen to Jesse who complained and cursed Davy and June during the meal (and Bianna would reproach him when he spread any rude words). If the boy was here, his son might kill him certainly. Jesse was hot-tempered. Caleb remembered how his friends had turned entirely surprised when Jesse decided to go to the law school. They had thought he would join the sports club or entered a computer program school. He had a good grade but not a good person who could focus on books for hours like Bryce did. It amazed Caleb and Bianna as well when he graduated with honors. At least, the parents admired his hard-working.

In everyone’s amazement, Davy did come.

The bell rang while the clock ticked to eleven. Caleb saw Davy standing in front of the door. He pulled Jesse’s shirt in time before his son committed any harm to his sister’s ex. “I’ll talk to him. Jesse, you're studying law, are you? Calm down. Go back to your room right now!” He preferred the fierce dad look.  

Headstrong, Jesse scowled and stomped away with his firm legs. Caleb opened the door, facing the boy’s guilty face. Davy seemed to considerate his ex’s father more than any other time. With athletic body, broad shoulders, thick eyebrows, dirty blonde, and handsome like hell, it was not surprising that he could win girls’ hearts. Alexis was totally crazy about him as he observed the way she spoke about Davy. The boy had been so nice but boy is boy and male is male. Davy grew up stronger and more attractive than the last year when he and Alexis, holding hands, told them they were in the romantic relationship. And June, she was far from ugliness. The older understood that some men can change their hearts within one sight they look at the other woman but some men are exceptional. He had thought Davy was one of the exceptions or would be. Caleb blamed himself again.

“How is Alex?” the boy asked cowardly.

“Fine,” Caleb coldly replied.

Obviously, the boy could catch the distant tone, his voice volume lowered due to fear and it was like Davy was whispering.

“I’m sorry. I—I—I know it’s late but…can I t—talk to her?” he stammered.

“No, you can’t. She’s sleeping. Go home, Davy. I don’t think it’s the proper time.”

Davy tried to focus on his speaking. And this time, the awkwardness was fixed. “I’m sorry, I really mean it. Can you forgive me? Can she forgive me? I love her, truly…Dr. Davis. Please forgive me. Please tell her, I’m really sorry. I’m sorry I disappoint you but…I need your chance…her chance.”

The boy did not move waiting for his answer or forgiveness. Caleb began to have the sympathy for the boy. Davy did feel apologetic and care his daughter. It was his braveness to come to Alexis’s home—well as he could see. And Bianna would say that everyone could have done wrong, people deserved the second chance, the forgiveness.

But he cheated on my daughter. He makes her cry. His anger rose again and the heart to forgive him melted down.

“It’s my daughter who will answer that. Go back to your home Davy. Your parents will worry about you.” He spoke to the boy with the softer voice, did not know that Davy’s parents were not home today. Davy obeyed and walked back to his bicycle with his chin dropping down on his chest. He was sad and regretful.

Caleb sighed. This day was not as bright as it ought to be. It was Alexis’s unfortunate love life but the next day, the storms would weaken and she would be stronger than the other days.

Chapter 6: Unexpected Guests

“Edie, I don’t want to go anywhere. I don’t have the mood! Don’t you understand?” Alexis replied to Elodie through the home telephone.

“Please, just go. You have to meet friends. You can’t keep yourself in the cave! Please! I’ll go too.” She begged.

“But you have to help your father.”

“I change my mind. Party or work? What do you think I will do?”

It was difficult to win her stubbornness so Alexis agreed to go to the party at Wade Miller’s house. Friends and alcohol, which one will fix my broken mind better?

After catching Davy with June, her ex-boyfriend kept calling her every hour. He visited the house on the next day after the incident. In consequence, Alexis officially ended their relationship and she did not forget to accept his apology for the complete closure. There was such a lot of love for him left in her heart but also unreliability and bad trauma. In spite of what she had done, Davy kept appearing in her dream; it was a pity that she yearned for the dream where she forgot the reality where there was no Alexis and Davy anymore. Often, she dreamed of their last prom, the kiss, and the intimacy at that night. She concluded to herself that it was the haunting regret of her guilty pleasure as she had committed something her parents disagreed with.

What made Alexis felt worse was June’s silence. She did neither call nor visit; neither apologize nor make more confession. From that day, the June she knew dove into the black hole, sinking into the deepest of the universe, forever gone. The only thing left between them was the question inside Alexis’s head asking herself, “Why?” June valued their long-term friendship no different from a price of shit.

“Where’re you going?” asked her mother. It was Friday’s evening, her parents stayed at home.

“Wade’s party, I may come back before ten.”

Her mother nodded meaning giving approval. “It’s good to see you go out, meet friends. Have fun, honey!”

“Why don’t take Jesse with you?” Her father suggested, pausing his reading for a while with eyes narrowing through the glasses. Alexis chuckled when her mother hit his arm lightly. “Oh come on. How many times she visits the Miller’s place. Go, Alex. Don’t listen to the old man.” She ended the conservation with her merry laughter.

“Okay, I’ll be back.” Alexis waved her hand and exited.

“Did she bring my cell phone?” Caleb still worried.

 

**********

 

The light of sunset painted the thick cloud on the sky orange. The chilling breeze passed through. She rode past the oriental spa which its front door overlaid by advertising posters. Previously, the poster of John Lloyd’s old teen movie attracted everyone’s attention but now it had gone nowhere, perhaps, in the junk. His name vanished as Jesse had assumed.

Thinking about the star friend helped extinguish the fire of fury towards Davy and June for a while, but it came with the fearfulness from the recognition that a friend was missing, perhaps forever. The worse was John’s identity was removed by the authority. Jesse’s assumption peculiarly sounded reasonable and she started to believe him that her superstar friend was arrested and taken to the rehabilitation program that no one had ever returned.  In the past three days, Alexis could not search ‘John Lloyd’ name on any search engine. His own website and the fan club website had been shut down. When people talked about his missing, they whispered, dared not to speak out loud because they were scared to be heard. And in the end, they would simply conclude that he might be dead. Alexis concerned on his family more than anything else because when she imagined if someone in her family encountered the fate that John was facing, how she could manage her mind and her feeling when the loved one was completely gone. And to think of them was illegal and frightened to do.

Wade’s mansion stood elegantly among the other mansions in the north, far from the heart of the town. His house was grandeur like June’s mansion which was situated four blocks away. (Sighing, she could not stop thinking of them.) It was the pool party but Alexis did not wear or bring bikini because she aimed at watching people having fun rather than joining with them. What she determined to do was to drink and drink and be drunk.

“Hey, Alex!”

The mansion owner greeted the guest. Wade Miller was sparkling in his bare chest and khaki swimming shorts, waving his hand energetically towards her. There were a lot of guests more than she had thought. At least she saw the whole cheerleading team without the captain who was Elodie. Well, no school anymore, they were waiting for the new life in college. No one needed to stay home for study.

“Where’s Edie?”

“Oh, Edie can’t come. She phoned me just a few minutes, saying that she has to help her father manage the stock.”

“What?” Alexis felt like being betrayed. She was quite upset because Elodie confirmed that she would come and who would take her home if she was drunk? A trick? Seriously?

Wade clapped on her shoulders. “Nah, don’t worry. Everyone knows you. We’re all friends. Come on. It’s time to recover.” he said and pushed the girl inside the party.

“What? Recover? You know?” Alexis could not hide her amazement when he knew about the break-up, due to the fact that she told no one except her family.

Oh…Edie, how can I forget this one?

“I didn’t invite both of them, don’t worry.” He told her.

“It’s okay. I don’t mind.” Alexis replied at once. Guilty she was; Davy was his friend.

The boy gave her the wicked smile. “Actually, I did, but they don’t come. It’s not strange for June but Dave thought about coming. When he knows people talking about it. He felt sick for a sudden.”

Wade possessed a very unique charming smile. If Davy could not make the victory score during the last match, this boy might win the prom crown. Wade Miller was the soccer team captain and one of the candidates to win the government’s scholarship. He shared some similar appearances with Davy, such as the perfect height, blond hair, hot body, and whatever charms hot guys should own. But he was no shyness. He spoke loud and clear and loved to socialize while Davy preferred the private space. The house parties had been frequently organized in his place.

“You…are…”

“Go go go go!” He made haste.

As she walked inside, the soccer team cheered at her, “That’s the spirit! Alex. It’s gonna be okay. We will re-educate him! We’ll bring your Davy back!”

She knew they tried to cheer her up but it was really embarrassing when they used the word ‘your Davy’, the same way Bryce and Jesse frequently did.

At the same time, Alexis understood why Davy dared not to come when she met the others, especially her girlfriends. Possibly, Elodie announced their break-up to everybody’s in the town. When she met some of her basketball team, they said, “He’s a jerk, Alex. You find the better one.” And the whole cheerleading team which all members were Elodie’s minions shouted, “Don’t care the bitch June! If we meet her, we burn her alive.”

Women’s rage was very scary and when they teamed up, the fire of fury went wild.

Alexis knew that June’s popularity mixed with positive and negative reputations. June had the character of the women who girls loved her dresses but hated her. She rarely went to the other’s parties except her owns and had no other friend except Alexis. Boys dreamed of her but she did not regard them as friends but her big fans. Hearing people talked bad to June made Alexis feel more guilty. June’s words lingered in her mind that Alexis left her friend to go out with Elodie. Of course, Alexis had heard what they talked about June. Instead of fighting against them, she ignored it. Just thought it was the best not to deal with them when she knew who June really was. And the others were also her friends. But June might not think so, especially when Alexis hanged out with the girl who was the head of these gossipers. June expected her best friend to be her guardian. It was not Alexis’s intention to make June feel abandoned, though she had unconsciously betrayed June by her silence. 

I did or not, intention or not, June had no right to sleep with him. The girl argued with herself.

Alexis shook that thought away. It was the old story. Perhaps it was their last year in high school and people have to separate from each other in order to follow their dreams. Many had to continue their study far away. The only friend like Alexis might be unnecessary to care when June could make the new squad at college.

During the first hour, people came to ask about the incident. Some were rudely curious and needed every single detail for further gossip. Some did care and comfort. Alexis had no time to enjoy the drinks until Wade dragged her to the pool. Of course, she refused but he forced so she kicked his butt and the party host fell into the water. 

People laughed out loud. Wade got up and glared at her furiously. Lucky enough, Wade’s friends stole the attention by jumping from the roof into the pool and people began to try jumping from the roof too. 

“I’m sorry. You forced me!”

Wade nodded and shook the water out of his head towards her. The furious glare disappeared. The boy sighed. “Edie and I want you to have fun. We—we want to see the old Alex who smiles and laughs and...crazy…whatever.”

His breath smelled like alcohol and perhaps pot. He might be a tough guy but not the brainless type. The alcohol inside his head might stimulate him to reveal everything.

“Well, Dave screws it up. He’s my friend but he can’t blame me for what I’m going to do. I want you to be happy with the new person. And that person should be me.”  

 Alexis understood what her friend was thinking now. The trick had been uncovered. Elodie wanted to link up to her and Wade together. It was like hearing her friend’s thinking, “Hot guy and the team captain, Davy should learn that he lose the best thing he had!” Alexis knew Wade liked her before she and Davy had been in the relationship. Most of the students grew up together since kindergarten. The society in San Bosa was too small. If you spread one secret to a friend, the other people might hear it too.

But you don’t understand, Edie. You can’t mend a broken heart with a new boy. I thought you knew it profoundly.

His face was red and he was totally drunk. Alexis pretended she heard nothing about it. So she turned her back to him.

“Hey! Where’re you going?”

“Restroom, stay here, I can go alone,” she shouted back.

Walking inside the house, she accidentally bumped into some couples. These lovers were exchanging their tongues in everywhere she went. Some guests sneaked out from the party to have the intimate activity at the kitchen, restrooms, balcony, under the stairways, behind every counter they found, etc. Alexis had to walk out of one of the restrooms at once since there was another couple reserved the space for their own.

Your parents must imprison themselves in their chambers for sure, Wade, she thought when she found no sign of his parents and it might be because the mansion was so large for them to escape the chaos when his son organized the party.

Alexis preferred to give her time alone in the backyard. The music beat the house as if they were in the mini-concert. However, the girl was able to find the time for reminiscence among lovers and loud noises when she had her time with herself. No, she was far from an introvert and loved partying, dancing, and being wild like other people did. But that was before her heart broke. Here, at Wade’s backyard, last two months ago, she and Davy, like other couples, sought a quiet place. It was because of those eyes, the pair of hazels locked her gaze and she felt his lips on her lips, the warmth of his breath, the touch of his soft hands, and the scent of his cologne. Alexis could not make her mind stop thinking of that moment. Every time she thought of him, the radiant face of June popped up and her heart began to twist and it was the pain that continued torturing inside. She hated how it was impossible to forget. The kiss and the loss, every moment between them was crystal clear like the day she had experienced them.

Is it was wrong to dream of the love like her parents had for each other?

You still love them.  The voice inside her head reminded the unwanted words. Yes, it’s true, she answered to herself. 

And someone bumped into her. 

“Oh, I’m sorry.” A croaky voice woke her up from the past memory. A boy with red hair in a plain t-shirt and old pale blue jeans tried to balance himself. Two hands held glasses of beer. “It’s dark, I—I...”

“Oh, it’s okay. I don’t mind. Not hurt, really.” She said, wiping the tears from her face.

He seemed to be considerate in those tears.

“It’s alright. Not your work, don’t worry.” She said and was about to move out of the temporary shelter. “You’re alright?” He asked but not met her eyes. It was his normal habit, a little shy lad.

“Yeah, why you come alone? Where’s Christina?” She asked Oslo, a classmate in the mathematics class and one of the candidates.

“Well, we came together but her crush was talking with her now so I…” They exchanged the knowing smile to each other. He was a little bit taller than the girl, might be an inch, not a tall boy. His eyes were light brown and his face was full of freckles.

“I heard you got admitted to Delphi, congratulations,” he said.

He was the only one who had no interest in asking about her relationship with Davy and June and did not mention anything about it.

“Thanks. And you?”

“Eastland, Environmental Science.”

“That’s cool.” She looked around. People were chasing their dream. Again, Davy’s face flashed into her mind. Alexis remembered he had thought about studying science or business but had been introduced to one of the professional soccer clubs after the final match and he agreed. Thinking of him also reminded her of the memory when Alexis saw herself and June sat in the stadium cheering for him on the victory day. After the match, Alexis ran to him and they kissed to celebrate the victory, just like in the movie.

Damn me! Stop thinking about them!

The music turned dead but the cheering crowd continued. There must be someone took the ‘Dare’ and performed something crazy outside.

“Tomorrow, I think I’ll see your name,” he kindly mentioned. Alexis shook her head to remain humble but also felt glad that he kept talking about this. After the conservation with Jesse, her confidence decreased to the lowest. Now, Oslo helped to refill it. “The interview was really bad. They had no interest in me,” he told her.

“Hmm, I’m not sure too.” Alexis avoided telling the truth so she would not discourage him. Perhaps, she still had the chance. Perhaps, Jesse was wrong. She might win. They like me. They really admire me.

“Well, I come alone too, why don’t you stay with me. Let’s see what happens outside.” Alexis did not want to stay with her basketball team because they would talk about Davy and June again. She preferred talking with Oslo because he had no interest in it. This made her feel more comfortable. Alexis knew her friends cared for her but she needed not like to spread any more words about them.

“Okay! Oh, want a beer?” He offered her one of his drink.

“You kept two glasses with yourself?”

“For Christina until I saw her chatting with…”

“I see.” Alexis took it.

They returned to the pool area. People were cheering Peter Leyton walking on water. Wade was sitting on the lifeguard chair recording his friend with the video recorder. It was clear that there were glass sheets under the water.

“It looks like he really walks on it,” someone said.

“Right? Tomorrow people gonna be surprised,” Wade predicted. His face turned completely red.

The glass sheet is really invisible to the eyes. You guys are already drunk.

Alexis and Oslo were not really interesting in the stupid trick. The girl looked up at the black sky. At that moment, she became aware that her real mood totally failed to fit in the party. Her head fused with the thought of Davy and June. She did not belong here when these two had never gone from her mind. It was hard to pretend. She needed time to calm her thought.

“I think I have to go. Sorry Oslo. I just change my mind,” she gave her excuse.

“I know. I’ll take your home.” His eyes demonstrated how he really understood her. It revealed that no one missed the news. 

“That’s sweet of you but I take my bike. Thanks and goodbye. Very excited to hear the announcement tomorrow, let's keep our fingers crossed.”

“Alex, you don’t look excited. I’m about to go too. It’s alright, I ride with you. Christina doesn’t want me anymore.” He jerked his head to his girlfriend’s spot so Alexis could see she was laughing with her crush. A few seconds that she could catch the glimpse of his broken heart. Those brown eyes revealed what he was thinking about his best friend.

They had the same problem, lovesick.

They were going to move away from the crowded place. Suddenly, the party was crashed when the siren thundered at the Miller’s mansion. Wade called his servants to clean off all alcohols and illegal drugs. Oslo and Alexis raced to the door but it was too late, the police enclosed Wade’s mansion in a flash of lightning.

“This is bad. Mom will kill me. I told her to return home by ten,” Oslo murmured. Alexis heard Wade cursed to whom informed the cops.

“Same. Damn, I have to listen to my dad’s and my brother’s lecturing me all day.”

Alexis thought she would go home late certainly and her father or Jesse had to pick her up at the police station, owing to the fact that she had to take time on drug testing. The girl searched for her father’s cellphone but found out that she forgot to bring it.

The cops announced through the megaphone, “You’re all under arrest. Come with us to the police station. Don’t resist!”

Alexis saw Wade rushed to them. Although his face was still red, the consciousness still remained with him. “Sir, I can explain. We have parents here. Please see my father.”

It was the first time she saw that his parent was really home. His father, like the older version of Wade, blonde, tall, and handsome, ran into the Police in his pajamas, trying to negotiate.

“No excuse sir, all of them must come with us. The party is over. We have the special warrant.” The emotionless officer in navy blue uniform declared his right to detain all teens in here. “Under the act 2966, sir.”

“What?!” Mr. Miller was out of words. “Are you kidding me?”

All of them covered their mouths, having no idea why the officers used this law to arrest them.

“My ears’ must be wrong. I heard they said the act 2966?” Oslo asked.

She nodded in conformation. “Your ears are fine.”

It was summer but the nightly wind turned cold. This was not about drug test anymore.

Chapter 7: Parents' War

At two o’clock, Caleb and Bianna could not sleep properly because their third child had not returned home yet. They kept calling Elodie, but could not reach her too, because of busy lines. The couples started to be nervous and terrified, imagining dangerous things happen to their daughter. Why the line kept busy? There must be something happened at the Miller’s mansion. He also phoned to the Millers but the line kept busy the same. Caleb thought about driving to Wade’s Mansion by himself too.

“Why don’t you sleep?” Bryce walked out of her bedroom. She was reading surely.

Jesse got down from his bedroom too. “What happens?”

“Your sister isn’t home yet,” Bianna told them. “We’re calling the others. The phone lines are busy.”

Caleb was searching for the number of Mr. Miller’s cell phone. “I don’t have his number. Maybe, I have to go there. I should’ve reminded her to carry my phone.”

“She may be late,” Bryce suggested. “It’s party. Dad, mom, please go to sleep. You must work tomorrow.”

He pointed to the clock. “Two O’clock, impossible. At least, your sister must call us!”

“Yes, if she didn’t drink…too much.” Jesse assumed. “I’ll call Matt. His sister may attend the party like Alex.” 

However, the phone rang before the boy could do any help. Caleb reached to the telephone in one jump. The caller was Alexis herself. In his relief, Caleb signaled his wife to ease her worry.

“Where’re you? We worry about you. Don’t you know?—what? At the police station? Why?”

Alexis sounded hurriedly.

In a second, Bianna was standing next to him. Caleb hung up the phone. His body turned numbed for a while and when the senses returned, he rushed to the stairs. Not fast enough, Bianna grabbed his wrist. “What happens to her? Why’s she there? Don’t walk away like that.”

“Drug test?” Bryce guessed. Alexis went to the party; there was only one possibility would be.

Caleb shook his head, “No, the Act 2966. All of them are under arrest.”

“What? All of them?” Bryce cried out. “That’s impossible!”

“Well, it is.”

Caleb could feel Bianna’s gaze but he was not ready to face her when the hole in the chest was expanding. Those fucking nightmares…

“Someone informed the cops about the Suspect in the party and they came. Alexis just got to the phone. The numbers of telephone booths are not enough for them.” He looked at his son. This was the right time to show his skill though the chance was low. “Jesse, you come with me. Bryce please packed some clothes for your sister. I think she needs it.”

“Why? Alex has to stay there all night?” asked the daughter, terrified. “I thought we can take her out tonight. It must be a joke. How can they arrest all of them? And she had no sign of being the suspect.”

Jesse fanned his head from side to side, “You don’t know how strict this law is. They have to interrogate everyone in the party which means our sister must stay there until the process ends. I think it takes a few days.”

“A few days?” Bryce still hardly believed it. 

Or more than a few days, Caleb thought but dared not to speak it out. The dream repeatedly replayed the same motion picture like a vicious haunted ghost.

Bianna was still unmoved, thinking the same thing with her husband.  She recalled the dream Caleb always told her. Of course, she was, most definitely, frightened. Caleb touched her face. “It must be alright. It must be.”

“Sounds like you remind yourself,” his wife said and slowly lowered her head, trying so hard to have faith in those words.

“Dad?” Jesse stared at them with suspicion.

“Nothing, Jesse. Are you ready to go?”

“Definitely.”

 

**********

 

Caleb and Jesse arrived at the police station within the next ten minutes. They met many parents dashing to the station after receiving the call from their children so he had to park the car along the road instead of the parking lot because it was full. They saw the police: men and women who had to deal with loads of anger and dirty words that came like the furious ocean wave. Caleb rushed to the information desk inside the lobby before the other parents behind him.

“I am the father of Alexis Davis, ma’am.”

The young policewoman scanned the dirty white computer then pointed to the sofa. “Wait for the call, sir.” Her voice was sharp. Jesse let him sitting on an empty seat while he surveyed around. Some parents remembered him and they smiled at each other without saying anything. The tension diffused around the room. All of them were worried about the young ones.  

Why you catch my daughter? She’s clean. She doesn’t deserve to be here!

This voice echoed through the room before the voice owner appeared.

Everyone stared at this woman whose colorful outfit attracted all the eyes in the lobby. Her loud yelling thundered as she stepped inside. It was like she verbally attacked the officer as soon as her eyes caught any sight of them.

“Every girl and boy in the mansion must be detained for further investigation. Ma’am, please sit there and wait for the call like the others.” The policewoman pointed to the sofa, the amazing same gesture, and facial expression that Caleb met earlier.

The woman did not move. “She returned home before you arrived at that boy’s party. She headed home. How could you drag her during the way? I don’t care which warrant you have but you have no right because she was not there.”

Caleb could swear that he saw the blonde police inhaled a very long breath encouraging herself to absorb all the shouting words and not to lose any temper. This woman was Mary Carter, the mother of Belinda Carter who was the president of the student council and one of the candidates. Her daughter got accepted to the same school as Alexis was. And now, she missed the point. No matter when her daughter had been, the fact was she had jointed that party was still the reason for being detained. Well, everyone tries so hard to rescue their child. It was not surprised at all.

“We have to detain your daughter for further investigation. Mrs. Carter, your girl reported the unexpected performance that could possibly involve with the Risk’s qualification in accordance with the Act 2966. We are glad she’s done the right thing as a good civilian should be. But according to the law, we had to interrogate her for more information and, of course, for the truth. Please understand and stay calm.”

Caleb and Jesse looked at each other. They accidentally acknowledged the cause of this trouble. Mary Carter might not expect that she would face many eyes of hatred.

So why you put her in the cell?”

All parents stood up, especially Mr. Miller, Wade’s father. “Enough! Now we know who’s behind this mess. Your daughter is the big liar who causes us all trouble.”

Mrs. Carter glared at him with her menacing look; her chocolate brown hair fell from the bun behind her back once she set her chin high, she countered. “Excuse me? My daughter did the right thing.”

Mr. Miller sneered at the woman. “And you should know that they were recording the video to surprise their friends. It’s a magic trick…a stupid trick. I’m watching them all the time. They’re not the risk, not even the suspect. Such a big mouth, A FOOL!

“How dare you!”

“Your daughter is the liar,” People around him shouted to this woman, the same way he saw in the Salem witches movie. They all were full of emotions. Seeing many supports, Mr. Miller could not stop his attack easily. He proposed an ugly idea, “I know. I know. Your daughter is a candidate too. She wants to frame my son I know it!” The owner of a water business met Caleb’s eyes. “And your daughter too, Doctor!”

He wanted to be invisible at the exact time. Frustrated, yes, but he did not think that fighting against Mary Carter would help their children safe; in contrast, it might lead to the worse result.

Mrs. Jessens, Oslo’s mother, raised her hand, “My son too! My dear son is arrested because of your daughter!”

Caleb looked at Jesse. In his surprise, the boy remained calm, showing no sign of any exasperation or the need to join Mr. Miller. Those hazel eyes scanned all people and just listened to the quarrel, concerning, with a thoughtful smile.

“Jesse?”

“Don’t join them, Dad. Sit quietly,” he whispered to his father. Caleb should say that, actually. “This law offers the absolute authority to the police. Our good obedience will keep a good image in their eyes and benefit our Alex.” He explained. “Now I know she’ll be alright. There’s nothing to worry, Dad. It’s clear that the girl told them lies. They will check Alex’s profile and medical history. And they’ll find nothing. This Belinda will confess and it’s her trouble, not our girl.” 

Caleb averted his eyes from the son; that is the problem, checking those things. His mind thought of Mary Stephen, the nurse who recorded the false information of his daughter into the system. If their investigation came to this stage, it might be her doom and Alexis’s too. Being judged as the Suspect was no better than being judged as the Risk. He felt ill in his stomach.

The dark sea….May you have mercy. Please, God, protect my child. Don’t let her drown in that sea.

“Just read the files?” He asked his son to make sure that the nightmare would never come true. They moved away from the cursing war between Mrs. Carter, Mr. Miller, and the others for the private discussion.

“I’m not sure but I don’t think the case is not bad as I thought before. If Belinda confesses the truth, we can take her home by tomorrow.”

Caleb wrapped his arms around Jesse’s neck. The heat of the argument rose higher and higher but as they were called to visit the girl, it was a good chance to flee from the scene completely.

They were taken into a small room decorated plainly with a desk and three chairs. Alexis was waiting for them with her sleepy face. When she saw them, the girl straightened up but as one of her arm was logged by the handcuff that tied her to the table so she fell back into the chair. His heart weakened immediately. His daughter still gave them a tired smile.

“Sorry I cause you trouble and wake you up.”

“Don’t worry about us. How are you? Have you rest a little bit?” asked Jesse. The way he looked at her declared the love of the family.

Alexis shook her head to Jesse. “I can’t even I want to. They took us in the cells. A lot of people were talking and talking. We’re all afraid at first. Pepper and Greta cry all the time. We discussed what happened—how it happens…”

Alexis paused. She made the face as if something nailed on her head. “And the scholarship…I just heard that all the candidates in our district have been withdrawn from the list.” She seemed to concern on this topic rather than her situation. When she saw their question marks on their faces, the girl added, “I heard it from Ryan. His father works at San Bosa Post and he is the first one who arrived at the station. Ryan said tomorrow no today news reported that we are charged with drug use. Some of the arrests are the candidates for the government’s scholarship and their names have been withdrawn from the list.”

Caleb already abandoned his hope for the scholarship but wished her freedom more than anything else. But when he saw her sad face, he knew Alexis was totally disappointed to be withdrawn from the false accusation.

“I want it and I don’t mind if I don’t get but not because of this.” 

“Belinda Carter reported you and your friends to the police,” Jesse revealed. “Hope it fixes your bad mood. If they find out—if everything is clear, your name will be enlisted again.”

The girl got stunned, more confused rather than upset. “Carter? Really? Why she did that?”

“Well, I just heard they’re arguing. Your friend’s father guessed that she wants to eliminate the rivals. But I don’t know her intention, really.”

“So if they prove that she told lies, I could go home? Really? And I still have the chance for the scholarship? But in the morning, they will announce the winners. I think it’s too late to hope. And I can’t believe she’ll do that. She’s a very just person. As I know, she’s not that kind of person.”

Jesse moaned in disapproval, eyes narrowing on his sister. “I wish she did so they can release you. That’s the best thing I hope it will happen.”

Alexis turned to her father. “Dad, you’re so quiet. Are you alright? Are you mad at me or disappointed in me?”

His mind could not focus on her presence but the girl in those nightmares. That angel face smiled sadly. She said goodbye and went away. Even though they thought she would be freed, his instinct still signaled the ungraceful feeling towards the incoming future.

Dad?” Jesse and Alexis called him.

“I just haven’t slept since you’re out,” he lied. “Where they put you in?”

Caleb was not a good actor. His children exchanged the look because Alexis just told him about it.

“In the cell, dad, about ten people in the same cell, it’s very small but not that bad. I mean because there are a lot of people and everyone thinks it’s a joke though we thought it was scary at first. Anyway, it’s still hard to sleep on the cold solid floor.”

Caleb disagreed. “No, it's not a joke, my dear. And you should concern more about it.”

Alexis lowered her head, “I’m sorry. I should think more when I speak. I mean there are too many people so we don’t take it seriously. I know the law, dad and…Jesse just told me Belinda reported the false accusation.”

“Yes, it’s not her fault, dad” the brother gave the excuse for his sister. He grabbed the girl’s hand and squeezed it gently. “You gonna be alright. Don’t cause any trouble. Obey them. Trust me. There’s nothing to worry.”

She nodded obediently.

I sue you and her daughter. I sue you all!

“That’s Mr. Miller, your friends’ father,” Jesse told his sister.

“Wade’s father.”

They heard the woman’s voice came after. She must be Mrs. Carter.

Jesse thought something then told his sister, “Another thing, tell your friend to warn his father. This trick won’t work but make it worse. Sometimes they may find none of the evidence but the accused is convicted of being what they aren’t. You know? The bully in disguise of the authority, these officers holds the superior power and if they have no fair mind, hell. Don’t risk. We should be nice in their eyes. This kind of behavior disturbs their nerves. Tell your friends to warn his father.”

Alexis nodded, “Sure, if I can tell Wade in time. So I can get out tomorrow, right?”

“If there is nothing more, yes,” Jesse confirmed. “Dad, don’t worry.”

Alexis smiled at them. “You don’t mind if I sleep at noon?”

Caleb did not answer. Jesse confirms and I should trust him but why my heart is unrest? Caleb quietly watched the brother talking to the sister. It’s just a dream, Caleb. Only a dream.

Chapter 8: The Interrogation

Jesse told her everything would be alright. On this account, even the cold concrete floor could not be bothered anymore. Alexis woke up with the thought that she would be free this day. After a short period of sleeping, Alexis saw some of her friends still had eyes open wide. All acknowledged the fact that Belinda Carter reported the lie. Therefore, some felt comfortable with the situation but some continued to be unsettling. Due to this law directly related to the H01 case, the authority regarded the Risk and the Suspect as harmful threats to the federal republic so did the arrested. As everybody here was caged because of the lie, if the law was strict but just, the authority would not treat them like the criminals for sure. Alexis had faith in justice and Jesse.  

Thanked the luck or whatever, Alexis stayed in the opposite cell that imprisoned Wade and Belinda together. They shouted and stopped and shouted. The heat around them which might be hotter than the heat in summer could be visible to the eyes, as she saw the way friends moved away from their radius and let them fight at the center. They had never been enemies until this day.

Belinda had to suffer from the angry eyes of many friends after their parents told them who brought up this trouble, they blamed her for everything. It might be hard to believe that this girl, who was the student president, had done such thing. Firstly, Alexis felt indifferent to Belinda’s behavior but began to feel a little bit frustrated when she insisted her right to do. Sometimes smart people could be unexpectedly stupid but Alexis wanted to learn what the real reason was.

Later, the argument between Wade and Belinda started to be more violent until the other had to intervene or else they might kill each other before being released. It was about an hour and the new fight started. It turned out to be the boring loop.

After midday, the police came to free some cellmates. At least, the whole cheerleading team was freed.  Alexis and Oslo watched their friends walking out of the cell crying with happiness. They were eager to be free like them but as the sunlight withdrew from the small window above their head, they began to be anxious because there were only Alexis, Oslo, Wade, and Belinda waiting for the call, even Wade and Belinda stop fighting.

“Why there are only us...left?” asked Oslo wrinkled his brows together. “Is it fishy?”

“There are many people. We’re just the last,” Alexis tried to explain the current situation. 

“Why me?” murmured Belinda. As Alexis saw Wade’s capillary on his forehead gradually danced, she hurriedly talked to him just to shift his attention to herself; or else, they might fight again, “It’s gonna be alright.”

“Don’t you think it’s weird? We’re all the candidates,” Oslo was still skeptical and then he pointed out the clue.

“We’re no more candidates, redhead. Thanks to this bitch,” replied Wade.

In a few seconds, Alexis understood Oslo’s point. He was right that it was too long and the only people left were the crème of the school. They should be released since the others were free. It was not a good sign at all.

“Just take time,” Alexis summarized with her fingers’ crossed.

In the late evening, Joseph, a policeman, called them to change their clothes that the parents packed for them yesterday’s night. Horrifying, they demanded the answer from him.

“Why don’t you free us?”

“Is there anything wrong?”

“Please, I can’t stay here any longer!”

“I’ve done nothing!”

“Easy…easy, guys, we found some errors in your profile data. Actually, I don’t have anything to explain so no more questions. Just follow me, okay?”

“So cold,” the soccer team captain muttered.

Oslo and Alexis exchanged their looks. Both were confused. But when the girl thought of her brother’s advice, she continued to obey and told her friends to do so. The girls were taken into the women’s shower rooms which were divided into two small booths as same as the shower rooms in the school’s gyms but here was smaller. As they were allowed to wear the clothes that their parents had prepared for them, not the prisoner’s uniform, this comforted them a little bit.

Jesse, I can trust you, right? 

It was the longest showering she had ever experienced. Staying with Belinda was the same as sitting on the giant ice cube. They were used to be friendly as an acquaintance but now the former student president acted coldly toward her as if they were enemies for ages. Nonetheless, the change of Belinda’s reaction did not irritate Alexis as much as her non-guilty face. Belinda believed that she did the right thing even telling the lie. It was really upset to live with this type of people who blamed everyone but themselves and hated everything but forgot to fix the attitude.

First, June, now Belinda…Alexis exhaled tiredly.

She was confident that their family must take a visit and hoped to get them back but because there was no order to release the adolescents. They might be sitting somewhere in here or mournfully staying at home waiting for the call.

“Do you think we can get out?” Oslo asked when they returned to the cell, fresh and clean. At this time, they moved all teenagers to the same cell and there were only them. The other cells were empty. San Bosa was a peaceful town with 0.02% of the crime rate.

“I don’t feel like that,” Alexis admitted. Her faith in Jesse began to fade away when the clock ticked and ticked. At this point, her disappointment towards the withdrawal of the government scholarship could not disturb anymore. It was the justice she desperately needed it to exist. 

“We can. Maybe it takes some time to check our innocence. The video is just a magic prank. And it’s the best evidence to prove that the bitch beside me reported the false information.”

Belinda glanced sideways to Wade. Alexis tried not to look at the girl when her haughty face had the effect to provoke anger.

“That officer did say that there were errors in our data,” Oslo reminded him. “What errors?’

Everybody closed their mouth, no idea about it.

“If we…If we can’t get out?”

Wade shook his head. “No way! Stop saying that Ossy!”

“Oslo! My name is Oslo.” The boy with red hair yelled. “Bel, why you did it?” Now the boy turned to ask Belinda. Wade did not start another argument which was really thankful. He kept his mouth shut, dying to know too.

Belinda hugged herself tightly and budged to the corner, replied shortly, “I’ve done the right thing.”

Wade evilly laughed. “It’s obvious you tried to eliminate us from the list. You can lie to yourself as you please…arrogant bitch.” He moved away from her as if the girl was the most disgusting insect he could not tolerate to live with while Alexis and Oslo sighed. The girl did understand how Wade’s temper rose easily but it was useless to be frustrated with the person who had no regret for their behavior. The situation attracted her attention more than the will to blame Belinda because it was about her whole life.

Can I believe in you, Jesse? Can I still believe in you? She thought. Jesse had never broken his promise or never lied to make her feel better. But there was something wrong. She was so sure about it.

On the next day, the same officer came to wake them up. Thought that they would be free, they were disappointed again when he just came to serve bread for their breakfast. Wade could not control his temper as always. He started blaming on Belinda but this time she chose the other way to fight him by sleeping. And it brought peace to the other two when Wade had no counterparty to challenge with for a while. Anyway, the heat still existed when Wade tried to make Belinda answered him why she destroyed his party until Oslo was unable to listen to Wade’s complaint anymore.

“Miller! Please shut your mouth. You get on my nerves!”

Before Wade countered, Alexis stopped the new war, “You guys! We can do nothing. Don’t make another quarrel, please? Wade, trust me. No matter you shout or scream or blame anyone, they won’t come to release us unless they receive the order. Calm down, please?”

She placed her hands on his shoulder. Like Alexis could activate his wisdom and tolerance modes, he remembered how she told him what Jesse had suggested what to do; the boy shut his mouth finally. In a few minutes later, this time, the policewoman came.

“Come with me. The interrogation team is waiting for you.” 

They glanced at each other. Only Belinda bubbled to herself, “It’s ok, it’s gonna be ok.”

“Why we have to be interrogated?” Alexis asked the officer.

She did not give the answer. They had to follow her anyway. These officers did not like being questioned. All of them wore the emotionless face. The police officers were not town’s people. They came from other cities, changing their face every two or three years.

The interrogation room had no similarity to the room she had seen in the movie. In the movie, the table stood on the center and the police would perform the interrogation process while the other officers stood behind the glass window listening to the conservation. It was far from likeness and it was scarier. There were no table but four office chairs and four electric chairs that looked like mechanic tormentors in a horror movie. No doubt they were prepared for Alexis and her friends. The atmosphere was not chilling. What would they do to them? Alexis did not understand why they treated them like violent criminals.

Age of terror, it still existed. 

They led Belinda to the first chair and she was crying in fear; Wade sat on the second, speechless. Alexis sat on the third and Oslo sat on the last one. Her legs weakened. She watched the police officer locked her arms on the armrests. The police wore the metal helmet with wires connecting to it on her head. Oslo and Alexis exchanged their eyes, wondering why they had to use this kind of methods to them. Four interrogative officers in black suits entered the room and sat on the empty chairs. Two men and two women sat opposite to the boys and the girls. The woman in front of Alexis put the stonehearted mask on her oval visage, with her eyes fixing on the encounter. The two police, one was the woman who brought them here and another one was Joseph, stood as their assistants. The silence frightened them. The time slowly killed their courage. She heard herself swallowing the saliva and also the beating heart.

She still could not believe it was real.

“Good afternoon young ladies and gentlemen, we brought you here for good information and the truth. Don’t be afraid.” The man opposite to Wade spoke. “We have normal questions to ask you. All we need is the truth, the most truth. You can see that you are sitting on the polygraph. In fact, it’s not the normal lie detector that you may have recognized. Once your mouth spread one lie, the chair will transmit the electrical current to cause an electric shock to you.”

He paused and smiled as if demonstrating how to brush teeth for little kids. “Listen carefully, one lie, your friend on the left-hand side will get the electric shock. And you, redhead,” he mentioned to Oslo, “For your lie, Ms. Carter will pay for it.”

“To warn you all, don’t try if you don’t want to cause pain to your friend. You understand?”

They slightly nodded. Wade fixed his eyes on Alexis, trying to give a message through the eyes contact that he should not have to sit next to Belinda who was the biggest liar among them.

“I must be roasted alive.” She heard him whispering. It did not sound joking but serious.

“Okay, let’s start with Ms. Carter,” the woman on the right-handed side began. “Ms. Carter, tell me if you reported the false information to us that some of your friends who attended the party at the Miller’s mansion performed something that may involve with the qualifications of being the Risk.”

“No”

Wade screamed in pain when the electricity shocked him. In her horror, she saw his big body suddenly shaking violently. The scream of pain made her blood run cold. It lasted just one second. Yes, only one second but that one second killed all her optimism. There was no sign of burns but Wade breathed hardly and was still shuddered for a few minutes after the shock.

“Fuck you, Bitch!” At least, he still had the energy to scold Belinda.

“Are you alright?” Alexis asked him, shocking; still, her heart seemed like it stopped moving for a while when heard his howl. The boy shook his head telling he was alright with a dreadful look. Alexis was incapable of seeing Belinda but heard the former student president’s sudden sobbing. Perhaps, Belinda might feel sorry to cause Wade’s pain which she didn’t mean to do or she was just too scared.

Dad’s right. This is not a joke. This was indeed a torture room, not the interrogation room. Alexis put all her effort to search for the answer to this arrangement but found none.

“May I ask you again, Ms. Carter? Did—you—lie—to—us?” The woman stressed her words.

“Y…es”

Nothing happened. Wade exhaled, soothing.

“Why did you lie?”

Instead of answering them, Belinda preferred crying. For a few seconds, Wade screamed again. “Tell them!” He yelled after taking a breath.

“I—I—I want to win the scholarship. I want to get rid of her. If—If she’s withdrawn, I know I will get it.”

She? Belinda meant to entrap me only? WTH?!

“She? You mean Ms. Davis?”

“Yes. Yes, of course. She was likely to win…and I need the scholarship. I didn’t intend to frame all of them but-but I can’t think of the other way to frame only one.”

“My dear, you can win if she wins. The scholarship provides for five students and we don’t have the quota-limited. It is still possible for you all to win together.”

Belinda sobbed. 

“Thank you, Ms. Carter, you committed the wrongful act in accordance with the Surveillance and Control of the Risks to Humankind Act 2966, Clause 31, the punishment of false accusation committed with the purpose to defame the other to be the Suspect or the Risk, the convict must be sentenced to life imprisonment. You’re convicted.”

Life imprisonment? Alexis thought that it was excessively severe punishment but if she considered if that false accusation destroys someone’s life, for example, Wade, Oslo, and Alexis were withdrawn from the scholarship, it might not overact. However, if they could prove themselves that they were innocent; this punishment for Belinda was a little bit too harsh.

Belinda did beg but Alexis could not catch the words because her pleading fused with her wailing.

“Calm down, Ms. Carter. (Who can? Alexis thought.) If your action leads us to discover any Suspect or any Risk, intentionally or unintentionally, in other words, by your luck, the sentence shall be pardoned. Unfortunately, we still have to give you the other punishment instead.” The woman changed her paper, the act of carelessness. “The good news is we found none evidence demonstrating that you are one of the Suspects or the Risks. Therefore, please wait for the others and we will come back to make the final judgment for your wrongdoing again.”

She ended the interrogation with the fake smile while Belinda could not control her emotions well. Life imprisonment meant the end of everything, the bright future, the dream. Belinda might not expect for the softer punishment. Alexis felt the complexity of her feeling towards Belinda, between sympathy and satisfaction.

The man who had to interrogate Wade moved his focus from Belinda to the boy in front of him. He arranged a pile of papers several times before questioning Wade.

“Mr. Miller, please answer our question carefully. Do you have any idea about this?”

He showed the photo of Peter walking on water. Because the picture had been captured from the video clip, its quality was not good. Wade held his breath, ready to answer. “We tried to make a magic trick video to upload in our school community website. You can see it clearly that there is a glass sheet under the water and four boys in the pool carried it. I am the one who recorded the video. In the video clip, it may look like he can walk on water. We tried to trick our friends and intended to upload the second video that reveals the trick after the first one. Anyway, I was drunk and now I see that it’s a foolishly fake video.”

No electric shock, Alexis listened carefully. In the deepest sense, she knew he would not lie after experiencing the pain he had experienced and his answer was assuring without any staccato rhythm.

“Good. Now this,” he showed another photo. It was the drugs in the party, including packs of cocaine, marijuana cigarettes, and condoms.

Wade confessed immediately, “Only one belongs to me. The others, I don’t know.”

“Which one belongs to you?”

“The cocaine, that one in the blue zip lock.”

“Did you regularly organize sex and drug party?” The officer chortled, so did the others.

“Once a month, does it regularly?” Wade paused and seemed to concern on his bad mouth. He looked at Alexis to see if his answer wronged to them. When she said it was alright, he continued. “No…sir. It’s normal party. You can find it in every party, teens or adults. They always have these things”

“But they’re illegal and you’re the candidate and the team captain.”

“Is condom illegal too?”

The eyes of cruelty glared at them. Alexis got chilling when those eyes fell on her. Wade realized his mistake. “My bad, sir. Yes, I know wholeheartedly they’re illegal.”

The man who questioned Wade controlled his temper. The boy had the irritating habit sometimes but he should know when he could do it.

“Mr. Miller, you are convicted of illegal drug possession less than 100 gram and will be fined 50,000 rels or sentenced one year in jail. Unless we find any Suspect or Risk, your punishment will be pardoned but we still have to give you the other punishment. Like Ms. Carter, we found none evidence indicating you are qualified as the Suspect or the Risk, please wait for the final judgment again.”

Alexis had expected it but she understood that it was impossible to control the temper when their judgment was clearly unfair.

“Excuse me? Do I have to wait for the final judgment? So if you found any Suspect or any Risk, I have to go to the program with them, right? To seal my mouth and my witness in this room, I know what you’re going to do. Can you tell me how it relates to my offense? This is unfair and I want to pay the fine.”

In a flash of time, the electricity passed through Alexis’s body, she could not help but scream in agony. It lasted just one second but absolutely painful, as if it fed all her energy and all she could do was breathe difficultly. The girl tried to control her stiff hands.

It’s not a lie detector. Someone must control it!

“I’m sorry, Alex. I don’t know it will hurt you,” Wade apologized and kept his mouth shut eternally, losing his courage to be against the judgment that lacked legitimacy. This proved that Jesse’s warning was right. These people had made the decision. They could do nothing but listened to their bullshit.

“Do you have anything to say, Mr. Miller?” His tone was full of mockery.

“No sir,” Wade replied, his hands shaking.

“Good.”

Alexis lowered her head in disappointment. Jesse was right but not all of it. He was correct about the authority acted like the bully. Like Mr. Miller’s case, she meant Wade’s father who threatened the police with the will to free his child but the outcome was dissatisfied. More importantly, Wade was right. They tried to close their mouth about this cruel interrogation and unjust judgment. Alexis could sense they attempted to accuse them of the wrongdoing they did not commit. She prepared her mind to handle anything that was going to come to her next.

It took a few times for Alexis to discover the answer. If all the adolescents were released, the government would be the fool in front of the public when they listened to the girl’s lie without proper investigation. She thought she knew what would happen to her. The girl clenched her fists. I can handle it. I can prove that they threaten the innocent children.    

The woman in front of her revealed a soft smile, the same smile that the psycho murderer showed the victims before slaying them cruelly.

“Ms. Davis, tell us what is your special ability that Ms. Stephen tried to cover it from us?”

Alexis sensed the eyes of friends staring at her but she truly did not understand the question how Ms. Stephen related to this case, “Ms. Stephen?” She frequently met this nurse when she was a little but it was long ago. To be honest, Mary Stephen was not the family’s close friend. Bianna, her mother did not like Alexis to play with this nurse.

The corner of her left eye caught how Oslo tried to shrink away but nothing happened.

I speak the truth and my feeling is true, except that someone’s holding the controller.

“Yes, Mary Stephen” The officer stressed her words but the girl was still confused.

Alexis shook her head, “I don’t understand, honestly not’.”

And Oslo was still fine.

The interrogative officers discussed with each other. So she spent this time to survey around the room, learning how the two police stood still like marble sculptures. Alexis could not saw the blond police’s name when her fish tails covering the nametag.

In a few minutes later, the officer continued her job.

“Ms. Davis, please looked at this screen.” Alexis raised her head, watching the plan of this police station on the screen object whose size was similar to a large book. She had never seen this kind of advanced technology before because the users only touched the screen and could control the application via the display screen. The female officer counted to ten then signaled the police Joseph to unlock her right arm. “Please draw the plan,” she ordered and overturned that tablet.

“I’m left-handed sir.” She told him. The cop nodded and changed his position to unlock her left arm.

They gave her a transparent sheet and a black pen. Alexis began to draw the plan from her memory. It took about five minutes then she returned her drawing to Joseph. He locked her arm again.

The woman laid her drawing on the screen. She showed it to everyone in the room. Alexis’s drawing perfectly fitted in the original plan. The other officers nodded to each other.

“When did you discover this skill?

“Maybe seven years old, I’m not sure.”

“With this skill, don’t you think you’re better than anyone else? Or different from the others?” 

“No, it’s just a memorization skill. There are plenty of people have better skills than me or weirder than me. I like it, especially when I have exams.”

Her interviewer laughed softly and bobbed her head.

“Did your parents know?”

Alexis got stunned for a few seconds because she was afraid they would try to arrest her parents too. “…Yes, they said God gives me a very good gift but it doesn’t make me different from the others.”

“They did say that? Don’t you think they try to cover it?”

Alexis tried to be wise. “No. If they try to cover it they would ask me to hide it but they didn’t.” It was the half-truth but the electric shock had not harmed Oslo. 

“She really thinks she’s normal,” the male officer who interviewed Wade interrupted and all of them were nodding in mutual agreement. Their similar gesture stirred up a strange feeling inside her stomach. These people act like the robots from the same factory.

Alexis tried not letting the nervousness troubling her mind. She spoke the truth or at least, she thought it was the truth and it would not harm her. Their attempt to accuse her would be unsuccessful, the girl assured herself. It’s gonna be alright. I just have a good memory. Father always says that it’s a special talent but not the danger. But what happens to Ms. Stephen? Why did they mention her name?

“Ms. Davis, how do you feel when you’re in a dusty room?”

“Itchy, I get running nose and rash on my skin. I’m allergic to dust.”

She hated the way they exchanged their eyes to each other.

At last, the women declared the judgment. “For your case, we can’t say you have hypochondria because you are made to believe that you’re allergic to dust since childhood. It’s our body that sometimes plays trick to us. Ms. Davis, according to your blood test, you have no allergy in anything, which means that you are 100% healthy and Mary Stephen who recorded this false information in your medical history is trying to cover something about you…from us. And it may relate to the talent you have.”

“It’s a normal gift,” Wade blurted out. Again, another electrical shock ran through Alexis’s body. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t say anything. Please?” She begged him even though knowing that he just wanted to protect her and himself for the reason that if they found none who could be the Suspect or the Risk, Wade could just pay the fine and returned to his normal life.

“I’m sorry to say this, but Ms. Davis, you are qualified to be the Suspect.”

It was the same feeling when she saw June and Davy together, the emptiness inside her chest. After that, the greatest disappointment started to move her mind.

“I speak the truth and this skill is just a normal skill,” she said to them, trying so hard to control her voice volume.

“My dear girl, we’re all in mutual agreement that you’re qualified and need to join our rehabilitation program. Don’t worry, child. We can fix you.”

Fix me? Ridiculous. So what? So I can’t argue with your wrong judgment? Alexis tried to steady herself. Be calm. Be calm.

