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The MLA Story
Author's note: I wrote this originally to be a page or two long story, but got so into it that I ended up writing far more than intended. It's the first time I've tried writing with a "you" voice, and I think it was successful here. Credits for the song lyrics used in the piece go to Saving Abel (Miss America), Skillet (Hero), Three Days Grace (Riot) and Muse (Uprising).
The heat saps all energy from you as you struggle to continue putting one foot before the other. Laughter echoes from above and you stop mid-step, craning your head back to peer at the blue sky above. The desert sun shines into your eyes, blinding you. You sigh and duck your head again, clearing spots from your vision with repeated blinking. Wind whips past, carrying sand with it and that same echo of childish joy. A shadow swoops across the dunes and you flinch and duck reflexively as a large, blood-red shape zooms down onto the highway. It lands in a skid that keeps going until the figure wheels around and skates towards you, giant wings disengaging from her back and flapping along above her.
The girl wears roller skates and deftly navigates the cracked, dusty pavement, whipping to a stop just outside striking distance. One hand holds a gun while the other pushes a hat with earflaps back from her face and brushes hair from shockingly bright blue eyes.
She holds the gun level with your head, eyeing you warily. After a moment of tense silence you raise your hands in surrender. “Who are you?” she snaps the words, taking a step forward that seems menacing despite her small stature.
You stammer out something unintelligible, taking an answering step back.
“Who do you work for? The helibots? Are you some new drone?” You just stare at her in confusion and she starts to relax a little. “You're not with the government? BioCity?”
You shake your head quickly. “I have no idea what you're talking about!”
You let out a relieved breath when she lowers the gun, holstering it on her hip. “Gogu. Search.” Her wings scuttle up from around her and you blink repeatedly as it becomes apparent that they are a separate entity and quite alive. Spindly metal legs stick out from the centerpiece, like a giant insect. A face on the plate between the wings squints at you, whirring and clicking. After a long minute its wings fold and it scuttles back towards her. “Untapped. Good. Fetch.”
You take several semi-involuntary steps backwards as the winged creature approaches again. It moves behind you faster than you can avoid it and its metal legs curve around you, cold even beneath the burning heat of the sun. You yelp as the wings start to flap, pulling you airborne. “Wait! What are you doing?!”
“We can't talk here.” The girl is completely calm, already scanning the surrounding area. Your transportation's wings scoop air and suddenly you're rocketing forwards. Your scream is lost to the wind. The sand flying into your mouth quickly convinces you to close it, cutting yourself off.
The girl laughs a little at your antics and kicks into gear, quickly falling into a comfortable stride below you, the purple wheels in her skates flashing as she jumps cracks in the highway like a pro. The wind whipping in your face makes speech impossible, so after several minutes you give up and try to relax and enjoy the ride. You watch the desert sands flash by, heaped into dunes and valleys.
After a while she slows to a stop and the red wings flapping around you slow also as Gogu stops. In a move too fast to be entirely comfortable the metal legs around you shift, half holding you while the other half curl around the girl. The great wings labor to lift you both again, sweeping across the sands as he flies off road.
“Where are we going?” You have to nearly shout to be heard above the roar of the wind but the girl doesn't even look at you, eyes on the horizon.
“Somewhere safe.” She doesn't speak again and you stay silent, trying to see whatever it is she's looking for. After several minutes Gogu lowers you both to the sands. The strange girl sets off, her rollerblades turning her walk into more of a trudge, and you trot to follow, unwilling to hang back and get close to Gogu again. You don't take note of where you are until something blocks the light of the sun, the temperature instantly dropping. You look up and observe suddenly that you've stepped into a tunnel of sand, so well camouflaged into the dunes around that you didn't see it even from ten feet away. The tunnel winds through the sands, stopping at an old metal door. The girl blocks your view of it as she inserts a key and types a code a keypad by the door.
She shoves it open with her shoulder and it protests softly before swinging open onto black. Gogu sidles past you and ducks into the shadow. Moments later lights flicker on and you follow the girl into what looks like an old diner and garage, the wall between the two torn down to make one large space. The windows and front door are buried in sand and the only lights come from overhead bulbs that flicker a little. Somewhere on the edges of the room you can hear a generator purring quietly.
The right side of the room where the old garage was is piled with machinery, a large table down the center buried under sketches, tools and scraps of metal. A pile of boxes fill an entire corner and overall you can't help feeling it's the lab of an evil genius. There's something large under a tarp at the far end that draws your curiosity briefly. It almost looks like it might be a car, but before you can remark on it your attention shifts as the girl walks to the other side of the room.
The left side of the space is a nearly unremarkable 60's style diner, except that one of the booths has had the table removed, a bed placed there instead. Clothes spill from the booth next to it, which apparently functions as a wardrobe.
Above the long counter hangs a fading sign that reads "Welcome to Paradise Falls" in cracked paint. Fresh, blood red paint overlays the last word, changing it to "Fell" in silent protest. The girl must notice your curiosity because she speaks from behind you. “Once BioCity went up...everything else fell. My parents used to own this place.”
You turn towards her, more curious now. “Who are you? And what's 'BioCity'?”
She's already sat down and is working to unlace her skates and pull them off. She's wearing mismatched socks beneath the leg warmers; one purple polkadots, the other green stripes. It's an oddly endearing sight, made more so when she pulls off her hat and her blue hair sticks out in all directions. “My name's Riba. I'm one of the only normal guys left around here.” She doesn't look at you as she speaks, pulling off one glove, then the other. She slips her feet into well-worn sneakers and stands, moving behind the counter of the diner. “BioCity's where the Walkers live. You really don't know any of this?”
You shake your head as she checks a clock on a wall and flicks on a radio, carefully turning the dial through station after station of static. A frown builds on her face then clears as the static changes to silence. She checks the clock again -three minutes to the hour- and then looks back at you. “You're in Paradise Falls. Former home of most of the population. They've all moved to BioCity and become Walkers.” At your blank look she adds “You know, pill-takers? The MLA workers give them pills that make them go all brain-dead. MLA is Modern Living Arrangements, by the way.”
She cuts herself off as the clock ticks to the hour and the radio crackles to life, a rich, deep voice purring from the speakers. You move closer to listen, drawn in by the commanding tones.
Look alive, lovelies!
Word is the baron's flying bloody
And the drones went home.
I'm your surgeon, your sergeant,
Your larger than life friend to the end,
I'm here keeping the beat for our meet'n'greet,
Pumping out music to keep you all alive.
To my servants, my soldiers,
My sight-seers and thrill-seekers,
Saddle up and grab your sharpshooters
Cause we got ourselves a war!
You know the time, the place,
The ugly face to kill.
Keep your trail clean
And your hands dirty.
We've got the power in our final hour
To bury the baddies once and for all.
Oh and before I forget…
A special message for my eyes in the sky,
My red robber, my helicopter.
There's a warrant for your arrest so rest in peace.
So long to the luckless and lifeless,
We're bringing in the new year
With a bang to remember!
“Rest in peace...” Riba repeats the words in a murmur as the transmission ends.
You glance up at her, confused. “What was all that about?”
“A message.” She disappears into the kitchen through a pair of swinging doors and reemerges moments later carrying a small metal box. “Dr. Sunshine's the rebel leader. He's just started a war.” She sounds unphazed, placing the box on the counter before you. “Sit. I've got a lot to tell you.”
You take a seat on one of the plastic stools, propping your feet up on the ledge under the bar. Once you're situated she opens the