It was hard to accept the judgment with the same old obedience because the judgment denoted the undesirable legal process. A few days ago, apart from the heartbroken story that seemed to be ancient, Alexis still saw her life as the new freshman in the medical school of Delphi in the case that she could not win the scholarship, bright and beautiful her life would have been. She would have joined a sorority and the basketball club, taken the other magazine shootings, and returned home during the breaks. Even though her father did not like the model job, Alexis loved it and dreamed to be the famous model and the smart doctor at the same time. Being the suspect means the end of the bright future, the end of liberation, and the dream. The rehabilitation program they claimed to fix people had never succeeded to cure those whom they charged with. No one returned to tell them what they had faced and how. Alexis could not return home, the best place in this world. She could not return to the people she loved.

Is it…the new freedom they claimed?

“Is there anything to say to us?”

“Obey them,” Jesse voiced in her mind. No, her heart opposed but…How can I do? How can I change their judgment? If I try to defend myself, Oslo will get hurt.

“No” Alexis reluctantly answered. Her eyes brimmed with tears.

She was always obedient but what gave her? Her life was ruined. Alexis was not the only one who was crying. Belinda and Wade also realized their fate. We are merely the slave of the corrupted system.

 “…So if you found any Suspect or Risk, I have to go to the program with them, right?” She looked at Wade but he did not return his gaze to anyone. I’m sorry. I’m sorry I can’t defend myself and you’re dragged with me.

The last one was Oslo. She hoped that he would survive from this unjustness. Even so, the man that interviewed him mentioned about the abnormality of his grades recorded by Mrs. Dobies, their math teacher, and was Ms. Stephen’s sister.

“…Mr. Jessens, it is clear that Mrs. Dobies, similar to Ms. Davis’s case, tried to cover something about you. Regarding all of your profile, it is possible that you are qualified to be the Suspect. We all have the mutual agreement to judge that you are qualified and needed to receive the rehabilitation program as same as Ms. Davis.”

“It’s not clear that I’m one of them. There’s no clear evidence indicating my identity as the suspect. I don’t think I deserve…”

Belinda bellowed in suffering. Oslo closed his mouth tightly. Alexis saw the tears at the corner of his eyes but he held it bravely. In this room, everyone’s name should be removed from this fucking H01 case. They swallowed the bitterness inside because sometimes tears could not release the entire sorrow they were enduring now. How was their future? Who ought to be responsible for it? How would the program treat them? Who knew?

Bullshit, this is bullshit.

Chapter 9: Teacher's Tale

Under the small light on the white-gray ceiling panel, she was there but not her mind. Alexis sank into the sea of despair. The others might be drowning too, in the same ocean. Unquestionably, all were suffocating.

She darted a glance to Wade and Belinda. Guilty she felt even though did not know why blaming herself. Wade’s father certainly could pay the amount of fine to make him free if there was no Suspect found. Belinda could assign an attorney to plead for softer punishment. The judgment had no difference from life imprisonment. They were doomed.

The blond-haired boy lied down with a small injury on his arms and shoulders. After the completion of interrogation, as he was freed from the locks, the boy darted to the governmental officers aiming at attacking. Lucky enough, yes, Alexis used the right word. If the two police had not caught him in time, Wade would be sentenced with more serious punishment due to harming the state officers. They beat him with the bats but the girl knew that this was the only way to stop his silly madness.   

“I’m sorry.”

Oslo was the first who spoke it out. They did not utter any single word after returning to the cell. 

“I should say that too,” Alexis said. “You two should not be here.”

“You two? No, all of us should not be here. No one’s fault but her,” Wade stood up. His eyes glowed fiercely at Belinda. “Because of you! You destroy our life!”

Alexis and Oslo restrained him before he could attack the girl. Belinda wept helplessly and crawled to the corner. It was the first time she showed them the fear and the first time she surrendered to him, dared not to fight against him anymore.

“She’s a girl!” Oslo reminded the bigger boy.

Like I care!” Too strong, even two people hardly stopped him. “You, that-Stephen-woman, and Mrs. Dobies! They must pay for us.

“I’m sorry, Miller.”

The voice behind their back belonged to the newcomer. Actually, there were two newcomers. Ms. Stephen and Mrs. Dobies were standing on the central aisle. Both of their hands got handcuffed. The most appalling was their look that did not differ from maenads—well in the negative meaning. Their hairs were crazily messy and some parts of their skin got burnt. Their familiarity with Mrs. Dobies was more than Ms. Stephen. She, once, was a very charming woman that usually had her blonde hair in a neat high bun and always painted scarlet red color on her lips. Her entire appearance now contrasted to her usual image. The red on her lips now tainted with blood. Her brightness faded from her beautiful face. Ms. Stephen had no better condition than her older sister. It was visible that they had not only been tortured by the electric shock but also brutally beat.

“We’re so sorry,” Alexis said.  

Belinda crawled to the cell bar, regretfully, asking the teacher if they were alright. Again, the first gesture demonstrated that Belinda Carter cared the others, “What did they do to you? I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it.”

Mrs. Dobies had the heart of the true teacher. Her eyes gently revealed forgiveness to the girl. Alexis lost her strength again. Their condition was worse. Ms. Stephen almost leaned on her sister. They nearly lost their balances.

The kids should blame them. They should curse them. Instead of doing that, they cried: silently crying and flooding tears on the faces, all of them. Mrs. Dobies was the most favorite teacher most students admired. She was funny, kind, and devoted. Although Wade might blame her at first because of his hot temper but when she was standing before him like this, how could a mild heart have no pity on her? She had previously been their guardians, their second parent, and what did she look like now? Alexis was afraid of her parents’ fate. Did they torture them too? And how about her brothers and sister, Elodie, June, and Davy? How are they?

“Get inside, ma’am” The police, short and a little bit bald, told them gently. He was not Joseph. People called him Bruce. He was one of the police who had come to Wade’s mansion and detained all the teenagers there. When Ms. Stephen was about to fall, he helped support her.

“This one is kinder,” Oslo whispered. Alexis agreed. If Joseph or the blonde police was here, they would let them fall.

The two women moved inside the cell that faced them. Bruce smiled at them with sympathy and walked away.

Seeing the two women weighted more pressure on their shoulders. Oslo sat on his knee; she knew how he lost. No hope glanced at them. They had to accept the reality that life came to the end. Alexis wiped the tears away. Crying did not save anyone. 

“How is my family?” Alexis asked her teacher.

“They’re fine. Don’t worry. It’s Mary’s work, not your father’s. Only us they interrogated. I’m sorry. We’re really sorry for you all. We try to protect you from the witch’s hunting. But…,” then sighed.

Mrs. Dobies was entirely weak but forced herself to give some explanation, especially about actions. She said the authority chased the people whom they regarded as the threat to the system. Owing to the fact that the source of superhuman quality was still unknown, it was dangerous to let them be free. She did not know how the rehabilitation program would treat them. She had no idea.

“If you want to know why, this is our reason to do this. Before you were born, the government founded the special unit for chasing the Risk specifically but because these people began hiding their identity, the qualifications of being the Risk, therefore, has been declared and the word ‘Suspect’ has been added for those who tend to be the Risk even their talent is invisible. People opposed to this measure and they were defeated. Those that sit behind the government could not sit in peace. The riot rose and was eliminated and the new one rose again. The cycle of chaos found no end. The government realized that when people feel like they are being over-controlled, it will cause more trouble than letting they think that the government is under their control. Later, they declared the deposition of the special unit in order to respond and to reduce the protest but it still works in secret until now.”

“How do you know about this?” Alexis asked and then she thought of the mysterious case of Desiree Dalka which Jesse had made her read it. Some people know but lost the way to transfer the information or were prohibited from doing so. It was dangerous but the danger is also a good seduction. The protestors still worked secretly. Listening to their voice’s tone, it was clear enough that they told them the fact, not from the imagination.

“That time was the age of terror,” Oslo guessed.

“Yes, it was. I’d never understood that kind of terror until it happened to my family. What made the protestors defeated is because of the ignorance of people. Not all the people thought about the other’s right. My family was the ignorance too until the police visited our house. And then we became the victims. On my birthday thirty years ago, our mother and our sister were killed.” Her jade green eyes were full of tears when recalling the worst memory. Alexis hugged herself, attentively listening.

“The cops visited our house and tried to drag Molly, our sister, with them. They said she was the threat to the nation. My mother protected her so she was shot. The bullet killed both of them. My birthday was ruined. Even now, I still remembered my sister’s lifeless eyes. But one thing I and Mary could not see is her ability. She died before I see it. Or maybe she died without possessing it.”

“I’m sorry to hear that Ms. Dobies.” Alexis felt ill when she heard this story. “You don’t have to tell us if it makes you down.”

The teacher shook her head. “No, my dear Davis. I must tell you. You all must know. Everyone must know. After the tragedy, our family moved twice to escape the scene that keeps haunting us. Mary and I tried our best to prevent the same thing happened to the other families. I don’t want my students to have the same fate as my sister. I love you all and I want to protect you. But we didn’t think it will end like this. Mr. Jessens, your calculation skill is above the other. Yes, it’s not strange. It’s gifted. But I was too afraid that it would attract their interest so I changed some of your tests before submitting to the central education headquarters. You still get A from me but not perfect A. I did it too much…And I cause you trouble.”

She moved her eyes on Alexis.

“And Ms. Davis, your memory is too magical but because Mary put the wrong information on your medical profile and you have never outshined it so I let this work to my sister.”

“I haven’t known both of them have the super brain,” Wade said.

“It’s not the super brain,” Alexis corrected him. “It’s just a skill.”

“Yes, just a skill. We thought it was the best way to protect them but if they did not find out, they won’t interrogate you. They will think it’s the make-up story by Ms. Carter only.”

Alexis thought of her parents. They insisted that her gift was just a normal gift but she was better not to show off because it might cause annoyance and hatred when someone overacted in something. Now she understood that they tried to protect her like Ms. Stephen and Mrs. Dobies had done. Sometimes a gift could be a curse.

“I don’t know who to be blamed. I don’t see the point of it.” Alexis revealed what she truly felt right now. “They want to put us in this case. It’s no doubt. If it’s not us, the victims can be others. If it’s not you, they still force us to be the convicts. They can free Wade but they don’t. It’s not about who to be blamed, Mrs. Dobies. It’s about the system and the power users. Carter might start the fire but if there’s no fuel, we won’t sit here.”

“She’s right,” Oslo supported her thought.

“I am the fuel,” The nurse uttered. It was like she ran out of energy. “My…because of our action, they dig up the whole system in our district. The other kids would be arrested soon if they…Oh, Meg! If they find out.” She started to cry. Mrs. Dobies comforted her sister.

“No, you’re not.” Alexis denied. “It’s the system, the act, the people…it’s those people who sit behind those chairs…they have no right to do this…to all of us.”

The girl looked at her feet, wondering how she had felt before. The scholarship was the goal she dreamed of since childhood but to be part of the dirtiness and the absolute authority, being a puppet was never the thing she dreamed of.

Because I was Mr. Naïve like you but now I become Mr. Brightside,” Jesse’s words replaying in her mind. It’s too late for me to become Ms. Brightside.

“They have the right to do everything.” This time Oslo protested her words. “That’s why we’re here. We’re over. We can't do anything. We have to admit it. I don’t blame you, Mrs. Dobies. Your intention is goodwill. I blame the fate. My life is over. Goodbye, my future.” And he returned to his place, sitting and admitting the reality.

No one said anything more but the silence reflected their agreement that the boy was right.

The teens had no more questions to ask the teacher. She looked totally weak and they let her rest with her sister. Belinda kept crying and no one thought about comforting her when everyone had their own misery to bear. Alexis sat leaning her back on the wall trying to calm her thought. It was the end. No more university life, no more social life, nothing left to yearn for.

In the evening, they hardly consumed foods but they were tasteless anyway. There was no new information announced so Alexis did not know when she would leave here and if they would allow them to meet their family or not.

“Please, we do nothing. We don’t know anything about the false information.”

Alexis and the other poked their head to the cage door when they heard the new voices. They saw the other teenagers were detained. Most were younger than them. Mary Stephen wept again. 

“I don’t know what she’s done!” Mrs. Dobies focused on her laps with her sister lied her head on. The new cellmates cursed the two and, of course, Belinda too. The girl with the chocolate color hair kept herself at the corner, covering her ears.

“You guys, please tell us what they will do to us?” Anthony Hernandez asked loudly from the next cell.

Alexis wanted him to keep his mouth shut. Telling the truth would make them scare but keeping silence caused the same thing. She did not know how to answer them.  

“Electric shock and shut the fuck up!” Wade replied. The younger boy dared not to ask again. Perhaps, her friend’s answer shocked him and the others.

“You don’t have to put all your temper on them. They’re frightened,” Alexis warned.

Wade did not answer, fixing his eyes on the bruises on both arms.

The newcomers kept talking among their group while the other two cells sat in silence. The new ones still had hope like Alexis and her friends before entering that room. Alexis glared at the ceiling without certain thought and she fell asleep.

During the night, the girl dreamed that she was freed. Their judgment had been amended and they were judged as the innocent. Until she heard the noise outside the cell as if someone talking, Alexis hardly opened her eyes. She was too sleepy to wake up at that time.

“Don’t even touch them.”

“So you’ll come with me?”

Who’s speaking? Then she succumbed to sleepiness.

**********

The next day, four teenagers were allowed to meet their family and friends. Elodie came with Alexis’s parents and she cried all the time, blaming herself that she was the real cause of Alexis’s trouble. The girl spent a lot of time to comfort her dark-haired friend instead of being comforted. Her father said if Alexis had not been there, she would be arrested anyway because of Mary Stephen’s confession (or being forced to do).

“The newspaper stated that three crème students of San Bosa High School involved with drugs. How could they write that fake news?” Jesse complained.

“They’re forced to write that thing,” her father explained.

“At least it did not show our names, didn’t it?” asked Alexis.

“Nope, if there are any, I will sue them.”

“You sound like Wade’s father.”

She noticed that her mother and Bryce rarely spoke. It was hard to manage their feeling. They sat quietly watching her talking with Jesse. At the same time, Elodie’s cry echoed all over the room. Even her father and Jesse were extremely tired as she observed them. They might put all the effort to save her in every way but failed. Her brother completely lacked all of his confidence, comparing to the assurance he had given her two days ago. Well, nobody expected this would have happened to Alexis, to become a wrongdoer or the threat to the nation.

“You all look deadly alive like zombies,” she tried to make a joke but it was the worst joke ever.

“You have to go?” asked Little Charlie, the only one who was not infected by the depression. He was too young to understand that his sister would never come back to him, never teach him drawing, never take him to eat ice-cream and pizza, and never play with him, never and never again.

“She will come back,” Bryce spoke. The sister gave her a hard-breathing hug. “Right?”

They shared the room for almost fifteen years. Being sisters and best friends for most of their lives and one day when one of them had to sleep alone; it was so depressing to imagine how loneliness both had to encounter. 

“Please…” Alexis pleaded. Resisting the tears was super hard. Little Charlie stared fixedly at her, demanding for the answer.

“I try, Monkey,” replied she then he was satisfied.

“Do you know?” her mother finally revealed her voice but to her father. “Do you know about the fake information that Mary did?”

Caleb nodded guiltily.

“And you let she did it?”

“No one’s fault,” the girl interrupted at once before her mother said anything more. She did not want their parents arguing in front of everyone at this time and they had never done any single time since she became their daughter. The grief devoured all hope in the room and she needed not the heat of rage or quarrel because the time to stay with them was running out every second.

“They said the departure date will be announced within tomorrow. Alex, I’m sorry. I can’t do anything for you. I’m incapable of doing anything. I’m useless.”

“I said no one’s fault,” she repeated and took off Bryce’s arms before being out of breath.

Bianna asked Jesse again if he could find any good attorney. And they had to listen to Jesse’s explanation (how many times he had to do it she could not count). The fact was the offense of being the suspect under the act 2966 forbade the defense from the accused’s side. The law was unappeasable and the verdict meant unchangeable. During two hours, they discussed the law, the possibility of Alexis’s liberation, and the system. In the final minutes, Bianna could not make her mind steady, she cried to Jesse, demanding him to find the way, blaming the authority. Jesse had to take her out of the room before the police officer did it with the barbaric manner.

It was time for them to go. The girl smiled at her father, trying so hard to be strong in his eyes.

“Tomorrow, we will come again. Take care of yourself, my girl,” her father said and kissed her forehead. Bryce and Elodie did the same but Little Charlie lingered a little bit. “You promise to come back, please? I want to draw an elephant. You’re the best at it and Jesse’s drawing is suck.”

“How can you learn to speak like that?” she cried while carrying him on her laps.

“Jesse always said the system is suck and full of bloody people.”

Alexis closed her eyes. Next time, the brother must be lectured. “Don’t say that words. It’s rude, you know? I can’t promise you, Monkey. I try my best, okay?”

Instead of giving him her promise, she gave him a big kiss on his full cheek. Because she knew she would break it, father taught her not to make any promise that she could not keep.

Charlie jumped down and waved back with his bright smile before getting out with her family. The handcuff locked her hand on the table so she had to watch them go away although the heart followed them.

That day, their friends and teachers at the school visited them too. She began to sympathize with Belinda when all of them preferred to meet only three of them. There were the cheerleading team, the soccer club, the basketball club, the astronomy club, etc. Davy came too, with the soccer team but June still ghosted away even her mother who was familiar with Alexis’s family had not shown up.

If you just show up, I will forget everything. I will forgive everything. Alexis missed her best friend from childhood. Although the conflict between them damaged their friendship beyond repair, June’s betrayal caused the severe pain, truly. Anyway, the girl knew wholeheartedly that they would never meet again so she needed the good ending. Another reason, even though she bore the knife June had left it, Alexis hoped her friend would take it off and they could reset thing together before she departed. In the profoundness of her heart, Alexis just wanted June to say sorry. That was all she needed.

The girl was taken outside the visiting room, waiting for Wade, Oslo, and Belinda. They were walking towards. The police Bruce, standing beside her, clapped his hand on her shoulders gently.

“You’ll see them again tomorrow, young lady.”

She nodded. “Do you mind if I ask a question?”

“You still have time. Go on, girl.”

The girl smiled with relief. He did not act coldly to them like the other two police whom they frequently met.

“What they will do to us at the program?”

Bruce sighed. “I can’t answer you because I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t know. Sorry girl.”

“Hey!” Wade greeted her.

“Let’s go back.” The police guided their way. They passed Anthony’s group that was heading to the interrogation room.

“Good luck!” Wade shouted. The other group turned to him, perplexed.

“Go on!” The blonde police urged and pointed at Wade with the warning gesture. Alexis’s group watched them disappeared behind that door.

“You’re mean!” She elbowed her friend. “Don’t you see their faces?”

“I warn them,” Wade claimed.

“Stop the girl!”

Alexis turned and she heard the chaos. Then the scream of people sneaked out of that room. 

“Get back to the cell, right now!” Bruce ordered with the walkie-talkie in his hand. “We need back up. Interrogation Room. Repeat! We need back up. Interrogation Room.”

Chapter 10: Inner Monster

“It’s the vivid light—so vivid. My butt didn’t touch the seat yet and I couldn’t see anything. The light blinded me, no, blinded us. They fought against her. There’s gunshot and Sonya tried to flee. I heard them saying that. Not really sure. I can’t see it. They fought her to stop.”

“What’s her power?” asked Wade.

“The light! It’s the light.” Anthony raised his voice volume.

“Light?”

“Yeah, the light,” Anthony repeated.

Wade turned to her, doubtful. “I don’t’ understand. How the light can harm people?”

“It’s the same way we can’t look at the sun during the midday.” Alexis guessed. “Am I correct?”

“Yeah-yeah, something like that, or maybe she can control the light. The light burned things. Or it’s about the heat. Whatever, but after she was taken away, I saw all light bulbs burned. Two girls got injured too. Their skin burnt and they are unable to open their eyes. They probably stay at the hospital now.”

Alexis’s group exchanged the news from Anthony’s group, from cell to cell. “I think Sonya was scared. When she saw those chairs, she burst her everything out. It might be an accident.”

“What’s going on with her now?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know where they take her.”

Alexis looked at the cell where they put Mrs. Dobies and her sister inside. Now the cell was empty.

“What about the interrogation?” Wade still asked for more information.

“It terminates but I’m not sure if it’s temporary or not. Hope they cancel it forever.”

The former soccer captain returned to Oslo and Alexis. “Well, who is Sonya Romuller?”

Alexis rolled her eyes. 

“A junior student, she’s quiet but really nice,” Oslo answered him. “I thought you know a lot of people?”

Wade shook his head, “No not a lot. But you can’t tell me I have to recognize everybody in the school, especially the quiet ones.”

“I saw her at your party regularly.”

“No, I usually don’t pay attention to the guests. When I said, ‘hey, come to my party’, people parade into my house from word-to-word. I haven’t known you until we’re here. Alex, do you know this Sonya?”

Alexis nodded. “She sings for the school’s choir.”

“So this one is really the Risk.” Wade turned to Belinda who sat far from them. “Congratulations!” He clapped his hands slowly. “You did help them find the real one!”

“Stop it. Leave her alone,” Oslo cried. “Just leave her alone, okay?”

“Okay, Saint Oslo,” Wade muttered with playful eyes.

 A couple hours later, the police came and they released the other group. Alexis pressed her face against the metal bars. It was the first time since the interrogation that there was the sign of hope. Miracle, please. I know you’re here.

Her eyes fixed on Anthony’s group. When the police ordered them to get out, they were reluctant to do.

“Don’t you want to go home? You’re free now.”

“How about them?” Anthony pointed to Alexis’s cell. “You’ll release them too? You already found the Risk.”

Alexis would like to kiss him once.

“They’re convicted as the Suspect. (“Me?” Wade yelled.) If you won’t go, I’ll put you inside. And you, Miller boy, shut your mouth.”

“Why?” Wade asked. “You let them go. Why don’t let us? You already found the Risk. We’re not.”

“I already said you’re the Suspect,” Joseph replied and showed the bat. “Need another hit?’

Alexis resumed her place, laughing to mock herself. Oslo who was still leaning on the wall smiled at them scornfully. “You two still hope?”

“Yep,” she admitted. “Is it wrong?”

“I didn’t mean to offend you, Alex.” Oslo shook his head. “Well, I don’t know what to do even to hope so I go to sleep. Sweet dream both of you.” The boy with red hair laid his back on the solid floor. They slept like this for three full days now. Certainly, it was not comfortable at all. Alexis got the back pain and she needed a full day in the spa.

“They’re lucky,” she still talked to Wade. “They didn’t receive that treatment and the judgment haven't been made yet. I wish I have that luck.”

Wade squeezed her shoulder. “I know. Feel the same thing but can’t do anything.”

They sat quietly for a while. Her eyes fixed on Oslo who slept peacefully.

Then Wade said, “It’s funny… I agree with him. The only thing we can do is sleeping.” 

Alexis sniggered.

Wade lay down. “You can lay your head on my arm? Or here?” The boy hit on his chest, slyly grinning. Alexis kicked one of his legs and laid herself on the floor next to Oslo.

“Where did they take them?” Alexis meant Mrs. Dobies and Ms. Stephen.

“Donno. Hope it’s not another torment.”

There were only four prisoners. The ambiance was deader than the other previous days. She watched the plain ceiling until surrendering to the weight of her eyelids, the girl fell asleep. 

**********

How many hours passed she was not certain but was sure that it was not morning yet. It might be the wee hours of the new morning. Alexis felt someone shaking her arms softly. Her eyes blinked before seeing a man in navy blue uniform kneeling beside her. Alarmed, the girl almost shouted but he covered her mouth and shook his head. The light from a small neon bulb brightened and revealed those dark brown eyes which gave a sudden turbulence stirred inside her stomach. Bruce whispered that there was an emergency call from her family.

The door was opened and Bruce came inside to wake her up. It seemed he did not want to disturb the others.

“What happened to them?”

His brows tied a frown warning not to make more questions which surprised her. Bruce was not the same kind uncle she had met before. Alexis got up and unintentionally woke Oslo. “Ere doo yoou goo?” He asked yawning and when he saw the officer inside the cell he became fully awakened. “What?”

“Sorry. I have an emergency call,” she whispered back while Wade’s snore echoed all around. Bruce made the exit and urged the girl to follow him.

When she got out, Bruce locked the cell again and told Oslo to continue sleeping. However, as she turned back, Alexis still saw Oslo’s eyes following.

“Bad news? What happened to my family?” Alexis worried. Bruce’s haste made her think of bad things occurred to them.

“You’ll know.” 

The police station at this hour was noiseless, comparing to the madness on the first day she was here. Alexis had never stepped inside the police station until being arrested. There were no other accused imprisoned for further legal processes. There were only them.

The door ahead slightly opened so she could listen to the sound that sneaked out. The girl looked through the gap, seeing Joseph and his female partner dozing off on the table. They met these two officers more often than the others so when she saw their sleeping posture which was against their hostility, it amused her. She was not sure which rank they were but might not that big. Observing the insignia on Bruce’s shoulders, she found it was no different from the insignia on the two sleeping officers. They were the same rank.

Bruce made the soft sound to accelerate her speed. She just walked past the police’s canteen which was looked like a small kitchen. There might be the other officers in the lobby. During the walk, her mind fused with many ideas about her family. Her anxiety mainly focused on Bianna. Last time which meant this last morning, they saw each other, the depression consumed her badly.

Alexis noticed Bruce’s odd behavior as they must turn left to go to the visiting rooms but he still led her to the way where the end was the storage room and the fire exit.

It was not where he told her where the emergency call was. The phone booth was in the visiting room and the lobby.

Alexis paused. “Sir, that’s not the right way. Where will we go, the lobby or the visiting room?”

Bruce grabbed her arms, “This way, girl. I’m working here, forget it?”

He was right but Alexis did not feel alright. The girl politely removed his hand away, “Sir, who called? What the emergency is about?”

“If you speak again, I will slap the doubt out of your little head, I promise.”

He took of the kind man’s mask. Alexis looked up. The way ahead could not convince that she would be saved. The girl nodded, pretended to be obedient and when the police turned away, she started to run.

“Help!”

Something hit her back with an instance. Might be a bat. The acid pain stopped her movement so Bruce could reach her in time. His fat hand covered her mouth. The officer dragged the girl into the storage room. She was thrown inside and when she looked up, there she saw a girl tied with chains. Her body stood against the wall. The blindfold covered her eyes and the tape covered her mouth. Her black hair loosed out of the braids. She got bruised and blood all over her body. What horrified Alexis more than anything was the blood on her skirt. Her tears poured down like a rapid stream. Besides Sonya, a policeman stood guarding the victim. The top uniform loosed out of his pants. He took off his belt, smoking cigarette.

 Behind Alexis’s back, the gun pointed at her waist. The sweat instantly poured out of her body and her feet turned cold.

“She yelled. I’m not sure if Joseph and Helga heard or not. Silas is in the lobby. And Roger is on his duty in the town.”

“Go check if they heard r or not,” the one who was standing inside the room gave the commanded. He was not either tall or short but bigger than Bruce. She rarely saw him. The name tag on his shirt declared he was named “Cameron.” Alexis heard Bruce opened the door. The girl tried to calm herself. Here was where Sonya Romuller was chained and tortured…and raped. Alexis would be the next. These two tricked her for the cruel intention.

“Sonya!” Alexis called the girl. Her body shook a little. The girl was aware of a friend’s existence. Cameron fanned his head. “No talk, little bitch.”

“Why you take me here?” It was the stupid question. Alexis already knew but she did not know what to say properly. Sonya can blind them…but how? She did not know how to help the girl and herself. There were two policemen with two bats and two guns.

Bruce returned. “They’re still sleeping.”

“Let’s be quick. I’m bored with this one.” Cameron pointed to Sonya. “You turn.” 

Her eyes wandered around. Cameron left his bat and the walkie-talkie on the table, except for the gun which he was holding it. Then he said something that came up to his mind.

“Bruce…I thought there are two.”

“The other one’s sleeping like a corpse. I can’t wake her up. But this one is the prettiest.”

“I see. Come closer, pretty girl.”

Alexis did not move but begged instead. “Please, let me go. I won’t tell anyone. I swear!” Think, Alex! You must find the way out!

“Rope or tape?” Bruce offered his colleague. They talked like they did it often.

“No. I’ll love kissing her. Just use the gun. We don’t have much time.”

They communicated with each other, ignoring her pleading. “Please, don’t do this. Please.” She pleaded with the two men. “You’re the police. Please, don’t do this.”

Bruce aimed the gun at her while the other one was taking off his pants.

 “Don’t’ make more sounds, pretty. Take off your shirt. Don’t act like you don’t know what I mean. A girl like you is no virgin. Come on. Show me how good you are.”

“Hey, I’m first. Your turn is the black head,” Cameron reminded his buddy. Now he was standing with only a boxer. Bruce groaned. Alexis tried to speed up her brain. Her eyes glanced at Sonya. She could blind them…but she is being blinded. Bruce came closer to Sonya and massaged her tight. The girl in chains shook violently protesting.

“No, please! Don’t touch her,” Alexis cried. Think, Alex. There must be the way out. “I’ll do anything to please you two. But please, don’t beat me and her.” The girl did not know how to fix the situation so she bought some time with the stream of words while the brain worked fully loaded. 

Cameron smirked. “Bruce, this one tries negotiating. Is that a deal, pretty girl?”

Alexis refused. “No, sir. I mean to serve. I-I know what you want…I know how to please you. Please, don’t beat me. I love my face. I love my body. I love them to be pretty. And I’m sure you want me to be pretty. You can call me anytime you want. Just don’t beat me and her.”

“If we didn’t chain her, she’ll kill us. Don’t worry. She totally bored me,” Cameron eyed at her with eager interest. “Prove your words. See? I’m bare hands.”

“She wants us to fuck her…together” Bruce left Sonya alone. His face could not hide the thrill but Cameron did not buy this idea.

“No, I don’t like that.” So he approached and pulled Alexis’s hair, keeping the new fresh victim with himself. The girl struggled on the ground, moaning in pain, yet he still pulled her hair roughly. Cameron’s eyes revealed all the dirty thoughts inside that ugly head. His sweat slightly dropped on the floor, excited to abuse another weaker. When he saw she was unmoved, he said, “You said you know how to please men. Prove it. But you must prove it to me first until I’m satisfied then you can prove yourself to him.”

Her eyes fixed on the walkie-talkie behind him. Her face rose up, “Sit sir. I assure my words.” Cameron smiled and sat. Alexis slowly moved her hand to his leg and his abs. She exercised all her tolerance to endure this disgusting creature. “Smile.” She obeyed and smiled without the heart in it.

“Little whore.” 

As she saw Bruce turned back to Sonya and Cameron lowered his head to kiss her, she let him kissed her hair, touching her face as he wanted. Seeing the opportunity, the girl bumped her head to his head, grabbed the walkie-talkie while he got dizzy, and slammed the device on Cameron's head without saving her force.

He howled with cursing.

Alexis smashed his head again and he fell on the chair. Meanwhile, Bruce turned and aimed the gun at her. Alexis abruptly stopped her move but Bruce did not shoot. The girl understood immediately that he dared not make any sound. Therefore, Alexis already turned on the device and shouted, “HELP, STORAGE ROOM, HELP!”

“Bitch!”

Alexis tossed the device to Bruce. He drew back letting the gun down. Being the crème student was not about luck; with the chair that once had supported Cameron’s nasty ass, she used all her strength hitting the ugly monster who was moaning on the floor several times and hit the other man who came to stop her. It was fast. Only a second she saw the chance to flee. Every second meant her life and Alexis made a great effort not to lose any second; she raced to the door still shouting out for help. Her hand grabbed the doorknob, turned around…screamed

It was too late. Both were not ordinary men but a villain in disguise of good police. The strong hands seized her small ankle and dragged her to him. It was Cameron. Alexis lost her balance and fell to the ground again. This time, the chin got hurt and she tasted the blood inside her mouth. Cameron was frustrated, very. Every beat of his bat was heavy and totally hurt to the bone. Alexis used her arms to defend the hit without thinking of surrender. She smelt his sweat and at last, he was on her body with his hands going under her bra. The girl could not scream anymore when he covered her mouth. Cameron spent a few time to cease his action just to listen for any strange sound before continuing the abuse.

“Cameron, I think they heard.”

“Shut up, coward. Go out and check them. I have to teach this little slut.” 

You guys must hear something! She hoped that some cops heard and noticed the ugly crime was occurring inside the legal office. It was just a desperate hope.

Or they let this thing happened?

Her heart nearly burst when he whispered dirty words. She could not listen to those horrible things he planned to do to her. The girl thought of her family and cried with tears pouring on the monster’s hand. When he started messing her jeans, thankfully, it was the skinny jeans which forbade him to undress the owner too easily. “Don’t’ wear skinny jeans, it’s unhealthy!” One column in the newspaper had warned the girls. But it can protect you from being raped. If she could survive this, Alexis swore to be loyal to Lexy brand for all her life.

Her injured arms forcefully resisted his. Cameron continued beating and slapping.

“She’ll be dead!” Bruce warned.

“I fuck her corpse!”

“Stop it, Cameron.”

“They come?”

“I don’t hear anything.”

“Go fuck that girl!” 

Like a slave in thousands of years ago, she was. The authority did not only destroy her life but also the power users degraded how Alexis was…a human being. How many victims had been treated like a waste toy like them?

“I won’t fuck the corpse,” Bruce stopped Cameron. They left Alexis breathing hard. The pain was all over her body. They were arguing.

“We must take her back. If they see what we’re doing, we’re doomed.”

How the hell places on earth? Alexis tried to move away.

“Not quick, bitch.” He jerked her hair. “Help me take off the bloody jeans!”

“No! Cameron. Joseph and Helga may not hear it. But Silas and Roger may do!”

Bang! A light of miracle glowed into the room where the beast Cameron flew to the wall by a fly-kick. Everything stopped dead.

Bruce drew back.

“What the fuck are you doing?”

Alexis heard Joseph’s voice but she could not see him. “Help…” She cried.

“Man, calm down. We can talk. You can play with two girls!” It was Cameron who tried to negotiate with Joseph.

“What—are—you—fucking—doing!” It was not the question. Alexis gradually sat with her back leaning on the table’s leg.

“If you don’t understand, don’t mad at me.” Cameron reached the gun. Too slow, Joseph fired a shot at his arm. The naked man collapsed on the ground, howling like an injured dog. Bruce, the coward, surrendered, raising both of his hands in the air. “This bastard forced me!” But Joseph did not buy it. The gunshot resounded again and Bruce fell on Cameron. The rescuer hit his colleagues several times until the blood of Bruce and Cameron spilled all over him. The icy blue in those eyes, at that right moment, melt into the ocean fire.

“You—have—to—pro—tect—them—not—des—troy—them! How—can—you—do—this—to—them!”

The beating stopped, he abandoned the nearly dead Bruce and Cameron and turned to the young victim with his face painted by the splash of red blood. Alexis was watching the hitting scene all the time. Still frightened, the girl crept under the table, violently trembling in fear, fearing him too.

“What happened?” His buddy ran inside and covered her mouth when she saw Bruce and Cameron lied in the pool of their own blood.

“Helga, they tried to…” His eyes avoided the girl. “You see.”

“Damn! What’s on their mind?” Helga cursed and offered her hand to Alexis who hid under the table. Seeing her kind gesture, Alexis got out of the temporary shelter. Helga wrapped her arms around the girl in a protective manner. “It’s alright. It’s alright.” The first gentleness she showed to the prisoner. Alexis slightly glanced at the rescuer but he avoided her eyes all the time, the way he often did to all of them. At that moment, she realized why he had never looked into their eyes, why Joseph pretended to have the face of a dead man.

To protect not to destroy.

“I’ll unchain you but promise me not to do anything harmful to us. I’ll send you to the hospital. Your family will be with your side. Okay?” He made the deal with Sonya.

“Seph, she’s dangerous,” Helga objected.

“They hurt her. You know what I mean. I shouldn’t let them guard the girl…if I knew they’re evil monsters.”

Alexis saw him mildly unchained the girl. Sonya fell into his arms. She could not stand. When Joseph unfolded her eyes and mouth, Sonya looked around as if she was searching for something until she saw Alexis with Helga.

“Are you alright?” Her voice was very low like whispering.

Alexis nodded, silently weeping.

“I heard…you tried…to save me…”

“Don’t talk, girl. I will send you to the doctor. Don’t be afraid. They can’t harm you anymore.”

The girl laughed crying in her throat then she looked at the light bulbs. 

“Seph, No!” Helga pressed Alexis’s head on her chest and everything turned silent. The heat licked up her arms. She heard the scream of pain. It took a few minutes that the policewoman allowed her to see what happened. Two bulbs were broken. Helga’s both arms were red as if she got sunburnt. When Alexis looked at Joseph, one side of his cheeks was red too. And Sonya in his red arms lied dead with her face burning. No one got serious wounds or hurt, except Joseph who might get the intermediate injury. Alexis did not know how Sonya did it but she perceived her power.

“Oh God. Seph? Are you alright?”

He shook his head. “She killed herself.” They looked at each other. Both were speechless. “You reported our boss. I’ll call Silas and Roger to help me with these two. You take the girl back to the cell.” 

“She’s injured.”

“Do what you have to. Oh…Helga, you have to contact the Romuller family as well and the Davis.”

“No!”

“What?”

“They're worried enough.”

Helga shook her head. “They’ll know anyway. Come with me, Ms. Davis.” 

Alexis was so tired even to cry. The tears still slowly poured down on her cheeks. Sonya…killed herself. It was the rage inside her heart. Many “why?” questions battled in her mind. In the deeper sense, the girl understood why Sonya had made this final decision. The way they did to the dead girl while she had been chained, unable to resist, was terrible, she knew what they did to her. Alexis felt like she wanted to vomit.

Helga took her to the infirmary room. There were a lot of bruised from the hit and small fresh wounds on her arms. The policewoman thought about sending her to the hospital and decided not to do so. Alexis regarded herself in the mirror. The girl inside was not Alexis anymore. She was a broken girl, physically and mentally.

“God! What’s going on?” Oslo asked at once as he saw her came back. Wade and Belinda woke up and they gasped.

“Why you tortured her?” Her athletic friend showed his fits to Helga. “Why you have to do this?”

“Not her,” Alexis corrected.

Helga was tired of Wade’s condemnation so she walked away as Alexis stayed inside the cell. Wade embraced her carefully as if she was porcelain. “Are you alright? Why didn’t they send you to the hospital?”

“Just bruises. She said if I don’t feel alright, tell her.” Alexis showed her arms, “You’re not alone, Wade.”

“Is him?” Oslo tied his brows. “Bruce?”

Alexis nodded. “Sonya is dead. They chained her in the storage room with a guard and Bruce and they…” Alexis stopped. She did not want to talk about it.

“How can they let it happens? Alex…did they?”

“They just beat me. Can I tell you later? I’m so tired.”

Wade and Oslo nodded. “As you wish…” Two boys helped her sat on the ground. Perceiving their concern, she was really grateful.     

“I slept enough. You can sleep on my laps better than sleeping on the floor,” Wade suggested.

“I’m alright.”

“No, no. I agree with him. You’re hurt badly.”

“Okay. Thanks, you two.”

Just when she closed her eyes, Alexis recognized the voices she heard during the yesterday’s night.

“Don’t even touch them.”

“So you’ll come with me?”

It was Bruce and Mrs. Dobies.

Chapter 11: Neo Genesis

It was clear. The sky in summer was always like this, crystal blue with small little clouds painted the background. It seemed like a year that she had not seen the real sky but the plain ceiling. The sun shone brightly but thanked the breezy wind, the golden light just warmed the day not baked the town when the wind cooled the city.  

“Head homeward, little bird,

Fly up high. Thou art free.

Misery is no more.

Time means not to thee.”

“Why am I hearing people singing? Does the school choir come too?”

“Mr. and Mrs. Romuller request the church choir to sing the song for their dead girl. They said it will help guide her soul to the right place.”

“I’ve never heard of that.”

Bryce lifted her shoulders. “What can they do for the dead girl? We don’t know how to talk with the spirit…if there is any. It lifts up her parents’ soul.”

“Sonya.”

 “What?”

“Her name.”

“Oh.”

This is why everyone wore a black dress. She looked outside. Many familiar faces appeared. They were waiting for them, waiting for their loved ones to leave for the undisclosed journey. It was good to hear the song when her departure could be comparable to Sonya’s departure. 

“When is the funeral?”

“Tomorrow…why are you smiling?”

Alexis shook her head, “Nothing.”

Bryce threw her sister’s backpack on the table without carefulness. She was fed up. “You see it’s for you? It’s a song for dead people. You’re not going to die. The sister I know is stronger than the depressed one in front of me.”

It’s pain every time I move my arms. I’m not strong. I’m weak. “How it’s different?”

“Don’t say that.”

The girl saw the clear water in her eyes and it made her feel guilty.

“I’m sorry.” Alexis moved from the window. “I’m sorry. Okay?”

Bryce sighed, the anger faded away. She changed the topic so she picked up the photo album. “Here it is. I selected every photo that you look good.”

“You must give me tons of them.”

The big sister could smile now. “And your favorite jackets, I put them all inside this.” 

Alexis checked her belonging. Bryce prepared all her favorites stuff, including the CD portable player, a few CD albums of her favorite bands, and some books. “You’re always thoughtful.” The girl picked up the device. Bryce smiled a little with her red eyes fixing on the little sister.

“Ma’am, where are they?

“Who? Speak quickly girl,” urged Helga.

“Mrs. Dobies and her sister.”

“They’re sentenced to death. Both of them have been taken to the capital for the execution.”

Alexis gave rolls of papers to Bryce. The papers and a pencil she asked from Helga. The policewoman acted friendlier after the incident. Alexis had the chance to kill her time in the cell by creating many drawings for Charlie. “My drawings of the elephant and others, Monkey wants to learn. Give him when he asks for it. So he won’t forget me.”

Alexis picked up the pocket of her cosmetics. The girl offered her precious collection to her sister. “I don’t need this anymore.”

“It’s your precious treasure.”

“No, not anymore. You should take care of yourself. You’re beautiful. You should know that.”

“I’m already beautiful so why I need these things?” She jerked her brow up.

“Because you need a little help to make you shine.”

Bryce did not respond. Alexis counted the perfume bottles her sister packed them inside and selected only the best ones she could not miss. The girl just realized how spendthrift she was. She still loved these things and wanted to see herself walking on the prominent catwalk someday.

The cop van was waiting outside, including her family. It was the day of departure. The authority announced the date yesterday. Mother fainted twice during the yesterday visit. The first time she fainted because of seeing Alexis’ horrible look and the second time when she heard the departure date.  

The tears flew down Bryce’s cheekbones. It was too fast. A week of terror, a week of the great alteration, the Davis was going to lose one member. No tears from Alexis, she cried enough.

Alexis wore the jacket. “I know it’s summer but I need to wear it.” This time, her sister did not tease the little sis because Alexis wanted to hide all the bruises on her arms. The bruises were still evident. The girl hated to see the ugly spots on her body, especially that when the makers were the hideous rapists.   

“Girls always take a long time.” Jesse’s voice was behind their back. He just entered the room. “All of your friends are talking with their families and you prefer to have the private girl’s talk now? That’s a shame.”

 She saw he was hiding his clenching fists, trying to be strong, trying to be the annoying brother, but all the Davis brothers and sisters were the same, not the good pretenders. Heartache on his face, she saw it clearly. Jesse thought he studied laws with the purpose to help the unfortunate people. The skill that would help the victim from the inequity, ironically, it did not benefit him to rescue his sister. His hand reached to touch her bruises on the small neck. Alexis confirmed that everything was fine.

“Don’t judge the look by its cover.”

“This cover is totally in the bad condition.”

“They’re just bruises.”

“The wounds are in your eyes, my little sis.” He placed his hand on her head. “Remember the day I told you about being Mr. Brightside?’

“Certainly.”

“Try to be Ms. Brightside. I’m not with you anymore. I can’t protect you. You must take care of yourself. Protect yourself. Promise me, you’ll be fine. Promise me, you won’t let yourself be the victim again. You can’t rely on the others. You can’t expect a hero to come to save you. Promise me, little sister, until we meet again.”

Alexis looked at him and Bryce. Then she nodded. “Father taught us not to tell lies, not to give the promise we’re unable to keep. But I make the promise because I don’t want to be in that situation the second time. And I want to meet my family again.”

“That’s my sister!”

“I’ve got everything. Let’s get outside.”

The brother hugged her close to him. Jesse was secretly crying. “Nah, don’t cry. I’m trying so hard not to!” The wave of tears rose again. She thought her body ran out of tears. Perhaps, if she cried again, it would be her blood for sure. 

Jesse’s chest was warm and protective. Like Bryce, Alexis saw him as the second father, a hot-headed dad, and a very good brother. “We need you. Our family needs you, my little Alex.” Then he released the girl. “Damn my eyes! If you tell anyone I shed tears, I’ll kill you both.”

Alexis wiped the tears from his face. They were laughing without knowing why. It was hard to control the dam in the eyes. The girl did not want to see anyone especially, her mother, bursting into tears again. My little Alex, the name Jesse had called her before Charlie became their youngest brother. Three siblings embraced each other for the last time. The need of their embrace had never been run out.

Alexis kissed both of them and they went outside.

She saw the cop van first even though it was parked far from her position. It might be because she saw the Romuller’s family next to it. When Sonya’s parents saw Alexis, they nodded their face, a symbol presenting their greeting before they were gone.

Two days after the harassment incident, Bruce and Cameron were sent to the administrative court in Futuristic Metropolis, the capital and the same place where Ms. Stephen and Mrs. Dobies would be executed. Alexis heard that Mr. Dobies, her husband, took his children to follow them for the last farewell. Poor him, poor children, they’re too young to lose their mother.

Poor me too, too young to lose everything like this.

She had never forgotten Sonya’s dead face. Her skin burnt and caused the eversion of skin parts revealing the fresh red meat beneath. All two eyes were burnt too. No matter how much she wanted to forget it, Alexis knew that it would never leave her memory, only if she was the dead girl too. 

“You need anything?” Her father asked when seeing his children. He was waiting with her mother and Little Charlie. Her father inserted both hands inside his casual pants’ pockets and maintained the calmness as he always was. Her mother, on the contrary, wailed out loud. The girl hurried to her adoptive mother and gave a comforting hug.

“It’s gonna be alright, mommy. You tell me to have faith in myself. I have, mom. I have.”

“Look at you, my baby.” She raised the girl’s chin and surveyed all the bruises on her daughter’s body. “How can I stop thinking that they won’t hurt you? Can we take her home? Can we? Oh, Caleb, please tell me I’m dreaming!”

Her father wrapped his arms around her mother’s shoulders gently. “Our daughter is strong. Are you?”

Alexis nodded like a little brave child. She squeezed Charlie’s golden lock. “Be a good boy, monkey.”

“I am!” Then his smile faded. “You must come back. I’m going to miss you.”

The girl laughed tearfully. A few meters away, the cops uncovered the door at the rear passenger seats. It was the time to stop hoping for the alarm clock. Nothing could wake her up from this nightmare.

This shit is real.

Her eyes wandered around to remember the town, the people. Alexis had never left the town for a long time. And this might mean permanence. Since she became Alexis Davis, San Bosa was her home. She had never imagined of the departure without the certainty of return. 

Oslo was drowning among his family blessings and all the members had red hair. Those caramel eyes met her. He revealed a sad smile. They shared the same feeling—yearning for the life they would be deprived of. Next to the Jessens were the Millers and the Carters. Mrs. Miller wept heavily like Bianna while Belinda was crying on her boyfriend’s shoulder. Her close friends were comforting her.

June.

You don’t really come.  

Not too many people came. The authority allowed only family and close friends. Therefore, Elodie and Davy carried a large bags of gifts from her other friends to give her (Wade’s and Oslo’s best friends did the same). Alexis had hoped June would come. It was a stupid hope.

“Thanks for the delivery,” Alexis told them, eyes surveying what inside the bags and she saw many chocolate packages. “You guys aim at ruining my teeth!” Alexis cried.

“When you go, who I can talk with?” Elodie asked. Alexis looked at the sky to resist the tears before answering her.

“You have many friends.”

“But they’re not my best friends. Not the best like you…”

“You can find the bestest friend.” Her thought wandered to June. “And I’m not the best friend.”

Eventually, Alexis embraced her little friend. “Don’t cry. You’re not a good friend with mascara thought it’s the best waterproof,” she told Elodie.

“You…”

“It’s time. Get in the van!” Helga called through the megaphone. As soon as the cop walked straight to her, Davy pushed Elodie away (“Hey!” the girl cried.) He wrapped his strong arms around her neck. Warm as always, she could smell his cologne—the light scent of soft lavender and orange blossom with the airy feel. My gift to him. And the embrace she longed for and dreamed of…even he was not hers anymore. Alexis remembered their prom night well. His scent was the same but the girl had no fresh flower on her head and a blue velvet dress. Alexis wondered if she was not accused, how their relationship would turn to. Of course, she was the one who insisted the split-up. But even he had cheated on her, why Alexis still acted like an obedient girl in his arms?

“If I could fix it…if I could turn back time, I wouldn’t do it. I’m sorry. I will miss you like crazy. I love you, Alex.”

I love you too…more than you do. I’m fucking crazy about you.

Alexis mesmerized every detail on his face. Those eyes that melted her, the eyes she surrendered to. The intimacy they shared during the prom night was always vivid and it would be her forever awkward experience and a good memory.

“Thanks, Davy,” replied she. It was unplanned. Alexis hugged him back automatically and tightly. His betrayal, June’s betrayal, she forgot it all. If I could turn back time…if this is not the last sign of his affection to me…if Junes just says sorry…His face was closer and closer. It was like they were about to kiss.

“Alex,” Jesse narrowed his eyes at them like a warning. They were not in the private place and her parents were watching.

“It’s the last time,” she spoke through her teeth. Jesse squeezed her hair and pushed her to their mother. The heat boiled on her two cheeks. Davy always made her forget everything and if Jesse did not interfere, at least, she would have the last kiss.

Father and Mother laughed and it was the first laughed since she was arrested.

“I don’t have to do my job when I have Jesse,” her father said.

It was her mother who gave the last kiss on her front head. “I’m alright, mom. Don’t worry. I love you. Take care of yourself” She hugged her close. She was paler and thinner. “Mom, you have to eat more!”

“Come back to me. Promise me, my baby.” Bianna demanded. Her eyes met Jesse and Bryce and they were smiling. “Yes, mom, I promise. I try my best.” Then she wiped the tears from Bianna’s eyes. She was beautiful even nearly got the breakdown. “I love you, mom.”

Alexis moved to her father, her lighthouse. “I love you, dad. Thanks for bringing me to your family. I…shit.” The wave of tears poured out finally. Why am I so weak?

Caleb put his hand on the girl’s head. He raised the girl by himself for fifteen years. She was not an adoptive child but the real daughter. And she was loved so much.

“We love you.” As soon as his soft hand shed the tears on her face, the naughty tears kept pouring down. “I’m sorry. I try not to cry.”

“My love, you don’t’ have to. Being strong doesn’t mean you don’t have the heart.”

It was just a second, two seconds, three seconds that she felt alive in their arms until the cops called the second call, waking her to face the reality.

“Could you give us more time?” Bianna screamed, reaching her hands to her daughter. Caleb must hold her close to him. Joseph, one hand pulling her out of the family’s embrace and another pulling Oslo from his, dragged them to the van. Alexis hurried grabbed all her belongings and let him do what he wanted. What was the point of resistance? Alexis preferred to save her energy.

“We will be the first group who return!” The girl shouted. Yes, it was the promise. Alexis felt like she had to speak something to assure them.

“Get on!” Joseph still wore those masks. But this time she did not a good obedient girl. Her eyes searched for them, her family and friends.

“Get on,” He repeated but his voice softened. Suddenly, she remembered what she wanted to tell him because at that time she forgot to do it.

“Thank you…for saving my life.”

The officer stared at her for a few seconds before leaving them to help Helga who was mingled with Wade. Both helped each other to let him get in the van. It was a very difficult work because the boy was taller than both of them and he resisted hard. “Give me more times, fuck off!” But Wade was defeated finally. He fell inside with Alexis and Oslo supported him.

Belinda was the last passenger. She got in the van by herself. The girl was calmer than the day she had been judged as the convict. She was the only one who made the gorgeous leave. 

The door gradually closed and the kids still searched for their family. As the door closed completely, they still heard their families calling them.

“I thought I was dreaming during the past week.” The tallest boy confessed, “I thought…it was some mistaken…”

“I need a big slap. I’m not good at waking up. My mom always slaps me on my back,” Oslo added, laughing dryly.

“Do you want me to wake you up like your mom did?” Wade volunteered.

“I didn’t say anything like that.”

Alexis did not join their conservation. She quietly arranged her things. The engine started. The vehicle moved. They were caged inside the rear passenger seats, listening to the mechanic moving. They were heading to somewhere, perhaps excessively far away from home.

No turning back, they were forced to move forward without the goal in their lives.

“Alex, there’s a note behind your back,” Oslo kindly told her. The paper note was in one of the jeans’ pocket.

I’m sorry, it wrote.

She thought of the one who brought it. Davy inserted June’s note when they embraced each other. Alexis knew it was June’s writing. The girl did neither smile nor cry; she felt relieved.

Apology accepted.

Alexis looked around. Her friends sat in silence, perhaps thinking of their families. All shut themselves from the others for a while, obsessing in their thought. Two of them still had tears but on her face, all were dry.

No time for tears, Alexis had the promise to keep.

**********

All he could do was watching the way she waved and smiled to assure them that everything would be fine. And she gave them the promise.

Every night, he prayed to God, asked him to save everyone but God missed to save this girl.

The door closed. He could not see his Alexis anymore. As the van moved, Bianna could not balance herself. The loss was too much, she fainted. And she fainted several times these days.

“Bianna, my love?” He held his unconscious wife inside his arm. Bianna was not the only one who was heartbroken. Mrs. Miller and Mrs. Jessens also turned blackout. Only Mrs. Carter who still unmoved watching the van disappeared. She was such a strong lady even though he had the bad impression towards her on the first day of his daughter’s arrest. Now he respected her self-possession. 

Elodie and Davy kindly rushed to help their mother’s friends. They were good kids as same as his daughter. Davy sent him a bottle of cooling water. Caleb thanked him and as his hand received the bottle he found that Davy’s hands were shaking.

“I’m sorry, doctor…for your loss,” he said.

“We’re so sorry.” The others kindly expressed their condolences as if their friends had been passed away. Yes, he meant all teenagers who came to send the four teenagers. Well, it might be the same. He thanked all of them. Elodie was still reluctant to go and he said it was alright.

“Take your mother to our car,” he asked Jesse. The son nodded.

“Both of you can go…and thanks for coming,” Jesse told Elodie and Davy.

“I’ll help,” His daughter’s sweetheart offered Jesse’s help. 

His son shook his head and carried his mother by himself. Jesse walked to their car tailed by Bryce, Charlie, Elodie, and Davy. Everything went silent when people began to leave the station. No one spoke. No one transmitted a sound. They were heading home after losing one of the members…friends…forever.

Caleb was still standing at the same place. The emptiness inside his chest and head, the big hole that all air went through, this was how they called heartbreaking.

“We will be the first group who return!”

He smiled to the emptiness. I told you not make the promise you can’t keep.

“My dear, don’t fail me. Don’t fail us,” he spoke to the wind, hoping it would send his message to his daughter. A few seconds later, as he thought his emotions turned steady, Caleb return to the family’s van.

Chapter 12: Weed Oath

Alone but not lonely, where he lived, perhaps for the rest of his life inside a thin box room, beside the white single bed was a young man checking the packs of cigarettes in the duffle bag made of fine leather, a premium model designed by Flavia Nero. He found that there were only twenty packs of cigarettes left so the conclusion was Non-had-been-stolen. Regardless, “Damn it. I can’t use any of them anyway.”

The bag was specifically used to collect his beloved ‘Best Ami’ cigarettes (specially ordered); the best cigarette brand was the perfect partner of his handcrafted lighter made of pure white gold, which was decorated with small oval diamonds. On the lighter’s elegant body, the letter ‘B.R.’ engraved. He craved for using it, lighting a fire and seeing the smoke and the cigarette burning, but when recalled the recent outcome, he unwillingly decided to keep it in the shirt pocket. The other way would be discovered anytime…or never. The young man breathed out in regret.

Ben wished to see the packs running out rather than seeing them lying untouched. They were not deserved to be kept in his private museum, because it was not a virgin damsel, but a medicine to be used. 

He checked himself in the mirror again before stepped out of the door. It automatically opened. The indoor space was large enough for anyone could make a mistake—thinking it was an open space but once you came to your sense, it was a heaven’s prison. Surrounding by the extremely shiny white wall on the unnecessary white floor and the bloody white ceiling which stood far from his head about thirty meters away, this was another morning that he was left alone. The lightings buried in the wall illuminating the place but he yearned to feel the hot ray of the sun.

White doesn’t make you virgin, Ben thought.

The young man knocked on the door next to his room. No one replied. Again, emitting a long breath, his friend might be somewhere in here. So he headed to the cafeteria. A few minutes later, here he arrived. It was a large hall without restaurant booths but automatic machines that would respond to the voice order. Because it was too early, the place was not that crowded. His eyes were up at the large menu screens. It informed the dishes available for that day.

Croissant, French toast, banana pancake, egg benedicts, sandwiches, nope, nope, nope, not a good idea, croque champion…no meat? No, thanks. Create your own menu? So what’s the point of having the today menu, fool! “Waffle sprinkled with powdered sugar, the omelet…Hmm, I prefer diced ham, onions, green peppers, cheese and tomato sauce. Hash browns on tops will be perfect. Don’t forget the sausages, fresh fruit salad, and mineral water. That’s all.”

Tapping his fingers on the counter for about five minutes, the order was served through the window plate. The dish was freshly hot and looked yummy. He always questioned who was the chef, a machine or a man behind the machine?

Whatever, just tasteful, that’s enough.  

He looked around to find the lost friend but no one was similar to him. His amber eyes moved around and stopped when spotting a lovely doll sitting between two plain boys. He had never met her before. Perhaps she was one of the new faces that came every day.

The girl caught his gaze. Those big blue eyes shot him a curious glance. Ben gradually revealed his uniquely charming smile to her. Instead of a sign of heart attack, the girl just returned the politely friendly smile. His eyes were sharp and quick enough to catch the bruises on her chin and neck. This flower got some injuries but still looked lovely to be grown in a nice elegant vase. The blond next to her narrowed his eyes at him. Ben jerked his brow in challenging but the boy just moved the seat to block his sight from the girl.

Jealous eyes.

“He’s just being nice,” The redhead said.

“I just want to sit here, that’s all,” that boy replied but Ben could catch the displeased tone.

He returned to his meal, smiling to himself when spotting a blooming flower growing in this cage so he could find a way to kill some times. With this thought, the ‘dormitory’ (well, most people preferred this word which sounded nonsense to him,) looked freshened up than the previous day. He started to clean the meal.

“Morning, Ben,” a voice of a young lady greeting behind his back, she took a seat next to him without asking for permission and her friend choose the one next to her. This girl was one of a few flowers he had picked and forgotten.

“Oh morning,” he replied shortly.

The girl leaned on the chair, switching her leg, intentionally to reveal the smooth skin on her tight. Ben might be fancy it but once he had touched, the desire was no more. Her friend laid her mammoth boobs on the table, poked her head towards him asking, “Where’s Alex?”

He shrugged. If I knew I won’t eat alone.

The girl next to him did not pay attention to her friend’s problem; she still stared at him. “You’re quiet, Ben. Two days you keep silence from me. Anything to say for your excuse, huh?”

It was clear the girl missed him so bad. He tried not to laugh. This situation frequently happened to him when he’d possessed the status of a charming little lord in Futuristic Metropolis’s elite social circles.

“Oh, sorry but I’m trying so hard to recall your name, both of you. Anyway, my apology, the mental processing declares none.”

He swallowed the diced ham waiting for them to understand what he meant, too slow, and when they got his meaning, they furiously made the farewell with the word “Asshole!”

Not the first person who cursed me, darling. Ben drank the water without any care of the curious eyes around.

Girls usually said that and guys told him he was mean. Perhaps, they were right. Perhaps, they were totally right. Well, all he could remember about that girl was how she lied like a stone who kept saying he gave her the best night she had never experienced, with the unprofessional tempting voice which completely failed to tempt him as he saw it was the worst. The girl behaved like a sex doll. Lying naked, let him do the job and finish it. He did not mind to please his partner or played the lead but this activity required the good collaboration between two people. There was the difference between ‘being shy’ and ‘being a stone’. The first type could be a master someday but the second type was hopeless. This girl belonged to the hopeless type.

What the hell where is Alex? He thought but not really be nervous. This guy was naughty kid, playing an explorer somewhere.

Ben secretly glanced at the new flower. Some angle of her face reminded him of someone far away. She just finished her meal. With her group, she walked out of the cafeteria, still confused about the direction of this place. He heard they talked about searching for an outdoor space.

No chance.

Ben had never seen the real sky since the first day of his stay here. After putting the dish in the box written ‘Bin’, his feet moved forward; of course, he was aiming at making the first impression with that girl.

In front of the cafeteria, there was a gigantic black screen attached to the wall but there was no information announced on the screen at that time. To be correct, nothing displayed on it since he came here.

Here was the place where they claimed it was the rehabilitation program but the residents called ‘dormitory’. No treatment, no staffs, no schedules, they lived freely, well, seemingly.

The dormitory was like a small community where people could find good public facilities such as swimming pool, spa, fitness gym, sports fields, pubs, disco, lounge, or the small-sized cinema that played grandma’s romantic movies, everything they could find in a luxury hotel except the library and open space. Everyone would own a bedroom with en-suite bathroom but he called it a box. Certainly, he could say that it was better than what he thought before being sent here. Ben even brought the economic textbooks he had studied with him in the case of doing business in prison. Now, those textbooks were abandoned somewhere in his room or Alex’s room.

Freedom, not exactly, he was certain people could perceive the existence of a timer but they were incapable of finding the answer of the authority’s purpose. So they enjoyed the life they had as much as possible. For Ben, he enjoyed the luxury for all of his life so it was quite boring. 

Every day he looked at the same old wall, watching newcomers being amazed at the lavishness that some of them had never experienced in their lives before. About three weeks here, Ben had no idea what he really wanted to do, excluding bedding with pretty girls. Sadly, there weren’t many beautiful flowers like in the capital.

One thing that made him upset was the digital watch on the wrist. Everyone had to wear it. The device was a silver square shape declaring the time. Ben knew it could do better than being a watch but no one revealed the secret of it. Once, he tried to take it off, after thirty minutes, it would signal the most annoying siren to the watch of the nearest person who was near him and he must hurry to put it back on his wrist, then the siren would stop. It meant that he must not take a shower longer than the time limited too.

That’s suck. He hated to wear it but because of that vexing sound, he had to collect the most beloved watched and 100 times more stylish than this toy at the bottom of his bag instead of showing its delicate design.

Sighing again, he wondered if his best friend had eaten something yet. Even though the pure desire longed to greet that new flower, Ben decided to take a look at the cinema room in search of his lost friend.

“You’re all new, right?”

Delayed his pace and sniffed his nose. The girl in medium-long black hair greeted the newcomers. Yes, one in the group was the dolly face he aimed at befriending with. Whatever, that dark-haired girl, Tessa might steal her from him. They were the second group that came; he meant Tessa and her siblings. They came from the Waste, the district where lower class struggled to earn a living, the wasteland that illustrated the world during the post-apocalypse so well, as people called. Tessa was attractive enough to capture his eyes but as Ben made the move, he fell into her stupid trap. Acting like a victim she pretended to be and her brother appeared to confront him in front of the public, a pervert they accused him. His reputation among girls had been slightly corrupted because of this bitch.

According to his version, Tessa intentionally moved her…nice ass closer and closer while they danced. With that seductive gaze and the physical sign, he thought it was the invitation. Well, in this place, the expensive shirt had no effect sometimes and the lower-class grabbed the opportunity to have a show. He would not take the advance step if there was no permission. This bitch needed a scene and planned to trick him, he assumed. Which reason? He was not really sure. They had never talked before but it might be about his reputation with female creatures. Perhaps it was the vengeance (of a mad feminist) or envy, or both, Ben just guessed.

And the Thomas took that girl with them, finally. Ben rolled his eyes. He should not have to be slow. 

“Hey!”

Now, the one he was searching appeared.

“Where were you?” He turned to his friend who was eager for something.

“Found a nice place. It’s totally amazing. You have to come with me,” Alex told him. The smell of Best Ami diffused around his dark messy hair. It seemed like his friend forgot how to brush the hair and never used the hair dryer but the natural air. Sadly, the young man forgot to care about his looks.

“You exploit our friends! I have only twenty packs left…Wait, you don’t get wet?”

A smirk appeared on that face with one brow lifting up. “Yep, and I still have some of my own left, don’t worry. Sarah?”

“I don’t see her since last night,” Ben answered with a hidden smile at the corner of his lips.

Alex made a distorted face, “last night…whatever, that’s good.”

This time Ben laughed. Sarah was Alex’s ex-girlfriend. They broke up on the third day of their stays here and the cause was him, Ben.

“She still asks you to get back?”

He did not answer but looked the other way, which meant ‘yes, she does’.

“Weird.”

“She’s lonely. That’s the reason. Let’s go.”

Ben knew he himself should have some guilty but there was no such feeling stuck inside of him. It was the good intention for the action; Ben swore to himself million times that he had done the right thing. Alex deserved someone better than this woman. Or he might deserve none because the best woman he knew had died long ago and few were rare items.

If there was one person could root the worst guilt in him, it was her, Natalia. He would never forget her name, her face, how kind she was, and how she died.

“Perhaps, it’s not just about loneliness. She knew you slept with the other girl. You know what? Women’s envy. And there aren’t enough good men for her to pick.” He meant Alex’s new girl was that one with huge boobs whom he still had no idea about her name and also her friend’s.

“Julie?” Alex knotted his brows.

“Good for you, you can remember her name. How good is she? You haven’t told me about her yet. She’s not good at it, right? Like her stony friend, what’s her name? She’s nightmare. I mean I gave her the best night and she returned the worst.”

Alex scratched his shaggy hair without a keen interest in Ben’s topic and he always demonstrated this gesture when Ben talked about women like this. His face, since they stayed here, usually looked sleepy, due to the lack of proper sleep. He sighed when the man next to him had zero skill to remember the chick’s names.

“Your girl is called Trista. Well, she’s not that bad but…Julie changed after that night. Curious about everything, especially my family’s business, my cars, my chamber…boring stuff—she asked like we can go back. So…I stop talking to her. I don’t think she likes me like…you know. She asked for me too?”

Ben nodded, “Yep. So we left them. Cool, that’s why we’re friends. But honestly, those boobs are amazing…if I have the chance to care for them.” He made gesture of hands squeezing those boobs.

“No, not that way.” Alex pulled him in the right direction.

Then he looked up seeing a mysterious door he had never seen it before. “It didn’t exist yesterday, didn’t it?”

“It didn’t.”

They stopped in front of the black metal plate. It’s black that was why it was outstanding from other rooms. Ben started to like this room due to its different color because black is cool and black is style.

Alex opened the door; his eyes gleamed brightly when they stepped inside. It was a small round planetarium. The projector positioned at the center of the room and ten small chairs circled around. The night artificial sky displayed thousands of sparkling stars. Contrasting with Alex, Ben had no interest in it. The silent sound and the twinkling little star things, he preferred the other rooms, even the cinema with that old romantic drama stories. It did not mean he despised the sky but he needed the real sky. His friend walked around with head lifting up.

“Is this…the amazing place you claimed?”

“Look”

Ben watched Alex picked up a cigarette and lit it with the handcrafted lighter resisting to air and wind and made of gold. The smoke floated through the air and there was no smoke detector prevented them from smoking.

“I see now,” he hurriedly lit his own cigarette. They laughed together, celebrating Alex’s discovery with the fume of smoking weeds. “Cheers!” They bumped their hands.

Alex started to play the magic. He knelt a little then jumped into the air as if he was flying into the artificial universe and landed perfectly on the floor. He seemed to be revived when he got the chance to consume the smoke.

Ben activated his power by telekinetically lifting the seats inside the room, making them floated and forming a shape of a ladder and he put his feet on them—the stairways to heaven. He might be unable to fly like Alex but he could stand in the air longer.

“Ben, I think you should talk to Sarah. I really mean it. I’m not angry with her but we can’t be the same. This is because you make her fall for you.”

The way he mentioned her name and asked him to do this thing was no surprise to Ben.

“I can’t go back to her and you should not treat her like a toy. As a friend, she’s not that bad,” Alex said from below.

“As a girlfriend, she’s the cheater. Why do you think I treat her like a toy?” Ben lowered the chair and he gradually went down to face Alex.

“The night with Julie, I saw you and her again and last night too?”

“We want it. No feeling included,” Ben replied.

“And the other nights?”

Ben examined that sleepy face but found neither reproach nor jealousy. Then he nodded. “Just that thing.”

When Alex forgave, he truly meant it. Poor Sarah, she had no privilege like him. Ben knew wholeheartedly that Alex would forgive him for everything he did wrong and the feeling between them would be the same. He forgave her too but he could not pretend to be the boyfriend like he maintained the brothership with him. Their bond was eternal and stronger than anything could break. Even he slept with his girlfriends.

As if he could read Ben’s mind, “Don’t even think that I treat you better than her. I can’t go back because there’s no love between us.”

Maybe it’s not love from the start.

“It’s not love between me and her too.” Ben sighed. “Don’t mind about Sarah and me. She’s a sex machine. You know she fucking hates me after I told her the truth. But her desire surrendered to everyone who can respond to it. We can respond to each other. It’s not love, Alex. I might lure her but if she’s a good woman, how could she fell for it? The night with Trisha (“Trista,” Alex corrected.), I just checked on Sarah if she could fix my bad experience with that stone and she accepted. This is why she doesn’t deserve you. I show you how she is, like the others, desire any rich man. I just told her about my shares and she took off her clothes at once. See?”

“She’s not a gold-digger, Ben. Come on, She’s already prosperous.”

“But she regarded on the profile. She left you because you’re one of the heirs and I am the only heir.” Ben closed his eyes. It was his own word that triggered the pain within. “Well, I should say I was the only heir.”

He saw Alex was out of the speech. Ben inhaled the weedy smoke. “You know this kind of woman. I include the big boobs on this list.” 

“You lured her first.” Alex took a long breath. “Stop checking woman’s quality for me. Find your own.”

“But you’re not angry. You thank me, I know.”

“Shut up. I hate when you seduce all my girlfriends!”

“No, not all, I didn’t sleep with…Wiona, Lola, and Claire. They’re good girls but you can’t keep them.”

Alex groaned. Ben could remember their names correctly. Those three were the women who passed his test but Alex could not save the relationships with them. It was his shameful fault. 

Ben decided to change the topic. “Anyway, I met a girl this morning. This one is very…lovely.” Even thinking of that angelic face made his heart beat harder, this flower needed to be taken and cared of. And if Ben was not here in this stupid future-like world, he might be able to win her with gold and diamonds like he won the others. 

“Hope she’s not the second Trista.” 

Ben inhaled the last smoke into the lung, the feeling of weed’s blessing. “With just that face, I know she can eliminate all my memory with the stone Tina.”

“Trista, fuck you.”

He stole Alex’s last smoke of the cigarette on his hand.

“You know what? I don’t think you don’t remember her name. Why? Because you’re a fucking asshole. She shamed your skill you’re so proud of.”

Ben shook his head but the volume of his voice rose up, “Of course not! Once they open their legs to me…”

“…They don’t even exist in your dysfunctional memory. I heard million times.” Alex ended the sentence before Ben could finish it.

“Dysfunctional? I’ve never used that word!”

“Why? I use it. Dysfunctional beyond repair.”

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So now, please enjoy reading.

Chapter 13: Illusional Paradise

The music was so loud in the lounge. Even it was jazz but it came out of the jukebox not men. She felt trapped between the two feelings: amazement and discomfort, when she saw everything ran automatically without robots and human labors, just the screens showing the menu and music playlist, everything would work as commanded. Even though Alexis stayed with friends, the strange loneliness gradually killed her.

They could order thing, selecting each menu by just touching the screen or speaking to it. Waiting for a few seconds, they could get what they wanted. At this point, Alexis realized that the government told them many lies. They kept the knowledge within themselves. People were already living in the future but had been thought they lived in the past. Honestly, this might be only a small part of the whole truth.

 They told none; they explain nothing. The captives were abandoned on a lone island that was full of luxurious facilities. Alexis kept asking herself, what the purpose of this place? She did not know if it was far from her home or it was located in the capital, under the ground, or above the sky. Not any single clue enlightened this skeptical mind. It was the third day of her living here. People called this place ‘dormitory’ but it looks like they resided in the privilege prison.

“Hey, do you know John Lloyd?” She asked a girl who walked past by.

She answered immediately. “Of course, I love him! Oh my god, you’re his fan too?” Her eyes sparkled like diamonds but the asker’s face saddened.

“Ah, yes.” Alexis waved her hand and returned to her group.

Wade was watching the drinking order. Searching for nice cocktails, his eyes almost dipped into the screen. Alexis and Oslo thought he might try everything.

“Slippery Nipple”

“What a name!” Oslo laughed out loud while Alexis was giggling.

The blond winked, “If you don’t know Sex on the Beach, you won’t recognize this cocktail, nerd.”

“I think it’s for girls,” Alexis said.

“No! Girls prefer it doesn’t mean it belongs to them,” Wade made the point and tasted the drink, “Umm, sweet,” and offered Alexis to try. She took a sip and agreed, “Yep, very sweet.”

“Try one, Oslo. See how Tessa drinks like a man. Get one and go talk to her,” Wade suggested and gave a knowing smile to the girl.

“Tessa? Why does it relate to her?”

“Don’t play dumb. We know what you’re thinking when you first saw her. She’s damn beautiful and your jaw dropped.”

Oslo narrowed his eyes to the girlfriend.

Alexis gave him a shrug. “Yeah, it’s very obvious. Sorry to say the truth,” replied to him.

“Well, yeah, she’s beautiful. I’m just a man and nothing special. She likes a guy like you, a stupid macho boy.” 

Wade arched his eyebrow, “Hey, I’m not stupid. I was on the list. Hello? Don’t you remember?”

“That’s why I’m always curious.”

“He’s got straight A’s, Oslo,” Alexis told him. “And was the captain of the soccer team. I know it’s hard to believe that but he was not that stupid macho guy.”

“Oh yes, I always forget how cool you guys are.  Get excellent grade, be a sportsman, and possess the beauty, (“I know it’s sarcasm but thanks anyway.” Alexis gave him a broad smile.) Wade. Don’t blame me. Please blame your up-and-down temper. It makes you look stupid.”

The girl group sitting next to them giggled louder. Apparently, they eardropped the conservation and their eyes mainly focused on Wade Miller. Clearly enough, they had a crush on him. Even in this lotus-eater island, he was still popular among girls.

The boy gave them a short smile and countered Oslo. “Well, don’t blame my temper. I’m the one who has been sent because of possessing the cocaine less than 100 g. Can I call myself the most unfortunate man of the world?” He returned to the menu screen. “Angel’s kiss.”

He passed the drink to Oslo. “For you, comrade. Be brave and take a move! We’ll help you, right Alex?”

“Yeah!”

“Oh, please Alexis. Don’t spoil him!”

“I don’t! Just be a good friend.”

“Please return to your obsession about this place and leave me alone.”

“What is she obsessing?” Wade asked immediately. “Why don’t you talk to me like you talk to him?”

She rolled her eyes. Oslo should not have mentioned it. “Because you always hate my idea.”

“Let me hear so I can tell whether I hate it or not.”

“No, I won’t”

“She thought we’re in the cattle farm in Eastland.” Oslo jerked his brow which disturbed her. “He’ll keep asking you until you spread it out. Just tell him.”

Wade snapped his finger. “You know me. So what about this cattle farm?”

Alexis kicked the counter bar. “You start it so you talk,” she stole Oslo’s drink and consumed half of it.

The red head nodded. “Okay…it’s a farm in Eastland. They feed the cattle the best food, serve them beer, massage them, and turn on the music to release their stress before cruelly slaughtering them so Alex thought we’re the same, the cattle.”

Wade bit his lips. As she had expected, he did not like her idea. Alexis gave a black look to her redhead friend. “Sorry.”

But it was true. What she was thinking sounded rational. She could see on their faces that they were wondering too. They should become aware of it. Why the authority caged all the captives in this kind of illusional paradise. They almost had everything except the open space to see the world outside. They told them nothing, especially what they were going to do to them. And the fact that John Lloyd was not here. So where was he? Where were the others? Hundreds of questions popped up but no answer.

“What’s the matter with that?” Wade opposed her thought.

“I know you gonna say this.”

“Yes, it’s because we can do nothing. If they’re really treating us like cattle, what you’re gonna do? Just live to the fullest while you can. If tomorrow they kill me, I tell you I won’t regret.”

Oslo sat quietly looking at the cocktail and Wade stared at nothing in particular. I’m the only one thinking the worst of the authority.

“See? I shouldn’t have said it. Next time, I won’t talk to you. You expose everything.”

Oslo pushed the drink away. “Sorry. It’s because you two teased me about Tessa. I just want to stop you two. But honestly, Alex, I agree with Wade. I know how you feel. But we really can do nothing. Enjoy our life as we can. At least, it’s not the prison I imagined it to be, not even close. Perhaps, it’s not that bad like what you’re thinking.” He turned to Wade. “And I prefer beer.”

“Boring…Oslo if you want to get a girl, you must change everything. Come on Alex! Forget about that useless thought. Help this nerd lose his virginity!”

“Shut up! Stop messing with me.”

“Hey, guys!” Tessa greeted them. She was standing attractively with a hand on her waist, wearing a black crop and khaki cargo pants.

“It’s time, Oslo!” Wade cheered his friend up when the Thomas joined in. Tessa, aged nineteen, was their first friend here. She acted like the host, taking them touring around the dormitory and guiding the directions. She and her siblings stayed here for approximately three weeks and might be the first groups of the residents. She told them that there were a few people stayed before them and the newcomers came every day.

“Alexis, I heard you still asking for John Lloyd at the cinema. If we don’t see him, no one sees too.” The girl said and observed Alexis’s jacket, “this one is nice too.”

Behind Tessa were Minnie and Noel. Minnie was the youngest among the Thomas, aged seventeen, a year younger than Alexis’s group. Unlike Tessa, Minnie was quiet and loved to hide her tiny body behind her brother. She rarely voiced her opinion but once she spread it, everyone would turn silent because they did not understand what she said or sometimes it was too awkward; in consequence, Alexis and her friends had a few chances to talk to her. For the big brother, Noel was the oldest and might be the oldest among the captives. He used to be a soldier, now aged twenty-eight. Noel owned the tall and sturdy body which made Wade look like a little boy. The Thomas siblings shared the same chestnut skin and the dark hair. Minnie and Noel had the same ocean eyes while Tessa owned a pair of light gray. She had a pair of very lovely eyes.

“We’re going to the club. Do you guys want to come with us?” She talked to them but her eyes solely gave all interest to the boy with the blond hair.

“Oh yes,” Wade quickly accepted when Oslo, instead of talking to his crush, intensively stared at his hand as if it was the most interesting he could not take his eyes off. “Oslo just talked about going there.”

The mentioned person abruptly shot his glanced towards the bossy friend but Alexis locked his head and nodded in agreement.

Tessa might suspect their strange reaction but smiled anyway. “Okay, shall we?”

Wade pushed Oslo out of the chair. The redhead groaned when his friends forced him to take more advance.

To help Oslo got the girl; Wade let him walked with Tessa while he tried talking to Minnie. Alexis coped with Noel. Their plan totally went on without smoothness so the brother could notice.

“He’s a very good person,” Alexis hurriedly said that when his ocean eyes fixed at Oslo. “Really, very good and kind.” 

“I see what you’re playing but Tessa is not someone you can play cupid with. And that boy’s totally not her type. You know? He’s too shy and too weak. I didn’t mean to offend your friend but he looked like her little brother,” he jerked his head to let her see the real situation.

The girl was speechless because it was true. Oslo did not look comfortable at all and this gesture would ruin the chance to get a girl, especially the girl with high confidence like Tessa. The girl chose the topic and he said only, “Yeah. That’s right. Aha.”

0% possibility of success.

“Why you guys end up here?” She asked the older man. They entered the club, just thirty seconds walk from the previous location.  

“Oh, it’s a long story.”

“We love to hear.” Wade interrupted them. It was hopeless to talk to Minnie because the girl was humming a song instead of listening to Wade’s story. Alexis instantly looked at other thing to avoid laughing.

The music was louder than in the lounge and people were crazy in dancing. Personally, Alexis did not like the club better than the lounge. She was not a big fan of Jazz music but pure electronic dance was not her thing. Tessa invited them to dance but only Oslo (whom they coerced him through the eyes to go with her) joined the girl. Alexis and Wade sat with Noel and Minnie, eager to listen to the Thomas’ story.

 “You two don’t like dancing? Tess is so crazy about it. We don’t have anything like this in our hometown.”

“In the Waste?” Alexis asked.

“Yeah, the city is like its name, wasted town, wasted people, a city of the waste.” He drank half of the beer in the bottle. “Okay, let’s hear my story.”

“We’re waiting for this,” Wade clapped his laps. 

“Well, I worked since I was little as a low-wedged labor. Born stronger and larger than the others, that’s me. When the army announced the job recruitment, I applied at once, passed the basic training, and was transferred to the commando unit. I’ve done a very good performance so my chief favored me. An envious colleague accused me of being the Suspect. I don’t really know who did it but…the police said a colleague reported this issue. I had no chance to prove my innocence. People in The Waste are unfortunate. Even the cops are bad cops. As they received the false accusation, they arrested me without investigation or interrogation. (“It’s good you don’t have to enter the interrogation”, Alexis interrupted while Wade nodded in agreement. “They would torture you. You’ll be convicted anyway.”) Well, so it means there’s no justice anywhere? You know? My chief was really upset because he aimed at sending me to the borderland with the new battalion unit but he had no power to interfere the legal process. My mother asked for justice, at least for the investigation. She is the real fighter and they mocked her and our family. At that time, Tessa made the unbelievable things.”

“Is she the Risk?” Wade asked.

At this point, Alexis and Wade opened all their ears wide. Alexis had the experience with the Risk but it was far from impressive and she saw none of Sonya’s power except the outcome. The kids knew all the captives meaning they lived the Risks and the Suspects but three days in this place, none of the Risks presented themselves.

Noel took a quick glance to Tessa who was dancing with the other boys and Oslo was left alone. Alexis felt that she directly told them through her body language, “Stopping pairing him with me.”

Noel continued, “She did not know about her ability. Tessa was upset and furious of the way the authority treated the citizens and the citizen is our mother. She shouted to them in anger, aimed at cursing them but it was the sound, very strange sound emitted out of her mouth. I’m not sure what really happened but that sound attacked the cops. And everything turned bad, she could not control herself. She was standing puzzled. And all of us were charged.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Alexis told him. “But why they did arrest all of you? Okay, you were arrested but why Minnie was charged too?”

Noel smiled in a bitter way. “They said brothers and sisters tended to share the superhuman ability. Therefore, I and Minnie were judged as the Suspects after that.”

Wade and Alexis exchanged their looks. It was the worst case for Oslo who had four brothers and sisters. They were not sure if they were fortunate or not but the legal process in San Bosa was surely better than in the Waste. But ‘better’ did not mean justified.

All of them glanced at the boy with the red hair who stood foolishly when Tessa enjoyed with the others. Alexis wondered if it was the right choice for them to force him chasing the girl. She did not like to see her friend being dumbed.

“I’ll call him to sit with us,” she told Wade.

“Just wait for a little bit more.”

“It won’t work,” Minnie finally said something. They hardly heard her speaking. The girl pointed to Tessa and Oslo. “Tess doesn’t like him. She likes someone like you,” she pointed to Wade. “And that boy,” her finger moved to the boy who was sitting alone at the corner of the club. Only the tower of glasses was his companion. He had not talked to no one but always attracted ladies’ attention.

The moment Alexis flashed her eyes at him and he quickly noticed it, she felt a little bit strange. He was always quick to notice the stare. That boy, with the light silver hair and deep blue eyes, sat under colorful lights like a celestial being. Sometimes his expression sent back the look of her reaction. It was odd or embarrassing when he could catch her sight every time she took his eyes on him. She recognized him since the first day of their staying here. She already knew this boy.

“That boy,” Noel murmured. “He doesn’t talk. We tried to befriend with him but he preferred to be alone. Very strange boy, we don’t even know his name.”

“Michael,” Alexis answered him.

“You know him?” Wade asked, wary. 

“Yes, we met a long time ago. I think he’s very shy…or doesn’t like people.”

“When?”

“I met him during the audition.”

“Which audition?”

Alexis tried to be patient. “Lexy jeans. He came with a man but it seemed like he did not want to come or was forced to. When he knew it was the audition for TV commercial, he shouted and tried to leave. But he’s very outstanding. Every girl eyed on him. I remembered once John saw him, he said that Michael should be the presenter and he should be the extra.”

“That’s all?”

She frowned to his bossiness.

“He stared at Alexis,” Minnie suggested.

 “Yes, because we remember each other but he did not like to talk to me too. I greeted him this morning; saw him in the cafeteria alone like this. Instead of saying something, yes or no, he answered me by walking away.” Alexis sniggered.

Now the boy collected his sight to himself.

“Yeah, he loves walking away when someone talks to him,” Noel agreed. “Same experience.”

“Nah, just a boy and a weird one.” Wade acted like he was not interested but could not hide his envy through the tone of his voice.

“He’s hot…hotter than you,” Minnie said. “He’s one of Tessa favorites. You, that boy, and...”

“Minnie.” Noel shook his head.  

The younger girl was not exaggerated when she compared him with Wade. Michael was a boy who all girls automatically forgot the existence of John Lloyd when they saw him. She remembered that moment well, which was the reason why John had made the joke about the replacement. The boy was an angel in disguise. Alexis admitted that she was one of those girls.

“So you’re a model?” Minnie asked, curious. Alexis did not know if she had to feel like gaining victory when she could attract this girl’s interest.

“Not really, an amateur actually,” Alexis replied. Minnie moved forward to Alexis. Her eyes turned sparkling. “So he’s a model too? Is he your type? I see he observes you since we came here.”

“No, he didn’t I can guarantee that.” Alexis bit her lips. “I already said because we have met before.”

“But he had never eyed on Tessa longer than five seconds. You got ten.”

Noel laughed. “You counted it?” The way he looked at his youngest sister was like the way Alexis’s father looked at her when she was seven.

Minnie nodded like a little child.

“He’s not Alexis’s type,” Wade made his own summary.

“How do you know? He’s super cute.” Alexis quickly responded but it was the mistake because Wade did not like that compliment.

 “Well, compared to your ex, he was blond, tall, handsome and athletic, nice and gentle.”

“Wade…Don’t start it, please. I’m not Belinda.” She almost forgot what the pain from backstabbing was like. Didn’t the yearning for family and friends torment her heart enough? Why did Wade still dig it up?

“I’m sorry. I just answer Minnie.” He gave a shrug.

“No, you don’t intend to answer her. You intend to tease me.”

“You mean yourself? Are you her type? But you’re not gentle,” Minnie still urged for more details without worrying about the use of her words. However, Alexis did not think Wade would care anymore. And he deserved the true comment about himself.

“She’s right. You’re mean.”

“Kids...,” Noel interrupted. “And Minnie, don’t ask personal stuffs.” So Minnie abandoned her interest in Alexis and drew backed to her chair watching people in the club with her daydreaming eyes.

“I’m sorry,” Wade whispered.

“You’re not sorry. You’re always like this,” Alexis complained. “Since we came here, you act like…”

“I just want to know if you forget him.” Wade did not yield. “If you have no feeling, why are you upset with me?”

“When did I tell you I have no more feeling for him?”

Noel and Minnie sat quietly when their conservation gradually turned into a small quarrel. Alexis knew they were listening. “You know Wade. Find Belinda, if you want to practice your verbal attack skill. And if you want to know, yes, I still love Davy. Okay? Satisfied now?”

Wade stood up and went to Tessa right away. He commanded Oslo to return to the seat and danced with the girl without caring of Oslo’s feeling. Tessa gladly welcomed him.

Oslo returned to sit next to Alexis with a breath of relief. He asked, “What’s up to him? Do you guys argue again?”

Without Belinda Carter, Wade still sought for a counter partner to practice his argument. He usually stimulated her feeling of longing for the past life. Alexis tried her best to continue the life in accordance with his philosophy but it was too difficult than she had thought when he continued this kind of behavior.

It’s hard to be myself, the old me, when I lose everything. What do you think I suppose to do, Wade? Run to you for comfort?

“So you two did fight again,” Oslo concluded when she did not give him the answer.

“You know him. He likes to jab on my old wound.”

“He’s a spoiled child,” Oslo agreed. “Instead of acting like a love guru, he should learn to be polite and modest first and then he can get into you.”

Then Noel just said, “The spoils of young love.”

Alexis heard and understood what he meant ‘young love’. “Old man, young love doesn’t mean to be immature but what between me and Wade is not love.”

He raised both of his hands. “Nope, I don’t want to argue with you. Have to do the brother’s job.” Noel stood up and moved towards Wade and Tessa who began to get closer and closer.

Oslo sighed. “He’s really a boy. He’s trying to call your attention.”

“How do you feel, Oslo?” Alexis jerked her head to their friend and the girl with the dark hair.

“Honestly, I don’t feel anything. No jealousy, no bad feeling towards Wade, I just met Tessa. She’s beautiful truly. But to be honest, I miss Christina even now. This is why I understand you, Alex. So stop helping him, okay?”

“Okay,” she surrendered with a shameful face.

The situation made them closer. As Belinda seek new peers and they pretended not to recognize each other, the trio became close friends within a short time. What made Alexis feel uncomfortable was the way Wade regarded himself as her boyfriend-to-be. He was a very good friend except when he acted like this. Sometimes he mentioned about Davy and June just to see her reaction. It was true that the arrest and the departure from home built the severest pain to her. It was more painful than any other thing. Even the story that Davy and June had broken her heart could not compare with this pain. But the scar is the scar. It might not hurt like a fresh wound, still, when you see it, you remember how the pain had done to you.

Noel returned to the seat with angry Tessa. “I’m not a little girl!”

“But you’re not immature. Don’t flirt around. I mean stop flirting, stop playing games.”

“You’re not my dad! I can do what I want!”

“I’ll go get some drinks,” Alexis whispered to Oslo, hurriedly sneaking out to escape the scene.

“Wait!” Oslo followed. “What is this day? I feel the heated argument everywhere.”

They ordered couple glasses of light beer and decided to sit behind the fountain of wine. Without Wade, sharing her mind with Oslo was easier. He was a good listener who could listen to anyone’s view. On the contrary, Oslo would expose her thought if Alexis tried to tease him.

“That’s Belinda.” Oslo pointed.

Alexis followed his guide. The former friend was chatting with a new group of people. Belinda could manage herself to go with the mainstream like Wade did naturally; the only similarity they shared. Belinda was laughing and looked happy with her new friends. 

“You still talk to Carter. I see,” Alexis said. “You’re not angry with her?”

Oslo shook his head. “I was but we’re in the same boat now. And I’m kind of having sympathy. You two are very cold to her.”

Alexis was shocking. “Cold? She intended to defame me.”

“I know. At least, you ignore her. I didn’t offend you.”

She rolled her eyes. “I know you have a very kind heart, Oslo. I may not complain Carter or blame her but I can’t help stay away from her. I don’t know what she’s thinking and she has never said sorry to us. It’s unbelievable to see you still talk to her. Totally respect.”

“You've overrated me. I just have sympathy.”

“She has new friends and she looks very happy without us. She doesn’t need your sympathy. I know you have good intention but I am afraid she’ll betray you or use you someday. Stay away with this kind of people. This is what I want to tell you.”

Oslo nodded but she knew he was too kind to accept her warning. 

A small clatter sound of an object fell near their position. Alexis turned to see it. The object had the shape of a rectangle metal, no, not metal. The color on its surface was golden-white and small oval diamonds decorated its elegant body. She picked it up. It was a lighter.

“Wow,” Oslo gasped when Alexis picked it up.

“Who is the owner? I think it’s very expensive.”

“Is it a lighter?”

“Yes.” Alexis opened it.

“Sorry, it’s mine.” A soft-spoken voice was above her head. Alexis and Oslo looked up and they saw a very good-looking young man.

“It’s so beautiful,” she said and gave it back to him. He took it back but the way his fingers lightly touched her hand transmitted an eccentric feeling.

“Is that…man?”

“You remember me?” he asked Oslo.

Both nodded. 

Obviously, he was older than them. This man was the same person who smiled at her at the cafeteria on the first day. And Wade started acting like her boyfriend-to-be since then.

“Why do you guys sit here?”

“Ah…we’re chatting,” Oslo replied.

“Sit here?”

“It’s quieter.” Alexis and Oslo stood up so their neck would not get pain. He was a few inches taller than her. The one that might come from a rich family as she judged from his fine outfits, it looked like he walked out from the men’s fashion magazine with the perfect short hair and beardless face.

“B.R. Is that the lighter’s brand name?”

“No, it’s my name.”

His amber eyes switched from Alexis to Oslo and vice versa. “Where is the blond hair?”

He even remembered Wade.

“He’s dancing.”

“Oh...” He looked at Wade who was dancing with the other girl because Tessa was sitting with her chin on her knee on the sofa next to her brother.

“And you don’t dance?”

Alexis shook her head. “No, I don’t”

“You don’t like dancing?”

“I do but not this time.”

“Okay, you guys, spend your time,” Oslo lowered his head with a knowing smile on his face.

“Hey,” she called him when he left her alone. “Damn.” As he turned to the young man, he was staring. Without a smile, his eyes conveyed the meaning so well.  

“How long have you been here?” she asked.

“Good question. About three weeks.”

Like the Thomas. “Have you known John Lloyd?”

“Who?”

“You don’t know him?”

“No,” he firmly insisted. “Who is he?”

“Nothing.” Alexis was disappointed. Tessa was right, no one saw him here.  

“If you don’t dance, how about join me a drink?”  

There was something in his smile, like an invisible twinkle light flashing to her eyes. He had the charisma, the dangerous one. Alexis almost forgot herself when those amber eyes locked her gaze. Anyway, this man had no will to hide the trap he built. The fire in his eyes did either lure or seduce the girl; on the contrary, it sat still, waiting for her to try how hot it was. And if Alexis was a challenging firefly…    

“Ah, the music’s too loud,” he said and filled his glass with the wine in the fountain. “Well, if you don’t mind. I’m Benjamin. Just call me Ben, and you?” he introduced himself and offered his hand.

“Alexis.” She shook his hand. Again, the way he touched her hands was like he offered an invitation card with a ribbon.

“Nice to meet you, Alexis.”

Why did just the smile could be interpreted as flirting? Alexis pondered. He and the boy with the silver hair made her deceive in this untrue paradise. If Davy was not sitting in her heart, Alexis might try stepping onto the trap in front of her. But why Davy is still in my heart. He should go away. This man is so cute. Why I have to care someone who cheated on me? Oh, being nonsense, I can’t help. I’m just a girl. And girl has so much thought fusing in her mind.    

Eventually, Alexis regained her composure. Hot guy meant the fatal attraction. Davy taught her well.  “I’m sorry. Have to go back to the group.”

“Really? Your friends seem to enjoy with themselves well enough.”

Alexis looked at Wade whose face turned red and he danced like no one watching. Tessa and Noel seemed like they had a drinking competition. Minnie was Minnie. And Oslo waved his hand to her and Ben like cheering.

“Right?”

Oslo, wait for my turn.

“Well…” She did not know how to start or end it. He was handsome, super handsome, so why didn’t she take a chance. Just talking might not be bad and she was single. It was time to push Davy away.

“I don’t dance but if you want to talk, I love to. Well, where did you come from?”

“The capital.”

That’s why he wore those brands. “And you, Alexis?”

“Alex, if you prefer a shorter name. I come from San Bosa in Idrina State.”

Ben chuckled.

“What’s funny?”

Again, if he could stop smiling, Alexis would be thankful. The way he gazed made her cheeks hot enough. Those piercing eyes were very penetrating and she felt like he saw everything in her mind.

“My best friend names Alex too.”

 “Oh, I see. Is he a man?” Stupid, why I suddenly become stupid?

“Of course, he’s a man. Not many girls are named Alex.” His voice sounded amused. As his eyes moved to her chin and neck, Alexis averted her side from the gaze.

“Sorry. I see you got injured.”

“It’s just bruises and scar…How do you end up here?”

“If you don’t mind, I know how to erase those scars.” He did not answer her question but focused on her bruises. “In the infirmary, the medicines there can help you remove them. If you doubt my suggestion, please look around and you’ll understand. The secret knowledge of the government doesn’t mean only the technology.”

“Really? Like remove all of it.”

He nodded. “All of it. You want to go check it?” He offered a hand with a smile that she could not deny it.  

“Alexis!”

It was Tessa who called her from her seat. Wade was with her, narrowing his eyes at Ben. Alexis needed him to stop this kind of habits.

Ben did not turn to see them but glance a little. After that, he courteously lowered his head saying, “Your friend calls you now. Don’t forget to take medicine there. Girls don’t like scars, is that right?”

“Thank you, Ben, really. You’re going?” 

His corner lips lifted up. “Next time, hope you have time for me. See you around.”

With just one blink, he was gone. Alexis did not understand why he was so hurry to go after Tessa called her.

“What are you talking with him?” Tessa walked towards and roped her hands on Alex’s arms. It reminds the girl of Elodie. “He may make you think he’s a prince but the real him is a wolf. Just so you know. I know him before you.”

“Oh, he reveals his true identity already…but a very kind and charming wolf, don’t you think?”

“Oh please. Not all red riding hoods were rescued. They were devoured alive, young lady! Has no one ever warned you not to play with fire? ”

Why I feel like I return to the school? Alexis now understood why people called this place, “dormitory”

Chapter 14: Broken Wings

The smoke detectors were everywhere except the new room.  Thanked their improvidence, Ben and Alex had the opportunity to consume the weedy smokes as much as they needed. Oddly enough, he should feel triumphant (earlier, he was); on the other hand, Ben lost that kind of contentment when his only friend turned queer because of the discovery. Worse and worse, Alex dwelled on the planetarium room since he found the safe zone for smoking, accounting it his private escape, Ben thought this room would be Alex’s deathbed.

Alex was a little upset at first when people initially acknowledge about the new room but as they took a small fancy of it (like Ben), not many spent a long time to sit here. Therefore a few days later, there were only a few people visited. Another reason was when Alex started lighting a cigarette, people left (laughing); that was why the room smelt like weed all the time. Alex also found the way to banish people out of his favorite place. He wanted to seize the room as his own shelter without sharing. 

“Come on Alex! Control your power so you can fly among these fake stars,” Ben shouted and yawned. He was sitting on the chair in the air like the heaven’s king.

Alex looked upward and started to jump. The tall body flew into the air like a little missile and when the speed decelerated, it was like he floated in the air. His friend began to learn levitation and fought himself against the gravity. “Yeah! That’s right!” cheered Ben. He saw Alex tried several times until his head bumping to the ceiling.

“Oh man. Don’t’ forget it’s not real.” The tone showed none of sympathy but ridicule. 

“Shit!” Alex scolded himself. He looked upward and revealed the evil smile.

“Don’t you dare!” Too late, the chair Ben was sitting on overturned. “Fuck you!”

Ben nearly fell but his hands could grip on the armrest in time. He gradually controlled it and the chair slowly lowered and lowered until his feet touched the ground safely.

“Fuck you, I’m done here.” His head was boiling and another main reason, Ben got bored of this artificial stars.

“Easy man,” Alex lit a cigarette. It was the fourth one he exploited for this morning. He smoked as though he could produce cigarettes from the air or had the magic to conjure it.  

“How many you have now?”

“…Umm, nine, I think. Yours?”

“Eighteen.”

Those dark eyes shone brightly. “Give me five if you don’t want to smoke.”

“No.” Ben ducked one of his brows intending to irritating the buddy. “Unless you go somewhere else.” The corner of his eyes saw the Big Bang he watched ten times. “I’m bored.”

“I won’t. You go. Find some chicks as you like.” Alex lied down stationing his position stubbornly.

“Trade for five packages?”

“No.”

“Eight?”

“No.”

“Ten?”

“No.”

“Are you insane?” He began to lose the patience. Alex might consume too much isolation (maybe weeds too?) and probably out of his mind. “Are your growing weeds inside your head? You can’t live here! Come on! Have you ever returned your room? Or take a shower?”

Alex turned muted for a while. “Maybe, I’m bored too. You may have fun with girls, with people. My solution is smoking and watching them.” He exhaled a large fume. “They’re beautiful. Why can’t you see that? Their mysterious beauty…who did create all of this?”

Ben sighed. “The government, jerk.”

“I mean the universse, stupid.” The tall man sighed.

“They’re beautiful and mundane. They’re senseless and liveliness. Alex, you’re going to be one of them.”  

The smoke covered all over him as if it could respond to his comparison. “Go. I’m okay. I won’t go anywhere until they tell us why they send us here.”

“Like they will!”

Alex was still unmoved. Ben hit his hand in the air and the seats attacked the smoking friend.

“Don’t mess with me!” Alex shouted brushed them away. The furniture flew separately. “Go away!”

“Serve you right, stoner!”

Ben fanned his head from side to side. You’re mad. The young man exited the room, leaving Alex lost in the imitated universe he created. For almost a month, they were the first residents, using every space the place could provide. And they ran out of activities. If he had to live here for eternally, he would die of boredom, suffocating of extra white color while Alex became one of the stars. 

Ben thought of the girl called Alexis but she always stayed with her friends and the Thomas. It was difficult to get to know the target when Tessa and that macho boy blocked him to approach her. Last time of their first meet, he just introduced himself. Her cheeks turned red, trying to avoid his eyes, which also signaled the silver lining. Her hesitation slowed his pace but it was not a burden. There are some basic rules to chase a pretty girl. Do not flirt too much. Don’t act like you are ready to spoil her. Keep being mysterious. Reveal who you are. Reveal the fire inside you. But act like a gentleman even she thinks she knows you. Be a prince. Be a good friend but not let her friendzone. Be polite. Let her feel she is your precious and ignore her. Get her close and keep a distance. Make other girls fall for you too. Fool her. Make her confuse. Until she starts to follow you, until she falls for you, take down her pride, you win.

He spent an hour courted a girl he minded not to ask her name. For a hopeless romantic, it was easier. They were waiting for a prince and opened their heart to whoever they mistook as their prince. This night was probably not a lone night but the loneliness never left him. Or had he to stay in that room with Alex and let the weeds controlled his head? Why did he begin to feel passionless? It would be good news if there was something appeared on that fucking black screen. But Nothing! So he decided to leave this unknown girl alone.

Or they will leave us rotten?

They fell into this hell for almost a month. Drinking too much alcohol, in other words, they had consumed a tank of it. Normally, humans with the gift like them slightly got affected by the intoxication which included the effect of drugs. Nonetheless, if they consumed in a large quantity, they would be affected anyway. The intoxication altered their stable c0nsciousness—blaming their carelessness too. That day, with the troubled minds, they’d done silliest thing—showing-off their powers to each other, on the sky penthouse, at the top of the city—there they were caught.

Ben discovered his superhuman ability since childhood while Alex found his own specialty by accident. For Sarah, they did not know exactly when she got it as she had never told. There, they boasted and performed the gifts, without knowing that a close friend would betray them. Within an hour, the cops intruded with the special warrant. Of course, they fought against them and if they wanted to flee from the scene, he was confident that they could. But the authority threatened that they would link this accusation to Alex’s and Sarah’s families. Moreover, Alex’s younger brother became their hostage. So they yielded. Ironically, they surrendered to the police in order to help the one who caused trouble. It was Nik, Alex’s brother, who reported the police. Nik witnessed his brother’s secret with his own eyes and decided to inform the authority.

Ben admitted that he was surprised when discovered the fact that it was Nik who betrayed them because the boy was sweet...well as he initially misunderstood. But as he analyzed the situation in Alex’s family, he sensed some clues. The cold-hearted father expected his children’s to have the extremely high competency, owing to the fact that he hoped them to continue all the businesses of the Volcov family. Vlad, Alex’s big brother, was Mr. Perfect and was able to respond to his father’s expectations in everything. Alex could be the second Mr. Perfect if he and his father argued less. The main reason for their dispute stemmed from Fyodor’s disapproval of Alex’s passion for photography. Although Alex’s competency had not seconded to his older brother, he lacked a good obedient character. As the three brothers must help each other governed their father’s business empire someday, Nik had no mind to share the fortune with his own brothers. He regarded them as his rivals. The young boy might see the chance to get rid one of the heirs. So when he found out that one of his brothers possessed the unlawful power, he tipped to the police without hesitation.

Ben knew Alex got hurt badly even the fact that Ben seduced Sarah and her betrayal could not wound him that much. Comparing to the betrayal wound, this was just a scratch. Ben always seduced his girlfriend and Alex had been familiar with it. What truly caused Alex’s pain was Nik’s betrayal. And another thing, he longed for reconciliation with his father.

Who knew? The father who seemed to be strict and cold-hearted finally revealed that he did love his children unconditionally. When Alex had been arrested, as the king of Volkov Corporation Group, Fyodor made every effort to take his second son out of the case. For Alex, it was similar to fall to hell, without the chance of repentance. Even God of Volkov could not rescue his own son. The affection Alex first realized warmed his heart and it might be the major factor that made him turn introvert. As Ben had mentioned, Alex and his father disputed several times, specifically since his mother died. Alex yearned to go back and reconcile any mistakes he had done to the father. Or at least, to speak their mind, they needed to talk but the chance had been taken away. Worse, the pain from his loving brother’s betrayal could not be forgotten as well.

“Nik, he’s being used. It’s not his original will. I know him. He changes because of Auntie Kat. She put the bad thought in his head. She poisoned his mind,” Alex told Ben when they were caged in the cell.

“If this thought warmed your heart, continue doing it.”

And me? Thinking of his own family made he wanted to laugh out loud. Ben was one of the children out of wedlock. He did not know who his real mother was but she might be a whore somewhere. Father said he was the smartest kid and had the potential to be his heir. Since childhood, he took little Ben to all the workplaces. Ben learned from his father and he was so proud, thinking father chose him, father accepted him as his true son. That was why people did not regard him as the bastard but ‘Benjamin Rosier’, the son and heir. And when his father acknowledged the news of the arrest, he disowned Ben immediately. On the second day of his arrest, Julian, a stepbrother, visited him with a jeering smile, telling their father took him to the office. His unloving brother informed the news that now he became the favorite son, not Ben anymore. That was why Julian got a broken nose and lost some of his teeth because Ben hit the loving step-brother’s head on the corner of a table as gentle as a serial killer could be. On the day of the departure, only his old nanny came to make the farewell. Father might be busy to fix Julian’s face. An heir with a broken nose and without some teeth did not totally represent a good image to the business.

It served him right.  

Knowing he was no more the heir but a useless bastard, Ben had no regret for his action. His father had not regarded the children like the other parents did but he regarded them as his products. They were only the nominated successors. Thinking of his family, Ben wished he could go back home and revenged on his own father and destroying more teeth of anyone who became his favorite.

“Hey, you!”

The last person he wanted to meet. Tessa’s brother called him, sounded more respectful than the last time. Be polite today? The big shoulders man acted friendlier than the night he mistook him.

“What’s the matter? I insist that she seduces me.” Ben, instantly, responded. “And told lies.”

Noel frowned and said, “I just want to apologize for the last time I…was rude to you. I thought you harassed my sister but it was my sister’s that did…trick us...I should be careful to accuse a person.”

“Trick? She embarrassed me in front of the public! She abused my reputation, man.” Ben gave a mocking smirk. “How can you learn the truth, young man? Why doesn’t she come herself? I will listen.”

“That’s not the point. I just want to apologize. You’ll accept or not, I don’t care. At least, I’ve done what I have to.”

He just came and parted. Ben chuckled to himself. Weird. And then, he realized that to approach that dolly face would be much easier. When the brother realized the truth, Tessa was just a liar bitch. Alex was right; the only fun thing for Ben was to chase girls.

No not one, Alex, annoying you is fun too, he laughed at his thought.

He tried to figure out where Alexis could go. Probably a cinema room because she did not like the club as he saw. It required no time for cheap chicks but for girls with some classes, he must be classy too. Anyway, the first step was to get to know her more. She looks young. Maybe it doesn’t take that long?

However, he did not found Alexis but another.

This time, it was not surprising to see her. Sarah was standing with her back against the wall, smiling gracefully. She was lovelier, Ben thought. Being caged for a long time dispirited them. Sarah, now, was similar to a dying rose. Her lips curled in disgust and delightfulness when he shot a smile at her. Ben knew immediately what she wanted. Yes, she could not pass his test but admittedly, this dying flower still looked gorgeous.

“You look like a dead battery,” she said, her arms wrapping around his neck. In every class, bitch’s always a bitchy slut. He breathed in her perfume. It was a scent of roses.

“My dear, have you ever seen a forgotten expired corn soup behind the dusty shelf?” He pushed her golden hair away from her lovely face. “Use the mirror.”  

“Sharp-tongued.” And she bent her head on his chest. Ben was quick to embrace her. Perhaps this was how Alex saw them comparable, one like a matchstick that was easy to be lit and one was the fire that burns down everything. They worshipped human’s instinct and passion.

Her eyes, baby blue, met his ambers. “Tell me. Who is your new target? You wander around to hunt a prey. I recognize the way your eyes gleam, Wolfy.”

“Huh? You come to me just for asking this question?” His two palms slid underneath her shirt, no bra again. The warmth of woman’s body was always better than the warmth of fur coat. Fondling her blossoms, she let him doing it without protesting.

“Who is the unlucky lady?”

She arched one of her fine brows in challenging. He had never despised this woman but had never loved. All of the above, Ben was impressed that she had never bored him when it was time for this. Her scent of the rose’s extract— perhaps red roses, the soft of her smooth skin, and a possession of a female predator, “You’ll see,” replied he. Lowered his head to where her lips were waiting. His tongue searched for the taste of her craving. It was spicy and sweet. The young man wondered which reason could make Alex ran out of passion for this woman. How could he restrain himself when she came close and used the tongue all over his body?

She tore down his shirt, flinging herself to him. “This place is cursed, Ben. I don’t know why I keep messing with you. I don’t know at all.”

He pulled her close. Their mouths glued to each other whereas his hands moved to the lower part, touching her rose petals, already wet. She was pleased, pleased to be touched. It was not his over-pride but her singing, her breath, and her move. He reached for her tongue, kissing her neck, removing her clothes. Until the nectar glided, the woman wrapped one of her legs around his waist, urging him to do it more. There, he pushed her into the nearest nook beside the drinking machine. There, they prepared to demonstrate the tantric performance in the semi-public place.

No one here and no one would care. Sarah unbuttoned her top revealing her full white breast. Ben sucked it intensively. She mourned. He moved up and dipped his tongue in this little mouth then her neck. She grabbed his face and bit his ears. Once their bodies entwined, Sarah arched her back so he made them reunited. He felt her warm temperature and the electricity. They beat the first rhythm and the other followed. It was the ballad first then the rock went on. Sarah was a good partner, obviously. Her voice, her move, her body, everything stimulated his wild instinct. Ben groaned and made she cried harder until her body shook with the slender legs locked him up, he still moved ‘till all of their emotions were released.

**********

“You two should marry but please don’t reproduce. Your devil offspring will cause the second apocalypse. Thanks Satan for letting me be your friends…I can’t believe it! You guys, crazy?”

Ben sat with his back leaning on the wall, slightly exhausted, and Sarah bending her head on his right shoulder, the same breathing rhythm. Now, Ben checked his clothes, torn by Sarah’s claws. Alex was sitting in front of them, watching the best friend and the ex-girlfriend dressing up.

“Having children with him? I hate Ben, Alex. You know well.”

“I must be the bent Julius Caesar who wed Brutus.”

Alex rolled his eyes. “Yeah, but what the fuck I just heard? The bent Julius and Brutus coiled up to each other.”

Ben shrugged.

“You’re fucking crazy. I’m the maddest that befriend you two. It’s daytime and people are walking around. How can you do it?”

“It’s called excitement, son. And we’re cavemen. This is how cavemen do. Why you get out of that room?” Ben asked because Alex recently told him not to get out and he was about rooting his feet in there. “Showering? Three days ago?”

Sarah yelled, “Ewww, Alex. Don’t skip a shower.”

“Am I stink?” He jerked his brow to challenge her.  

Sarah, bending her head, gave him a cunning smile, then, licked her thumb.

His friend raised the white flag. “I’m kidding. Forget it.” Turned to Ben. “Well, I just realize that I’m hungry so I leave that room. Then I heard her scream…” he narrowed his eyes to Sarah including the knowing smile. Alex, certainly, must be familiar with it. They spend their time together a few romantic weeks before Ben destroyed their relationship. At least, now, they seemed to talk normally like the real good friends.

“Is it hard to get a guy? Sarah?” asked Alex.

“Yeah,” The blondie confessed, combing her golden hair with her fingers. “There are a few hot guys and most of them lose their interest in women…including you.”

“I don’t…” Alex bit his lips. “We can’t go back.”

“I know. That’s why I’m with him.”

Ben gave a chortle. “I think it’s your excuse, Sarah. You addict to me. Even you have men to fuck with but no one is as good as me,” Ben talked with pride. Sarah sneered at him but did not deny the boasting part. Of course, she hated him but not the whole. Their fire of desire corresponded to each other but it was only the fire. When they ran out of fuel, nothing connected them together. It was something serious people like Alex (even though he was not that kind of serious people) would never understand.

And Alex whispered, “Trista,” Ben clenched his fist right away. 

“Actually, I thought you’re chasing the silver head? I see many girls die to bed him. Could not win him?” asked Ben.

The boy with the silver hair was the boy that Ben surrendered to that kind of flawlessness. Even though he dyed his hair, the silver color maximized his divine appearance unless he was a weirdo whom someone muted his voice. 

“He’s the real robotic humanoid,” Sarah replied.

“You give up on him?”

She rolled her eyes. “He might be handsome but too weird. My new favorite is the blond, the newbie. He seemed to receive my message but…he has a girl beside him, very pretty girl.” Her eyes turned blankly as if she looked for him inside that little mind. 

Ben thought he knew who this boy was; who acted like Bambi’s bodyguard and the girl Sarah mentioned must be that Alexis.

“Your taste disappoints me, Blondie.”

Alex switched his eyes from Ben to Sarah, hugged himself, and sighed.

“Alex…” Sarah murmured. “I know we really can’t go back. We’re not in love anymore.”

“No.” he repeated. “Maybe…not from the start.”

“Last time I asked about going back. I didn’t really mean it.”

“I know.”

“I’m lonely, Alex.”

“I know and I’m sorry I keep away from you. I did tell you I forgive.”

Oh, come on. Good ending scene.  

“I think we can be good friends if you allow me to be your friend.”

“We can and I love to,” Alex smiled warmly at her. “But as your friend, I suggest you avoid Ben. D0n’t you remember what he did to you? To us?”

Sarah stared at her laps but Ben felt like she was spying on him and then her voice changed. It was not bell-like but…sad. “I know Alex. Thanks anyway. I promise you, soon.”  

What the fuck…Ben became paranoid with their newest friendship.

Alex looked at them and said, “Let’s get some food. The longer I’m lingering here, the more I’m evil. Come on, two fallen angels.”

Alex stood up and encouraged them to move quickly. Sarah still concerned on his words, “At least I’m an angel, even the fallen one,” she muttered leisurely.

The man with the amber eyes laughed at her innocent suggestion, “The fallen angels are evil spirits, babe. And the evil spirits are demons.”

“Oh please, you’re no Lucifer.” She totally disapproved. “He’s devil but angel too, even the bad one.”

Ben sniggered at her. “Of course not. I’ve never been an archangel. But many told me I look like his son.”

“That sounds likely. What is your name, my demon?”

“Elm. My old nanny told me that.”

Sarah glowered at him. “I’m not that flower girl.”

“No, you’re not. You’ll never be her.”  You’re just a rose.

But before they moved their butts, Alex running back to him, eyes gleaming with delightfulness, shouted, “There the message on the TV screen!”

Chapter 15: Blue Star and Night Sky

The health check-up is scheduled at 9 am, on 21st July 3012. Please come to the main hall within the time scheduled.

“Health check-up?” 

They sat on the same old table in the club. As the Thomas and the teens from San Bosa united together, they became closer and the group got bigger.  

“Probably, they’ll train us,” Wade revealed his opinion. “To be a super soldier.”

Alexis believed that it was not an opinion but also a hope because that sounded great.

“You watch too many movies,” Oslo demurred.

“But I think he sounds reasonable,” Noel supported Wade’s theory which was no surprise. It sounded more positive. “I prefer this.”

Another hopeful person.

“If it is, why do they leave us with many questions? Why don’t they tell us directly?” Alexis was still skeptical. “I don’t feel right. They cover something…bad. If we have to be trained like that, why do they keep silence? And look around. We should be trained if you’re right.”

Most people did not buy her thought. Not surprise again because it sounded worse.

“And what do you think they’re gonna do?” asked Tessa.

Alexis shook her head. “I don’t really know.” But it’s not good.

“You don’t know but Wade has his reason. You two, don’t be too serious! Please! Let it be.” Alexis and Oslo exchanged their eyes. Even though she and Tessa chatted a lot, the oldest sister of Thomas always took side with Wade. They shared many similar thoughts and philosophy about life. Sometimes, she saw they shared romantic moment as well but they could not be a thing…for the reason was Alexis.    

“Yeah, previously, you agree with me and now you take her side,” Wade claimed with disappointment.

The boy with freckles smiled tiredly, “You know what? No sun, no sky, no star, I understand why Alexis is so depressed. We need natural air, not from the air condition.”

“Depressed?” Alexis repeated his word. “I just don’t have the mood.” She felt her brows knotted tightly. No need to talk to them anymore, to avoid the attack, she decided to go.

“She’s always like this, upset, and leave.”

“I heard, Oslo!”

Alexis went to the water machine. She consumed too much alcohol like hell for a week; therefore, she needed a kind of detox.

“Water?” Wade followed. “You’re really a doctor’s daughter.”

“What do you want?” asked she. His smile revealed all his white teeth. The bruises on his arms disappeared, so did the scars and bruises on her body. Thanked to Ben the Charming for giving the walkthrough to the magic elixir.

“I come to hear your answer.”

“Huh?”

“Don’t you remember what I asked you yesterday?”

Alexis pretended that it just popped up in her head. I thought you’re drunk. “Ah, yes…” He asked her to go steady with him. Wade was waiting eagerly. “Wade…I”

“…It was a few years ago. We were in June’s mansion. You were drunk because June pranked on you and Jesse scolded and made her cried. And you roared your laughter at them. You were crazy but from that day I can’t stop thinking about you.”

Alexis could not hide her smile. It sounds weird but nice to hear. “That’s sweet to hear, Wade…” His smile faded away, knowing what she was going to reject him. “Listen. You’re very nice to me and I feel really thankful. But…I’m sorry.”

“Why don’t we try?” He was disappointed, clearly.

“Because I don’t feel that way…I’m sorry, really.” She stared at his eyes to confirm her answer and hoped he respected that.

But she was wrong.

 “I should’ve told you before Dave. You know? He knows wholeheartedly that I like you and what had he done? And I still befriend with him. Retarded I am. I should’ve not done it. You might give me a chance and I wouldn’t have to get the girls I don’t really like. I didn’t have to watch you and Dave together and see you guys broke up. I wouldn’t let you down and cheat on your best friend like he did.”

“Wade…not again. Please.” Her voice lowered, tired of his teasing.

“And if I get a new girl, don’t cry.”

“I love to see you happy…with the girl who is right for you.” He kept a long silence and the uneasiness stirred up the atmosphere. Alexis gradually touched his arms but he moved away, keeping a distance. Then, he showed his back.

Her eyes followed him. Later, Wade pretended as though nothing happened and enjoyed the party as he did every day. In the next hour, he got a new girl, the beautiful blonde and a few years older than him, whom Alexis and Oslo saw her frequently crying alone in many places.

“Is it very complicated or is it very simplistic?” Oslo murmured, eyed observing the blond friend. “I saw that girl with that man this afternoon.”

“Ben, right?” Tessa joined their conservation. Minnie turned her head immediately. Only Noel did not stay here. Tessa said he was bored of clubbing but they all knew he was still fed up with Tessa. However, they did not know how she made him turn out like that. Honestly, they usually fought.

“Brunet hair, amber eyes, looks fine and rich, he approached our Alex last time.”

“Yes, Ben,” Tessa confirmed. “She’s in his group. There are three. All came from the capital but I mostly see Ben and her. Do you still talk to him?”

Alexis denied it. “Last time, from that day, I didn’t see him.” She watched Tessa drank heavier than the other days. “Are you okay? You and Noel? What happened?”

“He thought he’s my father.” And she made a groan.

Alexis and Oslo had eyes contact. They had fought again as predicted.    

“Noel gets furious. He’s afraid Tessa will become promiscuous and two-faced,” Minnie revealed it all.

“When will you stop sell my story?” The big sister got totally angry. “Are you my sister? Go to bed!”

“If I don’t tell your story, then who?” Minnie smiled broadly and ran away. Alexis laughed softly but when she met Tessa’s fierce eyes, her laugh died away.

“Sorry…” The girl checked her watch; it was nine o’clock. “Okay, I’m about to leave.”

Tessa turned her face to Oslo and then back to Alexis. “No, no, no way. It’s too early.” She closed her mouth to watch Wade exchanging the deep kiss with that girl. “You act like an old lady. Alexis.” Her eyes did not leave the new couples.

“Perhaps, I am.”

“Is it because of Wade?”

Alexis laughed. “No, I’m fine. I’m glad he finds a girl. Look at her, so beautiful and lively. It’s not about him, Tessa. It’s about me, me only.”

The young woman with the golden blonde hair caught most of the boys’ eyes. She wore some makeup and her baby blue eyes were shining like diamonds. Alexis loved her dance steps which captivated all attentions around the room in every move. Seeing the beautiful golden head, she also missed her Little Charlie and his golden locks.

“It’s about me,” Alexis repeated.

“You spend the time to sleep more and more,” Oslo spoke. “Don’t dream too much. It’s just a dream, Alex.” It was obvious he noticed that she slept earlier every day.

Alexis avoided Oslo’s and Tessa’s eyes. “Well, see you tomorrow.”

Dreaming was the only way she could meet them again. Some night she sat talking with Caleb about everything, eating mother’s apple pie. Or she was reading while Bryce played guitar, with Jessie lying on the floor reading his textbook. June was still her friend and Davy was her boyfriend. Even Blacky, the dead dog became alive, ticking its tail and running around them. This was another night she met Davy. He was sitting on the couch watching a soccer match while she laid her head down on his laps.

“You’re not real,” she said to him and she meant the Davy she longed for. Behind those hazel eyes, there was the pure love that the real Davy had not, the sweet illusion, the image of him she loved and missed so bad.

“I’m real.” He gave a short snigger and an affectionate kiss. In this dream, she still felt his warm breath, lips, and body. The girl rose to sit on his laps and embraced Davy’s figure created from her yearning. She was conscious even in the dream stage. In this illusion, Alexis enjoyed the temporary contentment.

“You hug me so tight,” he told her. “Is anything okay?”

“I just miss you,” she said. And she saw the same old ceiling. Alexis tried to focus her mind on the dream but she woke up eventually.

The over-white room with a single bed, a wardrobe, a desk, and a digital clock. It was only three and thirty in the morning. She closed her eyes longing to return to the living room and Davy again. But she could not go back to sleep.

Alexis began to be uncertain if the decision of rejecting Wade was a good idea when she desperately needed someone to hold her in his arms. And Wade surely could warm her up with his strong arms and large chest. But if she allowed herself to let Wade stand beside her, how was their kiss would be? Recalling Wade and the new girl, Alexis hardly denied that she needed that kind of their kiss, hot and sensual. Unfortunately, except in the dream, every time she recalled the kiss of her and Davy, June’s radiant face appeared.

Another weird thing that happened to her was the recent dreams she dreamed. Oddly enough, she was aware of the dreaming stage. So it was not the full escape when the girl could not fully enjoy the dream because of this self-awareness. In every dream, she was scared of the end.

The girl got up and went to the mirror. She watched herself in it. Regardless, she hardly recognized the girl in the mirror. Alexis did not like the way she was now. Her father once said her smile was the loveliest but it was impossible to smile from her heart again.

Impossible to continue due to early sleeping, her mind could not rest so she washed her face, changed her clothes, and exited the room. She headed to the large screen just to check if anything changed. The old message was still displayed, unaltered. Even though there was no window to see the sky, the difference between night and day had been notified through senses. Alexis was walking alone while the others probably got to bed or still clubbing.

Then, the girl thought of the planetarium room which smelt like weeds all the time. Perhaps, in this hour, the smell might disappear and no one disturbed her observation.

It situated a little bit far from the cafeteria. Around one or two minute walks, she stood in front of the black door. Lucky as she wished, no one was there but the smell of weeds lightly lingered inside. She saw virtual stars sparkling. Although it was not the real sky, it impressed her no matter what because she had not seen for a long time. 

The girl headed towards the projector. Once she touched it, the synthesis sound emitted. “Do you want to play the documentary movie?”

“Give me the details,” she said to the device, starting to be accustomed to the way the system ran.

“There are three documentary movies, the Origin of Universe, the Death of Stars, and Our Earth.”

“The Death of Stars,” she said without hesitation.

Thousands of stars around her turned dimmer and dimmer until the room got completely dark and she saw nothing except the black of emptiness. Suddenly, the cosmic shapes began to glow again. Watching the birth of the white dwarf star, supernova, neutron star, and the black hole with the best graphic she had never seen before. Everything was born and dies because, in the end, they turn to dust. The stellar collision paralyzed her thought. She let her mind went to the stream of this artificial outer space, and then the pictures of her life appeared, the first day to become Alexis Davis, the time with her family, and the time she departed from them. Never had a single thought in her mind that she was an orphan. Never had a mind to search for the real parents who had abandoned her. Never thought Caleb and Bianna were just adoptive parents but the real ones. In spite of this, she was a small little thing in the universe with the shorter lifespan than the supernova.

How would it be if she had not recognized the love from them? Would she accept the reality better than this? If there was God, why did the great lord let her experience that kind of love and warmth before taking it back? Because when they were gone, it was so hard to accept the pain of losing.

What the purpose of this? What the purpose of God and the government? Alexis thought once the consciousness resumed, hoping the stars could give her the answer. What happened after the apocalypse? What more the government keeps hidden?

“Do you have any other documentary movies?”

“It requires time for download.”

“I can wait.”

“Please give the keyword.”

“The post-apocalypse.”

“No item found in the data.”

Too quick. Alexis gave a suppressed laugh to herself that she tried to search for the answer from the projector. And then she smelled the strong scent of weeds spread around the room.

Shit.

She turned to face the one who expelled everyone with this smell. He was a very tall man, lean but well-built, wearing a long sleeve shirt, jeans, and boots (due to the light, she was not sure about the color). He stared back as she stared at his messy dark hair which reminded her of Jesse’s hair. This guy looked devilish but still handsome. When the brightness of the stellar explosion reflected on his visage, it revealed how drowsy and emotionless he was.

“Could you please stop smoking?” The girl politely asked.

The young man moved closer and closer, with the cigarette at his mouth. “Why? Is there any rule?” he drawled.

A corner of his mouth lifting up when he saw she was stunned of his refusal, the tall man gazed at her. He was not really unemotional but irritating. The anger rose inside. Alexis tried so hard to calm her little temper down.

The girl moved away and spoke to the device to play “the Origin of Universe” movie. At the moment, she heard the ticking.

“Stop making that annoying sound!”

“I don’t!” He raised both hands to show his innocence and followed her. “If you select ‘Our Earth’, you will see that the graphics are incredibly fantastic. This room is small but the quality is majestic! Forget the planetariums in our world.”

“Wait until this movie ends. Then you can watch and smoke as you like.”

He emitted the smoke and pointed at it. “It’s the mystic midst. How beautiful! Don’t you see?”

How could I deal with this insane man?

“It’s not good for you lung.”

“That’s very kind of you.” Even though he did not smile, the eyes conveyed the one that mocked her. “But it’ll never ruin my health. Don’t worry.”

“It ruins mines. That’s my worry,” she snapped back. “But I know you don’t care because you don’t even know how to share and respect people. If you think smoking will help you own the room, you’re wrong. I come first and you must stop smoking and wait.”

Definitely, she remembered that Mary Stephen had recorded the false information about her allergy to dust. But the smoke from the cigarette was another issue which did not relate to her fear of dust. In contrast, it related to her irritation towards this man.

“Oh, you see my trick.” He laughed but the laughter obviously reflected he was pretending. “You’re funny. Try one? I teach you.” He offered a cigarette. “It clears your mind.”

Alexis glowered at him. The girl knew how the weeds affected people but she did not know how to cope with this man. In her own conclusion, the girl kept her distance from him because she wanted to win his stubbornness and because she came first. On the contrary, if he would not stop, the best solution was to surrender and leave this room. As she had thought, he still approached to bother her, emitted the smoke to her face. Moreover, the ticking sound still existed but the young man next to her did not make it, except created more fume.

“What’s that sound?” asked her, fanning her hand to clear all the smoke.

“Huh? What sound?”

He carefully listened to the mysterious sound she mentioned and, “Oh, no no no no!”

The ticking sound volumed up. “This one!” Alexis pointed out. In an instant, the projector stopped dead and the normal light turned on, instantly blinding her eyes. Then she perceived a mysterious force that pushed her body away from where she was standing. Unexpectedly and over-imaginatively, Alexis fell and a few inches she would bump into the wall. A slight pain she felt. The girl blinked trying to see things. Then she heard, ‘Splash!’ The waterfall from the ceiling showered up all over that man.

 “What is that?” Shocking, certainly, the beeping sound echoed repeatedly. A short moment later, the sound of air ventilation did the job. The air perished all the water out of the room.

Smoke detector!” he answered. His clothes were half dry.

“Are you alright?” She asked, still startled. He was younger, younger than Noel, might be around Ben. His skin was pale but his face now turned red. 

He shook his head. “No, because they have installed the smoke detector in this room. No, I’m not alright, not at all.” His voice trembled. He sat on the floor but Alexis thought it was like he collapsed from heartbreaking. It was really ridiculous.

“There’s only this room without the smoke detector. Now, none!” He pulled a pack of cigarettes from the shirt’s pocket. It was still dry. She saw he breathed out with relief. Then he turned to face her.

“Karma is a bitch, right?” He said with the smile, now, to mock himself specifically and it brought a smile on her face as well.

“Yeah, serve you right.” Perhaps, he was not that bad but a troll. “And thanks for pushing me away…well, even it almost kills me. But did you push me away?” She was certain she’d not felt any hand touch.

Alexis looked around and sighed. The light began to turn dimmer and dimmer until it was dark. The projector worked again and the stars revitalized.

“You seem to like this room so much. Alright, I let you own it.” The girl kindly gave up. She lost the feeling to search for the answer from these digital stars.

He looked up at her; the water from his hair dropped down on that devilishly beautiful face. “You can stay.”

“It’s alright. I don’t want to watch anymore.”

“No, no… stay. I know how to share the room now. You must respect my kind offer.” 

Alexis shook her head but did not get temper rising like earlier. She sat down on the floor and found it was completely dry.

“What kind of this science sorcery!” The girl was scarily amazed at the mechanism. The government possessed the super high-technology, higher than those in some science movies.

“So you like this room or stay in this room just for smoking?” she asked the young man.

“Fifty-fifty correct.”

And he abruptly stood up. Alexis unintentionally stood up too. He walked around the room watching the stars as if it was his own gallery, “It reminds me of how small I am. I am lost. I am a small piece of this universe. I am abandoned.”

It was strange that when he spoke, Alexis saw through him clearer than seeing him under the bright light. The tone of his voice implied the sarcastic thought towards the government.

“You really want to share the sky with me, right now?” She inquired when he acted friendlier, still uncertain.

“I did say it.”

“Whatever,” Alexis squeezed her front head, adjusting her emotion.

“I didn’t try to expel you…Okay, at first, yes,” he confessed with a laugh. “But when I saw you were standing watching the collision of stars…it’s like you’re one of them, the collision is in yours as I see it’s in mines. You have some questions…like me…pain…as if this is the end of your life. Your mind is confusing whether you have to accept the truth or not. And…you’re trying to search for the answer.”

Alexis muted herself for a long time when someone could read her mind.

“Right. You’re right. I can’t make my mind in peace when it keeps being skeptical. Sometimes I wonder what we are now is real or virtual. Perhaps, this place is a spaceship for human research. And at midnight, something will change. One day, I’ll forget myself.”

A long silence rose between them.

She felt his stare but could not see which color of his eyes was, dark-brown? As she moved her interest, Alexis’s eyes followed the movement of the black hole. “They should paint the softer white color. It irritates my eyes. I don’t like it. It’s too white. I don’t know why.”

He snickered. “Agree with that. My best friend said they tried to paint themselves white.”

“Sound making sense but my friends didn’t see that. They don’t like nor like it. They just don’t care. I don’t like when my friends…are okay with it, accept the reality or this hallucination so well.” She looked back to him but the view was not clear enough when they were under the night sky and sparkling stars. “I don’t know when you came in. You said you saw my reaction towards this. Really? I think it’s a little bit dark here.”

“Yes, our sight is better than yours, even under the dim light. You didn’t notice my presence even I approach you until I lit the cigarette. It took some times to wait. So when you woke up, I trolled at you.”

Alexis laughed. “You know what you did.”

Shrugging, the corner of his mouth lifted up.

This man was a strange person. Alexis lost her good observation skill when her physical senses were corrupted to the ambiance. It was strange too that his words sounded true to her.

“I’m Alex. What’s your name?”

Alexis laughed at once, “Weird, I’m Alex too, from Alexis. Hey!” She thought of the charming Ben. “You’re Ben’s friend. Right?”

“You know that jerk?” His voice sounded monotonous. “Hmm, maybe it’s not surprise. He must know the girl like you before me. That’s jerk’s always quick.”

Alexis did understand but not the whole meaning. “Yeah...He laughed when I told him my name. So…you are that Alex?”

“From Alexander,” replied he. “Yes, I am that Alex. Are you guys close?”

“It was a short conservation, like hi! Nice to meet you but he’s really kind. He told me…” Stop being talkative, Alexis!. “Well…whatever.”

“Kind?”

“You always sleep late?”

“Actually, I sleep here, don’t I?” Alex stopped his step and called her to come closer. “I just got out for a drink and when I returned, I saw you stole my room.”

“….”

“It’s a joke. You’re serious girl, are you? Want to play magic?” He sounded alert.

“I don’t know how to play the trick and I’m done with the trick.” Alexis thought of the magic trick that led her to the arrest at Wade’s party.

“It’s ok. I do. Come here.” Alex did not wait for her to follow his command but jumped behind her back and inserted his arms around her waist trying to carry her. “Hey!” Alexis tried to push his arms away. “This isn’t nice, not at all.”

“It’s alright. I don’t intend to do any…nasty things. Just believe me okay? I promise it’s a pure magic. Don’t restrain your body from me.”

“It sounds…scary and I don’t like your last sentence,” Her heart beat in a race. Cameron’s monstrous face emerged in her thought. Would this guy turn to be that monster too? But he had not the look like that. And Bruce had not the look like that. She did not feel like being the victim again. “I can be an audience. Please.”

Alex did notice her discomfort and his voice softened. “It’s not dangerous. You’re safe with me. Let me hold you, okay? Come on! I need an assistant. You get the privilege ticket, you know?”

His face was just a few inches from her and that was how she could see his dark eyes. It was very dark but there were stars dazzling inside the pair. And she did not know why she began to trust him.

“You promise?”

“Yes, nothing to be scared. I promise.” He showed his little finger.

“But why you have to carry me?” The girl still interrogated.

“Because it’s easy for me and safer, you’ll see. I did promise.”

Alexis thought for a while then nodded with approval. He lifted her as if she was just a little doll.

“I count one to three, okay?”

She nodded.

“One…” and he jumped.

Alexis screamed; her eyes closed dared not to look down. 

Shortly, she just realized they did not fell on the ground but levitated, embraced by millions of stars, taking the closer look of the Milky Way. And when Alex ordered to the projector to zoom it, it was like the stars moved closer to them.

At that moment, her body and soul were separated from each other. Alexis felt like she was weightless. The moment she forgot all the miserable thoughts that kept haunting. When the soul was free, the perception also ceased its duty. When she perceived nothing, no pain, no yearning, and no doubt. They were no more. She became one of the stars, existed but be insensible. Losing control of all perception might be the introduction to self-liberation.

“Now you understand why I’m here?”

His resonant voice lingered in her ears but her brain worked slower. They gradually descended to the ground, succumbed to gravity at last. The girl got down from him.

“I’ve never…Wow. It’s like we’re in the outer space.” Her hands softly clapped at her mouth. “You can fly. That’s amazing.”

“I can’t fly,” he corrected her. Alexis just realized to perceive that he kept watching her.

“What?”

He moved closer. His gaze mused at her eyes, as though he was so curious about it. “I’ve never seen such blue eyes.”

“My eyes? They’re just blue.”

“Not just blue, deep blue. When we were above and we’re so close, I saw them clearly, very blue, deep blue but...there…something igniting…not by the starlight but inside of you.”

It was like the temperature rose up; Alexis felt the air temperature rose. Alex moved closer with his eyes fixing on hers, searching for something in her eyes. The girl started to be out of breath so she stepped back.

“We’re nocturnal animals, are we?” The young man asked.

“For me, just this day. I love sleeping.”

They looked at each other without speaking for a while and it was Alex who destroyed the silence. “Just me and you tonight, why don’t we try talking philosophy?” ended the sentence with a wicked smile.

“…huh?”

“I really mean philosophy.” And that teasing smile again; his eyes gleamed to make fun of her dirty thought. She breathed out a sign of some patience because he made her think like that. On the other hand, she had the mind to discuss it. Of course, I mean philosophy.

“Perhaps, Descartes?”

“Therefore, we are.”

Chapter 16: The Squad

“What is this place?”

The flat screen on the desk displayed the details of his health, weight, height, birthdate, blood type, cholesterol level, HDL level, blood pressure, etc. The female officer in the white gown (white again!) covering her mouth with the green mask, complimented his good healthiness with her high pitched tone.

“What is this place, Ma’am?”

She pulled his hand and explained how to use the digital watch on the wrist. It was like she talked to someone else and Ben was just a wall. This damn watch could record everything about its owner, showing the data in the hologram, including the recent time he smoked, which would be the last record because that room had the smoke detector installed. Ben understood so well that this innovation broke Alex’s heart.

“What the hell is this place? Can you just tell me?”

“Next! Mr. Alexander Volkov.”

The chair instantly automatically moved and it pushed him out of the room by force. His question had been completely ignored and Ben lay down on the floor, hurting.

The young man massaged his butt while waiting. Until Alex exited, the tall man smiled broadly, “Amazingly healthy even you almost grow weeds inside your lungs.” He imitated the woman’s soprano voice and they roared the laughter.

“I asked her about this damn place and she ignored me,” Ben told him walking and kicking the air around.

“Yeah, I heard.”

Honestly, the most thing that intrigued him now was how Alex turned surprisingly back to himself, fresh and clean, not the drug addict and the introvert daydreamer. He was not sure if he should thank the smoke detector or not. At least, his best friend returned to the normal stage. But when he asked about the change, Alex just revealed a slice of truth. He said he got a new friend a few days ago, whom Ben died to know who this new friend was; because Alex kept it in secret. And when he had the secret, Ben could not sleep properly due to the curiosity and anxiety.

“What are we going to do?” He asked his friend.

“You don’t chase a girl?”

Ben rolled his eyes. “A lot of people are still inside the hall. Where can I get them? And I’m not that obsessive, man. Tell me who your new friend is.”

“Guys!” Sarah appeared. Her interruption saved Alex in time. Not the right, Bitch.

The blonde waved at them eagerly. She changed as well. Previously was a dying flower, now the revived rose. Recently, she got a new partner. No, not her soon-to-be boyfriend, Sarah did not aim at building the real romantic relationship with the boy whose name was Wade Miller, but it was a role play for a civilized cavewoman.  She said it was like going back to the school time, befriended with his peers, and enjoyed hanging out with them. Apparently, they played this game just to kill the time. However, with this fact, he could not deny that she was happier. And though she insisted on acting, the woman unconsciously considered the relationship as seriousness in some levels, resulting that she did not come to him for the intimacy as usual. Sarah kept her promise with Alex that she would have kept the distance with Ben and she did well. This was really irritating.

“What’s up, ma’am?” He greeted back.

“Let’s play Basketball. Ben, listen. Listen, first. I will introduce your guys to meet Wade’s friends. They’re really nice and funny. I can guarantee that. We can build a new bigger group.”

“Can’t believe it! Sarah gets a new squad with those young people. Do you and that boy become the real thing?”

She gave him a dagger look, “Of course, yes. Of course, not, whatever you think. I don’t care, but please remember that we have to socialize with other people. I try and it’s not bad. Think of school life. Now I have girlfriends to talk about girly things. We can’t live like this forever, alone.” She almost spat the last word on his face.

Ben remained undisturbed. “I saw you carry your precious cosmetics bags out of your room. Did you play dress-up with your girlfriends too? How old are you?”

“It’s her business,” Alex patted on his shoulder. One of his hands covered the yawning mouth. Thought you sleep properly. “And I agree with her. You want me to get out of that room. Now, it’s time to build friends. We can’t stay alone and let them circle us by our family names anymore.”

Sarah snapped her fingers. “You’re back, Alex. And about my girls, we talked about fashion and trends. They loved my treasures so we helped each other do the make-up and create the new style. See? I have several new activities and friends. Who knows I’ll be the fashion queen in this world? You two should do it too. It’s easier than you think.”

“Fashion queen?”

She curled her hair. “If we have to live here, like forever, at least, I should be the influencer, not the follower. No matter which type of society, gaining power is always the best choice.” She clapped her hands. “Oh yes, I know how to persuade you. There are two sweet girls in the group and I know you love to see them.” 

“If they’re so sweet, you should not introduce them to this devil,” Alex suggested, disapproving.

Sarah pretended to be alarmed by placing her palms on her chest. “Right…my mistake. Forget it, Ben.”

“Are you my friend?” He grumbled. Alex just grinned.

Ben gave them his boring face. They did not know he already introduced himself to one of those girls but had not taken any advance. Of course, he already knew whom Sarah mentioned, Little Bambi and the liar.

“You really want to join that group?”

Alex moved his head up and down. “I don’t have anything to do in particular. Maybe we have to do something different from our routine.”

The woman revealed a big bright smile. “Cool. That’s the right decision. But we have to wait for the others. See you guys in the next hour at the basketball court.” Sarah turned around and moved away like dancing. Alex and Ben exchanged their look with a knowing smile, agreeing that her liveliness revitalized the environment. Gracious, she was anyway; a blooming flower colorized the atmosphere.

Two men killed the time at the cinema, watching a romantic drama movie but after ten minutes, Ben dozed off. He woke up because Alex shaking him.

“What?” His voice turned hoarse.

“The meeting,” he pointed on the watch.

“Why’re you so keen on it?” The amber eyes sighed and got up.

“Make friends!” 

 Both had visited the basketball court once. Ben and Alex did not usually play this kind of sports so they had no desire to revisit. During their time in the school and the college, they joined martial arts, boxing, shooting, swimming, and tennis. Forgot the golf, they hated it. Their fancy of martial arts and shooting influenced by their childhood heroes, boys’ dream to be strong and unbeatable, especially Ben, he also collected weapons, both ancient and modern models.

 The basketball court was floored with polished maple wood with the one-side grandstand. Six people were already waiting for them. All wore a t-shirt and shorts or jeans. Alexis was sitting between Tessa and the boy with the red hair. Since Tessa saw him, she narrowed her eyes and raised her chin. Ben gave a wink and an intimidating charming smile to the girl. So she greeted him with her middle finger.

“Hey!” Alexis waved. Instantly, his interest turned to this one. Ben almost waved back but as he saw her eyes fixed at Alex and he waved back, Ben’s eyebrows turned knotted. The girl waved at him too but in the more timid way.

“You know her?” Ben had no hesitation to ask and then everything was clear. “Oh…this new friend…right?”

Alex nodded. “Yes.”

“Oh cool.” The know-it-all slyly smiled. “You didn’t tell me the new friend you mentioned is a girl. And you didn’t tell me or describe how lovely she is.”

Alex bit his lips. “I want to know what your brain made of. And if you know why I didn’t tell you, this is the reason. You always have dirty thoughts.”

“Well, this is because I was born from lust and greed, not love.” He pulled Alex’s shirt. “Listen. Remember the girl I mentioned before. The one I tell you that freshen up the place. I mean this one, my little Bambi.”

“Oh, really?” Alex acted like he did not care. Ben narrowed his eyes more, eager to dig up the truth from him. Seeing his friend’s keen interest, Alex locked his neck and dragged him to trail Sarah.

“You can’t stop my investigation!” Ben whined sharply inside Alex’s arms.

“You must.” Alex tightened his lock.  

Sarah introduced Ben and Alex to the others. Ben already knew Wade who was Sarah’s fling. This boy still gave a black look to him even he hooked up with the Blondie. Alexis, the lovely sunflower who looked livelier than the day they met at the club, smiled adorably at him. The boy with the red hair named Oslo was friendlier than Wade. There were the Thomas, Noel, Tessa’s brother, Tessa, his rival, and Minnie, Tessa’s sister who made him felt like talking with a seven-year-old girl in a teenage body.

“We have nine people,” Ben pointed out.

“It’s okay. Any team who has Alexis will have four members,” the redhead proposed the idea which sounded totally unfair but he agreed with it.

“That’s not fair! Look at Noel!” The girl pointed to the oldest who could be compared to a huge pillar.

“I don’t play,” Minnie said and moved to the grandstand. She was the kind of girls Ben had no desire to communicate with. She had many conflicts with herself, too ordinary but weird too. The dark aura around her glowed dimly as he saw it.

“Oh come on Minnie, we can fix it,” Oslo shouted behind her back. “Look, can we invite him?” He pointed his finger at the boy with the silver hair who just came in. He slowly moved to the grandstand and sat, watching them.

“Hey, do you want to play?” Oslo shouted at him. That jerk was about to move and then unmoved.

“Forget him,” Ben concluded. But when he glanced at Tessa and Alexis, two girls expressed their deep regret.

“Does anyone know his name? He’s really mysterious and so cute,” Tessa voiced her question. Those beautiful grey eyes still mused at that boy. Girls.

Sarah had invited him to join their group many times but he answered them by walking away. Girls loved this type of character as he observed. Perhaps his coldness and mysterious characteristics charmed the chic. Sadly, they were unable to notice that his front teeth were a little bit bigger than normal ones.

“His name is Michael,” Alex and Alexis answered Tessa.

“What?” Ben and Sarah switched their eyes to him. It was the first time he and the woman shared the same suspicion. They were not surprised for Alexis; it was our friend who surprised them. Because Alex should be the last person they thought he knew the other people, apart from his nature, since he caved himself in the planetarium for many days.

“Man, today you surprised me twice.”

“I knew his name during the health check-up,” Alex explained. “He was next to me.”

“And how do you know his name, Alexis?” Sarah asked the younger girl curiously.

“Long story but nothing to be curious, tell you later.”

“Wait, wait.” Oslo turned down the topic about that boy. “We have two Alexes!”

“Is that the problem?” Alexis asked. Her perfectly bushy brows turned knotted.

“For the game, yes,” Ben agreed. “You’re quick to see it.” He complimented the boy. Oslo beamed.

“Alexis and Alexander,” Ben murmured. “Too long.”

“What’s your last name?” Wade asked the male Alex. The tall man groaned.

“Why I have to tell you?”

“Because you’re new,” Wade said. “And I usually call my friend, Alex.” 

“It’s alright. Just call whatever you want. Can we start the game now?” The girl hastened the others.

“Volcov,” Sarah quickly solved the problem. “Don’t frown at me, Alex. I call you the same because I usually call Alexis not Alex. But for them, it’s really confusing to call you Alex.”

“But I sometimes call Alex and sometimes Alexis,” Oslo confessed. 

“Please end this topic before I call everyone Alex. So confused,” Noel interrupted. “Just call them whatever you guys are using to. Okay?”

All nodded.

“You’re Volcov!” Oslo was excited, pointed his finger at Ben’s friend. “I love your cars! I mean your products.”

“Ah…Thanks.” Alex hurriedly turned to the ball as if he was eager to play it.

The other looked at each other mumbling about the Volcov’s business and products. Alex’s face turned red. As he saw Ben watching, he ducked his brow again, “What are you looking at?”

“Look at Mr. Volcov.”

Alex groaned louder. 

“Okay, Minnie still insists not to play. Let’s Rock-Paper-Scissors!” Alexis called for attention. The girl was totally eager to play as fast as possible. He could sense it from those sparkling blue eyes.

They were divided into two teams, Alexis’s team including Noel, Oslo, and Sarah, and Tessa’s team including Ben, Alex, and Wade.

“Oh my love, we’ve never parted,” Ben teased his best friend.

  Alex sighed but snorted a quiet laughter.

“One rule! Fair game! Superhuman power is not permitted,” the girl declared but did not make eye contact with any specific person.

“She knows too?” Ben stared at Alex, demanding him to tell everything.

“Yeah, she knows just mine, okay? Why must I have to tell you everything? You’re not my wife!”

“Because I’m your best friend.”

“You slept with my girlfriends.”

“Good intention.”

“Hey, those two, ready?” The girl called them from the central field.

“We’re coming!” Alex shouted back and took off his shirt.

“What are you guys doing?” Tessa yelled at them.

Ben took off his shirt too. Their outfits were not fit for the game so they undressed their top for the flexibility. “Want to help me?” He invited her.

The girl in chestnut skin gave the middle finger the second time.

“Are you two enemies?” Alex asked. “She doesn’t try to hide her hatred towards you and you seem to have fun messing with her.”

Ben lifted his shoulders and smiled mischievously. Both ran to the field but Ben still had the mind full of suspicious ideas about Alex and Alexis. It was general for him to always be curious about his friend’s interest in the opposite sex. Every girl Alex liked, Ben would not hesitate to seduce them and prove that all of them lacked loyalty, that they should not deserve him. Sometimes Alex did not understand. Sometimes he did. When Ben succeeded, he might be angry at first. After that, he forgave. The loop was always like this.

The game started. Basketball was not hard. More importantly, it was fun. When Ben had the telekinetic ability to control object, everything turned easy, but it was difficult when Alex blocked him from cheating so it turned out that he also defended him from the ball. How could they win when they fought against each other? The worse was Wade forgot using his hands but feet. Several times Ben transferred the ball to him; he could not get it and then kicked it away to the other team causing many fouls. The heat of madness stirred up inside his head.  

“It’s not soccer!” Ben scolded him when Alexis and Noel made two scores for each and they still got zero.

“But he’s a soccer player. Don’t blame him,” Sarah defended her partner even though they were on the opposite side.

“I don’t care who he was or what he did before. You, big boy, use your hands!”

“Don’t call me big boy, shorty!”

“I’m just one inch shorter than you, stupid!”

Ben swerved his movement as Alexis tried to block him. The girl was quicker than she looked so he swerved again made her trailed around him like a little puppy while his eyes surveyed Alex and Wade (forgetting Tessa, what she was doing was running and screaming when the ball came to her). Afterwards, he decided to transfer the ball to Wade as none of the opponent team mingled around. The boy missed it again. Luckily, this time Alex got the ball before Oslo stole it and he shot. They got the first three score.

“There’re only two players on my team,” He mumbled.  

Twenty minutes passed, the blond jerk got very upset when Ben kept giving him orders. “Stop bossily giving command!” So he kicked the ball to the teammate. Ben saw the ball flew directly to him.

The game paused when the ball stopped dead in the air. “What happens?” Noel’s eyes widened, amazed and gaped.

“I do it. He tried sending it to my face,” Ben confessed and the ball fell into his palms. “Next time you try to attack me, it will reverse to you. I promise,” he warned the boy.

“Hey, I know it’s just a game but you have to be nice to each other. You guys are on the same side! Wade, please?” Alexis compromised the two but her friend seemed to dislike the way she did. Wade walked out of the field. Sarah, about to follow, was stopped. “I’ll talk to him,” Alexis said and ran to her friend.

“He doesn’t like us,” Alex stated in his notice during the break. “Why? He dislikes you specifically, Why? Why you love building enemies?”

He drank the water before giving an answer. “I haven’t done anything to him. That boy is a jerk.”

Alex stole the water bottle. “And you must stop using the force. Try playing fairly. We can win without the force. Remember? Build friends.”

“To be fair is not my regular habit,” Ben responded.

 They waited just a few minutes, Wade and Alexis returned, without any more feud.

“It’s okay, guys. Let’s continue.” Alexis clapped her hands. Wade did not look at him but positioned himself firmly in the field. Alex patted his shoulder and they went back to the game.

When talking about sport, he hardly saw it was just a game, the same way everyone said that it was just a game and not to be serious. In his eyes, they wore full warrior armor, knotting eyebrows, penetrating eyes, and strong determination. This was a battle.

“19-7” The little sister of Tessa announced. Ben got the ball made three scores. “19-10”

“I don’t want to say this but that’s great.” Tessa applauded behind his back as though someone coerced her to do so.  

And you just do nothing. His mind was unsettled when the team was going to lose to the other team who were ordinary humans.

Meanwhile, Alex dunked the ball and increased their team’s score to twelve. Ben wondered if he used the force. Anyway, regarding his unstable morality, it could be one or another.

And Alexis made twice three scores. What a girl!

“Our school team should have won.” He heard Wade saying this.

Ben and Alex put all their effort to increase the score. At the same time, Alexis and Noel also did the same until Noel asked for a time-out. “I think we should change some members for the fair game,” suggested he. Ben thought about to like this man. Although Oslo and Sarah were not the potential players, comparing to Tessa who was scared the ball and Wade who loved to make foul, the counter team was perfect.

“Good idea, I trade Tessa for Alexis,” Ben instantly agreed and offered his teammate without a second thought.

Tessa scowled at him but Noel laughed, the way he looked at him made Ben felt like a child. I’m not your little brother, big man.

“Come on, Tess.” The brother urged his sister. Tessa showed him the middle finger (the third time) as a farewell before moving to the other team.

When Alexis became their team member, the game shifted. Noel might be big but when he lost the good player to transfer the ball to him, he was not dangerous. In his eyes, Noel was like an unmovable wall but if he could pass it, the path was clear. Alexis ran fast and her shooting was pinpointed. Moreover, Wade began to be useful when he started using the hands. The team’s score already was ahead of Noel’s team now.

“I think we should change a member. It’s not fair. I change with Oslo,” Alex blurted out.

Are you insane?” Sometimes Alex’s unpredictability irritated him painfully.

“It’s alright. I think we should end the game before Oslo passes out.” Alexis interrupted them. It was not an hour yet but the redhead gasped for air as if he needed an oxygen tank. Ben thought of a goldfish but this one was a red herring.

“Sorry, I’m not an athlete.”

“Alright, we win,” Ben concluded immediately, clapping his hands together. “We did a great job, man,” he offered a hand to Wade with a challenging smile. The boy shook it but in a very short time.  

“Next time, can we just talk?” He heard the redhead demanded.

His attention now focused on the girl. She got sweaty. Sweating, he was too. Ben imagined if they were sweating due to doing the other activity, how it would turn out. He wished he could finish this task soon but there was a premonition warned that it was an impossible task. Alexis was a girl God creating her to look so divinely beautiful even in the plain t-shirt and jeans without makeup. A tall girl, comparing to the average women’s height, had very slender but healthy body. And the face of a living pretty doll with spontaneous blue eyes, Ben could not keep his eyes out of her. Until Tessa joined the girl, both were drinking water. The two angels stood side by side. Even if he despised the older girl, her pleasant appearance was not tainted by her bad behavior. Watching them together lifted up the spirit. Ben was just a man who was fascinated by beautiful flowers. And if he could claim them both, he felt like he stood on the top of the world.

“You two don’t look…tired” Alexis talked to him, noticing their superior human’s physical quality. And when those sapphires fixed on him, he quickly preserved the eyes of eager interest.

“You’re the risk too? Like Alex?” she asked.

“The Gifted,” he corrected her. Tessa jeered at him. Ben swiftly reacted, “Why? You don’t like to be the Gifted too?”

As she turned her stare at him, it seemed like he saw her grey eyes flashing the light which was creepy and beautiful at the same time. “What are you saying?”

“I know you have the power too. You used it to block yourself from the ball. Your scream pushed it away. It’s the sound, right? I heard.”

Alexis switched her eyes from Ben and Tessa. “Yeah, the gifted, sound better, right Tessa?”

Tessa did hate him. A Nazi feminist for sure, he judged.

“What will you do after this?” he asked the younger girl.

“Go back to our room and change our clothes. If you and Alex want to join our table, please come. You know, big group, I think it’ll be fun…Oh Geez!” She yelped when seeing her friend’s scary stare.

“Alexis!” Tessa did not like her friend’s idea.

“They’re Sarah’s friends. She wanted them to join us. Why are you so objective?” Alexis explained. He looked for Sarah but she was gone with Wade already.

“You.” Tessa pointed her finger at him. “If it’s not because of Sarah, I would not let you join my peers.” And she turned her face to the girlfriend. “You can befriend with him but don’t fall to this ugly wolf. I warn you. He just needs you on his bed.”

While listening to her complaint, he searched for the boy with the silver hair. He was gone already.

“You guys are like cat and dog.” The girl shook her head as if she was the mother of him and Tessa. “What did he do to you, Tess?” The girl also questioned him through her eyes. Ben shook his head. Deep down, he thought he could guess.

The girl with the dark hair glanced shortly at him and walked away, leaving Alexis perplexed. “Tess?” she called her friend. 

“Honestly, I don’t know what I did to her too,” he added, cryptically smiling.   

Ben turned to his friend and saw Alex chattering with Noel and Oslo about the previous match. Talkative today? He was sure that Alex avoided his questions. Forcing him to tell the truth would be worthless, he changed his mind. He was waiting for a long time to have the private talk with this girl; it was time to grab the moment. 

“We love to hang out with your group.”

“Great. Okay. See ya!” She was about to go.  

“Wait! I’m going with you.”

“I’m going back to my room,” she reminded him while wrapped the tiny towel around her neck. “You don’t wait for your friend?” She jerked her head at the talkative Alex.

“Leave him here. That’s my way too,” he lied, picking up his shirt and placed it on his right shoulder. 

They walked down the long corridor heading to her room. He started the conservation with basic topics, how was she? What did she do back there? Until they talked about the dormitory, “I hate this place,” she said.

“Very honest reply ever.” Eyeing on her, she had very long eyelashes. “So do I.”

“What do you think about the health check-up?” asked she.

“No idea. Just checking? How do you meet Alex?”

What did I just ask?   

It was weird. Ben suddenly lost his interest to make the move. It was as if the time was not proper for flirtation or because he was too curious about their relationship more than anything else.

“Three days ago, in the planetarium.”

“Aha, what did you do together? I mean what you guys talked about?”

She turned her face to gaze at him, forcefully.

“What?” asked he.

“Nothing. Just feel odd that you’re really interested in our talk. You can’t see your face but it’s very serious.”

“Well.” He tried to make a good excuse. “He caved himself in that room many days. I’m very worried about it and then he decided to get out. So I thought, perhaps, it’s because of you.”

She chuckled. “I see but it’s not because of me. He can figure it out by himself.”

Ben stared into her blue eyes. Then she revealed a soft smile. “You don’t believe it? It’s true. We were just talking philosophy.”

“What?”

“Descartes, Aristotle, Sartre. Do you know them?”

“Of course, I know…you guys were only talking about this topic, really?”

“No.” She eyed on him mischievously and then revealed, “There are other topics but we mainly talked about this. Your friend has the profound knowledge of this field. It’s really impressive. I mean, at first, I thought he was just a troll.”

Her natural story-telling made him laugh. “Yeah, he’s a bookworm and he’s knowledgeable than his look. Let me guess, you thought he was a troll. He annoyed you?”

“Yep, he emitted the smoke to my face.” 

Ben burst out laughing. “That’s him.”

“If there’s no the smoke detector, I think he might keep annoying me. Anyway, we talked a lot, yes, philosophy is the main topic but it’s also about the world, people, and this place. I understand why he caved himself in that room.”

“And?”

“The life without goal, without determination, without hope, it’s sad. It’s sadder when you realize your situation. It’s the saddest when you realize your situation and are incapable of fixing it.”

He kept listening. A bit hurt inside, Alex needed someone to talk to but he always neglected what his best friend felt. Ben knew with the whole of his heart what kind of this self-tragedy caused to everyone but he thought it was better to neglect it. Perhaps, if he stayed with Alex and talked or if he had not denied it, was it possible that Alex might be recovered sooner?

“How can he realize that he should not stay like that?”

“Rebuild it.”

The girl smiled again when he did not understand. “Rebuild our new hope, our new goal, our new determination.”

“What is it? May I listen?”

“Of course, we build the hope to get out of here, to return to our own home.”

Her determined eyes reflected humorlessness. Strangely again, his thought abruptly unmoved when he considered those blue color in her eyes, the deep blue recalled him the place where Nat was buried, speechless, stunned…

“Ben?”

“Sorry. To get out of here?”

“The health check-up, it’s obvious that they have the plan for us. Now, all we can do is waiting and waiting until we can realize what they’re going to do to us. And then, we will know what we have to do.”

Amusing their thought, “Sound rebellious even I don’t know exactly what it is.” said he. The girl beside him currently changed the way he saw her for the first time. No blushed cheeks, no timid gesture, she precisely spoke her thought. What happened to his charm? Or was it because he did not use it? “…You know the way you talk to me right now and the last time we met is a little bit different. I can sense that.”

She poked her head to see him closer. Pretty bambi eyes… “You’re a little bit different too, from the first day we chatted, Mr. Wolf.”

“What’s different?”

“Your interest.”

He knew what she meant. “He’s my best friend. I just want to know the reason for his change. That’s all.”

Apart from her face and eyes, her smile, counted as another weapon, could spell a man. She smiled like whatever-you-want-to-say.

“You really think I’m a wolf because of your friend?”

“Anyone sees the wolf in your eyes.”

“I’ve never concealed it.” He stared at her. After he received the answer, Ben still wondered if it was the right time to move forward. He perceived the energy of youth from this girl but his thought was slower. An attractive smile and adorable facial expression, sometimes he felt like kissing her and sometimes he felt like patting her head. Anyway, he continued, “But you don’t have to be afraid of me. I’m the classy wolf and not a womanizer. We can start to know each other just by talking.”

She pretended thinking. “Hmm, what I heard about you is not like this. We can be friends, really Ben. Not the way you’re thinking, I really mean friends, not like Wade and Sarah.”

“Is it the rejection?” asked he.

She did not answer but beamed. 

“Is it because you like my friend?” He made the jab.

Her smile faded at once. “No,” the girl rapidly responded. “I mean I like him but not like that. We’ve just met.”

Indeed, she might not feel it or they might not feel it but he could perceive the romantic electricity between them. A sign of a spark that would turn to the melodramatic event, if it turned out like that, the will to bed with this girl could be accounted for the test. For you, Alex, I do it for you.

They stopped at the dead end. Ben just realized her room was at the end of the corridor. She primarily knew he lied with the purpose to talk to her in private. 

“It’s good to have new friends. Really nice to meet you guys. See you in the cafeteria?”

“Sure!”

The girl disappeared inside the door, leaving a strange feeling towards him.

Everything that had happened at their first encounter had nothing to do with this time. There was the mixed feeling inside his chest when he was not the one who tested but being tested as well, thought their tests and objectives were not the same.

Benjamin Rosier had never thought too much about how to make the move but plenty of thoughts and questions popped up after talking with this girl. It was like he complied with the conservation and her mood, thinking about the place, people, and his friend.

“Get something new?”

Alex stood behind him with arms wrapping his chest, cocking his brows.

“You follow me?”

“Don’t you see I’m standing here?”

Ben hugged himself, annoyed. “Were you really talking philosophy with this girl?”

Alex nodded, “I’m lazy to explain to you. You always have a dirty mind.”

“But when people talk philosophy, they get to know each other more and more. No, no. Don’t tell me more.” He stopped Alex. “I don’t care. I don’t want to hear any more. But you already know I want her. I see her first but I don’t mind if she will fall for you or already falls for you. But if she falls for me, don’t blame me; it’s nothing like Sarah’s case.” Wondering, Ben became uncertain if his speech still sounded like Ben Rosier or not.

Chapter 17: Freak Girl

Becky was new here. A recent member resided in the dormitory just a day. As people heard the TV screen declared the news, they hastened to its location. The little girl followed the stream of people while covering her right wrist with her other hand. She walked modesty as if someone was looking at her and that person would punish her if she committed any unintentional wrongdoing (which she could not know exactly which ones were wrong). Facing the TV screen, she raised her head to read the message. It wrote, 

The relocation date has been scheduled on 7th August 3012. Please leave your belongings in your room and wait for the call at the main hall at 6 PM.

Notes: Bags are not permitted.

“What ‘relocation’ means?” The boy with the red hair and a lot of freckles on his face asked the pretty girl next to him. They were standing next to Becky, talking. Two of them moved ahead so now they stood in front of her. Both were taller. Becky was not a petite girl but a tiny girl even though she turned fifteen two months ago. She did not grow any taller and her size did not make her look cuter; in contrast, it attracted no friends but bullies. From the school to the asylum, and to this mysterious place, the bullies still loved to threaten her.

“Move out? But to where? Oops, sorry,” the pretty girl apologized as she elbowed her head. “Sorry, I can’t see you.”

Becky was always invisible and she was familiar with it. She bowed her head, “It’s alright.” Her voice was very low like a whisper. Her eyes observed the beautiful girl. Becky could saw one side of her face; she had a very adorable facial appearance. The little girl bit her lips. Every girl wanted to possess that kind of face, the appearance of divinity. She did not understand why God had a slight pity for her. In lieu of giving her more intelligence, more beauty, or more love, God gave her the curse. He loved his children without equity. The girl in front of Becky was the example of God’s favorite children.  

Most people seemed to know each other already. They grouped together. They had friends. Becky looked around. There were hundreds of people, quite a lot. She was never good at befriending people. It might be because she came from Castimonia, the district in Lone Alley State which was very renowned as the extreme conservative cultural society. A faraway land, the tradition, and people’s lifestyle were very different from the other cities where people regarded the Castimonians as the pre-historic people, without the developed mind. Becky lived there with her family of eight members and a flock of sheep. People were substantially religious including her parents. She was a freak of the village; therefore, only sheep were her true friends. Another one big reason, she had the ability to make people annoying her. As a result, keeping the distance from other people was the best idea.

Owing to her tininess, Becky was capable of getting out of the crowd easily. Without the understanding of the message on the screen, the girl specifically focused on her wrist. She tried so hard to strip off the wristband which attached to her since staying at the asylum. It made of plastic but was too endurable. She once tried to use the knife in the cafeteria but its sharpness could not cut the wristband off. Apart from her nature, Becky was too embarrassed to ask for help from anyone because when they saw the wristband, they would look at her as if she was unorthodox. It shamed her painfully.

It’s impossible to take it off. Becky gave up. I have to live with it for the rest of my life. She did not know where to head to. There were many facilities but Becky had too much fear for the exploration. 

“Becky, you’re here?” The boy with chocolate eyes blocked her way. They had been met the previous day and it was not pleasant. How could this boy make his own pact within twenty-four hours? His peers were boys nearly to his ages. The authority said they were the last lot. “I told my friends you came from an asylum. They want to know what kind of place you resided?”

He knew what kind of the asylum she departed from. He already knew wholeheartedly. Observing his outfits, his shirt was clean and neat, contrasting with her plain white-yellow dress. Actually, it had never been her clothes but uniform. His leather shoes had no trace of dirt while Becky wore the old green ballet flat shoes. A prep boy he was. Plutax, the name he had told her. The boy grabbed the girl’s right arms.

“No!” She resisted but he grabbed her arm so tight. Without permission, he read her name on the wristband aloud in order to expose the victim, “Becky Quinn, Mental Asylum under Castimonia Administration Office 3. Oh, guys, she came from Castimonia and a mental asylum!”

Becky covered her face trying so hard to pull her hand back from him. Plutax loved to see Becky’s tearful cry.

“Don’t do this!”

“You’re insane.”

“She’s mad? She has a mental disorder?’

“No, she’s mad. She’s a psychotic patient.”

“It’s the same. So she has a mental disorder.”

“Being mad is a disease?”

“Leave her! You’re such a naughty boy.”

She saw the boy in a green sweater, taller than Plutax but not considered as tall. He was probably a few years older than them. The boy pushed Plutax away from Becky. She was quick enough to hide behind his back.

“I talk to her not you!”

“This is bully! Grow up, boy!”

That boy took her out of the scene. She watched the way his walnut hair standing firmly on the central head as he styled his hair Mohawk. He wore glasses too; it looked very old. Becky heard Plutax cursed him behind their back.

Plutax was one year older than her. Sixteen of his age, they arrived at the same time. He introduced himself and narrated his long story until she almost dozed off. She thought he was nice at first and they could be good friends but as he saw her wristband, the reaction changed. He turned out to be a bully monster.

The life savior paused and turned to face her. “I’m Rami. You’re Becky, right?”

The girl shyly nodded. Seeing him closely, he was too young but there was something made her think he’s still older. Might be because of his mature look. 

“You don’t have to be afraid of me. I just came here yesterday. Can you tell me what this place is for? And what does it means on the screen?”

“I don’t know…I just came here yesterday, the same day as you, in the evening,” she replied, scared that he would be displeased.

“It’s alright. Okay, so you’re the last lot. I arrived here last morning,” he said like comfort. Rami examined the wristband and tried to take it off without judging. Same, the plastic was totally sticky. However, he made her feel at ease.

“It’s so sticky…Hey! Yeah, you two, can you help us?” The boy called the redhead and the pretty girl Becky met at the front of the cafeteria. She tried to stop him but it was too late. The two seniors walked towards them. She guessed that they were around seventeen or eighteen years old. The girl lowered her head, hiding behind Rami’s back.

“Can I help you?” The redhead asked and smiled kindly and the girl did the same until she saw her blue eyes which made her immediately shivering. 

Those blue eyes were the same scary eyes in the dream. It had the dark-blue rim around the iris with deep-ocean color and dazzling light inside.  That face too, though, in the dream, it was blurry, but it was similar to the radiant one in the real life. It was the dream that made her family put her in the asylum because Becky kept screaming at night. They said she was born with the satanic curse, impure and sinful. Because frequently, Becky’s dreams usually turned out to be true; the curse that she had never wanted it. And those blue eyes, even now they shone the warm amity, she knew they would turn into ice someday. Becky dared not to trust them.

“Don’t be afraid of us. It’s alright. Do you need help?” The beautiful girl tenderly comforted. Her sound was gentle but Becky hardly relied on the sweetness, owing to the fact that sweetness always lures people into the trap. The girl with the copper hair was still unmoved. Therefore, Rami grabbed her arms and explained to them. They had not demonstrated any bad reaction but willingly tried to help.

“I think my friend can help you,” the beautiful girl suggested a name, Ben.

Rami, still holding her hand, took all his interest in the other girl. They followed them to somewhere to see the one who could cut the wristband off. And Rami never took his eyes out of the girl (very obvious) who walked ahead. They were chatting but did not invite them to join.

“If anyone can beat Wade’s meanness, I nominate Ben,” the redhead said. “Remember? Wade verbally attacked him and he said, “Is there any red spot on my clothes? I’ve never worn red things. Why you keep attacking me?” From that day, any time Wade is upset, I see him transforming into a bull.”

 The beautiful girl chortled. “I replace meanness with sarcasm. He’s very good at it.”

“Ah, yes. What did you talk to him at the basketball field? I see he stopped annoying you since then.”

“Tell him the truth.”

“It’s good to see you guys never quarrel again.”

“Trust me. I’m the one who feels at ease.”

Becky and Rami kept their silence. The two, boy and girl led them to the swimming pool where some people were diving in it. The girl with the blonde hair swam in her bikini but when Becky made the closer look, it was her lingerie as she saw the lace on it. Becky’s eyes surveyed the others; most boys wore short pants instead of swimming pants. Only the redhead and the beautiful girl wore the casual outfit. The older girl shouted to the man with the brunette hair. As he emerged from the water, Becky saw the most striking face, the most handsome creature she had ever seen. He could beat all the stupid boys in her school. This young man possessed the stunning amber eyes. His naked top body induced Becky’s eyegasm.

She started to be uneasy. These people were similar to the bully gang in her school. These types of people who god loved them the most ruled the school and they were always dangerous and mean.

“Your sister, Oslo?” The one who was called Ben asked the boy when his eyes caught her. “What can I help you, my Bambi?”

My Bambi? It was the name he called the beautiful girl. His piercing eyes gleamed on the “Bambi” girl like a wolf aiming at attacking the prey.

The girl knotted her brows and hugged herself. “Stop calling me, Bambi.”

“How about Babe?”

“Just call my name.”

“No promise.”  

Becky looked at her feet when he turned his interest to her. She dared not to look at him with her own eyes because his stare met her feel smaller. His bullying aura expanded more than the others. This one was the older and the finer version of Plutax.

“Can you take her wristband off?” The one who was called Bambi asked him.

“Exchange with? Just kidding but if you’re serious I love the exchange.”

He pulled her hand without gentleness. Becky felt hot to the bone as his eyes scanned the letters on the wristband. Ben looked up at her face, expressing the strange and domineering gaze that pressured her. He seemed to think something for a while. A few minutes later, the wristband fell from her arm. It had been cut with something she had no idea of. Becky hurriedly picked it up and collected it in her pocket, intending to throw it away somewhere else.

“Thank?” The young man bent his head staring at her, demanding.

“Tha…thanks.” Her voice shook. 

As he took his eyes off her, she could breathe.

“Job done! Take off your clothes and jump into the pool,” he persuaded the beautiful girl wrapping his hands around her shoulders. “Bam…Alexis? Satisfied now?”

“No, thanks. And don’t do this,” she replied while wearing off his arms. The way she spoke revealed how often he had done it. So her name is Alexis.

Alexis switched her attention to talk to Becky. “Alright, there’s no problem anymore. I’m Alexis. This is Oslo and Ben. And you guys?”

Becky did not need to answer when Rami did her job. “I’m Rami and this is Becky.”

“Fourteen?” The man who took off the wristband asked.

“I’m not fourteen. I’m sixteen,” Rami hurriedly replied.

“No, I mean the girl.”

“Fifteen…” she whispered back.

“Ah…the second Minnie.”

Becky did not understand what he meant but it might not be pleasant.  

Rami looked eagerly to enjoy with these people as she saw his brown eyes gaze at them with the hope of invitation. And once they invited him, the boy instantly accepted. He dragged her with him as if they were sister and brother or stayed together for a long time. The girl still feared Alexis’s blue eyes so she was stick with her newest brother and tried not to talk to that girl. Alexis probably noticed her unintentional unfriendliness so she gave up and talked to Rami instead. The boy, who acted as her guardian, could not conceal his proud smile. She was lovely anyway; it was not strange to see Rami’s reaction when he was just a boy.

They sat near the pool. Those who were swimming in the water came to the pool’s edge. On the ground, a large-sized man and a small girl joined the group. Both wore casual outfits. He came with a small girl who made Becky felt at ease. Their names were Noel and Minnie.

The new girl examined Minnie for a long period as one told her they were the same, but she found no similarity between her and the girl. Noel and Minnie had the darker skin and ocean eyes but Becky’s hair was copper and her skin was palely fair.

“Your sister?” The boy with the blond hair teased Becky and Oslo. His red hair was darker than her and he had more freckles. Moreover, her eyes were dark green not brown like him. 

“Two new members…why don’t we sit in a circle and introduce ourselves by names and what your status is?” Ben suggested.

It was the last thing Becky wanted to do. She expected no one would agree with him. However, nobody dissented for him. They formed a circle, sitting near the pool. The other two girls emerged from the water, toweling themselves, but the boys just sat, let the air dry their bodies.   

 “Can I add more one condition? If you’re the risk, tell us what your ability is,” the blond said. Broad shoulder and hot body, he and the blonde-haired girl (who wore lace inner wears) leaned on each other. Both divine gods might be in the romantic relationship.

“Noel, you’re the first.” The amber eyes stimulated the large-boned man. The new girl muted her voice observing them. 

“Ah…I’m Noel and I was sent here with my sisters declared as the Suspect...”

Becky listened to them with eagerness. The familiarity with a lot of people had never existed in her life. In the school, no one allowed her to sit with them. The more years passed, few numbers of friends left, and in the last year of her study before being sent to the asylum, she sat alone.

The girl learned that Minnie’s sister called Tessa.  A divine beauty with the exquisite dark skin she was, whose physical appearance definitely surpassed her younger sister, had the shining gray eyes and confident personality. She had the strong character that Becky felt like she closed the door of welcoming. In addition, Tessa could attack people with the sound.

“She’s a banshee. Do you know Banshee?” The amber eyes made a joke but it did not sound like a joke to the target. Banshee was one of many ghosts Becky feared to death every time she closed her eyes at night.

“Ben, will you get sick if no one scolds at you?” Tessa’s brother asked.

“Yeah, he will,” replied the young tall man who sat next to the amber eyes.

Becky also learned that Ben was the Risk and he could manipulate objects; this was why he could destroy her wristband. Apart from his handsomeness, he had the sardonic mouth but most people rarely showed sign of frustration. Some even felt amused.

 The one who sat next to Ben was named Alex and he declared that he could vibrate things and make the shockwave. Rami asked him to show it and before he could end the question, his thin body was mystically pushed out of the circle. “Okay, I won’t ask anymore,” he murmured while crawled back to his place.

 The gorgeous blonde next to him told them that she could boil people from the inside.

“That’s scary. I’ve never known that” Tessa told her friend, her right hand placed on her chest. “I thought you’re the suspect.”

“She can make you hot. Why don’t ask for that?” Ben had not stopped teasing her. Some laughed but the target did not. Becky hoped they fought so the conservation would end.

“Next, the team from San Bosa,” Ben guided his hand to Alexis. He seemed to favor this one.

“Okay, I’m Alexis and I was sent here as the Suspect.”

“Why?” Rami asked.

“I’m not the Risk. This rule is not for me,” replied she.

“Yeah, I want to know too. You guys have never told us. Wade, you never tell me,” Sarah turned to her partner. He bit his lips with eyes fixing at Oslo and Alexis.

“It’s not interesting.”

“Spread it out!” Minnie urged them. “We want to know.” Regarding her abrupt gesture, Becky felt a little bit odd towards her when thinking of Ben’s suggestion. We’re not alike!

“Alright, we were in his party, Wade’s party and a friend reported the police about the H01 case. We were arrested and convicted as the Suspect.”

“That’s bad,” Sarah massaged her man’s shoulder. “It’s similar to Noel and Minnie. How could they prove that they’re suspect? Because they’re siblings? And you? How did they reason it?”

“I have a very good memory.” 

The others turned silent for seconds and then they laughed.

“Heehee, no, I’m not laughing but…(covering her hand) sorry. Is that the reason?” But Sarah failed to stop her bell laughter.

“Oslo…you?” Ben moved to the redhead with the funny smile on his face.

“Well, my calculation is fast…thinking fast.”

The laughter roared louder. Becky hugged herself close. She was the only who did not see it amused.

“Wade? How about you? Is it because you’re fast temper-changing?”

“Shut up. It’s because of her damn gooood memory and his bloody faaast calculation.”

Becky saw Rami used his punch hitting the floor and laughed as though he was dying. Ben and Alex did not conceal their funny laughter at all. The Thomas just gave the light laugh but they tried so hard not to reveal it. Except for Minnie, she just watched people with her keen eyes.

“Shut up!” Wade used his hand to bail out the water. It reminded her of an angry bear.

“Stop! Stop!” Sarah shouted.

“You guys make me feel like I’m sitting among the serial killers and I just stole my brother’s ice-cream.” Alexis sighed. “Rami, please save them from dying of over-laughing.”

“Oh. Me? I was judged as the Suspect but it’s because I tried to hack the government’s system.”

The laughter died out immediately.

“Hacking? How old are you really?” Oslo gasped. At this moment, Becky sat unsettling. They had a better profile than her. If Alexis stole the ice-cream, Becky was caught with the charge of trespassing on the neighbor’s lawn.

“Sixteen but I’m a senior college student in computer science.” It was evident that Rami was proud to present himself. Not strangely, all of them were keen to hear his story.

“Cool, boy. You’re cool.”

“Thanks, Ben.”

“Why did you do it?”

He adjusted his glasses. “I always wonder what the government hides something. We live in the world after the post-apocalypse, right? I understand that the civilization takes time to rebuild but our environment but technology seemed out-of-date if we compare our lives to the life a thousand year ago. There are many secret communities sharing the real information about what really happened in the time back then. I started to access some governmental organization and as I became confident of my skill, I tried to hack the database at the Office of Federal President but…”

“The secret communities…how can you find them?  As I remember from the book, after the world war III, people suffered from hunger, polluted environment and diseases and the apocalypse followed. Human nearly died out. In consequence, the civilization lost and the remaining survivors had to start from zero. Is it not true?” asked Alexis.

“Half true,” Rami answered. “In the secret communities, people have not focused on the disaster but on the survivors. Do you think who will be the survivors? Poor people? Citizens? No, the survivors must be elites, rich people, businessman, world influencers, politicians, royal bloods, scientists; I don’t think general people survived. And if they were, here we are, living like labors, wheel turners. The folks must perish since the first wave and the world war III. Rarely of them could make it to the post-apocalypse. And it was a thousand year ago. The technology had been developed rapidly before the first wave but our today technology and knowledge are a bit outdated.”

“Damn, this is how the genius thinks. I’m such an idiot college student.” Alex said. “I’ve never doubted it. What I concern is only those behind the chairs. And you’re right. Look at the technology they own!”

“So where you find the secret society?” Alexis still paid attention to this topic.

“Some religious groups are not the religious groups. If I can go back, I will give you guys the address and we can join them together. But honestly, it takes time to buy their trust. I’m just a minor member, knowing only they exist.” 

Becky wished Rami kept talking so they would forget her.

“I think we have to take time to talk about this. Rami, join our table, please.”

“Sure!”

“Damn, I want to go back to my room, change my clothes, and have a serious talk about this right away. Anyway, we have to end this activity properly.” Those amber eyes now turned to her. “Becky, why are you here?”

Why everything turns out contradictory to my wish.

“I…”

“Can you speak louder?”

If Becky had some courage, she would give him a fierce look but because she was far from braveness. Instead of showing the sign of irritation, the girl tried to volume up her voice. “They call me the Suspect.”

“Why?”

“I see things.”

“Where?”

“In my dream.”

There was no need for dead air. There was only roaring laughter. Oslo and Alexis smiled timidly as if they understood how she felt but they could not stop thinking her story amusing. And when they laughed at her, the temper boiled up. And when her head turned hot, she could not stop the stream of words.

“It’s not funny! Sometimes I see things from my vision. It pops up in my head.” Stop it, Becky, stop talking. “I tell you guys the truth! I dreamed of one of my friends. I was in her body. I saw things through her eyes. She forgot to lock the door and her step-father came inside. I tried to tell her and she told me I’m mad, insane, freak. I’m not her friend anymore. And he did…come into her room…And she blamed me I cursed her.”

The atmosphere altered at once. The laughter vanished. They did not believe what she told them. Their face expressed the sympathy she did not want it. The girl cried inside her heart. Why didn’t she shut her mouth? She knew what they were thinking. They thought of the wristband and began to believe that she deserved to be in that asylum.

“You’re a prophecy?”

“I’m not!” She howled at him, Wade. He seemed to be nasty as same as the amber eyes, even softer but still mean.

“Can you predict my future?” Tessa asked but her voice implied ridicule. Becky felt assured that what she primary thought about them was correct. These people were similar to the gangs in the school and if she stayed longer, they would make fun of her like Plutax had done.

“I can’t predict the event. I just see the income event. I don’t care if you guys don’t believe me.”

“Hey, easy—easy.” Rami shook her arms. He was the only one she felt safer with but they just knew each other about an hour ago. How could she assure that he would not turn out to be like them? But because she had no friend except him, wished she could say.

 “Becky? What are those things?” Minnie pointed her finger at the scar on her neck. “Is it bruises?” 

“I noticed it for a while. Saw them under your arms too.” Ben added.

Becky stood on her feet.

“Hey. Becky. It’s nothing.”

“I’m not an idiot to sit and make these people bitching at me.”

“Oh...that’s sharp.” Someone spoke something.

“I’m sorry. We’re sorry. We didn’t mean to make you feel that the way. They laughed at me too. It’s a joke but not really a good one.” Alexis’ comfortable words did not make her feel better. She knew it was fake. Sometimes, people offered her kindness, saying ‘I understand how you feel’ or ‘I’m sorry’ but they actually didn’t. They just did not want to look bad.

“Don’t pretend. I saw you holding a gun, aiming at killing someone. Your eyes were emotionless. Your eyes were cold like ice. I saw it. Don’t pretend. You can kill people. That’s who you are.”

In a long time of muteness, the burst of laughed echoed the room again. She thought her face already reddened than her hair.

“Seriously?” Sarah uttered. Although her bell voice sounded perfectly ringing in her ears, the tone destroyed that beautiful sound. She first saw her gorgeous before now the girl saw this woman an evil queen.

“Alexis can’t be a killer.” Wade opposed. 

“She will. I know you won’t believe it. I shouldn’t say it but she will. Her eyes are dead and she determined to kill…”

“She came from the mental asylum and Castimonia,” Tessa cut off. “She talks rubbish.”

“Tess, I don’t think you don’t have to be so sharp.”

“Bro, look at how she looked at us as if we’re bad people.”

“She’s young!” Rami voiced trying t0 give an excuse for her but she did not want it. He made her look childish. You just want to hang out with them.  

“Perhaps, it’s her power…to see the future.” Minnie’s words declared the different opinion and caused some laughs again. On the contrary, Minnie did not show sigh of anger like Becky, not even frightened. Her eyes fixed on the other girl and smiled innocently.

“You think Alexis can kill?” Wade countered Minnie. “Tessa’s right. It’s rubbish. You don’t have to worry about that girl, Alex. I mean my friend, not you, Volcov.”

“I know who you mean!” Alex yelled back.

“Alexis, don’t take her words,” Tessa told her friend.

“Seriously, I don’t mind. I want to listen more. Who will I kill?”

Becky began to dislike Alexis more. “You really don’t want to know. You…just play along.”

“I really want to know!” 

“Don’t let her attack you alone. I don’t want to be mean but if you can’t figure out a joke and don’t see it’s a joke. You judge us as if we’re bad people. Get away.”

“Tessa!” Her brother exclaimed. “She’s young. Don’t be so harsh. I’m sorry, girl.”

“Why? She can say any mean to us because she’s younger?”

Am I mean?

“I think we’re going too far.” Noel stood up and he rushed to her. The little girl backed away. “Don’t come closer.”

“Hey! Calm down. I don’t do anything. I just want you to calm yourself down.”

As she met his eyes, suddenly, her head started playing many motion pictures. And then she saw the big man in a pool of blood. She tried to focus on the current situation but her mind defended it. It was a severe headache she occasionally suffered. “Go away!”

“Girl?”

“She’s freak.”

“Becky?”

The girl had no idea who was talking but the pain consumed all over her body. Then many firearms thundered at her two ears. The suffering was hard to bear. It was like her head would explode. The girl screamed and everything turned dark.

Chapter 18 Waiting

The little girl with the red hair laid down unconsciousness on the hospital bed. Noel carried her to the infirmary. The automatic diagnostic box worked with the same quality as the real doctor for basic cases which informed that Becky just fainted without any harm relating to the head part. No one knew exactly what caused her instant blackout but they heard she screamed out loud as though she got a bad headache that caused her being immobilized and shrieked. Alexis remembered that sound so well; the sound that prompted the feeling of blood-curding. Evidently, the girl was scared to dead to something…or perhaps she was scared of Alexis.

They, Alexis and Oslo, gazed at the girl on the bed. She was very young, wearing an old yellow-white dress, braiding her copper hairs in messy French braids. The light green eyes were the saddest eyes Alexis had ever met. Seeing, the girl’s bruises and scars on the body as tiny as Minnie, the older remembered these kinds of bruises well. They were similar to the ones Cameron had made it.

 Becky came from the mental asylum in Castimonia. The land where the news often reported about the extreme religious rituals, Alexis wondered what kind of Becky’s life had been and why she was so scared of her. Is it because she saw me killing someone?

“Can I get back to my room?” asked Oslo. He looked uneasy.

“What’s happening?” Then she saw him grabbed the clothes at the stomach intensively. “I told you not to drink milk when your stomach is empty!”

“I know. I know. Don’t be my mom.”

“Hurry!” She told him and Oslo ran out of the room. “See you at the cafeteria!” He shouted back and disappeared. As she turned back, Becky was blinking. And when she saw herself with Alexis alone, the girl almost buried herself to the wall.

Scared me that much?

“Why do you stay here?”

Nobody wanted to stay here except for her and Noel but Tessa disagreed. They had never fought for a week (since Ben joined their group so she mostly spent her time defending herself from Ben’s teasing). For this reason, Noel did not want to destroy the good ambiance between him and his sister. Rami hesitated a little bit because he was the first friend of Becky but eventually had been abducted by Ben and Alex for the in-depth interviewing about hacking. Therefore, Alexis and Oslo stayed here. And it was because she wanted to talk to the girl. 

The older girl thought of the way her father had to deal with Jesse when he caught the brother hid some liquor bottles under his bed. Selecting the way to destroy her fear, Alexis moved to the medicine distribution box, saying, “Scar healing cream.”

The window of the automatic machine slit up and a small square box slid on her hand. The same pastel green color with a blue scar gel inside, she recently used it to cure all the scars and injuries. Alexis handed it to Becky.

“Use it. In the next few days, all those things will be gone. I promise.”

Becky hesitated to receive it as if she gave her a poison.

“Wade and I have tried it. It perfectly worked well.”

Her round face rose upward. The green eyes shone the interesting sight, the green that reminded Alexis of a deep forest and the melancholy. “You have scars too?”

Alexis nodded. “They were similar to those on your neck and arms.” When she saw Becky still listened, she decided to tell her how she got it in terrible details and extra side stories (fingers crossing behind her back). “…his hands were on my neck and he beat me several times I couldn’t even count. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t remember my face after this thing happened to me.”

The eyes of fear now turned to sympathy fusing with emotions. Becky collected the ointment inside her pocket finally. “Why people hurt each other? Those who hurt you are the police and mine are doctors and nurses.”

“What doctors and nurses? That’s not the way they threat a patient. It’s unlawful.”

“In Castimonia, the legal process is inferior to the tradition.” The little girl sat quietly and then acted like she just remembered the most important thing. “No, I shouldn’t say that. Please forget what I said. You met bad people but my case is different. They’re good people. They took care of me. They tried their best to remove the curse. It’s a good purpose. My father hit me too because I’m cursed.”

The heat suddenly boiled up her head when she heard Becky spoke as though it was an ordinary story, as though she deserved it even though the girl profoundly perceived that it was not right, as though they were watching her.

“Can you tell me that dream?”

The girl hesitated. “Do you really want to know? Do you believe me?”

“Honestly, if I say I do, I tell lie. But I can’t say I don’t believe it either. Anyway, I really love to hear your story, especially your dream of me without any conspiracy against you.”

Becky exhaled and made a face of the final decision. “All right, in my dream, I saw your face and your hand holding a gun aiming at me. I mean someone else. When I dream I looked through someone else’s eyes but I cannot know who you’re going to kill. Really, no idea at all. I saw your eyes many nights and I wake up screaming until my parents could not tolerate me anymore so they sent me to the asylum. Those eyes…cold to the bone. I don’t know why your eyes scare me that much. Perhaps, it was the violent rage inside the coldness.”

“I’m sorry,” said Alexis even though it was not her fault, wasn’t it? “I wish to kill that two police many times but I don’t know how to kill them and I’m not sure if I really want to kill them or just want to make them suffer.” Hey, eyes swiftly glanced at the girl. At least, Alexis succeeded in gaining her reliability, not entirely but some more. 

Peculiar, perhaps, it was. She sensed that the girl spoke the truth but how true her story was? If Becky believed her dream would come true, it usually sounded true to the ears but was it really true? Was it Minnie right? This girl had the ability to see the incoming future but although she imagined herself killing Cameron and Bruce several times, Alexis still wondered if she could really do that.

“How often did it come true?”

“I’ve never counted but sometimes.”

Sometimes.

“And why you screamed and fainted?”

“Because of the big man.”

“Noel?”

She nodded. “I saw him. It’s a vision. Sometimes it pops up in my head and it’s the pain, the severe pain. I saw him with blood and I heard guns…very loud.”

Speechless, her vision of Noel was totally horrible. Should I tell him? Should I tell Tessa? They will think I turn mad too.

“…Am I weird?” There was the agony within her eyes as she entered the meadow of the darkest day. Alexis caught her tiny hands and spoke softly. “Am I scary?”

She shook her head and then gradually revealed a timid smile.

That was how father made Jesse disclosed his problem thought it was half true.

“Becky, I know our first encounter is not pleasant for both of us. But my friends are not that kind of people you have met. They won’t hurt you. Remember the way you scolded me? You’re angry when people judge you, right? It’s the same feeling for us when you judge us but I don’t think what we did is right. Some joke is not funny. We’re really sorry.”

Her pale face turned red, her eyes looked downward. “I’m sorry too. I’m sorry about saying that to you too.”

Relieved, of course, she was. Alexis remembered the time she forgot to talk, forgot to observe the other people, and it taught her a big lesson—losing June. Although she just met Becky, seeing her unfortunate life, Alexis did not want to chase her away from her group. She was a girl and a victim of a radical belief and ugly people.

“Okay, shall we go?”

“Where?”

Alexis stood, jumping on her feet. “Dinner! Come on, new member!”

 

**********

 

In spite of gaining her trust, the girl with the red hair, rather than walking besides, trailed behind. Bumping to Alex, accidentally, as he saw Becky, smiling and clapping, he said, “a new baby sister.”

“Shut up. Where’s your buddy?”

“Coming. Hey, I’m doing nothing,” he complained when Becky hid behind the older back.

“Becky, he just teased me, not you.”

“She doesn’t fear you anymore?” Alex noticed it. The baby-sister-caller beamed. “I see.” Glancing at Becky again, he decided to say something. “Only three day left, do you miss the planetarium?”    

They were heading to the cafeteria. It was the first time she had a private talk with him (though they had a little sister tailing behind) since their meeting at that room. That day, they chatted until the morning and forgot the breakfast. It was the separated world. They shared their skepticism to everything freely and talked about many philosophical ideas ‘till the other guests entered the room. The conservation ended but the impression remained. Eccentric but unforgettable that she could talk with someone just met, the topics she could not communicate with anyone but him, this was the pure magical moment.

“We’re in agreement that we won’t go back.”

“Yes but not the way I visited there. I mean our conversation. Can we break the rule?”

“Oh, yeah...it’s not fixed, right?”

“How about…”

“How could you gain your power?” Becky broke in. Her shining eyes reflected the thought within. The little red head tried to be a talker but chose the wrong time to practice. Alexis hoped she had not done it because she felt like Alex was going to ask her out this night and the jolly heart danced as it was waiting for that invitation for a long time. No, not jolly heart, I just love talking. That’s all. Anyway, she stopped thinking about that as Alex’s face lost all the merriness when the question attacked him.

Alexis tried not to look at Becky due to the fact that the girl would think she blamed her. It was not the right question to ask someone you just knew. The girl was too innocent to aware of it. “I—I am so sorry asking that.”

Alex kept quiet as if he sank into the ocean of his memory. He had a very pale skin so just when he dropped the spirit, the young man was no different from a young vampire. Regarding his present look, even though t-shirt and black jeans, (is it because all were branded? No. It’s not.), Alex had the charm but not the kind of danger or allure like Ben or supremely hot like Wade, not even close to the mystic Michael. It was his own unique charisma, queer but cool. When he smoked, he looked devilishly handsome, and without it, he was a young fine business heir. 

“Is he angry at me?” Becky whispered.

Alexis met his eyes, “she didn’t intend to ask something too personal”

Alex shook his head and pushed the hair out of his face. “No, it’s not…personal. It’s just… I was in the hospital and…know that I lost...”

“…lost?” Both girls uttered.

 “…”

Alexis gazed into his darkness that returned the melancholic gaze to her. With an instant, as if her body falling into space where she saw stars, the girl found that the young man carried a portable universe within himself. He was close, close enough, at least his shoulders touching her; it seemed like both forgot the other one. Without the smell of smoking cigarettes, the scent from his body and soap, clean and fresh, she felt a magnetic force created by him. Becky is here. His magic impressed and imprinted longer than she expected and it evoked the strange feeling she tried to cease. Becky is here. But damn those eyes, they had the power on a level with the supermassive black hole so she felt like being consumed. Alexis instantly looked away when she felt Becky’s strongly observative eyes.

The girl backed to be herself. He really seemed like to say something but then changed his mind. “I remembered that you bring the CD player. Can I borrow?” The question popped up without warning and he pretended like Becky had not asked anything. 

“Oh, yes. Of course. Now?”

He nodded.

“Okay, I’ll go back to my room.”

“How about the dinner? I…I can’t go alone.” The little red head voiced.

She wanted to hit her face for forgetting that. “You come with me. No.” What’s happening to me? “Can I give you after the dinner?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Alex agreed. “Hey, how can she start trailing you?” He jerked his head to Becky. “Like a little puppy.”

“Hey,” She clapped on his arm. “Don’t say that,” whispered. Becky had the similarity to Minnie but also difference too, due to her weak sensitiveness with words.

The young man gave a light snigger. “So you did succeed in brainwashing her.”

“I didn’t do that.”

“She didn’t do that.”

Alex bent his head and smile like, “See?” Then he said, “How many people you want to kill or going to kill?”

“Two. You?”

“Plenty.”

The girl softly laughed. Alex poked his head to Becky, “you?”

The little redhead shook her head. “Good girl.” Then he patted her top head that was why Becky started to feel at east towards him even though he treated her like a puppy.

“Back to the old topic, how about…the CD, what’re artists you have?”   

She felt a small headache at two sides of her head. “Carmen, The Dark Age, and Echoes of Mine.”

“Good taste. All are my favorites but I need Carmen to night. What will you eat today?”

Two girls exchanged their look. “Honestly, Alex, I can’t follow you. You change the topic so abruptly. Are you okay?”

“Empty stomach, empty head, I’m so hungry,” he said and left them bewildered.

“Same way, are we?” Alexis sighed and fanned her head to Becky. “If people say you’re weird, don’t care about them because you’re going to have weird friends like us.”

 Without a single glance to see if she understood or not, the new sister grabbed the younger’s arm and left there.

 

**********

 

They welcomed Becky warmly, especially Tessa. She was always like this, attacking everyone who harmed her friends and when the little red hair became her friend, apologizing to each other, the feud ended. The only thing Alexis taught the younger girl to live with was Ben’s and Wade’s sarcastic jokes and when they were tack-team. 

In her room, Alexis sat searching for the music player Alex asked for.

Will he ask me out? 

The girl gently hit her head several times. Boring of questions, she searched for the device. It was collected in the backpack. She had never listened to it since the arrival because of the over-obsession of the past memory. The album of her family and friends previously had been on the top now was at the bottom as same as the device. She definitely missed them so bad but also was scared to open it. Because when she opened it, she felt lost again.

Recalling the rules of relocation, in any case, the girl must bring some stuff even they prohibited but she hoped that just a small bag might be fine. At least, she could bring her family with her (keeping her fingers crossed.) Only three days left here, the fear scarcely affected due to the fear of moving to another unknown place.

Someone knocked on her door, “Alexander Volcov takes a visit.” The male synthetic voice gave the alarm. Certainly, he came for the CD player. She picked up the device, pushed the button, the door slid to the left side. Alex stood before the door and Ben behind him.

“Women always keep men waiting,” the charming guy teased. Just when Alexis had more chance to talk to him, Ben openly flirted. His wolf eyes did affect her like the way they affected to the other girls; however, she had never felt provoked or moved by him. She still dreamed of Davy, yet the frequency decreased. To love for fun or to love for forever, she lost all the faiths. 

Ignoring Ben’s teasing, she complained to his friend. “You don’t have to be so haste. I just came back to my room.” The girl gave the CD player to him.

“Carmen?”

“Yeah, the disk is inside it.”

Alex put the earphone and shut in to his own world but he did not leave. Ben moved towards.

“We met Carmen several times,” Ben mentioned her favorite singer. She was very famous with the unique genre of music and writing style. Her music was mostly ballad, sometimes, R&B, but ‘Carmen’ was the most proper word to describe her music.

“I met her once. She arranged the mini-concert in my hometown.” Alexis shared her experience and decided to step outside before Ben made the move. The door closed. “No auto-tune, no freaky dancers, she’s really amazing.”

“You really can read my mind,” the little lord from the capital grinned slyly. “Anyhow, she’s Alex’s sugar mommy.” Ben pointed out. “We met her several times at my father’s VIP lounge. She loves to spend the night there. You’re her fan. You know all of her songs.”

“Of course!” replied she. They were walking, heading to nowhere with Alex following behind.

“Libellule is the name of that lounge.”

“I know it’s a place but did not know that it was your lounge! What’s your family business?”

In instead of giving an answer, Ben’s turned his lip’s corners up and then he began to sing.

You saw me sitting alone in Libellule, Weak and fragile, under the neon moon. Sweet love, you returned my youth and healed my wound. My midnight eyes, you forget our night in June. Do you think who the boy is? The boy with those midnight eyes?”

His singing was far from bad, he had the talent.

Alexis turned to Alex and he narrowed his eyes in return. Enlightenment, she stopped her pace and gave Ben a penetrating stare, “You always input false information into my head!”

“Yes, he loves poisoning people,” Alex supported her words which meant he was still with them.

Ben wrapped his arms on her shoulders, “Thought my joke would work. You’re innocent enough to believe it. I know you’re bored the club. Why don’t we go somewhere else tonight before the relocation? Two of us or three?”

She removed his arms away and completely neglected his invitation. “Innocent?” A curl of her lips appeared. “Guys… I’m younger than you just a few years but it doesn’t mean I know nothing. You came to me just to ask this again and again?”

“I know. I know. If you don’t feel at ease with me alone, how about three?”

She stretched her leg to kick him but the wolf jumped back with a satisfied laughter.

“You’re just…” She was not sure about her words so stopped saying it. If Dad knows my new friends…

She was chasing him, aiming at kicking and punching, trying so hard to eliminate all the freaky thought out of his head, while he was moving, fleeing and chortling. “Say it, Bambi. I love to know.”

“You’re stubborn and arrogant, too narcissistic.” 

Both men laughed out loud.

“You don’t have to be polite! Pervert! Call him a pervert. Call him an asshole. Call him a dickhead,” Alex shouted, sounded like cheering.

Ben groaned at his friend and mildly spoke to her. “My Bambi, you delicately select the smart word. You’re too strict with yourself, m’lady.” And then he sang again but changing the lyrics, “Why don’t you let me healing your wound and teaching you womanhood?

Alexis gave a gleeful laugh and stopped chasing Ben. They think I’m too immature. “You’re quick but use your witness in the wrong way. Ten points for the use of double meanings. Zero for that meaning.”

Realizing that they were in front of the spa room, we walk like a racing car. Some girls that walked past them send the secret message through their sight towards two men. Alex shut his message receiving box completely. Contrasting to his friend, Ben opened every channel to receive and reply to their messages. Younger and older, he opened to everyone. Sometimes, he got the bad one too, such as ‘Asshole’ or ‘Go to hell’. Those were incapable of irritating him.

“Cursing you is like talking to the wall. Don’t you get bored? You know? You were like a super charming prince at first and then…”

“And?”

“You tear off that image. Stop acting like a wolf towards me! I’m not the red-riding hood. And stop calling me Bambi, I hate it.”

“If I’m a wolf, what is Wade? Angry bear?”

Two men laughed together, seeing it funny.

“Is it your normal habit? Seduce every woman you meet,” Alexis asked him, seriously curious.

“Not everyone, every lovely one.”

“Except this one,”

“Who?” Ben wondered so she pointed to Alex. “This one is not a woman.”

What?” Both men cried at the same time, especially Ben who was really shocking. This strategy was working so well because Ben forgot the flirting.

“Sorry, but I can’t help feeling doubtful. If you don’t flirt at me, you keep asking what Alex talked to me, what Alex asked me…blah blah blah.”

“Oh no, you’re out of your mind!” Ben closed his ears as if she said the most painful word. “Bromance, damn, why do girls in these days love this kind of romance?”

“Because love is not about gender but you guys don’t listen….”

“See?” Alex pulled out the earphone as if someone overstepped his boiling limit. “I doubt that too! You keep annoying me and stealing my girlfriends! I know I’m hot, friend. But I love you as a little brother.”

“I’m not gay! If I am, why I sleep with them? Shit! You know I love to sleep with them. I love to sleep with you too if you allow me.” The girl frowned. Ben kept the shouting at his friend. “Sleeping with your chic is my good intention. I told you million times, Alex!”

“Hey! I’m sorry but you two speak so loud. It’s alright if you’re interested in both.”

The young man placed both palms on his chest. “How open you are, Bambi!” Inhaling deeply, being upset, shouting Alex like Mad, it was the first time Ben abandoned the lordling image.

To be honest, his charisma increased when he was really himself, turning off the women predator and evil mode, Ben was naturally fun to talk with. Although he loved to make sarcastic comments on people, hearing his creative comparison enlightened her choice of wording skill.  

“I like this side of yours,” she told him directly while both men were sharping their mouth to each other (and they were always like this). As he heard, the Casanova peered on her and grinned. “Not that way. I like when you're really being yourself, not the prince charming and the wolf.”

“Really? How do you know I am me? Do you really think this is the real ‘me’? Maybe I help you discover ‘me’ better?”

“Shut up.” Then she touched his bangs. Why don’t you remove the gel.”

“No, don’t touch my hair.” He drew back.

“He covers the wide area on his front head. Ben will get bald when he reaches the middle age,” Alex spoke merrily. Again, they started the fighting. Ben stopped annoying her and charged at Alex locking his neck but because his friend was taller so they played wresting instead. People started to interest in them.

“Hey stop, stop. It’s alright. They’re always like this.” She talked to the boys who were about to charge them. “Hey. Stop! Don’t destroy my kid!” The girl tried so hard to snatch her baby back. “Hey, people are looking. They think you’re fighting. I know you’re fighting but…Shit.” She hit both of their heads. “Sorry.”

Alex breathed deeply, putting the earphone in his ears again. Anyway, there was the glimpse of satisfaction on his sleepy face while Ben managed his hair. His face turned red. All of them were tired of jabbing, defending, pushing, and kicking. All of them rested and those who walked past looked at them as those weirdos. They must wonder why the three idiots sitting here on the passage of the corridor. And a girl with pneumatic boobs sneered when she walked past.

“Three days left, where are we going?” Ben asked. Everybody asked this question.

“You must learn to live with it, the life without all answers,” she said.

“Is it you who always make questions?”

“Maybe we’ll get the answer at that day,” Alex suggested.

“Wish it’s the good one.” She showed her fist.

“The good one.” The other two men bumped their fists with her, the way people clinked the glasses. “Hope the answer is not Godot,” Ben murmured.

Chapter 19: The Sea Ghost

A red iron mechanic horse galloped on the mountain. A young teenage boy with the amber eyes was driving his new red velvet baby, the recent bolt speed model manufactured by Volkov Corporation. The gift his father gave him because he was his favorite. Stamped his feet on the pedal to accelerate the speed, the boy had no single idea imagine the danger of it. The gage’s pointer rotated to the higher and higher number, not the max speed yet as Alex and Natalia stayed in the car, anyway it fast enough to make them could not sit still. Natalia insisted on being his passenger because the boys were only fifteen that day. It was illegal to drive at that age but for the upper of the upper class like them; they did not have to worry about it. If the police came with or without the knowledge of their surnames, he could pay for the silence and chased them away. They would be happy with the money they got for the debt payment or a luxurious dinner for once in their life. Still, Natalia insisted to come with them, a caring woman she was and always be. She sat on the back seat and Alex on the front seat. Ben raced his new baby on the mountains in Milo. Their resort was at the top of the hill, above the others. Ben would take his passengers to their luxurious escape.

“Ben, slow down,” warned Alex. He pretended to be a good boy in her eyes. If there were only two, he would not say this and might request for the max speed.

“Are you alright, Nat?” He asked her.

“I’m alright,” she said softly but could not hide her fear. However, Ben pretended not to be aware of it and claimed to his friend that it was okay. “Don’t worry. I will fly to our castle within seconds, WooHoo!”

Don’t do that.

“What?”

Alex looked at him. “What?”

“Do you say anything?”

“No, but slow down.”

“Nat? Do you say anything.”

“No.”

Stop being senseless! Slow down. Fucking shit, you must hear me!

But Ben could not hear himself. Driving nearly the max speed made him feel like conquering the world. He took over the iron machine, whipping the metal animal. Unfortunately, the iron horse was not a good obedient pet. His intention completely failed. The car slipped into the sea below. Lucky that he did not open the vehicle’s roof, but the automatic airbag overdid its duty as it knocked his head bumping with the seat and turned unconsciousness for a while. The same old event he tried so hard to prevent it but it was impossible so he just let it happened, again and again. 

“Alex…Ben...Alex…Ben”

Ben in the memory was underwater and he was inside that Ben. The windshield was cracking. The water gradually leaked inside. The boy inhaled so hard to wake his own consciousness. In a blink of eyes, he destroyed the airbag that prevented him to move; he took off the belt. In horror, as he turned to check Alex, his best friend was not saved from the airbag. Alex probably got attacked several hits from the car’s tripping. The door at his side got the hit and the metal cover crushed his body. The hard plate entrapped the tall boy while the airbag blocked Ben to rescue him. A Volcov heir was totally unconscious and badly injured. Ben looked at the erosion on the windshield. He knew he must be hurry before the car sinking deeper and deeper and the water poured inside.

“Nat!” As he checked the woman behind him, more terrified and the worse than Alex, her lower body was trapped and crushed completely. She was done.

“No…no…no…I’m sorry, Nat.” His mouth trembled.

“Help…him…save…him,” she said with the blood covering on her sweet face like a red mask.

He tried to focus on his friend, the metal pieces that Alex’s body got entrapped slowly split out so Ben could drag him out of it. However, they had to pay for the price too, this method created more channels for the water to get inside.

Ben reached to Natalia’s arm but she lost. Her eyes still opened wide as though she wanted to ensure Alex would survive. Her breath was no more. Her blue eyes, the only blue in Volcov family, were blank.

“Nat? Please? Stay with me, with us.” She did not either move or speak. Her chest was motionless. She was dead…for real. “Please, Nat. Breathe!” The metal moved but her spirit still did not return to him.

“No, please, wake up. I help you out.” He called her and used his power to save her as he had done to Alex. Alex’s breathed slowly on his laps but in the unnatural position. Ben knew he had no time to help her; or else, Alex would follow her too. The water level increased in every breath he took.

I can’t do anything. I’m sorry.

“Nat…I’m sorry.” He reached to her and pressed his lips to those lips, gently. They were still warm as if she was alive. “I’m sorry,” the boy was crying as if the heart was crushed too. Ben looked at the windshield, suddenly, it crumbled. Water mercilessly attacked but they also had the chance to get out. He wrapped his arms around Alex and got out of the car. His eyes stared at Natalia who was sinking down with his baby’s wreckage, buried under the seabed.

**********

Ben stood watching Alex lying on the hospital bed surrounded by his family. He waited until they were about to get out of the room. Before they went out, Vlad, sharing the same appearance as his first younger brother, came to him and gently touched his shoulder.

“It’s accident, Ben.”

It’s not. I caused it. I did it.

The young man held his tears, knowing wholeheartedly that Alex’s big brother would thank him without knowing the truth, without realizing he talked to the murderer. 

“I’m sorry. My carelessness, my fault only.”

“What’re you talking about? You saved my brother’s life. Be brave. Thanks for taking care of him until we come. You can rest, Ben. It’s my turn now and Nik will come tomorrow.”

“I’ll do it. Don’t you work?”

“That one on the bed is my brother, is he? Don’t worry. But if you want to stay, it’s okay. Let me send them back. I’ll come back soon.”

He gave a loving hug. How could Vlad be so kind and perfect at the same time? Nik bounded his head to represent the gratefulness. Fyodor smoothed his head. Ben eyed on them until they were gone. If they knew the truth, they would never forgive him. They would curse him instead.

Alex was not unconscious as they thought. He slightly opened his eyes to check the door. As those black stones met Ben’s, they turned red.

“Bring her back,”

Ben lost his courage to respond.

Bring her back! and he coughed. Ben hurried to the water and offered him a glass. His friend pushed it away. The glass fell on the floor, broken into pieces. I asked to slow the pace! I asked you!

I should have listened to you.

“I know! I’m sorry. I’m very sorry. It’s my fault,” He accepted the condemnation without fighting against it. The tears flooded his eyes. “Please forgive me.”

“I want to see her. Where they keep her body?” Alex ignored his injury and tried to leave the bed. Ben pressed his chest. “Don’t move!”

“Let me out”

“Stay! She’s not here…”

“Where is she? They arranged the funeral?”

“The sea”

“….what?”

Ben swallowed his saliva. His mouth turned dry. His hands got cold. “It’s too deep. They said we’d better let her sleep there. If we try to salvage the car, it may damage her corpse. And it takes time. Your father thinks that it’s too risky. Her body is in the water…if we…rescue her…we got only her parts. Your father doesn’t want to destroy her.”

Alex howled like a dying wolf. Hit his fits on the bed and he collapsed on the pillow. Ben saw his tears quietly flown onto those pale cheeks.

“They forgive you so easily. They don’t know the truth, right?”

Ben could not face Alex. He sat on the chair next to the bed. “My father told me to tell them the story. They don’t know I was the driver. They thought Nat was the driver.”

“It’s your fucking car! She sat on the back seat! So no one takes a look inside the car? No one?”

“…I’m sorry. My father bought their words, the rescue team…It’s…”

Alex could not hear anymore. He showed his back to him.

“Alex…I’m sorry. I—I must tell lie. Father fought me to do so!”

“I heard enough.”

“I didn’t intend to kill her. I love her like you do!”

“But you kill her. You kill her!” Suddenly, Alex coughed again but harder.

“Hey…are you alright?”

“You…*Cough…Kill…*Cough” Ben moved closer. “Friend…” He gently placed his hand on his back. Alex reflected at once. He casted his hand away but it was not casting. Ben flew away and bumped into the wall, including all the furniture scattered away. They looked at each other, astonished. The room gradually shook as if there was an earthquake. A few minutes it disappeared.

“Alex?”

“What happened to me?” He looked at Ben in horror as if it was his work, as if Ben made him like this. “What did you do to me?”

“I didn’t do anything. I mean that recent earthquake…and.” Ben hurried returned everything to the same position before any nurse or Vlad suspected. At that moment, the boy moved to the window and looked at the people below. No one seemed to be aware of the earthquake. A lighting thought flashed in his mind. He turned back to the patient on the bed who was still speechless due to the previous event. “You’re like me. You’re one of us.”

Alex shook his head. “How can I…” He unfolded his hand and the water jar next to him moved away, falling to the ground. The tall boy drew back. Ben stared at the objects on the table which were vibrating. The guilt seemed to be ignored for a while. He was amazed and impressed.

“You’re one of us! This is why I love to call you my brother.” Ben wrapped his arms around his best friend’s neck. “Thanks god, it’s you. We’re best friends and we’re powerful. That’s why you recover so fast.”

“And you forget your Nat?”

Ben released Alex at once. “Of course not, and never. But you can’t push me away. You need me to help you. Or you want them to know that you receive the gift.”

“Gift?” Alex laughed through his throat. “I can return it to whatever. I trade everything to make her back. I want my mother back not this shit!”

The scent of her dry lips still lingered at his lips. Ben exhaled deeply. Alex pushed him away and moved to the door. “Don’t go! We have to talk.”

“I don’t want to talk anymore. I don’t want to see your face again.”

As Alex turned, the cold pale arms locked his neck. Those strong arms dragged him from Alex. “Alex!” he did not hear him shouting. No, Alex could not hear this Ben. The young Ben ran after him and he was dragged into the water. He knew those arms. He remembered her scent even she was a corpse because she often came to him in this form.

“Nat”

He did not see young Alex and young Ben anymore except water.

“It’s cold, Ben. Under water, I’m cold.”

Ben was incapable of crying or yelling. He let her drag him into the deep blue sea. “I’m cold.”

Natalia Volcov.

He was inside his wreckage, on the back seat, with the woman he loved. Nat was not the same beautiful woman but a deteriorated corpse. Scared? No, never. Blessed to see her even those lifeless eyes had tears. He embraced her face. It seemed like Nat wanted to say something. It seemed like she wanted to revenge him but all she could do was dragging and remaining a dead body.

“You come to my dream again.”

Yes, this was his dream, his sweet dream. Her eyes were open. Her mouth was unmoving. If he could make her alive again and talked to him with this mouth, not just a telepathic sound, he would have faith in God which he had never had.

He kissed her.

But she was not a sleeping beauty.

God was no more or already left men. Most important, he was never the favorite child of him.

Talk to me again. Haunt me again. Keep doing it. Scare me. Frighten me. Keep visiting my dreams. Keep letting me besides you. They buried you in the sea. I will bury you with me.

Chapter 20: The Answer

“Nightmare?”

“Sweet dream.”

“Dreamed of her again?”

“Yes, the best dream,” Ben stressed his words.

It was the day of relocation, of knowing the truth, of whatever the shit was. At the bottom of the dormitory, all residents gathered waiting for the time of relocation. Last time, the hall had been transformed into the small clinic booths for health-checkup. On this day, space was open wide. One metal gate stood in front of them. Curious, of course, they were. ‘What is that?’, all thought. The line was horizontal, unsettling, and full of nervousness.

Ben, Alex, and Sarah stood on the front line because they were the first residents, and the silver head was next to Alex. The Thomas was behind him and at the middle of the crowd were the teenagers from San Bosa. Yawning, a bit boring, the amber eyes swiped both sides. Most people still carried the small bags to collect their precious stuff. Ben carried nothing but stuffed two packs of Best Ami cigarettes, the lighter, and his beloved watch inside the bomber khaki jacket containing two packs of Best Ami cigarettes, the lighter. Same, Alex wore only stretched black jeans and a black leather jacket which was full of cigarette packs as much as possible.

Ten officers in white suits walked out of the gate. Still, he could not see anything behind the large metal plate. Their uniforms symbolized the unit they belonged in, A militant unit,’ thought the young man. Men and women wore white high collar jacket with a grey strip on the two sides making the wearer slender, and two guns belted on the white solider-styled pants. Behind their back were the weapons that look similar to rifles but its shapes and design were highly innovative. Their hands were gloved with grey leather. All were armed and this prompted a wave of the small panic.  

The officials began checking people’s belongings. Those who carried bag must throw it away even the mini one. He saw Alexis occupied her things, moving them to the leather black jacket. Oslo helped her carrying the CD player. The girl stuffed small pieces of papers inside the inner jacket’s pocket. Amused her gesture, his mouth’s corner raised up a little, but Ben did not lose the opportunity to observe the young tall man who was watching the girl as well.

“What?” Alex asked. His voice sounded like upset when noticed his signature knowing smile.

“Nothing,” The amber eyes replied but still smiled mockingly and that made the dark eyes groaned louder.

“What are you guys looking at?” Sarah, next to him, asked.

“I caught Alex secretly spying on Alexis,” he told her. Her baby blue eyes widened with surprise. “Really? Alex? Never heard about it.”

“You believe in Ben’s words?”

Then she gave a judged look to him. “If you say you watching her, I believe it.”

Ben sighed, shaking his head. Yeah, let Wade attacks me alone and you get the girl.  

The time came. They were lined up to go inside the gate. One-minute walk, in his bafflement including incredulity, they arrived at the weapon warehouse. The atmosphere completely changed. Fear devoured the crowd. An unknown panic diffused around the room and alerted the intuition. This damn relocation meant their life.  

“Do not touch anything yet!” One of the officers ordered.

“I smell danger,” Alex whispered to him. He could feel Sarah quivering. Everybody felt the same way when they were surrounded by many types of weapons: guns, blades…and bombs.

One official who gave an order recently stepped onto the elevated stage. He wore the headset on the neck. Ben looked at his head with the funny administration. A bald head, like the moon in the night, so as his yellow skin, it did not represent a pleasant look at all. The fierce dark-brown eyes wandered around the room.

And then he started the speech. “According to the Surveillance and Control of the Risks to Humankind Act 2966, all convicted as the Risk and the Suspect must participate to help us do the experiment in order to search for the cure of this atypical symptom. Sadly, we could not find the cure yet. To continue our effort, first, we must understand your symptom and the cause of it. As the citizen of the federal, it is your duty to collaborate in our mission. This is not only my mission but yours as well!

Here we are in Checkpoint one. In the next hour, you will continue the journey. We have only one rule to tell you, arrive at the destination before day ten. You have only ten days. Try to survive…calm down! I haven’t finished my speech! Your journey from this day is to survive and reach the destination. You can see the directions from the maps we will provide. See? It’s not difficult. We have weapons and food supplies available. You can carry as much as you want. Don’t worry about running out of supplies. You can restock at every safe zone. Don’t talk when I’m speaking!

Ben felt his fist tightened up. Weapons, foods, supplies, safe zone, survival, did they plan to test the real-time RPG game? They, certainly, would have to fight against something and those things were definitely not an unmovable shooting target. This was not what they had expected to. What the hell why they left them spend the life of lavishness for a month! Ben preferred the plot that the authority announced all these people were the clones and he was the clone of Benjamin Rosier who was dying and needed the new organ to expand his lifetime.

But wait! The dying Ben did not sound nice to hear.

Breathed deeply, he tried not to let the temper consumed his tolerance or else he killed everyone and this meant the silliest suicidal.

But Alex could not, the room started shaking. And everyone looked at each other, aghast; they confused if it was the authority’s work or nature’s work. And when the small earthquake disappeared, it left a mystery and only Ben knew who caused it.

“Calm down…young people! Listen to me carefully. There are three exits. We won’t mess with your group or friends. Be careful and be alert, choose your companions wisely. Look at your digital watch. It does not only display the time and your profile but better than that, it’s able to diagnose your physical health, any injury, level of severity, and medical treatment instruction, and if you have listened to the instruction during the health-checkup, you know well how to cope with it. Now, it’s time to prepare. Remember! This is a part of the experiment. Be a good citizen. Good luck everyone. Hope to see you all at the destinations.”

See you all…bloody government!

Why? This questioned lingered in his head. Why did they not tell us before?

At the moment they left, the first thing most people do was united with the group and remained confused.

He was still unmoved and hesitated. “I think both of us will be fine. I don’t count her” His eyes followed Sarah who ran to Wade’s group.

Alex disapproved with a judged look. “Staying with them for a few weeks doesn’t make you feel attached to them? I count her and them. Stick with the others. Staying in a group is better.”

So they walked to where the Thomas and Wade standing. Rami and the girl with a mental disorder joined them too. All of them picked up a backpack.

“Where’s the map?” Sarah asked as if she waited for someone to arrange it for her. Noel sent her a backpack. “It’s in there, madam.”

Ben picked up one. There were food supplies and medical aids inside. He threw the medical aids away to reduce the weight and to clear more space for weapons.

“Let’s check the weapons. Noel, please select it for us and tell us how to use it.” Tessa nicely asked her brother.

Ben and Alex were familiar with some types of pistols and rifles but Noel seemed to recognize everything. Thanked him, at least there were only six impediments! He did not understand what Alex was thinking. They emphasized how the watch could diagnose their body and they talked about the injury, this was tough, an adventure journey. All he could think of was to reach the destination as fast as possible. However, when they traveled with a group, it might be inhuman not to protect them.

“It’s time to show-off how good our training is,” Ben whispered to his best friend who might be thinking the same. There were Sarah and Tessa who could use the power. Tessa’s ability was still uncontrollable but might be useful for some occasions. Noel was a former soldier so the weapons and combat skills might serve him and the group well. Unfortunately, the other six useless members…They were unable to use those things properly. He could not imagine how they would fight.

“Use the little Uzi, it’s automatic but not too heavy for you all. Look carefully, I show you once, how to load the magazines…”

Ben and Alex separately selected their firearms. He picked a full auto AK, two pistols on his waist in the imitation of the officers, blade on his ankle, etc. He put other weapons in the bag. During the preparation, Sarah complained as she carried a large heavy machine gun so he suggested the same type Alexis carried. “You don’t know how to use it. Why prefer the big one?”

“I heard Noel said the destructive result is greater.”

“But you have no idea how to shoot. Change it.” He picked up the smaller and lighter one, “no more word.” She made an annoying face and changed her weapon.

“I look like a commando soldier,” Alex showed himself covered by the weapons with the broad smile.

“No. An ugly terrorist.”

“Fuck you.”

He suggested carrying some bombs. His friend was not sure about it. “Believe me. I don’t think they take us to the playground or fight a puppy. Its package is secured enough and there are various kinds of it. I saw Noel carries them too.”

His tall friend narrowed his brows together. “Fight…do you think they want to test our ability? But if they want to test us, how about those who don’t possess the ability?”

Ben lifted up his shoulders with eyes surveying around. He saw the teens from San Bosa reading the map. “Oh, we should recognize the field.” He unfolded the map too. Both men read it. “Shit. Four zones. Shit, it’s like a map in the amusement park! There’s the theme for each zone. Fuck it. I hate all their setup because it was like they’re happy to build this.”  

They changed their interest in the big man, Noel. His body was full of ammo belts. This one really looked like a professional commando soldier and the villain terrorist. The others were trying to aim and use the gun. Sarah gave them a tedious look. “I can’t believe it. Why they let us with those facilities,” she doubted the same thing as his and returned to her short-termed partner.

Because the authority is the biggest troll.

He watched Noel teaching how to use a gun to the others. The young man hugged himself tightly. “Honestly, Alex, I think we’ll be a nanny. If there is anything happen to us, I run.”

“You won’t run,” Alex denied.

“I run with you.”

There were only fifteen minutes left. They discussed the direction. Noel extended the map on the floor and made the plan.

“As we don’t know what we have to face, I think it’s alright to take the shortest path. You know we can spend only a day to the exit but they said within ten days and the weapons—I think there may be something waiting for us.”

“Same thought,” Ben responded to Noel.

 “We have to fight robots?” Wade suggested.

“Or monsters?” Minnie two corrected. The silence came when she blurted out. “I—I’m sorry.”

“I don’t understand this experiment. It sounds scary…very much. I feel like Becky is right,” Tessa said. “And they let us live with those things. What’s the purpose of this?”  

“Is it like the survival game?” The real Minnie questioned.

“It is!” Ben boringly answered. “What’s the plan?” He cut off.

“Remember. Be alert. Stick together. If we are disbanded, head to the safe zone and if no one appears, continue the journey, okay?” Noel spoke and marked on his map. “Focus on our direction. If we lose, try to go back to the track. We may catch up with the group. Do not linger. Our direction will pass the safe zone and as we select the shortest path, the exit 2 is our destination.”

All people, except Ben, nodded obediently.

“You’re the leader. You’re the only one who has experienced in military training, we all agree?” Tessa recommended her brother. No one disagreed. Someone should be the head to make the decision because they hardly knew what they had to encounter in the later time and this leader should be someone who could make the best instant decision that all could not disapprove. For Ben, he was careless. If anything happened, he would focus on him and Alex.

The thought of the journey ahead that was similar to the most difficult challenging game he had ever played, increased the adrenaline and the blood in his vein. He gave up searching for ‘the purpose’ of this experiment completely. To survive and get out of this damn place was the only goal he aimed at.

“Your hands are cold.” He looked at Alexis and Oslo. The girl hugged herself with eyes fixing on the map, expressed an uneasy feeling.

“The farm in Eastland.”

What’s the farm? He questioned himself when hearing their conservation.

Oslo shook his head. “We’ll be fine. Just an adventure game.”

Survival game.

Ben returned his interest to Alex who quietly listened as well while checking the guns. Looking at his friend and himself, a sense of oddity stirred in his stomach. A Volcov and a Rosier now became samples of the maddest scientific experiment.

“Don’t be careless.”

He stared at his best friend. “Never.”

“Now, you are. I don’t think it’s easy for us,” he finished checking his stuff.

When the clock declared seven o’clock, the room rotated. Almost three hundred people might be gasped. Ben needed to know what the limit of their technological knowledge. The entrance door now opened again but it led to the other path, not the same way they entered.

No one dared not to go inside. No one made a move. No one wanted to be the first sample that entered the realm of the experiment.  

The metal wall tremulous vibrated as if some force shook it but it was not Alex’s work. Indeed, the wall had been assembled with metal pieces and when they slid down, it revealed hundreds of gun’s projectiles buried inside the wall. No explanation required, all of them advanced their steps into the entrance before the projectiles completely emerged out of the holes.   

The first zone had been setup in the scientific theme. The entire residents walked along the long corridors of a scientific building. Some groups started separated themselves heading in their own direction they had planned when arriving at the junction. Ben’s group still mixed with the other groups. There were about fifty people traveling the same path. The fluorescent straight tubes above their head blinked, transmitting the ambiance where the protagonist walking to the threshold of evils and would find something creepy among the unreliable silence.

Fuck my mind.

“Don’t open any door!”

Ben heard Noel warned Wade who observed a door near him (who might be the silliest person in their group, which Ben still could not find the answer why he had been selected as the candidate).

About an hour, nothing appeared. Ben began to be annoyed.

“I’m glad we choose the right path,” someone spoke. He caught how the Thomas made the painful expression on their faces.

“What?” Alexis asked them as if she could read his mind.

“There’s a curse in those words,” Tessa explained.

The boy who spoke came with his gang of five or six teens, fifteen or sixteen, not over than this, Ben guessed.

They arrived at the area which was similar to the enormous lab room. Many computer desks had been decorated disorderly. Some turned on. Cables and wires roped each other. Three paths situated on the left, on the light, and at the front of their head, another junction. The number of people now had been minimalized when some groups separately walked into those paths.

They had to choose. Certainly, they preferred the direction that shortened the distance and time to the exit, which meant to go straight but Noel asked them to linger for a little bit more.

“I think we should go now,” Ben urged, eyeing on the other groups who still stayed with them. He did not feel like to trail the others.

Suddenly, the echo from far away alarmed all of them. It was the scream of pain and horror.

“What’s that?”

Ben raised his arms and aimed.

Then the sound of hundred heavy running-steps came resounded from afar and the sound was louder and closer and louder and closer until the beat his heart accelerated. “Run!” Oslo urged them, “We have to run!

He was right but, “Not that way. It comes from the way we head to,” Ben shouted. The group turned to the left while some, being senseless to detect the incoming dangers, still hesitated to decide where to go until Alexis scolded them to move their butts instead of standing dumbly.

“God, they’re coming!”

As if all the braveness left him as if he could not control his body. Those humans—no not really humans, just human-like monsters, what is that? Their eyes were deadly blank. Their movement was definitely unnatural human but fast and determined to attack them randomly—no not to attack, to devour them.  

He had never seen this dreadful thing before. The man-eaters slew those who had the low running and surviving skills. With the extraordinary strength, they tore and ate the flesh meat of victims hungrily. The scream of agony before the death haunted behind him.

But they’re human.

They wore clothes.

This is not a game, Ben. He thought to himself. How foolish he was to think so shallow. This is the killing show.

At that time, the wave of vibration wiped the creature’s flock away. Alex performed his supernatural power at the right moment whereas Ben forgot what he could do. But what can I do? His ability had the limit. He could control objects but not living things or any part of living things. So he used the gun. His firearm woke up the other to be aware of the weapons in their hands. The sound of bullets began to resound everywhere. Like he had thought, most people had not been trained to use it before. Instead of killing the monsters, they also killed the victims who were eaten alive and were struggling to flee from the monsters. No one thought about rescuing the others; they must defend themselves first.  

As his wit returned, Ben controlled the furniture and threw into the creatures to block them from chasing. Noel ran at the frontline searching for the hideout. They reached the nearest door and went inside, sealed the door, and moved every table to prevent the intruders, men or monsters.

“The others are still outside!” Someone shouted but no one touched the blockings. The scream of the victims outside reflected how they were killed before the death, requiring no witness. Ben stood still, speechless. It was the first time he was scared to dead.

“What’s that?” The only thing that came out of his mouth. “What are those things?”

Their eyes met, Ben and Alex were unable to speak anything for a while. His friend’s dark eyes were full of perplexity and fear.

“I’m not gonna die like that, never.” He swore.

“Zombies? It looks like those monsters but they run so fast,” Alex squeezed his head. “Are they?”

Ben looked around. All the people he knew remained survival. No one left to dead. Sarah, terribly shaking, moved herself to Wade who was still in shock. Alexis and Oslo caught their hands as if they never wanted to part from each other. Minnie hid behind Noel’s back and Becky did the same with Rami. Tessa leaned her back against the wall with her head dropping to the floor. He could not see her face but judge from her shuddering, she was afraid like the others.

The door and the blocking now rocked like mad. Something outside was going to intrude, the remaining survivors? Or the zombies? Or both? The question was how they would go out and flee without being devoured alive.

One hour and thirty five, about a hundred of samples failed to protect their lives to the end of the experiment.

Chapter: Life on Thread

It was the exact time Becky realized why she often dreamed of blood. She had never counted how many times the dream came true but it had never been truer than the situation she was facing now. The blood of her friends bathed and sprayed everywhere as though she joined the tomato throwing festival. The smell was awful that she wanted to vomit. And soon, her blood might drop there. Never imagined to be trapped in this worst situation, the gun was still in her hand but it did not make her feel any safer when she was a coward who had no courage even to make an aim. Critical crisis, yes it was. This room could not be their shelter for long. They were coming, the death crawling from the other side of the door.

The brave ones were discussing how to get away and would not be eaten alive. She preferred calling them ‘the brave’ because, for herself, to fight against those things made her body quivering like being processed. These people still had the mind to make a plan while her mind was full of blood and the reaper. Her eyes fixed on the rocking door and barriers Ben had built. She feared it would collapse and the door would open and they ran to tear her apart.

“You’re bitten!”

Plutax yelled at a young man who had saved her from the monsters outside. The girl wondered if that wound was the result of his kindness towards her or anything else. But anyway, Plutax’s condemnation attracted all interest.

“No, he’s not!” The accused’s friend denied.

All eyed on him, the kind of eyes she knew well because it was the eyes of judgment. Becky thought she should do something for him as her gratitude or say something in defense. Holding her breath before speaking, it was hard. Even her voice was so low as if she murmured to herself and Rami could not hear it. She was too scared to save him even though she should. The soul of a coward entrapped in her since birth. The girl let him be verbally attacked by that bully boy without defending him.

“He’s infected!” Plutax, pointing his finger to that poor man, declared his theory to the others. The accused shook his head from side to side in denial of the suspect. “I’m not infected. It’s just a normal bite.”

“Paul is alright. Stop being a bad mouth, kid,” his friend insisted.

“They’re zombies! They infect people through biting! Everybody knows that.”

“That’s in the movie!” Paul bellowed in anger.

“How can we know? We thought they were in the movie and how about those things outside? Don’t you see they eat people alive?”

Within an instance, she heard the cracking sound as if something was going to fall. She saw a chair slipped down and, surprisingly, it returned to the same position like knowing its duty and another table moved itself to support the other barriers. The shaking seemed to be calmer. At once, she spied on Ben who turned his face away from that spot. Becky wished her curse would be like him.  

The beating of her heart turned steady, contrasting to the situation in the room, the suspicion produced more heat. Some people gradually raised their hands aiming the gun at Paul. “Hey, don’t do this! Please, I’m not infected!”

“Stop! Enough is enough. Get the gun down.” The man with the chestnut skin ceased the incoming battle and he broke into the argument between Plutax and Paul. “Stop being a fool!”

“I’m not! He’s bitten and will turn to be that zombie.”

“Check the digital watch on his wrist. They say it can diagnose the injury,” Alexis blurted out. If I have that courage like her. “Stop making any hypothesis, let’s prove it. Lower your guns down! Keep it for those things outside.”

As though she possessed some magic, why just as she said, everybody listened? Those who suspected Paul lowered their guns down like obedient children. And why do I trust her?

Alexis was messing with Paul’s wrist. That face, cold blue eyes, the intent to kill, she had no trace of a murderer, not any single clue. Perhaps, that one would deserve it…to be killed by her. Becky concluded to herself.

“Slightly injured, use the plaster. No infection. Is that clear enough?” She read it from the hologram. “It’s not a day yet and we aim the gun at each other. How could we survive those things?”

As the older girl glanced at Plutax, the boy’s face got reddened due to feeling humiliated in front of the other people. Becky kept her smile to herself. He deserved to be shamed.

“How can we trust that device?” The boy was still stubborn.

“And why do we have to listen to you? Do you have proof about the infection?—No, you don’t.”

“Wow, Oslo did speak!” Ben clapped his hands together. “It’s not simple he offends someone so you should judge yourself first, boy.”

The younger kicked the air grumbled, “I’m not a little kid.” Then he returned to his group. Paul and his friend exhaled in relief and thanked Noel and Alexis.

“But how can we get out?” Rami squeezed his forehead. “We could not block it any longer.”

Alexis breathed in deeply as if she decided to do something she was uncertain. And finally, she said, “Try to listen to my plan? But we need a good teamwork. All of us must help each other.”

“Say it, girl. My brain has nothing in it.” Tessa urged.

In consequence, Alexis expanded her map and tapped her finger on the spots. “If we run along this way, we can reach the nearest safe zone here.”

“No, we can’t reach it like you think,” Ben opposed. “Too far from here. We will run out of bullets and be devoured.”

“Aha,” the girl admitted. “As I observed, there is no monster in these rooms. They must empty unless they want us all dead. How about we rest here (tapping on the map)? This room is large enough, like here. We can stop there, reload, and fight against them until we reach the safe zone”

Tessa still wondered, “But how can we get out?”

“Well, I’m not sure either but it’s better than waiting for the death. Before I explain my plan, can I know if there is anyone else who has the power? I mean who is the Risk.”

No one raised a hand.

“You are!” Minnie shook her sister's arm. “You two!” And hit Ben’s and Alex‘s backs. Sarah moved before the girl hit her.

“I know Minnie. I mean, excluding them, are there any others?”

No one claimed the status. 

“Okay, Ben…”

“Yes?”

“You make barriers, blocking the creatures from chasing us. Hmm…how can I say correctly?”

“I understand.”

“Thank you.” Her eyes moved to the shaking barriers at the door.

Ben understood. “That’s simple.” 

“Oh, Ben…they wear clothes.” Like the others, she did not understand what Alexis meant. Ben too, they stared at each other for a few seconds, and then he exclaimed, “Damn it. I’m such a fool.”

“Alex?”

The tall man answered, “Yup!”

“Be the front line and expel them, please help us clear the way.”

“Copy that, commander.”

“Noel, I want you to guide people. Be close to Alex.”

Tessa’s brother nodded.

And then Sarah raised her hand. “Alexis, my ability has no use for those things. They feel nothing. I have tried it.”

“That’s okay. Are there any of us can use guns proficiently?”

Some men raised their hands. “This is pleading. Use your skill to defend the others from it. It doesn’t mean those who have no power or use the gun for the first time won’t use it and run only. Help each other. Protect yourself and it means to save the group.”

She saw everybody nodded in agreement with Alexis. Becky looked at the gun in her hand and nodded too. I must do it. Becky...you can. If any of them attacks, just shoot.

“Alexis, I can help. I know my power is…well not permanently effective but I’ll try. Maybe I can expel them like Alex can.” Tessa volunteered. “I help to guard people.”

She’s so brave. Even Tessa was nicer to her than the first time they met which had been entirely uncomfortable; she was the girl who Becky rarely talked to because of the strong character.

“Of course, you can.” Alexis made the goosebump then she repeated the plan. “First, Ben will open the door so we can get out. Alex will clear the path ahead and Noel will guide us to the new shelter. Those who know how to use guns are the support, shooting anything that comes to attack us. Oh, we have Tessa too.” The girl with blue eyes showed her gun. “Remember that we have the weapon in our hand. Don’t’ just run but please use it when you see any of them approaching. Ben, Alex, and Tessa will not stop for us. They just help us escape to the new place. No one will be left behind or will sacrifice; NO ONE. Understand?”

They nodded, all together. Perhaps, it was because no one had the ability to make a better plan. For that reason, they all preferred to listen to this girl.

“Okay. Good. I will count three to one and Ben will open the door. Are you guys ready?” She was about to raise her gun and then the same old nuisance interrupted. 

“Is that you call a plan?” Plutax, you’re such…

“Do you have any better one?” Wade hurled back. “I heard enough of your shitty mouth. Accuse people, protest people but do nothing.”

Becky would like to clap her hands.

“Tell us the better plan. Or you stay here waiting for those things eat you up. Hey, can we use this brat as bait?”

 “Miller boy, this time, I couldn’t agree more,” Ben still had time to disturb people.

“Oh, please, Ben, Wade, stop. Leave him be.” The big brother Noel shook his head. He did not care about kids’ quarrel but focused on how to get out.  

“Okay, anyone has any question?” Alexis asked and no one did raise any voice. “Alright, no question, let’s check our arms.”

“Don’t forget to use your guns,” Noel added.

Becky did not want to face ‘them’ but she did not want to be left alone as well. How those creatures ate human alive still imprinted on her mind. Nothing could enrage her better than the invisible thread sewed by the authority on her body. She walked on their script performing a good show while they watched them dying with a bowl of popcorn.

“Hey, get away. You don’t have to stand beside me. Don’t you know your gun hasn’t been unlocked the safety yet?” Ben pointed his finger at Alexis’ hand.

 “No, I didn’t lock it! I exploited two bullets.”

“I did. Sorry!” Oslo admitted. “I saw she swings it playfully and Noel warned us not to…”

“We’re in the battle, not the preparation room.” The big man sighed heavily and said something within him. She could read his mouth, nevertheless. He said, “How can we make it?” 

Ben snatched Alexis’ gun and did something to it then return it to her. “Damn it. Are you guys really ready?”

Rami smoothed her head saying, “are you alright?”

The girl slowly nodded. Not at all.

A few seconds, Ben started counting, “alright guys! One…two…three!”

Once he raised both arms, she firmly focused only her feet while lifting arms up aiming at shooting, at least, for a shot. In a blink, tables, chairs, laboratory equipment, and the door intensely ejected. At that moment, the exit had been opened; Ben dashed out. Rami bobbed his head in a sign so she accelerated her move and got out. Before they all evacuated from the room, the roar, sounded like flying bees, warned us about the incoming large flock of zombies that were going to attack them. Then, a blasty noise echoed. The bees sound fled away owing to Alex’s work. Within a second, Tessa’s creepy sound followed and she had to cover her ears. As Becky and Rami did not linger at the ending of the rail, they were able to see that the path was clear, watching Alex and Noel disappeared.

Incapable of staying in peace, she glanced back. The furniture wall blocked the enemies to approach and it also pushed them away. He was not left alone. There were some companions lingered to guard him.

“Go! You too! I won’t sacrifice myself. No worry!”

“Don’t linger, Ben! Run!”

“I said I’m fine! You guys run! Don’t wait for me cuz I won’t.”

 “Don’t look back, Becky. Follow Noel,” Rami reminded her and pulled her arm.

The little redhead tried to focus on the way ahead. A little closer, just a little closer. Tessa followed the two, projecting her voice in an offensive way to the small group of man-eaters. Unfortunately, she could not save a girl. That victim was dragged away from the group finally. Becky swiftly turned her face away from that scene as they began gobbled the head part pealing the skin to reveal the brain inside.

The little redhead tried to focus on the way ahead. Tessa just ran past of her, using her voice attacking a small group of man-eaters.

“It’s closer!”

Noel loudly announced but she was unable to see him except that an ambush appeared and grabbed Rami’s arm. The boy told her to shoot. “Shoot it, quickly!” She aimed but her stiffing body caused by her fear prevented the girl to shoot. A lot of bad ideas wandered in her head. She was afraid that her bullet would kill the boy instead of the zombie. A few seconds, Rami used his feet to resist its force before gradually rotated his hand up, let the gunpoint upwards to its chin. Then Bang! Bang! Bang! He triggered once but the bullets paraded coming out until the monster’s head exploded. Pieces of meat and blood painted some parts of his body. The almost-be-killed boy, still remaining good consciousness, pulled her to stand. “Go!” urged he. They ran and ran but her hand fled out of his. Something grabbed her ankle and she lost her balance and fell down. Rami did not know his friend had been dragged.

She yelled, “Rami! Help!” But the boy could not hear her. He ran and ran thinking she followed him and then he was gone from her sight. “No! Don’t go!”

It groaned quietly. This zombie could not walk. Perhaps, someone tried to finish it but his work lacked good quality. It had not been finished. Becky screamed for help when it dragged her close aiming to consume her leg. She kicked and defended herself. It had the face, eyes, nose, mouth, and body like a human. Only that the monster had the mind to attack humans. It bared the yellow teeth; they were similar to her teeth but dirty yellow and painted with blood. Her eyes spotted a silver digital watch on its wrist in the bad condition…Oh god.

Once…they were alive like Becky.

She looked into those eyes…empty. Suddenly, the fear melted down. Empty…not in those eyes but her inner body. A sudden small hole appeared on its forehead and the hole expanded ‘till she saw the tip of a blade penetrated out of the skull and everything became normal as it should be. The blade disappeared from its head and that zombie was kicked out of her.

“So sharp,” Ben said but it was not him who rescued her. Alexis stared fixedly at the bladed newly dipped blood and her body shuddered as same as Rami did when he slew a zombie. Once, she woke up from her thought, “run!” No time to say thank, as Becky could stand on her feet and left those two. The firearms surrounded. Everybody began to use their guns while her gun was fully loaded.

I must do it. I must do it. She paused her pace and aimed at the enemies. When she saw a group of them gobbled a victim like vultures, her hands shook again. Why? Why can’t I do it? The image of that zombie with a silver watch on its wrist entrapped in her head, the emptiness of those eyes woke her sympathy.

I must definitely die here.

“Becky, get inside!” The voice of Noel woke her up from the senseless though. He still kept shooting and guarded the door, dared not let anything approached the others. Becky ran to the man without looking back if Alexis and Ben came with her. As she entered, Rami approached.

“I thought you’re beside me! And then you’re gone! God, I…”

“I fell and…” She searched for Alexis and saw that her pretty rescuer just came inside with Ben. Guilt consumed. It was worse than let them eat the victim alive. Why did she have the sympathy for those creatures?

 

“How many of us left?” She heard they were talking.

About thirty remained. As she saw her own digital watch, Becky released what was in her mind without rethinking, “They are us!”

Everyone looked fixedly at her at once. The girl explained, “I saw they wore the same digital watch as us. It’s like us. It was us! Human!”

“Yes, she’s right. I saw that too,” Wade added, one of his arms comforting Sarah.

The room turned to silence as if everyone willingly kept their mouth shut. However, the one who could not sit still and become the central attention disagreed with Becky. Paul caught his bitten arm because he knew what people would suspect again.

Alex fanned his head quickly and stepped into the center. Not often he would be the first to speak. “They once were human…now they’re dead—No, the awful creature. The authority uses the scientific way to control the dead body and let them walk and eat people like a zombie.” He showed a small chip to everyone. “Noel blew one of their heads and this thing fell from the brain.”

 “Is the chip planted inside the brain?” Someone questioned.

“Can I take a closer look?” Rami moved towards him. Becky, the same, moved too. He received and looked closely murmuring to himself. “Hmm, how it works? How it wake the death to life. Or…it control human and turns normal human to be a zombie…hmmm.”

“So do those who are bitten would get infected?” the beautiful Blondie demanded the precise answer.

“The device told us he’s not infected. I think we can rely on it,” Alexis concluded. 

“Can I keep this?” asked Rami.

Alex nodded. “I have no mind to collect it.”

Becky saw him insert the chip in the jeans’ pocket. Rami forgot his fear for a short period. Those brown eyes shone the light of excitement.

“So they are the people who were arrested before us and could not make it to the exit…right?” Minnie indicated the most interesting point but a few of them would like to hear because it meant their fate depended on their own capacity. No, Becky did not think so. It depends on luck and mercy of the authority. If they died, they would be like those creatures, running madly, attacking people. It was not a peaceful death.

“They’re monster,” Ben reminded them. The young man sat elegantly on the table, crossing legs and arms under his chin. “Just monsters, dead men. Hope you guys feel sorry for the dead bodies that try to eat us.”

Becky kept the gun, dared not speak anything.

“So…what now?” Rami asked Alexis who was standing thinking about something. She did not answer him but turned to the big brother of the Thomas.

“Noel, I saw you carried some bombs. Can we use it now?”

“What?! You carry it all along? Why don’t you use it before?” Sarah used her very high-pitched voice. The first time she saw this beauty was really frustrated.

The one who had been offended sighed. “First, if I did, it might kill some of us. It’s not a magical tool, young lady. You can’t throw the bomb whenever you like. Don’t you remember the passage we ran past? How narrow was it? Or why don’t ask your friend why he didn’t use it?”

The blonde turned her face to the man who was sitting with crossing legs. Ben shrugged. “Don’t look at me like that. He’s right.” 

Noel picked up those things from his bags. “So the same plan but now I stay behind, right?”

Alexis nodded, hands hugging herself, and her eyes glaring at the shaking door. “The passage here is opened wider than the corridor. Ben could not block it.”

“We all agree with you anyway.”

“Okay. The first safe zone is near. Let’s check our firearms. Make sure they’re fully loaded.” Noel ended the discussion. Becky sat down watching people in despair. Spying on Tessa and Minnie, they helped each other checked the weapons. Of course, Minnie who was a little bit odd like Becky but now absorbed the brevity from her sister, Tessa. And Alexis, she even planned the way to escape while Becky was blank.

Only a coward in this room was me.

“Hey! Everyone, quiet!” Alex cried out. “I hear something.”

“Shit! Get down!”

After Noel’s warning, Rami leaped to her and both fell down on the ground. Thousands of bullets pierced through the wall, missing Rami just a few millimeters. Above her head when she looked upward, the head of an unknown man she did not recognize exploded like an exploding watermelon. Unfortunately, the red liquid was not juices but fresh blood. His body fell on Rami’s who laid on her, twitching. She screamed even knowing Rami’s ear was near her mouth but her scream lost due to the lightning-like roar of heavy machine guns. Then the room and everything ruptured.

Chapter 22: Unrevealed Condition

Her ears got ringing for several minutes. As her mind resumed to the stable stage, her eyes opened and saw the many lives ruined to sacrifice the arrival of killer robots. Previously, all sensations ceased and her vision stopped dead. Every moment became the slow-motion picture before resuming to the normal stage. She witnessed OJ danced drastically as if he was dancing on the furious fire pit, the same rhythm of hundreds of bullets fusillading into his body. His corpse, like a spongy, fell onto the ground in front of her. The last minute, he had been alive, spoken and shared ideas. O.J. Simmons, a waiter, died at aged twenty-three. It might be her habit to question everything. She wondered what the point of this experiment is. To search for the cause? To test the ability? But how about an ordinary human like her? They were fragile and weak. Comparing to the Risk, if there was none of them in this group, she would have died at the first hour of the experiment. “Ouch!” Oslo yelped when he got a shot wound. Alexis quickly turned to check on him. He got shot at the right shoulder because of the reflected bullet; she guessed. She looked and him and swiftly looked at O.J.’s dead body lying like an unselected meat. The heat in her body increased as if someone added the fuel. Her quivering from fear gradually faded away. “Get down. Don’t move,” she told him. The right hand pressed his back while trying to think of the way out. Her nerves danced under the skin. She tried to look through the curtain of dust, seeing Wade hid behind a desk with Sarah besides. When the bullet storms disappeared, the flock of zombies returned. They were behind the crumbled wall. Noel stood up and randomly threw the bullets at mechanic killers and the zombies. Zombies came with its flocks with more four metal killers. A sound of error machines, the killer robots could not move. Looked like they got stuck. She understood. Ben was controlling them and they were smart enough to resist the force, still not strong enough to defeat him. “There’re robots as I said,” Wade yelled to claim he was right. Ben detained three robots but he could not defeat them either so what he could only do was to bind them. Alex fought against the other one. Tessa and Noel put all their effort to decrease the zombies. But soon, they all would be killed. “Sarah, where are you?” Ben called her. Primary, she seemed to be confused and then she understood what she could do. The blonde woman sought the way to get out of the shelter and she stood glaring at one of the killer robots. “Don’t crouch. The robots can’t shoot us now. Hurry! We must resist the zombies.” Alexis shouted to the remaining. “Oslo, you hide here.” Smoothing his head, she left him. “No! It’s dangerous! Your shooting is not that good!” It did not matter. She might not good at shooting but once she pulled the trigger, at least it helped. At first, Alexis feared zombies and the fear froze her from head to toes but during the escape, she realized that what she feared was not them but death. Then, Alex attacked his component with his marvelous shockwaves causing its mechanic arm removed out of the body; the sound echoed around the area. Drops of sweats appeared on his face. Boom! One of the robots exploded. Perhaps, Sarah did it. And another Boom! Noel bombed a large flock of zombies. And Tessa’s agonic cry because the laser released from the robots’ eyes nearly cut her into halves. She was lucky enough to flee in time, still got a burnt. At the moment that Ben tried to escape the laser, the two killers were freed but unfortunately, they were controlled again. Tessa lay down on the floor with her hand covering the burning skin on the arm. They cursed all, cursed the government, the zombies, the robots, the dead corpses, and even the small pieces of ruins. Although Noel carried bombs, how they could eliminate the robots? The only shooting was not enough. Looking at Ben’s face, he was exhausted and might be the one exploited most of the energy. If we did not have him, doom. She looked sideways, noticing Alex’s component was going to emit the laser cannon. Look carefully at its eyes, the beeping red light appeared before...she managed to get down. “Fuck! Bloody Robot!” Followed by an explosion, finally, Alex was capable of defeating it. Two robots and zombies that were enjoying human-meat buffet remained. She looked back at the other two robots. They were charging the laser cannon. A sudden decision popped up in her head; hesitated…yes, she was not certain if she was correct or mad. Whatever, if I don’t try, I die anyway. Her feet moved towards one of the working metal killers. “What’re you doing?” She dragged a steel chair weighted around one kilogram and jumped on the table before smashing its head with the tool in her hands. Feeling the impact of the reflexive force to the bones, the metal head part turned to the other robot while it emitted the laser cannon ripping burning its friend’s head to dust. “Ben! Turn it to the zombies” its body rotated as she requested. “Free it.” Owing to the size of bullets and the dynamic shooting from the heavy machine guns, apart from resisting the zombies, they destroyed them all. However, the robot was not an obedient pet. Despite the fact that the head bended queerly. The function still worked. But she sat breathing hard. Both of her hands felt sore. Without a single thought, she grabbed her gun aiming at shooting it but the robot floated and flew bumping to the other side of the wall for several times until the head and body scattered, defeated. Silence. The chaos changed to the tranquility. Only the sound of breathing, relief, and agony of the injured. Oslo walked towards her, sat, and gave the warm embrace. “How is your wound?” “Don’t worry.” Her eyes met Wade’s. He gave her a big tired smile. None of the enemies took a visit…not for this time. “If we arrive at the safe zone, remind me to give this girl a kiss.” After finishing the talk, Ben fell down on his legs, rested. “That’s Rami and Becky.” Alexis pointed her finger at them. They were lying under the corpse of a boy without his head. Rami had a strange gesture. His hands caught his chest and breathed difficultly. Oslo and Alexis checked on them, attempting not to pay interest in the other dead bodies. “Rami, are you injured?” He refused. “Chest pain.” Another bang sounded nearby. All became alert. She turned to the source of the sound. Noel made it. On the floor, a girl was crying calling her dead friend, “Rachel.” Her eyes examined the corpse with understanding. Most of her body had been ripped off revealing the bone beneath but she had been alive until Noel gave her mercy. From the previous match, they arrived at the first safe zone without any enemies ambushing or attacking. Hearing explosion from somewhere afar, lucky that all the members in her group still remained alive, the numbers of travelers decreased regardless. Like the boy who loved to contradict her words, only two left. They walked with hands on each other necks all the time. The total number could not reach twenty. The distinction of the safe zone was the automatic glass door revealing foods, weapons, medical aids, and the space for resting, which persuaded them dashing into it. Each sought their own space. Alexis treated Oslo’s bullet wound and her own small injuries. The girl wished the effect of the medications would be similar to where she had left. This was because she had never had many wounds around her body, excluding Bruce and Cameron event. “How are you?” she asked Tessa who came to get a bottle of water. Her girlfriend just smiled, showing the bandage on her arm. Suddenly, Oslo asked her. “Do you think Belinda will survive?” Jerking his head to Ben and Alex, he continued, “Even though we have Noel, we wouldn’t make it if we don’t have them. How about Bel?” “Is it she who causes us all troubles?” Wade interrupted. They did not know when he came. Alexis did not answer. She had never thought of Belinda. Noel called for a brief meeting before spending precious time to relax. “We’ll go to the upper floor but will rest for about six hours before moving on.” “Six hours? We should race to the exit as fast as possible.” The same boy made the protest but this time his tone sound more politely contrasting to the tone that provoked her anger. “Boy, if you want to survive throughout the experiment, you must be ready to fight anything. We ran like mad and fought until we run out of energy. Six hours, remember, it’s six hours we haven’t slept yet. How can we move on? If you find zombies or killer robots, how can you defeat it?” Noel explained with the voice of a saint. Everybody separated to manage themselves. Only Alexis was motionless, pondering about the same old topic, the experiment. Causes of abnormalities. She walked towards Ben and Alex. Both men were arranging their homemade bed made from piles of clothes they brought from the shelf. “Hey, guys.” “Ah, yes, I haven’t given you my reward...” “When did you know you’re gifted?” She stared at Alex’s eyes, remembering Becky had asked this kind of question and his face turned pale. “I’m sorry but this is serious.” The tall man shrugged his shoulders. “Car slid…” A glance to his best friend, she noticed it. “I woke up at the hospital and realize I have it.” So she turned to Ben who was stretching his mouth. “Since I can remember.” “He speaks the truth.” “Why you have to assure my word?” “Why?” And Alex smiled knowingly. “I know. You’re attempting to search for the answer.” “Should I? Nearly be a dead meat. Do you guys know about Sarah?’ Both shook their heads so she returned to her place and waited for her friend to come out of the restroom. And when she came out, Alexis fired the questions at once. “My power?...Ah yes, I was seventeen, the same age as yours. (“Eighteen”, Oslo corrected.) That day, I returned from my friend’s house, forgot to call my driver. A stalker caught me, attempting to rob and rape me. And then, he was suffering from something and died. I saw fume came out of his mouth…for a while, I just realized I did it.” While she told her story, Sarah had the habit to play her hair. “It’s a strange feeling. It’s like you just perceive the ability.” There are some connections. Alexis was capable of perceiving it from the stories of Sarah, Alex, and Tessa. These three experiences had the similar connections which were different from Ben’s story. They received the ability after the incident that severely impacted their mind, the fatal situation, rage, need of being survival, and pressure, there was a stimulus that was the key to release their unrevealed power. Stimuli…but if she was correct, the zombie and killer robot was not needed. They did not have to waste this large quantity of budget to build this place just to make them fear. Or was it not enough? No matter what the connections were, she perceived the existence of the answer, as though smelling the food, knowing what the ingredients were but she was not certain which menu was exactly. “What did you get?” asked Oslo. He loved to touch the gauze Alexis made it so she had to hit his hand. Wade who was arranging the floor bed joined the conservation. “You’re thinking about this experiment, are you?” This is the first time Alexis and Wade instantly pondered of the same thing. “I’m thinking of the reason why they let us live with luxury, facilities before falling to this hell. It’s like they attempted to play with our mind and change everything to see our reaction or…something more.” “Tell me more.” Ben’s voice ringed in her ears without expectation. “Oh! Please! Don’t do this again. Just met zombies, I’m going to have a heart attack!” “They can’t speak.” The girl rolled her eyes and glanced at Alex who was sleeping. Ben intruded into the circle. She thought of the word “Checkpoint I”, her hairs stood up. “Shit. This is Checkpoint I…one!” “If there is another Checkpoint, I prefer to end my life here,” Wade said with knees on his chin. “Ben, we’re talking about the experiment and the cause of the abilities. For Tessa’s case, it happened after being humiliated and pressured. For Sarah, she firstly used the power when getting trapped. Alex received the ability after the accident. Do you see something?” He hugged his chest, rotating up his hand to pointing himself, “What about me?” Alexis tried to describe her thinking calmly. The girl showed her two fingers. “Perhaps there are two cases: those who gain the ability since birth and those whose ability is hiding and needs something to trigger, such as fear, anger, or fatal situation. These factors may be the key to unlock your power. Like your friend’s case, this is why the authority arrests the Suspects.” Ben still remained the same post, except the pointing finger. “Aha, that’s intriguing. BUT, if they want to provoke us with fear why don’t they cage us and torture?” That was the problem she could not solve. Oslo nodded in agreement. “He’s right.” “It may not specific about provoking us.” Ben picked up a cigarette and lit it. Alexis made the unpleasant expression. “In here, there’s no a smoke detector, I hope.” He made a fume. “Another reason is they are trying to test our limit. I mean my limit. Don’t you know? It can be developed.” Sarah who was about to sleep on Wade’s laps wake herself up to listen. Ben winked at her. “You know well. For those who discovered the power since childhood like me, comparing my power today to that day, it’s very different. When I was a kid, I could move little things. And now, you can see. Alex too, he hardly controlled the direction of the force wave, now he applies it for several conveniences. I don’t oppose you. In contrast, I agree with you, Bambi, all of it. Just a little addition.” “But what we encountered is fucking hard. Before we realize our unrevealed ability…” “It’s random.” Wade indicated the fact. “If we survive and can express our ability, it means we can make the research progress. But we die; it means we are the unqualified sample. The authority doesn’t want anyone to go back. Remember? No one returns. So if we survive, we’re the Risk and beneficial to the research. And if we can’t, yeah, we can’t.” “Does anyone feel like you are going to have a special power?” asked Sarah. All teenagers from San Bosa shook their heads. “Just the first zone, don’t make the conclusion so fast. That’s why they build four zones.” He also left a final message before going to bed. “The symptoms before you realize it are not the same to everyone as well. Some have the symptoms. Some haven’t.” He did not forget to smooth her shoulder and returned to his post. They did not continue the conservation because Noel beckoned them to go to bed like a strict father. ********** Mr. Colton was lecturing the history about the pre-apocalypse. June was sitting next to her, dozing off. Haven’t dreamed like this for a while. Alexis attentively listened to the teacher. “Many nations made all the effort to stop the destruction of the environment but their collaboration could not stop the influent nations to exploit the natural resources. They denied the fact of the natural deterioration and the climate change and claimed that it was the false propaganda to ruin the economy. To wake you up from your daydreaming, Ms. Avery June Joyce, please tell me what is the first disaster that human encountered before the apocalypse?” June glanced with eyes pleading at her. Alexis murmured in the lowest volume, “Unknown Fatal Fever Outbreak.” “U..n..known…fe…ver…outbreak,” June answered him. Mr. Colton readjusted his glasses and gave her a cold smile. “Very good.” June smiled but the teacher turned to Alexis. “Very good friend, Ms. Davis, and how it leads to the second disaster?” Alexis gave him the answer at once, “The World’s health association and the other organizations were incapable of producing the cure. The outbreak spread around the world. The influent nations closed the country to prevent the epidemic and to preserve their natural resources for their people. With the increasing demand for basic human needs, the war to conquer the natural resourced started. And this war is the second disaster or the second wave.” Mr. Colton gazed at the girl, admiring instead of frustrating. “That’s right. Ms. Joyce, please focus on your lecture more. Write the article revealing your attitude towards the historic event we study today. Hand in on Friday before five O’clock.” Everybody moaned in agony. Some collapsed on the table. After class, Alexis walked towards Mr. Colton. Perhaps, the dream would help her understand the world more. June leaned on the door with a boring look when she insisted to talk with the teacher before hanging out with her. “Any question, Ms. Davis?” “Yes, Mr. Colton. I would like to know if the post-apocalypse—I mean what we have learned, is it the fact?” The teacher stared at her. With this face, it transmitted the sense of unfamiliarity as if she had not recognized him. The girl turned to June who was waiting. Wait for seconds! She told her friend through her lips. Wow, she’s so beautiful. Who’s that? She returned to the teacher of history class. He still glared at her but this time his face was so scary. The girl got stunned by his peculiar answer. “This is your dream, the dream from your memory. But if you don’t like the old days, maybe you should stop controlling your dream.” As she turned back to June, her friend smiled but the smile got wider and creepily wider. Her beautiful face changed to something horrible like a corpse and then she leaped baring sharp teeth to tear her body! “June/No!” Alexis breathed heavily. Some sent her the menacing eyes due to the fact that her scream woke them up. “Dream of your bestie?” asked Wade, changed the position from laying down to sitting. “Hey, look at my wound. It turns to scab,” said Oslo. He was surely awake before her. On the other hand, she did not check on any of her friends but stared fixedly at the girl who just got up the same time, screamed like her. The little red head sat tiredly, hugged her chest. At the moment, the pair of green eyes met hers. Becky looked at her with the question mark on that young face. “Did you dream of a classroom and a beautiful girl transformed into a monster?” The girl widened her eyes, staring in return and… “Oh…”   Chapter 23 Timebomb Several models of firearms were laid disorganized on the shelf. The young man with amber eyes surveyed them from left to right. One of his hands picked up one, took a closer look, and left it. He continued this ritual again and again until he found the model that suited him. The new selected model had the larger gun barrel and better function than the old one he had carried. Another hand held a piece of bread that contained no taste. He was eating and choosing weapons at the same time, heartless. Looking at the one who still lay down lazily but looked at him, he said, “If we exploit our energy like yesterday, we have to waste a longer time for resting.” Ben threw a new gun on Alex’s laps. But the dark-hair man received it professionally. “If a few appear, we’d better use gun.” Alex sat down squeezing his eyes. “Why they talk so seriously?” Gestured him to Alexis’ group. They were discussing something with the dreamy Becky and all looked uneasy. “Go ask them.” The tall young man crept out of the bed made of a large pile of clothes, in his slow movement. “What did you talk with them yesterday?” “Thought you sleep.” “Yeah, so sleepy. I was afraid it’ll be a long talk. I want to sleep but it doesn’t mean I don’t wanna know.” Ben put the magazines into the bags more than the first time. In spite of the full night sleep that regained his energy, he had to think of the worst chance that they might be able to stop at the safe zone again. He did not like to be at bay and without special ability like the others. The worst situation was if he lost the power and trapped by killer robots and starving zombies, it was the doom day. He had never thought of the advantage of his superiority until today. “Bambi had an interesting idea about this experiment. She thinks they attempt to arouse something inside us.” Alex cocked an eye brow so Ben explained what Alexis was thinking in the full version. “Really interesting,” Alex hugged himself nodding up and down. Ben wondered if he meant he interested in Bambi’s idea or Bambi herself. “Stimulation to unlock…now, let’s see Rami the genius, what his power will be.” The hand that almost reached to the water bottle abruptly paused in the air. “What?” Ben had not observed the others. “Rami?” Alex nodded again to confirm his word. Those dark eyes had no sign of dreaming and he had not smoked yet as they arrived here, he sought a place to sleep right away and after that, he mentioned a new Risk? “He acts queer. Maybe he doesn’t realize it yet?” He glanced at the sixteen-year-old boy who was the senior student at a college like them. Behind the circle shaped glass, Rami seemed to lack sleep. And he spoke to none which was weird. Even though he was stick with Becky like brother-sister, this boy loved to chat with other people. But this time, it was Becky who was talking. Their eyes met, a knowing sight for Alex and Ben, so he threw the backpack to his friend, “help me arrange my thing. Have to do the journalist job.” Walking towards the boy, he saw Rami arranging his stuff with brows knotting to each other. He did not even know that a friend was standing beside him. “I don’t know what I’ve done. Like I want to do it!” “How possible?” “But everything she told us is what I dreamed.” Play fortunetelling? He moved his head in denial, having zero interesting in the conservation among teenagers from San Bosa and the insane Becky. “Hey,” he greeted the boy. Rami looked up and when he saw Ben, “hey.” “Not bright today?” The boy looked around before giving him the answer with eyes of indifference. “Do you think we can laugh after facing those things?” Then jerking his head to Becky and Alexis, Rami continued, “Hear what they’re talking? Becky just entered Alexis’ dream.” He stared at him before releasing a smile and a soft laughter. “Do you believe it?” A short menacing glance, Alexis gave it to him which implied that she could hear them talking. He raised a brow to irritate her. The boy with glasses shook his head but eyed on him disapprovingly. “You’re not the kind of people who believe it but Becky can tell what Alexis dreamed. I listened from the start. Well, not believed it at first but now, I hesitate.” So Ben intruded to the circle. “Any news?” “You don’t want to listen,” Alexis cut off. “Let’s prepare. Noel and his sisters are waiting for us.” And they separated so he returned to Rami and shrugged. “Let’s wait ‘till Becky gets into your dream.” Ben laughed. The little red head would not like to see my dream because she would see only a dead body of a woman in the sea. But as he rethought, he did not want anybody joined the dream. The only important reason was he wanted to stay with Nat alone and it was the only time he could. And if Becky could do that, what was the usefulness of her power? He picked up the word “suck” to describe the advantage of this ability when it was incapable of increasing the survival rate. “I want to know more about you. What are you?” Rami drew back. “What’re you saying?” The older narrowed his eyes with a smirk as if he knew everything. “Not a scary thing. I count these people as gifted. Tell me. What’s your power?” He pointed to Alex who gave him a middle finger in return. “That jerk wasn’t born gifted.” The boy hesitated. It seemed like he did not assure to tell him but in the end, he revealed it. “Yesterday, I…” He squeezed his hands. “I listened to you and Alexis talking.” “And?” “Did you feel it? Did you feel…it’s strange…something strange inside of you?” He nodded. Certainly, it had never felt it but because of the experience with Alex, it could be regarded as truth. “I didn’t notice it until yesterday when I protected Becky from the robots, I was sure the bullets got me. I th0ught it’s the end. I was going to die and…” “Imagined it?” Rami took of the outer wear and showed him his back. Ben drew back when seeing a lot of bullets traces on the fabric but his skin had not been harmed. Ben just realized Rami go no bruiser neither slight wound as souvenirs, but…, “No one sees it? Even Becky?” He shook his head, turning to face him, and wore the outer shirt. “No. As we’re here, I find this jacket to cover it.” “This is the first time?” The boy nodded. “Yes, before that, I don’t feel it, No idea. During the time we stayed in the dorm, I stumbled and fell. My knee got small bruises.” Then he lowered the volume of his voice. “Don’t tell anyone. I don’t want to be used as a shield…What!” The sudden siren resonated through the speakers on the ceiling above. He just saw them. The dirty white light in the room turned to red and it blinked several times before everything resumed to the same old situation…silence. He met Alex’s eyes from across the room. At the same time, his hand reached to grab the nearest gun in preparation. What the hell would emerge here? Without expectation, only someone cleared the throat through the microphone and he said, “Hello?” Announcement? “Hey, it’s not twenty-four hours but we lost almost half of the samples (“the samples?” Ben mumbled.) Don’t lose heart. The exit may be far from here but not too far to reach out. If you all make haste, be more careful, maybe all the survivors will get to the exit. To give you some encouragement, we have installed ten privilege port in ten locations. This is the best offer to all of you. The express transport to the exit. Oh! Don’t forget that it will activate for only one passenger. Who is the lucky one? Find the port before the others and get your butt out of here. So! Don’t be a slow runner. We hope to see you guys soon. Good luck!” He left a microphone drop and the sound cut off. The news about the transport port revitalized the depressed atmosphere. “That moonhead,” Ben muttered, recognized this voice. “We must search for it before anyone uses it,” a boy said. A smirk appeared on Ben’s face, satirized his thinking. “It’s the trap,” Noel objected. “Why?” “One passenger per one use. There are only ten and where are they? The forth zone? We’ll waste our time to search for it.” And if ten people fine one, we kill each other. Noel did not overact. Ben hit Rami’s back softly and separated from him. Once he returned, Alex had prepared all the stuff. “He has hardening skin,” he summarized. Alex made a wow. “That’s great.” Ben carried the backpack, unlocked the safety on the gun; he was ready to go. “Bambi’s theory seems to be more reasonable now.”

Timebomb

Several models of firearms were laid disorganized on the shelf. The young man with amber eyes surveyed them from left to right. One of his hands picked up one, took a closer look, and left it. He continued this ritual again and again until he found the model that suited him. The new selected model had the larger gun barrel and better function than the old one he had carried. Another hand held a piece of bread that contained no taste. He was eating and choosing weapons at the same time, heartless. Looking at the one who still lay down lazily but looked at him, he said, “If we exploit our energy like yesterday, we have to waste a longer time for resting.” Ben threw a new gun on Alex’s laps. But the dark-hair man received it professionally. “If a few appear, we’d better use gun.” Alex sat down squeezing his eyes. “Why they talk so seriously?” Gestured him to Alexis’ group. They were discussing something with the dreamy Becky and all looked uneasy. “Go ask them.” The tall young man crept out of the bed made of a large pile of clothes, in his slow movement. “What did you talk with them yesterday?” “Thought you sleep.” “Yeah, so sleepy. I was afraid it’ll be a long talk. I want to sleep but it doesn’t mean I don’t wanna know.” Ben put the magazines into the bags more than the first time. In spite of the full night sleep that regained his energy, he had to think of the worst chance that they might be able to stop at the safe zone again. He did not like to be at bay and without special ability like the others. The worst situation was if he lost the power and trapped by killer robots and starving zombies, it was the doom day. He had never thought of the advantage of his superiority until today. “Bambi had an interesting idea about this experiment. She thinks they attempt to arouse something inside us.” Alex cocked an eye brow so Ben explained what Alexis was thinking in the full version. “Really interesting,” Alex hugged himself nodding up and down. Ben wondered if he meant he interested in Bambi’s idea or Bambi herself. “Stimulation to unlock…now, let’s see Rami the genius, what his power will be.” The hand that almost reached to the water bottle abruptly paused in the air. “What?” Ben had not observed the others. “Rami?” Alex nodded again to confirm his word. Those dark eyes had no sign of dreaming and he had not smoked yet as they arrived here, he sought a place to sleep right away and after that, he mentioned a new Risk? “He acts queer. Maybe he doesn’t realize it yet?” He glanced at the sixteen-year-old boy who was the senior student at a college like them. Behind the circle shaped glass, Rami seemed to lack sleep. And he spoke to none which was weird. Even though he was stick with Becky like brother-sister, this boy loved to chat with other people. But this time, it was Becky who was talking. Their eyes met, a knowing sight for Alex and Ben, so he threw the backpack to his friend, “help me arrange my thing. Have to do the journalist job.” Walking towards the boy, he saw Rami arranging his stuff with brows knotting to each other. He did not even know that a friend was standing beside him. “I don’t know what I’ve done. Like I want to do it!” “How possible?” “But everything she told us is what I dreamed.” Play fortunetelling? He moved his head in denial, having zero interesting in the conservation among teenagers from San Bosa and the insane Becky. “Hey,” he greeted the boy. Rami looked up and when he saw Ben, “hey.” “Not bright today?” The boy looked around before giving him the answer with eyes of indifference. “Do you think we can laugh after facing those things?” Then jerking his head to Becky and Alexis, Rami continued, “Hear what they’re talking? Becky just entered Alexis’ dream.” He stared at him before releasing a smile and a soft laughter. “Do you believe it?” A short menacing glance, Alexis gave it to him which implied that she could hear them talking. He raised a brow to irritate her. The boy with glasses shook his head but eyed on him disapprovingly. “You’re not the kind of people who believe it but Becky can tell what Alexis dreamed. I listened from the start. Well, not believed it at first but now, I hesitate.” So Ben intruded to the circle. “Any news?” “You don’t want to listen,” Alexis cut off. “Let’s prepare. Noel and his sisters are waiting for us.” And they separated so he returned to Rami and shrugged. “Let’s wait ‘till Becky gets into your dream.” Ben laughed. The little red head would not like to see my dream because she would see only a dead body of a woman in the sea. But as he rethought, he did not want anybody joined the dream. The only important reason was he wanted to stay with Nat alone and it was the only time he could. And if Becky could do that, what was the usefulness of her power? He picked up the word “suck” to describe the advantage of this ability when it was incapable of increasing the survival rate. “I want to know more about you. What are you?” Rami drew back. “What’re you saying?” The older narrowed his eyes with a smirk as if he knew everything. “Not a scary thing. I count these people as gifted. Tell me. What’s your power?” He pointed to Alex who gave him a middle finger in return. “That jerk wasn’t born gifted.” The boy hesitated. It seemed like he did not assure to tell him but in the end, he revealed it. “Yesterday, I…” He squeezed his hands. “I listened to you and Alexis talking.” “And?” “Did you feel it? Did you feel…it’s strange…something strange inside of you?” He nodded. Certainly, it had never felt it but because of the experience with Alex, it could be regarded as truth. “I didn’t notice it until yesterday when I protected Becky from the robots, I was sure the bullets got me. I th0ught it’s the end. I was going to die and…” “Imagined it?” Rami took of the outer wear and showed him his back. Ben drew back when seeing a lot of bullets traces on the fabric but his skin had not been harmed. Ben just realized Rami go no bruiser neither slight wound as souvenirs, but…, “No one sees it? Even Becky?” He shook his head, turning to face him, and wore the outer shirt. “No. As we’re here, I find this jacket to cover it.” “This is the first time?” The boy nodded. “Yes, before that, I don’t feel it, No idea. During the time we stayed in the dorm, I stumbled and fell. My knee got small bruises.” Then he lowered the volume of his voice. “Don’t tell anyone. I don’t want to be used as a shield…What!” The sudden siren resonated through the speakers on the ceiling above. He just saw them. The dirty white light in the room turned to red and it blinked several times before everything resumed to the same old situation…silence. He met Alex’s eyes from across the room. At the same time, his hand reached to grab the nearest gun in preparation. What the hell would emerge here? Without expectation, only someone cleared the throat through the microphone and he said, “Hello?” Announcement? “Hey, it’s not twenty-four hours but we lost almost half of the samples (“the samples?” Ben mumbled.) Don’t lose heart. The exit may be far from here but not too far to reach out. If you all make haste, be more careful, maybe all the survivors will get to the exit. To give you some encouragement, we have installed ten privilege port in ten locations. This is the best offer to all of you. The express transport to the exit. Oh! Don’t forget that it will activate for only one passenger. Who is the lucky one? Find the port before the others and get your butt out of here. So! Don’t be a slow runner. We hope to see you guys soon. Good luck!” He left a microphone drop and the sound cut off. The news about the transport port revitalized the depressed atmosphere. “That moonhead,” Ben muttered, recognized this voice. “We must search for it before anyone uses it,” a boy said. A smirk appeared on Ben’s face, satirized his thinking. “It’s the trap,” Noel objected. “Why?” “One passenger per one use. There are only ten and where are they? The forth zone? We’ll waste our time to search for it.” And if ten people fine one, we kill each other. Noel did not overact. Ben hit Rami’s back softly and separated from him. Once he returned, Alex had prepared all the stuff. “He has hardening skin,” he summarized. Alex made a wow. “That’s great.” Ben carried the backpack, unlocked the safety on the gun; he was ready to go. “Bambi’s theory seems to be more reasonable now.” Alex said nothing but laughed through his throat. ********** Six o’clock in the morning. They got out of the safe zone. The stairway connected two floors together so they were walking without any harms until they stepped out of the safe zone area or the glass door, they started to be more careful. The environment on this floor was similar to the lower floor, including the creepy ambiance made by unstoppable blinking neon lights, disorganized tables, and chairs, or unusable computers because they were only the properties for the scene. Regardless, one that was different from the first time they entered here was themselves. Everyone was always alert. The thing he did not like was Noel…No, he did not mean the man. He meant that giant body that blocked the view from afar. Only Alex was tall enough to see through but the only who gave us notice was Noel. Along the way, a girl next to him kept crying. Her friend died. Tessa’s brother killed the girl. It accounted for mercy killing. Still better that she did not weep or mourn but quietly cried so the sound did not bother him that much. The more he walked, the more he missed the old lifestyle. When Julius Rosier selected him as the heir even though Ben was one of the bastards, his status could be regarded as better than those who were born in the loving family but encountered the low living quality. He had never recognized his own mother. Every time people asked about her, the father always answered, “Who remembers whore’s name?” As a result, those who misunderstood that Mr. Rosier loved him more than the other children because he loved his mother more than the others must rearrange their thought. Generally, Julius called every woman he hooked up with, “whore.” So Ben did not mind about it. And although thinking of the comfortable bed reminded him of his father’s wickedness. Admittedly, he would exchange everything to return to be Benjamin Rosier, son of a bitch and the father of casino, no matter what. But after he slain those bloody jerks who created the experiment and those who made the nonsense laws. The repetition of firearms resonated loudly, followed by the sound of chaos. All aimed the gun. Ben commanded Noel to kneel down but he stood still and gave the signal to find cover. “What is it? What is it coming?” he shouted. “Not sure, find a cover!” Alex flipped the table and made it be the temporary shelter before pulling Ben to hide with him. “I said don’t be reckless!” shouted to his ears. They waited until the enemy came. A few second, one robot leapt and landed to the ground…no, exactly not. It was thrown. The half top body of it was still moving so when it could balance itself with the metal hands, the head part moved upwards aiming at releasing the laser but they all fired the guns to defeat it. “Great job! If we can’t kill it with our guns, we can’t survive to the second zone.” Ben scrutinized the dead robot. It had a slender shape and seemed to move freely, more flexible than the older ones. Without the machine gun on both arms, it weighted lighter. The sound did not disappear. They turned and waited for the others but what they saw was another robot was fighting against another thing that moved quickly unlike a human. Nonetheless, it was not quick enough to invisible to the eyes. Pow! The metal head abruptly upwards as though it got a violent punch. Pow! The head abnormally bent to the left side. And Blam! The robotic body flew and landed at the center of Ben’s group with the blinking light on its eyes aiming at his direction. “Fuck it! Why don’t you kill it at once?” He crawled down to escape the laser canon that moved past one-foot high, above his head, causing a long burning line through the wall. The girl group screamed, being scared of their turn. He stood up, raising his gun at it but someone leaped and lifted the robot then smashed it down, broke their arms like destroying a toy. “Silver head?” Those artificial eyes blinked again. Alex got up, opened his hand. With an instance, the shockwave attacked it to the wall and the red eyes were forever gone. Again, he saw Michael stroke the head of the enemy in one rapid powerful fist. He locked its neck and removed the head out of the body with bare hands. Throwing it on the ground, he then kicked the body to the other side. But before he was amazed or content, Michael turned to the way he came. There, the other two robots…the gunners, all together, shot them without mercy. One leapt to attack but it instantly died in the air and fell. Gun could finish them easier than to do with the robots on the lower floor. However… More ten came to rescue their heartless friends. Within one blink, the corner of his eyes caught the heart-throb tightened his backpack and prepared to run. “Fuck you, Bastard!” He rotated the gun to that boy. “Don’t even think about that.” His jaws shuddered. Because of this jerk, the enemies paraded. “You brought them here. Don’t try to let us face it while you leave.” Michael’s cold blue eyes glanced at him at the corner. He did not care the threatening words. The boy was about to go. “You return to the lower floor!” Alexis shouted warning him. Michael paused. Upset, he punched the air. Ben laughed. The boy deserved that. This jerk doesn’t know the direction. But he needed this type of people to join the group. Michael’s strength and fastness would reduce Ben’s and Alex’s jobs. Alexis might hear his though again. “Fight with us and we fight with you.” The voice sounded like begging rather than persuasion. Gnashing his teeth in rage, he, then, darted to a robot. Ben threw his gun away and confronted the pair of robots that emerged to him. This time he did not need to stop its motion. Ben crashed them, turned these metal enemies to scrapes. “Why don’t use your gun?” Alex mentioned loudly before swiping the flock of enemies away. Well. Regarding the increasing number of enemies, he must use the power. Even Alex dared not limit himself to the man’s weapons. Excluding Sarah, she had no time to make a show, except that Ben caught a robot and made it sat still, let she stared at it. For her, to use gun might be the better way. “Move back” Noel shouted to everyone. A lot of robots still emerged and attacked them like those zombies. The difference trait was they did not eat humans but caught them and twisted or shoot with laser like humans were toys. They stepped back for an appropriate distance. At that moment, Noel threw a bomb. Just one, all the enemies became junks at once. They lost two members and Ben hardly remembered who they were. He saw only the half-body corpses. The situation seemed to return to the normality but they did not stop being alert. Wasting the time to kill all the robots for about an hour, at least, they could continue. As though sharing the same brain, all of them spied on Michael just to make sure he did not escape. They were angry but also needed him. Michael, with the poker face, walked near him and Alex. Ben could not know what he was thinking. So Alex questioned him, “How many people survive in your group?” The boy shook his head and finally, he opened his mouth. It was the first time they heard he spoke. “I’m alone.” Anger seemed to fade away. “Liar.” That what he said to this boy. He did not protest. “Why you’re all alone? Anyway, you’re…like a superman. How can you survive alone?” Tessa opened the conservation to him. “What’s your plan?” He did not answer her right away. There was a chance he caught the boy looked at the back of the girl who walked ahead of him and took all her focus on the way, Alexis. “I want to get away from here as soon as possible but I lost my map.” In consequence, Ben picked up the map and read it. There was one safe zone ahead before accessing the connection to the second zone. Regarding the map, he calculated the duration of travel and battling, it might take another day to reach the next zone. He checked the time on his wrist. Within four hours, he would stay in this hell for a day. Luckily, no zombies greet them. This was enough when the robots on this floor could do the job like the killing robots and zombies. It was the combination that he gave a thumb down. “They are coming…everywhere.” Michael rumbled. All made a sudden stop. No one heard anything, even Alex whose audible sense was better than Ben. Michael bent his head a little as if focusing on tracking something. “Three minutes.” Some separated to find a shelter but most were stick together on the corridor. Michael galloped with hand aiming at his map. Ben seized it and casted the gun to opponent’s handsome face. The silver head could avoid it and the gun landed on Ben’s hand like a tame pet. He cursed the boy. Suddenly, the metal sound started signaled them. No one paid interest to him and Michael anymore. The ambers eyes stopped paying attention to the jerk Michael and killed the enemies which purposed to tear his body. The young man twisted its neck and casted the head part to the other one. Alex collected the gun and used his power attacking the other four. Two could stand up and run but the other two lay dead. Ben glanced at the way they wanted to go. A lot of robots came without giving them taking a breath. “Left!’ Alex warned. He stopped it with his left hand. Gunfire and metal cracking played the worst song ever. As he turned to the friend, Alex darted into the robot’s group. Behind him were children from San Bosa. Together, they helped to fire guns but they almost got slain. “Shit!” He moved his hand. The robot on the left side was casted to the teen group. The laser canon cut it off and three teenagers could kill the enemy. He switched the position, using his own power and the guns, stepping back to that group. “Move!” Tessa shouted and her voice destroyed one robot. The girl started to control her gift better and better but Ben did not forget to shoot it to make sure that it would not get up again. Another bomb and five robots flew away. He did not know who did it. Even though the members united but there are some still lived with fear and cowardice. For example, Becky who still hid behind Rami’s back. Harden skin or not, you’re the shield anyway. “Don’t!” At that second, the guns roared next to his ear and he was not sure if he was shot or not? But as he turned back, he saw a crying girl was about to collapse with the hand and a gun at her head. At that moment, she fell to the ground and left the three teenagers stood in shock. “She just shot herself. I can’t stop her.” Her hand with that gun lowered to the ground, Alexis stood still. The dead girl’s blood colored the inner white t-shirt. Even her friends, Wade and Oslo just stared at the corpse, stopped their movement. He did not know how he should feel. He did not know. Those amber eyes regarded this girl’s corpse like a broken toy. “Keep shooting. Don’t be a loser,” he warned them. But the words made that dolly face distorted, the inner pain. “Shoot!” He roared to them. Wade cursed and started firing. The blond seemed to have more sense than his friends this time. Because this was the best they could do. If you don’t have the ability, you must fight or give up, one way or another. Ben tried to think of the time he trained himself, telekinesis to control objects, the practice to utilize his own weapons. Thinking positive, this was the excellent training field which he could not fine the better. “They outnumber!” He did not know who spoke this because of messing with the enemies. “Max! Shoot it. Shoot it now!” “There are some of us there!” “Shoot!” The young man felt distrust of their voices. Turning to check what was going on. Two boys aimed the gun at a backpack that was left among robots. He was sure what it contained inside, not just one bomb. And there were some of the members battling inside. One was his dearest friend. “No!” The spark of fire at the tip of the pistol flashed. He pushed the gun away but it was too late. The Bullet came out. At that moment, the bright light illumed all around, followed by the furious explosion. The scrapes floated and gathered to protect him. Still, the explosive pressure casted his body away far from that area. He heard nothing, saw nothing, and then bumped to the wall, fell on the ground. Everything turned white. He slowly opened his eyes. All over his body was aching but in his heart, it was burning, hotter than the real flame. He could not see anything except fire and dust. “Alex!” Ben ran to the battlefield but found only burnt corpses and metal scrapes. Blood turned cold from head to toes. No! It won’t happen again. He searched for the friend’s body and the others’, shooting every robot that moved. The power inside increased without limit. The next explosion must be the boiling rage inside. “Alex, where are you?” The truth was no one was there but dead bodies. Ben heard people were still fighting somewhere. There must be survivors and they were fleeing. They were disbanded but if Alex could be counted in the survivor group or the dead group. He dared not to think. Ben still surveyed the area without the thought to leave. Both of his hands became ulcers as he searched with bare hands, considering even the organs. He did not know if Alex was still alive or not. And that thought scared him. “You must be alive. I know you are,” he rumbled to himself. Something moved behind his back. A robot stood up with one arm. It lost the left arm but the other functions worked normally. He thought about everything he encountered since stepping inside this building. Just one blink, the metal texture crushing and turned into metal waste. He hugged himself firmly because it was quivering. Alex, Alex. It was like his heart wanted to get out of the body. Enough of the governmental survivor game! Enough of this fucking ridiculous experiment! When the rivals emerged, those amber eyes turned to the small group of robots that were ready to strike him. If they were humans, they might perceive that they were running to death. Those eyes had never been as cold and evil before. The moment they were close to Benjamin Rosier, the mysterious force crushed them all. And they were just useless waste like the previous ones.

Chapter 24: A Young Sailor

Her left finger slammed the triggered repeatedly causing its right arms breaking free from the body but its left hand still crushed her little ankle. It started dragging and she fell on her butt.

“Wade!”

He reached his hand to catch her but another robot raised its fist to smash him. The boy twirled to avoid it aiming the gun but the enemy took her away before she saw if her friend could finish the opponent or being finished. Alexis still shot it until the laser function on the stupid head damaged. At this last chance, she kicked its head until she could beheading it and the body fell on its back the same way she did but more violent. Deserve it! The girl turned to the same old position seeing the vicious wave of fire swooped down to her with the sudden heat and her body bounced away like a ball hit into the goal.

She tried to move but another body engulfed with flame flew and fell near her. In the moment of horror, trying so hard to forget the pain, she got up and helped that person before getting all burnt. Taking her jacket to beat out the fire before it burned all skin cells. However, she had to look at her favorite jacket burnt into dust including the loss of her family’s photos. Sad eyes, all were her treasures. Still, worried about her friends, she called out their names but nothing responded except the fire and the heat. One thing that came out was the robot on fire.

Alexis knelt down to help that survivor stand but he could not. “Please, don’t leave me,” Paul said.

“Help me, please,” he cried in agony. She caught his hands and dragged him to flee from the scene. “Sorry. I’m sorry,” the girl mumbled on the way. He yelped staring fixedly at that robot. More horrified, like a devil sprang out of the flame, the fire head rotated to their position as though its sensor still worked so this heartless demon could detect the living thing. However, once it was about to turn, the metal body exploded.

Lucky them.

“Paul…are you alright?” Indeed, she should not have asked such a question. He just had been grilled alive.

“Help,” he mourned painfully. Alexis grabbed her bag but before taking it off, she heard the enemies’ sound so, instead of treating his wound, she dragged him to the nearest room.

“It’s…hurt,” he cried. Alexis shooed him and whispered, “You’ll be alright,” with the fingers crossed, hoping that the robot’s sensor would be unable to penetrate through the wall. The girl searched for the medical aids but none of them could be used for burns treatment. Half of her soul knew she had to help him but another half realized that it was beyond her ability. He looked at her pleadingly, as though she could save him from the pain. In contrast, Alexis hardly looked at him. The smell of skin burning was severe, it was human skin and it did not smell savory. She wanted to vomit but was incapable of doing anything. To leave and seek for help or to leave him and survive? She hesitated.  One robot, she could handle it difficulty but two and three, a girl could not fight against them. Alexis searched the medical aids in his burnt bag but found none. “Paul…”

He must be hospitalized which was impossible.

“What happened?” the girl asked.

Paul did not answer her question but looked at his lower part and cried. “I die here, certainly.”

The laser on the wall made the sizzling sound. The hunter still attempted to corner the prey. Alexis held her gun and waited for them. No one knew what and who caused the explosion but she wished Wade, Oslo, and others could make it.

Blam! Several dents appeared on the door. Alexis swallowed her saliva and met Paul’s eyes. Blam! The door flew away from its lock. Two robots stood viciously like police found criminals. The red blink had not alerted on their eyes but it did not mean good omen. She fired them. But, unfortunately, she ran out of bullets.

Paul threw his knife to the rivals that advanced their steps towards the victims like the reapers. Finally, he made the decision, turning to her saying, “Go.” His eyes expressed that it was against the need to survive. He did not want her to go but Alexis’ chance of survival was higher…

“I’m sorry.”

Paul threw everything he could do as the mean to attract them, though, the severe pain consumed all over his body. She grabbed her only one left pistol and used this chance slid between its legs until she could balance herself and ran without looking back. Yes, she ran for her life. The shriek of his last torment resonated and no more, the other robot ran after her without giving up. The speed of it could be compared with a national runner. A few seconds it almost grabbed her. Alexis made the instant pause, turned to face the enemy and shot, aiming that with this close distance, the bullet would destroy it at once. However, it was the big mistake. The iron arm swiped the gun out of her hand and another one grabbed her neck and pressed it.

Instantly, a mysterious force casted the head part out of its body. The iron arms released her neck and she fell on the ground.

“Have you seen Ben?” Alex’s voice vibrated into her ears before he arrived at her position. Alexis shook her head slowly and asked in return, “Have you seen the others?” He did the same.

There was redness on Alex’s face while his hands and arms were decorated with small wounds. Regarding his movement, he probably got a slight impact from the explosion. “What happened?”

“I don’t know. It’s the bomb and boom and everyone’s gone. Come on. Get up. Some robots still move.” He helped her on her feet. Alexis looked at her hands and was shocked. The blood covered all over.

“Alex, you’re hurt.” Her eyes observed to detect the injury at once and she saw that the blood soaked between the waist and the abdomen. Alex seemed uninterested in it but kept walking shouting for Ben. He was about to resume to the explosion area but the three robots on fire walked as zombies appeared. Both ran away.

“How far is the safe zone?” asked Alex. 

Her left hand rotated to the back automatically but the map did not stay with her because she left her bag there. She thought of the map in her head for few seconds. “There are two.” Pause for a breath. “But the closest to the exit is not nearby…”

“Just find the nearest safe zone, not the exit,” the young man shouted and stopped running. He glanced back and they realized that those zombie robots did not come after them. She stared at his hands on his waist and nodded, understanding, “the nearest one leads us to the exit three…but we can go back to the same route.”

He nodded. “Okay, we rest there first.”

“Okay,” she nodded in confirmation. “Follow me.” The girl still saw the map inside her head. They arrived at the safe place, went through the automatic glass wall. Once they were completely safe, Alex collapsed on the floor. She rushed to the medical aids shelf.

His wound was a terrible deep cut. “How you get it?” She did not understand how this man could endure this kind of wound because if it was Alexis or the others, they surely were unable to stand.

“Metal piece,” he replied and moved to make her see clearer. His voice implied that he was angry at himself, blaming his retard. Alexis turned on the hologram that instructed her how to treat the wound. She was not a doctor, not even, a medical student. Due to the deep cut, she trusted the instruction rather than her instinct.

Pitifully, her hands quivered. It was hard to steady her focus because she had no idea how the others would be. And her minds specifically thought of Wade and Oslo.

“Hey” She raised her head upward and their eyes met. “Your friends were far from the bomb area. They’ll be alright and may be far away from here. The bomb was near me. I fully received the impact,” he narrated.

She sighed and tried to make up her mind before cleaning his wound. “How you survive that?”

As she glanced from the corner of her eyes, the corner of his lips lifted up. “My reaction is quick but not enough. Not quicker than him.” Alexis shook his head. She knew he meant Michael. “Not quick enough so I got this! Thanks whatever. You’re alright.”

Alexis breathed out again, exhausted. “Yeah, I have the luck because the robot dragged me away. I survived because of it and as I returned…boom.” When she put the medicines on the wound, Alex immediately rotated his head to the other side, trying so hard not to moan.

“And what is this blood?” He still talked, eyeing at the tainted blood on her t-shirt. She thought of the girl who shot her head before her eyes. Her blood spilled even though there had been the jacket covered but the blood still painted the chest part. “Not my blood.”

“Talk to me. Keep talking to me.” He commanded.

“I have to focus.” She reasoned him. “Be patient.” Then put the cotton wool on his wound. Alex cursed loudly. “Fuck! Your father is the doctor, is he?”

“If your father is an astronaut, can you travel into space? And another thing, if my dad treats your wound, you’ll cry, no matter what.” Again, she added the medicine on it. He gnashed and groaned. “It’s not a small one. You should have sent to the hospital but there is no hospital and we must...”

“Shut up.” It sounded like he scolded at me. His temper seemed to rise easier than his normal state because he was calmer. Alexis began wrapping up the wounds and put all her effort not to torment him. Alex picked up the pack of cigarette but before he lit one, the young man looked at me to ask for permission. Alexis sighed and let him smoke. The girl gave him the antibiotics and the painkiller, according to the instruction, to him. “Take it.” After that, she rearranged her stuff with a new backpack, putting every necessary thing inside. Alex approached, picked up the medical aids, and threw it away.

She narrowed her eyes to her companion; hugged herself tightly. “When you smoke, you become a jerk.”

“Just smoke,” he opposed. “You can’t support all these stuff on your back; that’s unbelievable. Look at these things.” He showed her dry bread and soup cans. “Camping?” With this gesture, Alex in this hour looked like Ben.

“The safe zones are not located everywhere. When we enter the second zone, the number of them reduces. We must have food supplies if we have to sleep somewhere outside the safe zone.” This was her reason.

“But we’re in the first zone.”

“And we should have stayed in the second one now. Please, your wound needs this stuff. If you still bleed…”

“Leave it be. You already treated it and I can walk without any pain. If your back supports this kind of weight, like a big stone, you won’t make it. Tell me how can you carry the gun with these? Have you ever run out of bullets?

“…”

Alex smiled for his victory. He rearranged the backpacks for her and himself. When he messed with his bag, the girl snatched the medical aids and put inside the bag again. She selected the same old weapon Noel had taught her. Within the short break, she practiced the gun skill by changing the magazine to be familiar with it.

You guys must be alive. She mused on her friends and crossed her fingers. The more the time passed, the more her worry increased. She hated when they were separated.

“Are you alright? I know you worry about them but…” She looked at him, having no idea what he tried to say. “Normally, you’re the positive energy of the team.”

The silent wave diffused around the room. The girl pointed to herself. “You mean…me? The positive energy?”

He bent his head while gazing her. The way he did it, Alexis tried so hard not to overthink. “I don’t want to see you cheerful but Alexis…you’re brave. You can handle the situation better than other people. Although we parted from the group, I believe you will find them.”

Something stirred inside the stomach, butterflies? No, it was not the symptom originated by romantic feeling, it was Alex’s words that made her feel that what she expected would never happen. Admittedly, after the separation, her brain could not conquer the fear as good as it had done. On the contrary, the fear multiplied. The painful howl of Paul and his half burnt body, the moment that that girl shot her head, the death of O.J., and other dead bodies reran inside her head repeatedly. They paraded showed up. And because her talent was not the ability to move things or push the enemies away, it was how her brain could memorize every detail, even the time of blood spilling; Alexis would never forget these scenes until…she died.

Alexis had never missed her family as much as today. She was too bone-tired to be strong. The girl wanted to collapse and let those metal killers assassinated her quickly but because of the fear of death; she was too coward to give in. The nerves danced drastically and it caused her headache. It was so painful, hurtful.

“Hey…”

“I’m okay.” But she did not know exactly how she was. A part for her felt jealous of Ben and Alex, even Tessa because their percentage of survival was higher than the Suspect group. In this hell experiment, those who were not the Risk had no difference from the inefficient samples that were waiting for the time of elimination.

Alex approached, bending his head. At her first thought, she assumed he would kiss her but no, not at all. His forehead kissed her front and his hands massaged her head gently, slowly, very relaxing. Alexis closed her eyes and all her aches evanescently vanished. She was free, out of all pressures, and when her eyes opened, seeing these two beautiful jaspers, the impossibility became possibility. He dropped his hands and smiled gently. “We should go.” She whispered to him. The man nodded.

They moved away from each other. Alexis saw Alex carried his own backpack and walked straight to the entrance. “No, not that way. We have to go this way, to the exit. That way will return to the way we came.”

He seemed to be uncomfortable to reply. “We won’t go that way.” As he saw Alexis shut her mouth in doubt, he confessed. “I must find Ben first and you must come with me.”

The headache resumed. It felt like a slap on Alexis’ face. Did he take her here just for being nursed? As if they would follow the group. Shame on her, there was only Ben, Ben, and Ben in his head, only thinking about his best friend.

“We have a deal if we separate from the group, we must continue the same path.” She revised Noel’s original plan. “No one protest Noel.”

“We will find Ben.” He spoke slowly to insist his words.

“We?”

“You can travel alone.”

Alexis thought of throwing something at him. “I don’t want to stop you but if we go back, we’ll lose the time. Ben knows well that we have planned for this case."

“That’s Ben. Do you think he’ll listen? He might be mad this time and searches for me everywhere until he’s certain I’m not there. So we must reach him or else…”

“I want to find Wade and Oslo too!” She hit her fist on the wall, upset. “I know you worry about your friend. We don’t know if he can flee from the explosion or not. But we can meet again if we head to the exit two. We are the last group that got our butts out of that scene. Alex, if he’s alive, he must be ahead of us.” She hoped he understood but Alex was stubborn.

“I know him better you do.” Alex raised his hand up to stop her argument. “Please! Listen. I must rush to him before he uses his telekinesis over his limit…”

Alexis did not succumb. Deep down, she felt pity to have the feeling toward him a moment ago. “Whatever you want, I’ll go this way.”

Alex laughed, mocking. “How could you survive recently? Who saved you last time…” He stopped and made a painful face. This time, it was her who smiled mocking him, knowing well his wound affected.

Her counter partner bit his lips. “Listen. I can use my power and my shooting skill is better than you. Ben is your friend too, is he?”

“How are you so confident that he’s alive?”

“If he dies, we’ll see his corpse. I believe he’s alive and is searching for me. We must find our friend.” Again, he emphasized the word ‘friend’ to make Alexis felt guilty.

She screamed her stress out. “You!”

“And if we argue like this forever, they will be far from us. Did Noel say ‘don’t wait’? You trust his words. Please, trust me too.”

How could she refuse? She could not. It was Ben who blocked the robots and followed her plan without objection, though, he was flirty and possessed a very sharp mouth, more annoying than Wade, and acting like the world had only him and Alex. At the end of this battle, Alex won.

Their bond was strong and even the outsider like her could perceive it and it reminded the bond between her and June.

If she still sees me as her friend.

And more upset, Alex was right. He knew his friend better than she knew Wade and Oslo. They were searching for each other. How could she realize that? It was because there was no robot left except for scrapes. They were pressed and smashed, pressed and smashed. The metal pieces were scattered along the way. Ben sought Alex but he did not stay on this floor.

“Well…he moves on. I think he prefers the same path…” Alexis made the face of See-I-told-you. “You don’t have to make that face. He moves on because he doesn’t see me.” The man excused himself without the regret on his face. “Okay, we can continue your plan.”

Her facial muscles tensed up immediately. Alexis did not respond to this man’s annoyance. One reason she thought was as they found only scrapes and corpses, it meant they were behind everyone. Or another pessimistic reason, no one was alive except them, but because there was no corpse identifying to be her friends, excluding the burnt bodies that hardly indicated the identification or pieces.

The worse thing was Alex’s wound still bled. He was not immortal. Even though her companion insisted that his body healed itself faster than normal people and with the medicines that were efficient like magic, he forgot that this type and the size of his wound was not a bullet’s scratch like Oslo’s.

The glass door automatically opened. Alexis checked the time on her wrist and found that they waste twelve hours on this floor. That means if she was still reluctant, she might waste three days for the first zone.

And there were four zones actually.

Crack. Her feet stamped on dry bread that scattered on the floor. She used her feet to brush them away. Wait! “There must be people before us and it means there’re survivors…not one but a group! Oh, may be other groups.” Her eyes scanned around the room, seeing they arranged their backpacks and continued the journey. Alexis prayed they were her friends.

“They’re alive,” Alex said, patting on her shoulder. She turned. “It’s true they’re alive.” He urged her to look at the wall besides him. At the second these letters on the wall met her eyes, it was written by tomato sauce. “See you again.” They signed their names, Wade, Oslo, Tessa, and Minnie. Alexis tried so hard not to cry and when she turned to Alex, he smiled softly and laid his hand on her shoulder.

“But…Noel…Sarah…Becky…Rami…and your friend.”

“The scrapes we found guarantees that he’s fucking alive. He would not care to sign his name.” The young man sat down and jerked his shirt up. Seeing his wound bleeding, he cursed a lot. She came to check it. Some parts were dry but they could not trust it. She put the button on the watch to check if he was infected or not. Still lucky, he was not.

“You must stay still. Don’t move. The medicines may be magically effective but you must take care of yourself.”

He gazed at her and squeezed his cheeks. “But we can’t rest.”

“I know. I mean don’t move or turn abruptly like this.” She imitated his unrest gesture.

“Okay.” He folded his shirt and stopped her hand. “I’ll clean the wound again.” Although Alexis was not a doctor, she knew well that the wound needed to be clean. And she would like to add more medicines so it would be cured faster without bleeding again. “Pray for it to be dry.”

“Bambi.”

“Don’t Ben with me!” She put the medical aids down in the violent step. The young man laughed. “Ben becomes verb already?”

“Don’t move! Please. For God’s sake! Why can’t you understand?” Comparing Alex with Ben, to make him comprehend simple rules was harder than talking to Ben, especially when he entered the weedy mode.

Who said the weeds have no effect?

After taking care of Alex’s wound, she unfolded the map on the floor. They thought about resting for minutes before continuing the journey. Suddenly, Alex who refused to sit still snapped his fingers and sang Carmen’s song alone. Sometimes, she wondered why her new friends were all special. “Singing from the ocean, hope he recognizes her. She won’t move on until he looks at the sea. Murmuring the same song, he knows the lullaby. But he is a poor sailor and she passes him by.”

A Sailor’s Song, she hated to be proud of knowing the title. For Alexis, Carmen is her Madonna.

“Skye.” He mentioned a name and slapped his laps. “That’s it! I will call you Skye.”

The corner of her lips lifting up. “How do you know that?”

“What?” He lit another cigarette. “Ben calls you Bambi. I’ll call you Skye.”

The girl chuckled. “How do you know my middle name?”

This time, Alex was amazed. “Your middle name? Skye?”

“Yes…Oh.” Her brows roped.

He smiled broadly. “I just thought of that room. Ah…I know better than those princes.” Alex crawled and moved toward her; his hands placed on the cross she made on the map. His faced poked before her face. “Now I have the right to call you this name without any condition.” She stared at his dark eyes. His face moved closer. The jaspers in his eyes played with the light, sparkling and then they were shut. Alex fell on the map, sleeping there.

“Great!” She flipped his body just to make him sleeping facing the ceiling instead of burying his face on the ground, in order to prevent his weight fell on his wound. “Sleep here. Next time, we have no time to rest.” She checked the number on the watch; the minute change. Time was running out.

“We’re going to the third day and we’re still at the beginning,” she mumbled before lying next to him.

Chapter 26: The Chosen One

The bullet penetrated the skull of a zombie within one perfect shot. And it was Alexis’ work. This corps received the chance to rest in peace forever. She had practiced several times. Once she utilized the memory talent, the result was over-expected as she could memorize the right angle and the opportunity to get to the target without missing it. Sometimes it was hard because her body did not respond as quick as the mind commanded but the recent shot demonstrated that the effort was worth trying.

Or it probably was she had a good instructor.

“Think that the gun is a part of your body.” Alex gave one beautiful head shot. Her companion blew the guns’ barrel imitating a hero in the cowboy movie. “When I think this is a training field, well, it looks more fun.”

Is that how you really think?

He gave her a mischievous smile before opened his arm to let her walk like a gentleman. Alex, the son of King of Volcov, a man who had no idea what anxiety is. She wondered how Alex and Ben had lived in the capital. The heir of the biggest industrial estate and the heir of the god of Casino loved to practice shooting every day? Is that so? Alexis kept this doubt all the time. She even doubted if these two best friends had such fear that she possessed. Or it was because of their special ability, they were confident that the survival opportunity was higher than the others.

Alexis reloaded the magazine and kept the pistol at her waist. The girl changed to carry an automatic gun. The few numbers of zombies at the end of the first zone emerged. Sometimes she thought to hear the experiment controller told her directly, “Well, I let you guys pass to the next zone. Just go.”

In the second zone, Alexis had to turn on the flashlight mode on her watch to lead the way. Thanked the candlesticks above, at this height, it shone dimly and they could not see the path clearly. It was a dark passage and unreliable atmosphere. The ruins of stones, bricks, and column scattered along the way which made her wonder if they were decorated to be like this or it was the result of battle.

Alex flashed the light at the order over his head saying, “what is it called?”

“Doric,” she answered at once. Her eyes fixed at the darkness before her.

“The column in Ben’s mansion is similar to this one…Hmmm no, they have a lot of patterns…well. Whatever.”

And you guys own a mansion at this age. “I think it probably is Corinthian. I mean the columns in Ben’s Mansion as you mentioned. And please light the way Mr. Volcov.”

He slept almost three hours but the wound had not got any better. Considering the fact that he should be hospitalized and in regards to his special ability and his boasting that his physics could heal itself faster, Alexis disappointed that it was not true. As she had observed him all the time, the young man touched the bandage several times. It was possible that when they were weak, the Risk’s health was not different from normal people; their body would heal slower. One more thing, if Alex read the suggestion on the hologram when she treated his wound, he would see the remark indicating “Go to the doctor.” Anyway, she did not think she wanted him to see it.

“Wow, this kind of environment, if there is a nice music.”

The girl rolled her eyes. “That will be scarier.” She flashed the light to the floor and saw the blood painted on it. The girl swallowed her saliva in silence. “What kind of this creature?”

“Not at all. If I can play it myself, I will control the atmosphere.” He gestured his hands as if he was playing the piano. His long slender fingers quickly stamped on the imaginary keyboard. His imitation was very real to her eyes as though Alexis could hear the sound. “Do you know I was forced to play piano because my brother chose to play the violin? My dad wants us to play only a classical instrument.” He talked to her. “’But who knew I have the talent. I hate it at first but when the sound vibrates…Shit!” The young man jumped on his feet making the girl besides him did the same.

“What?”

He put his finger on his mouth. “Damn.” And quaked his ankle. The musky meat dispersed out of his boots that probably cost over a thousand rel. Alexis hid her disgust. This kind of meat was around them including the corpses of four-leg monsters. Alexis tried not to destroy her beloved sneakers in every step even though the price was far from a thousand rel. The girl did not want to have the unpleasant smell stayed with her throughout the way. Those corpses were not her friends, neither Becky nor Noel. One that she could not imagine he would be a dead body was Ben and because it was an impossibility for him to be like these meats.

“What are they?” Alex mused on the dead bodies. “They look like dogs but also tigers. Or they are the enemies in this zone? We have to fight them?”

The girl breathed in. The four-leg creature, with fangs. “Can we return to the robots?” She rumbled with hands still shining the light.

“Robot and zombie? I think we can kill these things easier…oh…”

If they accelerated their speed, they could catch up Wade’s group. Or they killed these things? She saw Wade and Oslo fought the enemies like the great warriors. They must survive until now. She thought positive. “Alex?”

“Shoo” He grabbed her hand. “Run.”

Just a whisper, before she saw the face of the enemy, the hot breath passed through her neck while her hairs all stood up and her blood turned cold. They could not run and had to remain motionless when an army of monsters was waiting at the way ahead. Their faces were like the copycat of the dead ones. The face that looked like a dog but their size was unusually enormous, with the ten pairs of yellow eyes stared at the victim as if they saw a dish of fine steak. Alexis glanced back and almost took aback. She turned her full body to see with her own eyes that the black-hairs elephant-like monster was real. No, the size could be compared to a mammoth. All of them moved towards Alex and Alexis from both sides. They were reluctant to do anything.

Suddenly, Alex fanned both of his arms. The big one stepped back while the minions flew away, giving a space for them to flee. They came more but they already ran. Alex alone could not finish all of them. With this thought, she pulled his arm to the other direction just to free from these creatures. The heavy steps came after them but they ran fast, ran and forgot to breathe.

“Wait!” He paused. “I can’t hear them now. They don’t follow us, I think.”

“Why?” His suggestion induced a weird idea. Generally, the enemies would chase them until they could kill or be killed but they just cornered them and then nothing? Or it was about the territory? Or they tried to separate them from their group?

The last one sounded reasonable.

“They don’t want us to regroup.” She made the confirmation. Alex turned perplexed. “They?”

“Yes, they, those who are watching us, the controllers. They released those creatures to make us change the path. Probably because everyone focuses on the exit two.” Her five fingers rapped on the gun. “What should we do? We can’t catch them up if we continue this way.”

“But if we go back, we face those creatures.” Alex squeezed his head, confused. “Shit. If I’m not injured, I will kill them in one wave…oops.” He slouched with hands on the bandage. The red blood absorbed out of the tissues. “Damn it.”

“Are you alright?” She asked, offering her hand. “We can walk now.”

But Alex was already moody. “I don’t understand why it’s not healed.” He slapped his hand in the air. Alexis jumped to avoid his power because the stones on the floors quaking when he used his wave. “When I fell from the cliff, I got severely injured but just three days for healing.” He looked at her face as though the girl could give him the precise answer.

Fell from the cliff?

She helped him to stand. Alex needed to lean on her a little bit. Their walk was struggled due to the fact that he was very tall, though she was a tall girl comparing girls in general; she became smaller when standing with him.

“If they want us to go this way, go. Let’s go.” Alex concluded. “It’s an exit anyway. At least, we all know our friends are alive!”

Alexis released a nervous laugh. Last time, he was stubborn to seek for Ben and now he changed his mind? Of course not! It was the pain. But which any reason, they did not have a choice; that was true. The more she observed him, the more she saw his face turned paler, her anxiety increased. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“It’s tight!” He reduced his volume down. “I mean the wound. I feel my skin tightening. It’s healing.”

Alexis bit her lips, keeping the doubt to herself. Her eyes wandered around to find a place for a rest in order to check and clean his wound again. Her mind suffered from many thoughts. How can I deal with Alex’s injury? Which way we have to go? The face of Caleb appeared inside her head. Dad, what should I do?

“Hey. Do you remember? In the first zone, they selected the scientific theme so the enemies are robots and zombies. In this zone, they use dogs to replace Cerberus which guards the gate of the underworld.” She preferred talking to him to attract his interest from the pain. Alex nodded. The two companions walked through the darkness.

“But…it has only one head…”

“…and we don’t mind that” Both spoke. Alexis laughed merrily. “Just these little cuties. I don’t think they are the rough works. Before coming here, what did you learn?”

A column fell behind their back. It had stood unbalance for a while. Lucky enough that it did not fall while they walked past. They cleared their minds and continued. Alex just gave her the answer. “Economy. Ben and I studied the same field. Honestly, I want to study photography and film, not economy. Do you know Zain Aden?”

She shook her head.

“He was a landscape photographer and I am crazy at his work. This man travelled a lot, to take photos but I had never heard his name for two or three years, also his works. Perhaps, he was trying to take the best shot.” As she saw his face relaxed, her stress relieved too.

“We sit here a bit.”

He nodded. The stubbornness melted down and his obedience defined to the fact that he could not pretend to be strong anymore.

“Do you play music?”

“I play guitar but not very good. I can’t beat my sister’s talent.”

“Guitar? Ben plays guitar too.” He touched his wound again with a distorted face. “He can play almost everything, drums, and keyboard. He’s very talent but he reasoned me that he has the passion for it just to make a good profile.”

“To attract girls…I think.” She corrected him.

Alex laughed with head up and down. “That’s Ben, anyway.” Alexis could sense that every time he talked about himself, Alex would mention Ben as if every moment of his life, Ben was always with him. And he talked about his best friend more than his brothers.

Their eyes found a small figure lying down on the center of the pathway. Alexis shone the light to it and realized that it was a corpse…no, a body of a girl who was still alive because her chest still moved. She moved but Alex stood still. His body tensed up. A few seconds later, he rushed to the girl. “Be careful!” Alexis warned and ran after him.

“Julie!” He pulled her close with gentleness. The girl breathed heavily. Her chest had been ripped apart by a large fang that buried and caused a big hole in it. The wound was very fresh. Alexis put her backpack down on the floor. The injured girl grabbed his hand. Her mouth moved, trying to speak but no voice came out. Alex smoothed her hair to comfort her. Alexis looked into her big brown eyes. Within an instance, those eyes were lifeless as if the time stopped. At that time, the face of Zonya appeared on the girl’s face and then Paul, and…the suicide girl…and many people.

Too young…Tears poured down to her neck. Her right arms tightened a fist.

Alex closed her eyes. His gesture was calmer. He stared at the dead girl for a while.

Alexis laid her hand on his shoulder. Once he lifted his face up, she saw that his dark eyes expressed the deepest pain that both of them shared. “We know each other.” He told her. “She’s just eighteen.” The girl comprehended every word, nodding. Her hands squeezed his shoulder but they were trembling. However, when his eyes looked behind her and he bit his lips, she realized it without any warning. Alexis moved her gaze to the other way. The enemies circled them already.

The girl dared not to shoot because they probably attacked them altogether. Due to this thought, she searched for a bomb but her partner was quicker. “Alex…”

He left the dead girl on the floor and pushed her to bob down. She lifted her head to see what he was going to do. Alex opened fire, and they, altogether, leaped to them. At that moment, Alex threw two bombs above their head, using his power to take of the ring. It sounded clicked. Alexis screamed in horror thinking he decided to kill themselves. “Are you mad…” Suddenly, she got earworms. Her eyes closed, her ears turned deaf. It was the time she waited for an instant death. A minute passed; she still found herself trembling and alive. The flame was around her but it could not burn or harm the two of them. There was an invisible wall protected them. Alex tensed all of his body. Every muscle stressed up. His arms expanded as if pushing something but she saw nothing. Not a minute yet, the fire was gone and so as the lives of enemies.

This was how he adapted his power and it demonstrated how he could survive the explosion. Two firm arms fell along with his torso. His tall body stood unsteadily like a weak tree among the vicious wind. She supported him in time and saw one of the devil dogs was still alive. It waltzed to them. There were burns on its body so she made it rest in peace with a gun. “Alex.” Just as she touched his face, the cold absorbed through her skin. He was too weak and could not control himself anymore.

“Alex, please answer me.” She hit his cheek gently. The young man mourned to tell her he still breathed. His head fell on her small shoulder. Alexis picked up the backpack and guns while supported him to walk. Alex resisted his exhaustion and took the step to reduce the weight on her. “You’re okay. I’ll find a shelter.” Her eyes glanced around. Her shoulders weighted like a ton.

“You’re okay.” She repeated. You can’t die! Her heart hit her chest. The bandage dipped with blood. Alex must not be dead. One reason, she did not consent to let him do it. And the second, Alexis could not survive without him. The third reason was she did not want to see her friend die again. For the fourth, reread the first one.

Her companion almost collapsed but he tried. She knew he tried. Alexis stood against his chest as if she pushed a wall. He shook his head. “I can’t. I can’t walk…Leave me. I won’t blame you. Ben will find me.” Under this kind of circumstance, he still could manage a soft smile.

The girl refused his offer. Her eyes glared at him, upset. Her face was hot with anger and sadness. “You waste my time for hours and then you’ll leave me?”

“I mean you to leave me.”

“The same thing!” She hardly recognized which one was more, between anger and grief. “You must be responsible for it.” She laid him down, moved his clothes. When she saw the wound, some of his skin jerked up and it was swollen.

It’s infected.

She doubted why the medicines had no efficiency like the one she gave to Oslo. Certainly, Alexis did not expect it would heal completely but it should heal more. She processed every hypothesis inside her head, the bad environment, dead meats, dirtiness, sweat, all of these could prevent him from healing. Or the risk doesn’t respond to the medicine? No. He said he fell from the cliff…so it does. The girl eliminated the thought out of her head and moved this tall man to rest behind the ruins. She washed her hand again and retreated his wound. It was the only thing she could do.

She perceived his dark eyes observed her movement, his mouth mumbled, “When did you add those aids?” Therefore, Alexis intended to place the medical box on the floor violently to remind him that she was right to carry the medical aids.

He should sleep. It was impossible. The fourth day was coming. She glanced at the corner of her eyes, always be careful. Alexis used Alex’s backpack as a pillow for him. She fed the water to his dry mouth.

“Skye…I…will…call..you…Skye.” He told her slowly. “I…need…to…smoke.”

“Shut up.”

She heard their feet again…the demons. Alexis hurried to check the situation so she leaned against the rock that sheltered them with the guns on the edge. The girl imitated a sniper. Gun is a part of me. She mesmerized the words. Two demon dogs appeared, putting their noses on the floor. Surely, they could smell the trace of human…Alex’s blood…

“Doctor, can I sleep on your laps?”

Alexis automatically kicked his leg. “Shut up!” But Alex giggled. Please, you should be the calm Alex again. He tried to sit up so she politely took her foot on his shoulder to prevent him from doing so.

Her eyes fixed at the hunters. Her left hand touched the heart on her left chest wishing it beat slower but when those chasers came nearer, they signaled to each other as though something called it and they ran away. The two shadows faded into the darkness. A few minutes later, she heard the howl of agony. They yelped in suffering even humans understood that kind of pain. Even Alex carefully listened. Then, the agonic bay was gone. The atmosphere resumed to tranquility.

Is there someone here? Alexis met his eyes. She made the decision at once. The girl grabbed the old bondage that was full of his blood and whispered at his ear, telling him to sleep or stay still, do not make a noise. “I’ll come back. There may be some people around here. Don’t move, okay?”

He did not answer but looked at her with the sleepy eyes. His face was red. It was the sign of the increasing temperature inside his body which, previously, was cold. He would suffer from fever soon. Why so quick? She thought of the time he used his power to protect them from the explosion. Or because of that, it’s his limit.

“I’ll come back.” She whispered to him again and used her little finger as a promise.

“Don’t be stupid.” He spoke. Although his face expressed that he could not bear the pain, his wisdom remained healthy. His right arm clenched her hand. Alex switched to the calm mode again. “You can’t fight them.”

“They die.” She told him but when she moved, he moved. “Sleep!” This was her command. “Don’t even think about follow me. I’ll come back. Please trust me.”

Alex’s eyes followed her. That moment, they reminded her of Oslo’s gaze when she followed Bruce but this time those eyes expressed all of his anxiety. Alex Volcov showed her his fear finally.

It’s not the same this time. She was not a brainless victim following a murderer. Alexis painted the floor with Alex’s blood. Her intention was to lure whatever that smelled and fancy it. The, she threw the clothes away from their shelter. Alexis was not confidence if it would work or not but at least, she tried. The girl turned on the flashlight again and tried to calm her heart. She walked slower, trying so hard to be brave. Her ears opened wide to detect any sound. Just a few steps, she saw the trace of blood. Someone got injured and was dragged. Then she found the burning corpses of those dogs. Their skin was inflamed and the smoke floated out of their mouths.

They don’t kill each other, I hope. Someone must do it...Sarah! “Hey!” She yelled. “Someone’s here?” Then she heard something moving. Two people emerged out of the ruins. And one of them was her blond-hair friend as she had expected.

“Alexis?” She cried. They both ran to each other for a long embrace. “I thought I won’t see anyone.” She wiped the tears out of her face. The tears of happiness poured out. If I found Sarah, I can find the others. Sarah’s body was full of bruises but without severe injury. Her fine blonde hair was totally messy but she was not alone. She met two new friends. One got fatal injured. Alexis knew well he could not make it because the large deep cut on his stomach was the same as the deep cut on Julie’s dead body. He was slowly dying. Alexis was certain that the blood that attracted those animals was his not Alex. That was why those two creatures changed their ways to find their own death.

The blonde woman took a short glance at the injured man. Her blue eyes were sad. “I ran away from the robots like a coward,” she admitted. “I left you guys…it’s like…” She waved her hands, did not know how to explain. “…I can’t think. Like a blow in my head and then I heard the explosion. I though no one was alive. I found them after that. My power is a little bit useful here but I can’t save him. It tore him before I could kill it. He can’t be healed.”

Another man introduced himself as Emmett and the one who was lying was Kaius. “We’re here to be with him before…” It was obvious that Kaisu lost his consciousness. He mourned. The blood did not stir Alexis because her five senses might be dysfunctional. She encountered dead body, burns, blood, body odor; all of them destroyed her nose. No time to pity him, there was one that was waiting for her.

“I’m with Alex. He’s injured.”

Sarah covered her mouth. “And Ben?” Her eyes seemed to care the other more than the one her friend just mentioned. Alexis shook her head. “We think he’s alive.”

Emmett and Sarah followed Alexis to check on Alex whose eyes sparkled when seeing her return. They helped carried him to lie besides Kaius.

“I’m so happy you’re alive. Oh, Alex.” Sarah embraced him as a sister did to a brother. Alex closed his eyes. She was not sure if he really slept or faked it but when she met Sarah, the worry seemed to decrease; and because of her power, which was very useful. Hope glanced at her again. 

“…those little demons frequently emerged, one or two.”

“We found tens.” Alexis cursed the goddess of destiny. “Have you guys met the big one?”

Sarah and Emmett looked at each other. “What? There is the bigger one?”

Alexis nodded and searched a bottle of water in her bag. “Large like a mammoth.” The other two made the face of horror. Alexis poured the fresh water on her handkerchief before cleaning up Alex’s face. A few minutes later, Kaius rested in peace. Emmett and Sarah dragged his body to delay the other dogs and they continued their journey. Alexis and Sarah supported Alex while Emmett took the guard.

In the second zone, the number of safe zones was limited and they were far from each other unlike the first zone. They spent a long time without closing to the destination. Sometimes, they were under attack but Sarah could deal with it without exploiting the other energy. And they found the big one but it was nearly dead so Sarah finished it by herself. It took a while which made the creature suffered before taking forever sleep. 

Sometimes she felt like she started to be a sadist when hearing the bay of pain and felt indifferent.

“…There’re a lot ahead.” Alex gave them a warning. His senses were still better than the others. Alexis signaled them to hide their presence behind the ruins. Sarah crouched on a ruin of walls; her eyes glared at the enemy. When they smelled human, they hurried to them but before they could make any harm, Sarah stopped them every time. And those demons got revenge. They were suffered from the invisible heat, yelping drastically. Although they wanted to kill them all, the howl before they died was not every pleasant to the ears.

Alex shook her arm. He leaned against the wall. She poked her face to listen to him. “You’re not alone.” He whispered.

“No one will leave you. We’re going to the safe zone together,” she said. Her hands touched his forehead. His skin burned with fever. His dark eyes fixed at her without looking away and his hand still held her arm firmly. Alexis did not blush but felt overwhelmed by his gaze. “If we arrive there, we will rest until you get better. And we will go through the exit.”

His gaze still with her and then he nodded before bent his head on her shoulder to rest. Alexis glanced at Sarah who just shreds the sweat out of her face. Please, we can make it to the safe zone. Alexis remembered well that Alex told her the power had the limit though Sarah’s power was very marvelous for the situation. It did not mean that they could do it whenever they wanted. Her eyes moved to Emmett who observed her and Alex with a mocking smile. He gestured his hands to ask “Are you guys…a thing?”

“Friends”, she replied through her lips.

Emmett’s appearance was similar to Jesse. He was not that tall but strong enough. Unfortunately, he had no weapon skill like Alex and his arm was hurt. He had his dark brown hair cut short and grew a beard. She guessed that his age was around Sarah.

“I kill them all.” The woman turned back. “Very exhausted but I feel great to do something good.”

Alexis gave her a thumb. They, again, carried Alex but Emmett stopped them. “Look!”

He pointed to the wall across the passage. “There’s something there.”

“Oh please.” Sarah’s voice was unsteady.

“No,” He kept pointing. “Not the damn dogs but the seat!” He moved and flashed the light to it. “…I remembered they told us about the port.”

The ray of hope suddenly shone the way. Alexis saw the mercy smile of the goddess of destiny that glanced to them. They walked to it and they found the glass tube covered the equipment which shared the appearance of a passenger seat. When Emmett touched the glass, the light turned on and the door opened. The darkness might blind the other who walked ahead and because it was buried in the wall, if Emmett had not found it, the other would not too.

“Good for you,” she whispered to Alex. He moved a little bit. Before she could smile fully, Sarah left Alex to Alexis alone so she had to push herself to help him stand. Alex tried to fight against his weakness too. This time, Alexis was his 0nly crutch.

“…Sarah?”

The girl peered at her friend. Her beautiful face dropped down; her fine browns jerked up like ropes. Then, she glanced at Emmett whose eyes fixed at the seat before turning to declare her ugly thought. “He’s dying anyway. He can’t survive.”

In her horror, Alexis opposed, “We should send the most injured one.” But the one she mentioned was laughing at her ears.

Emmett shook his head in disagreement. “We should send the one who should receive the opportunity. Don’t you see my arm? Please.”

Alexis turned to Sarah, pleading. “Please. This is the only way to save Alex. Please.”

She made the face like crying. “I don’t want to do this but I can’t. Alexis, I can’t bear it anymore. I don’t want to do this. Never! Please understand me.” She looked around. “I don’t want to stay here any longer. Please let me go.”

No one wants to live here! As though the hope offered a hand and it changed its mind.

“You have the power!” Emmett shouted. “I don’t.”

“Go,” Alex whispered. “Leave them.”

Alexis turned her stare at Alex, frustrated. You must acknowledge your situation! “We can fight but he can’t walk!” The girl insisted.

“He shared the same fate with Kaius. If you sacrifice your chance, leave me and Sarah deal with it.”

Everyone consumed all her energy. Alexis listened to their argument like an outsider. Alex shook her arm softly. “We can go now.” His voice was soft like a breezy wind. His condition was far from the one who just entered this zone.

“…How can’t you leave a girl and an injured alone?”

“My friend’s dead.” Emmett reminded the woman. “They’re your friends, aren’t they?”

Should she live them here? A thought wanted her to steal their chance by push Alex inside the tube but before she could make it. Emmett moved to block Sarah so the chance was taken away. Deep of her heart, she understood their selfishness but because here was the bloody hell. No one wanted to be in hell but Alex was going to die. It was the only one chance that she could save him and this time she would not leave her friend die before her eyes.

“I will let Alex sit there.” Her voice interrupted their hot argument. It was not a pleading. Alexis took the step and challenged Sarah and Emmett but Alex resisted her. “Don’t…be silly.”

Sarah wept. “I’m sorry, Alex…”

“I know.” He nodded. His pale lips hardly moved but his eyes were on Alexis. “She wants to go. Let her go.”

Again, he put me in the inferior position. She wanted to scream to his face, I don’t want to you die.

“You have the power,” Emmett yelled. His brown eyes were full of tears and he did not yield. “I don’t. I can’t protect them. You must protect your…Ouch.” His body bumped to the tube and collapsed on the ground. But he was still conscious.

“Alex!” The two girls shouted, shocked at his reaction. He lifted his face to talk to his ex. “Go. I clear the way for you.”

Those full lips trembled. The tears poured on her beautiful face. Sarah embraced the young man and kissed his pale cheek. She cried thanking him as if he was a saint. Alexis just stood like a crutch that was unable to speak. The tears quietly brimmed her eyes. You choose to die? Or because of Ben? You don’t want to go because of Ben? She thought she knew the answer.

Emmett stood on his feet with hand aiming the gun at the three of them. Just a blink of an eye, the gun dropped on the floor and Alex could not stand anymore; his legs knelt down abruptly which pulled Alexis to the floor as well. Sarah glared at him. He started to mourn in pain as if the fire burned inside. “Please…No Please.”

“You intend to kill us!” Her eyes still fixed at him.

Alexis saw his skin turned red as the temperature inside his body rose up. His organs were boiling. “Sarah. Stop! Sarah!” She reminded the woman who used to be her sweet friend. The blue eyes looked away from Emmett and those eyes still shone the guilt. “I’m sorry and goodbye.”

The gunshot resounded at the same time when Alexis saw the hole on her head before the blood bled out of it. The red liquid showered her golden blond hair. Sarah collapsed in front of their eyes and another gunshot. This time, the bullet penetrated Emmett’s skull. His head bent down while he sat on his knees. Her heart stopped beating.

Ben lowered his arm.

No tears or happy cry when he saw his best friend, Alex stared at Sarah’s dead body in shock before glaring at Ben. After that, he released the rudest words she had ever heard.

Chapter 27: FAllen Angel

Into the dark tunnel, he could not see the light at the end of it. The shape of his best friend disappeared into it. Bricks reconstructed filling the empty space that led to the exit. He just stared through the glass door and when the wall resumed, the glass moved down sinking into the floor like a magic work. What remained was emptiness, as though the port had not existed before even Alex’s terrible curse was gone. Silence lasted.

“Save him.”

I never forget, Nat, never forget our promise.

The hand with the gun stayed still, not shaking but really motionless…a bizarre situation. Must he feel anything? This time he was not a looker but the actor. His pointing finger triggered it, not once. The air filled his lung. The nothingness swallowed inner organs until these bones wore only skin. They had never parted, never at all.

His left ear gave the alert that someone behind moved. Ben glanced before turned his full face to see his Bambi. She put the gun in front of him but her hand was trembling terribly. It was impossible she would trigger it. From the gun, he stared at the starry blue eyes that were glistening and watery as the tears flew slowly like a small river showering dirt on her cheeks. The girl bit her lips firmly as if she resisted so hard not to let the fire of revenge burned herself.

“Why…Why you killed them?” Her voice creaked. Her eyes transmitted many messages of condemnation, anger, disappointment but he thought fury took the lead.

Ben did not take a single glance to see the dead body of the woman with the blonde hair who slept with her face on the floor. Strangely, the emptiness evaporated and some mysterious sediments of feeling build a wonder in him. Did she curse him too? Cursed him to be a stone.

“This’s Sarah…Sarah…How could you do that?” She forced herself to speak. It was difficult to mention the word ‘friend’ or ‘partner’ because he never regarded this woman like that.

“Just…for Alex…”

He nodded.

“For him,” the young man repeated. 

It was like they challenged each other. They stared at each other for a long period. Ben left his arms along his body, not lifting the gun. In contrast, he made his chilling gesture by inserting his hands inside the pockets and breathed comfortably. It was time this girl must learn that the real world was not the world of greenery and flowers. Ben had no thought of killing her, not a single dust of idea since she protected Alex since she put all her effort begging these two for him. However, Alexis was just a little Bambi who refused to accept the truth.

“Why don’t you take it for yours? Only one chance…it was in front of you. Why you want Alex to take the seat? He’s nearly dead.”

The fire in her eyes disappeared, just confusion but Ben did not expect that she would ask him in return, “And why you killed them to save Alex who is going to die?” 

“Because we’re more than friends. He’s my family. I can do everything to save him. But you, you just met him. Why don’t you do that?” His stare remained at her strongly. He needed her to answer right away. What she was thinking? Did she prefer to save him as he did? Because our methods were different? Or just because Alex got a serious injury? Because the other had the chance to survive more...Just that?

The tip of her gun still pointed at him. Ben stood deadly waiting for the brave girl. “Do it,” challenged he. She did not like to listen to this word. Of course, he knew what she was thinking. The girl wanted him to beg for his life or used his power to protect himself. Those eyes declared all her thought…demonstrated that she was not ready to take any life. No matter what the fact that she survived the battle in the first zone or these monsters in this zone, Alexis was still a little girl from a small town, a loving family; her world was bright and beautiful. It was full of friendship and hope.

What he could do was waiting for her to put the gun down. He did not beg for his life, either put the gun down by himself.

He preferred to close his eyes.

She moved. His ears sensed it so he opened his eyes. Ben saw Alexis crawling crying silently while he stood like a dead tree. She moved to Sarah and smoothed the dirty blonde hair. It was not the intention but he finally saw the victim he just killed but when he saw the way Bambi watching the corpse, that moment his eyes saw the body without the sign of life, thousand needles pinned his heart. At that time, he realized that he was not a living stone.

“She loves you.” He let her speak, let her try her best to shake the guilt out of him. No one is insensitive to killing. It’s just that. He comforted himself. “She loves you.”

Say something to shut her up.

“Sarah would kill me if I want to save it for Alex, the same way she almost killed that man.” He gestured to the other corpse but this time, he could stare at it without any feeling. The other dead man was kneeling. His head flipped to the right side and his eyes still opened wide. He thought of the day Julius gave the dead order for the betrayal. His dad forced him to watch so he watched the whole scene. He was scared when the first one was killed. He started disgusted everything when he saw the second. For the third, he believed that his father had no choice. Until fourth, fifth…, and the last one, he could stare at them. Dead people were not as scary as the living ones.

Okay, except for the zombies in the zone one, this is a special case.

“They betray us. If I don’t do it, we come to an end.” Julius’ eyes were not almost yellow like his son. He had the eyes of soft brown color but those eyes were more frightening than these creatures. At least, they looked at him because of hunger but in Julius' eyes, it was hard to read.

If not, Alex would die. If not, we will die.

“Why did you kill her? Why did you?” He attempted to slap him with his power but unfortunately, just a gentle wind came out. It took time to make him sit on that seat so Ben made him quiet. Surprisingly, Alex’s life energy was limitless. When the glass door close, he recovered and kept shouting until the port moved, gone into the dark tunnel.

 “Shall we go?” asked he. Alexis still cuddled herself beside Sarah’s body. As he asked, she raised her chin up. The face of pretty doll painted by tears. Her eyes looked at him, full of emotions. He tried to hide his smile. Little Bambi was a little child. “Becky and Noel are waiting there, in the safe zone.”

Those captivated eyes moved when hearing the other two friends. “Becky and Noel?” He nodded. “Shall we go?” Ben offered his hand but Alexis did not accept it.

“If I cross your line, as Sarah and Emmett did, you will put the bullet into my head, right?”

He gave her a shrugged. “If…if you’re not stupid blocking my gun when I’m using it.” He smiled his signature smile but her tears still flew from her eyes. “Alex survives. Aren’t you happy?” His voice was softer.

She still looked at him with her disappointing eyes. “You didn’t have to kill…I don’t know what your heart made of. You don’t love her, that’s fine. But we stay together…How could you do that?”

Friendship…in a short period. He inwardly laughed.

“You learn slower than I thought,” Ben said. “If you didn’t stop Sarah, she would kill this jerk. And if you didn’t withdraw your luck, she would kill you too.”

“Sarah wouldn’t kill anyone…she threatened him.” Her brow jerked up. “You saw everything?”

“I will let Alex sit there.” He imitated her voice. His glance caught that her right hand grabbed the gun tightly. “Just saw from afar, I know what you were arguing. No one wanted to stay here. Although she saw Alex hurt like hell, Sarah had no mind to save him…do you know? they are friends…good friends. Yes, I witnessed how they agreed to be good friends. Lovely scene. And what she did to her friend? Leave him to die slowly? Leave him with a girl without any power. Yes, she leaves you. What should I do? How could I make them agree to let him go? This man aimed the gun at her, did he? Is she, who hurt him?”

Alexis bit her lips again. She knew because she saw everything. He looked behind the girl and put the gun up. The girl turned to see, in response to the instinct. Suddenly, he charged her, withdrew her weapon, then, carried her on his shoulder. “What’re you doing? What’re you doing?” Alexis shouted and struggled drastically. He let her try to escape until she ran out of energy. “Let me down!” She begged but her voice was weak.

Finally, Ben had the chance to get out of this spot. He passed a group of dogs that were still alive under the mountain of ruins so he shot them to die in peace. Some he let it live like that. The young man could not figure out which one was worse. He just felt satisfied. These ruins were his works, well, mostly. The ruins of building structures and the dim light on the passage, “Where are you, Fidus? Your master is calling you.” The hoarse voice of his old nanny echoed in his head. Under this atmosphere, it was like he walked into her bedtime story, the young master, the son of Satan, he who tried to collect the soul of the most loyal minion. Sadly, Ben was not Elm because if he were him, he would expand his wings and carried Alex out of here by himself, without depending on the port.

Ben walked to the save zone. Once he stepped inside the safe place, he threw his passenger down on the floor. Noel and Becky who were sleeping woke up instantly, except for the silver head that opened his eyes since he came. Alexis glared at him and showed her middle finger to thank him.

“Hey, be gentle to the woman.” Tessa’s brother complained. Ben shrugged and seek for his own space. He collapsed on the floor and listened to what they were talking. Noel and Becky rushed to Alexis to ask about their friends and family. Also, Ben realized that Wade and Tessa were still alive…several hours ago.

If he met Alex faster than this, how the thing would be? Ben searched for his best friend until arriving at the safe zone. He just realized that it led to the third exit and he met Michael, Noel, and Becky. (It seemed like Noel thought he saved Minnie from the explosion but he mistook Becky as his sister.) They formed a new group and decided to go further. Noel insisted to return to the old path but he and Michael disagreed because it wasted their time. Even though he objected the giant man, as they arrived here, he could not move on without Alex. During their break, he went out again. If he had more power, he would destroy this place into pieces.

One day, he will destroy everyone who is behind this project. The power can be developed. Don’t you guys realize it?

He missed Alex. You must survive. Ben prayed and insisted on his moral thought that he had done the right thing by sending Alex with the port and then, all senses deactivated to rest for the long journey.

It was the first time he did not see Nat in his dream, the first time he slept deeply, unable to recognize the dream. When he opened his eyes, he stared at the gun and when it moved, he smiled. After that, the man sat up, ready to go.

Alexis got wet from head to toe. Perhaps, she mistook the washing sing to the bathtub. They met their eyes but did not see anything and she did not Noel about Sarah and Alex. He was certain of it. Ben packed the stuff to his backpack before opening the can and eating bread to fill his appetite. He stood far from Alexis’s group. It was weird that since she appeared, he and Michael became the outsiders. 

Michael waited for everyone. So, the boy decided that being in a group was better than walking alone.

“Hey, Silver, don’t think about steal my map?”

“Michael.” The tall boy bowed his top body to manage the shoelace. Scanning this boy’s fashion, all his clothes were old like the fifth-handed products. They like this since their coming to the white dormitory, the ugly book cover but good content. Due to Ben’s prejudice, he still saw that the front teeth of this boy were bigger than normal people.

“Ben” He offered his hand but Michael just nodded. “And, Noel, Becky…. Bambi.”

“Alexis!” The girl shouted from her corner. “Alexis” repeated to him. He heard Michael laughed inside his throat. The boy with the silver hair finally touched his hand to show the good manner.

“I know you’re called Alexis,” he replied to the girl.

Alexis made a sudden turn. “What? We have never talked.”

Michael bent his head, thinking. “I didn’t mean the time we met at the modeling…I mean I know you. Alexis and June…your red head friend. June and Alexis. I recognize you before.”

And why I am just a listener? Ben moved his hand to remind them that he was still there. Alexis got confused more than ever. The dark blue eyes of Michael glanced at him for a second; they gleamed and transmitted his mocking and fun before shrugging, spoke nothing more.

“Ahem.” Noel interrupted. “About the plan.”

Ben understood this man would speak the same thing. “We won’t go back. We will move on the exit three. Don’t waste our time. Please don’t protest.” He rose his hand to stop Noel’s bubbling. “Be reasonable. I did not mean to destroy your genius plan but we have a few days left, not six? The next meeting point is the exit, right?”

“I’m sorry, Noel. But I agree with him.” Becky support but her tone was weak as if she was afraid Noel would be angry and hit her to death by one large hand. Ben placed his palm on her head, gently. “If you want to raise your voice, don’t say sorry. It’s not a crime, my dear.” He turned to the new member. “How about you, Silver?”

“Michael,” he kept corrected Ben and made the face of Whatever. If it was not about him, he did not care.

But Tessa’s brother did not agree. “Yesterday, you were eager to find your friend and once you come back with Alexis, you act as nothing happens. So, it means you found Alex, right? Is he dead?”

Ben tried not to put the fuel on the fire. “He survives.”

“So, he used the port, right?” Noel gave him a sly smirk. “You have no one to care now.”

“Please!” He shook his head. “I thought you’re the most mature in our group. No one to care? Funny. The one I care is me! Me!” He pointed his finger to his chest. “We are going to the exit. Don’t you understand? No matter what Tessa is facing now, how can you help her? Are you sure you can catch them? Just be alive is almost impossible. Please, man! Be easy!”

Alexis grabbed Noel’s arm and nodded to make him comply. At least, this little Bambi refused to waste her emotion or use personal attitude to make a decision. Noel kept his mouth closed and packed the bombs inside his backpack, said nothing to anyone.”

“Thanks for your understanding. This means we all are in agreement.” He bowed to everyone. Alexis gave me a glance to warn him, “Please don’t cause any more problem.”

Only five days and seven hours left. We must get out of this second shit within today. There were a few evil dogs emerged. Michael killed two. He did not wrestle with them but used the gun. It came to his doubt when he saw that this boy had the weapon skill better than him. “How do you use it so well?” He asked while passed three dead monsters that he saw as scattered rocks.

“I live with it,” the boy replied shortly and moved forward.

On the other side, Noel just killed the last lot without effort. Ben understood now why his colleague conspired to get him out of his way. This just-graduated militant could cope with the situation so well, if he was still in the army, his future was a silver lining.

Suddenly, another prey came to his sight. Ben moved his hand. The front pillar fell on it. It was still alive, breathed slowly, struggling to survive.

“Could you please stop destroying the structure? If they collapse?” The muscular man yelled.

“I survive anyway,” he replied and smiled innocently as his best. Ben called Becky.

“What are you doing?” Alexis became suspicious at once.

Think I’m going to bully her? Oh, come on. “I want Becky to kill it. Shoot!” The young man moved her hands as if she were his puppet. The girl’s tiny body trembled like an earthquake. “Stop being coward! You can’t stay behind the other’s back all the time. Shoot!” She moved the trigger but the bullets buried on the floor. He fanned his head, bored. He tried to steady her motion. “Come on. Shoot.”

The fire of guns resonated but none touched the target. The mutated animal howled in agony. He stared at this freckled face. Becky sobbed so he became the bully completely. Shit.

“You feel sympathized. It will kill you. Kill it.” He yelled at her.

The little girl looked at Noel pleading but he confirmed her to continue shooting. Therefore, she asked Alexis to stop him. “I can’t, please.”

Ben met her eyes. Then Alexis sighed and gestured the girl to do it. It was obvious that Little Bambi learned something even though her speed was a turtle but not as slow as this coward shrimp.

He placed his hand on her narrow shoulder. “Do it before it kills you,” he whispered. His left hand supported her aiming. Few seconds, she did. The fire resonated again and then the silence took the main role. Ben let the girl free and invited everyone to see her work. Instead of being proud, Becky ran to Alexis and hugged her non-blood related sister, sobbing. “I’m weak. I’m sorry.”

He hugged his chest waiting what the older girl would teach this child.

Alexis knotted her brows and smoothed Becky’s red hairs. “They’re created to kill us. If we won’t do it, we die.”

He clapped his hands. Alexis made the unpleasant face.

“Good.” He said while passing the two girls. Ben flashed the light to the front. The voice of old nanny resounded again. “Fidus, come to me. I don’t see you.”

Why I think of this tale…

“Fidus, show yourself to me,” he mumbled. The silver head beside him laughed softly.;

“You know it?”

Michael nodded, “who don’t?’

“Me,” Noel admitted.

“You look like Elm,” Alexis said. She shone the light to his eyes. Ben waved to move it down. “Don’t do this.”

“The boy with the dark hair and his eyes were shining yellow like topaz.”

He smiled as if she gave him a satisfied compliment.

“But you have no wings and you’re worse than Elm.”

The smile faded immediately.

“What the hell! What you guys are talking? I don’t understand. What is this fucking Elm?” Noel kept wondering. Ben stopped his interest in the way ahead as there was nothing. With Michael, his alertness decreased because this boy had better senses than him.

“You don’t know anything about Elm?” He thought everyone would know because it was a bedtime story for every child. Well…not exactly the traditional bedtime story as the story was no fairy tales. He did not know why the fear could not disturb him. On the contrary, he liked it.

“Not once,” Noel confessed.

“It’s a story about a demon,” Becky rushed her speech as though she was afraid that they would forget her.

The three teenagers, in their new harmony, objected her word, “He’s not a demon!”

“But he’s the son of Satan. He must be the demon.”

Ben felt annoyed. “He’s not a full demon because demon had no angel’s wings.”

“Yes, they have. The fallen angels. His wings are grey, not white. All fallen angels serve Satan. Lucifer was once an archangel. Elm is his son so he must be a demon. Most importantly, God left him.”

The truth was Ben should be proud when Becky started to oppose him but not for this topic. “Damn it. He turned his back to God. Okay? I may be not a good worshiper like you, Catalonian girl, but I’m not a satanic believer. For Elm, I will be his lawyer to fight for this accusation.”

“Yes, he’s right.” Alexis and Michael provided collaboration.

“What are you talking about?” Noel still wondered.

Becky preferred not to continue but left a sign of disapproval, the crazy religious Catalonian could not find the reason to oppose him. It was not weird if they saw Elm character, the one who could liberate himself from the realm of God, would be an evil character. On the other hand, he did not understand why he had to protect his character as if he was Elm or because he thought they shared some similarity?

“Well, well. I don’t understand anything but why do you guys talk about it?” The giant man asked. It seemed like he had many doubts in his head.

“Noel, it’s the ambiance. If we get out of here, I will tell you and your sisters, full version…Oh.” Alexis covered her mouth. “I…sorry.”

“No, I like that.” The older patted on her head as if she just mentioned a good omen.

Ben raised his head to examine the ceiling above which seemed to be endless and opened to the sky of the new moon. He was imprisoned for few months so he doubted what people outside were doing. What his half-sisters and half-brothers were doing. Did they still compete with each other to be the favorite child of Julius? He missed the king-sized bed that made him feel like an emperor who had servants served nice warm meals made of fine raw materials. The softy bed…no, stop imagine more. Although there were tons of maids, he never had sexual intercourse with any one of them. He loved the activities on the bed but despised his father’s taste of women. For this reason, if she wanted to get some luck, dreamed on. Do they treat you well? Do they save you? His thought switched from this to that and then to Alex. He became unconfident if the port would send Alex to the safe place or not or, in the end, Alex would die on that seat? Stop thinking about it! As he experimented his competency as the Risk, small wounds healed faster comparing with the previous days. This special ability made them differ from normal people who had no talent. At the same time, if their bodies weakened, the healing capacity would decrease as well and if they forced to exploit the power, the injury would be healed harder.

“They’re waiting for us.” Michael gave the warning which woke him up to the current situation.

“How many of them?” asked he.

“Quite a lot. There are new ones.”

“New…type?”

“Shhh…” The boy nodded to himself, “sound like snakes.”

Fuck. He cursed. Cerberus and Medusa, why don’t you guys create Pegasus?

“Oh, your friends.” Alexis satirized him—it was her chance. He put his finger on his mouth. “No, Bambi, not this time.”

The hissing loudly resonated before the long body of the giant animal swooped down on the center of the group. He pushed his little dear out of the way. The size of its body could be compared to a large pine tree. The only good thing was its minions were evil dogs not evil little snakes. Ben did neither fear four-legs animals, nor small snakes but he disgusted those without legs and the body covered with rocky scales. Just saw its scale pattern, his hairs rose up. Ben and Michael were trapped in its coil. The silver head leaped on the scale and offered his hand. Ben caught him. The boy helped him to stand to the creature. The touch through his shoes, Ben felt like to vomit. His organs twisted and froze. Don’t be coward, Ben. So, he fired at its head but nothing harmed it. Within a blink, the snake turned its head, showing its fangs. The liquid splashed out of its—they avoided. The floor nearby eroded like strong acid’s work.

“Avoid its venom.”

The sound of gunfire reminded him that Noel and others were fighting against those dogs. Ben focused on his hands. The Doric column fell but the damn snake fled rapidly. Michael picked a knife then ran to its tale before stabbing. With fine blade and his strength, the knife buried in it. The monster shrieked shaking his ears. Unfortunately, the short blade could not make it severely injured. Ben flipped his hand. Another column floated in the air and smashed on its head.

“Ben!” Michael pointed out but no quick enough. The evil dogs leaped on him. The scatters of concretes attacked the monsters, he was fortunate enough to free from those fangs which nearly buried in his chest. Here are dogs, and the snake is there. Don’t give me a break? He destroyed the other pair of columns to kill the new group of dogs, compressed and squeezed on the ground.

If I don’t do it, you kill me. Don’t be mad.

“Grab him! Grab him!”

He turned to see what was happening. The girls tried to pull Noel from the mutant dogs. He picked the knife on his ankle and made it flew into these ugly skulls. Noel was free but… “Ben!” A warning from Michael again. This time he could not save himself even though he moved as fast as he could but the snake’s tail made him fall then the transparent liquid dropped on his right arm. That moment, he felt the acute hot pain on his arm. Fuck! Ben tried to not scream and used his telekinetic power pulled the knife out of the dogs and flew it to the damn snake’s eyes. It yelped and danced drastically destroying the surrounding. He used this opportunity without wasting it. The knife was pushed to the skull. It was dead. The long length of its ugly body shook a little bit and then nothing moved.

Ben collapsed on the floor. His right arm quaked violently. The venom did not abrade his clothes but also the skin until it peeled out to see the dermis level. Damn it. He could not tolerate anymore. All of his fingernails picked on his flesh. Alexis rushed to him with a bottle of water in her hand then she poured it on his arm. The water well reduced the burning pain and also delayed the venom’s effect. But before it could wash away the venom, from bottom arm to elbow was red due to the fact that the outer was destroyed. A few minutes later, the pain returned. It was sharp and burning that causes muscle spasm. It kept hurting and hurting. If it lasted longer, he would lose his bone.

“Catch him.” The brown-haired girl commanded the silver head. Michael locked his arms while Ben shivered as if he was sitting among the snow, naked. The agony invaded all over his body. Such torment, he had never experienced until now. The water paused it for a while but the venom remained. “Cut my arm!” He shouted for mercy. Please make it stop.

Alexis grabbed his shoulder and used her knife to cut the clothing then pulled it out gradually. She destroyed the jacket that cost fifty-four thousand and two hundred rels within a second. Ben would be glad if she tore his clothes when we were on the bed.  

“Noel?” He tried to think about other things, not the pain but the intense effect did not decrease.

“He’s alright, just a bite, but not deep. It bit the gun he hid at his ankle.”

He nodded. Noel and Becky came closer. When their eyes saw his arm that was full of blood and red meat, they turned away.

“Is it severe? Michael asked the doctor of the group. Alexis nodded. “Look at it.”

“We must stop here. I have to treat his injury or else it will be infected.”

Of course, you have to do it. He thought.

Alexis gave Michael the order to activate the nursing mode on the watch to do the diagnosis. It was the first time he used it for himself.

Noel sat down checking the injured leg. Even though Alexis told him that the wound was not bad, regarding the blood-soaking pants, it must be deep. Anyway, in this time, Ben paid all his attention to his injury. His eyes stared at the arm. Would it be like this forever? The skin was peeled out. Please make it stop. Please, this is more than enough. He closed his eyes. “Do it quick!” Yes, he begged her.

“There’s venom…” Alexis read the hologram. “Ben…we need to go back to the safe zone. I have only basic aids.”

“What!” He cried. “You can do it. You can! I know you can. You’re the doctor.”

“I haven’t the chance to be! The doctor you mean is my father. For God’s sake, you guys are true friends.” Her face was serious. “We need specific detoxication and it says…your arms must be healed by a special bandage for those who get injured by venom. I have none.”

Don’t kid me. We walked out from the safe zone for two hours…

“Go back…”

“I have it.”

Noel said and threw his backpack on the floor. Alexis hurriedly searched inside and found a box. She turned to Ben and smiled. He questioned her through his facial expression and she nodded in confirmation.

He sighed a long breath. “You’re the best, Noel. You’re the best. I will remember you forever.”

The big man laughed shaking his head. Ben observed Noel’s backpack. He carried the medical aids as same as Alexis did but there were more—other equipment apart from weapons and food supplies. “I see it has been added in the safe zone. I feel it needed to be packed so…”

“How much its weights?” asked Ben.

“Slightly.” The man with his chestnut-skinned shrugged as if it was not a big deal.

Alexis opened to bottle and poured it. He screamed immediately. “Alcohol!” The word spat on the nurse’s face.

She made an annoying face. “Are you mad? It says this will wash out the venom so shut your mouth! Be a man! Michael takes care of him.”

Ben ground his teeth. He set his new top determination that if he could get out of here, Benjamin Rosier would eliminate all snakes out of the earth.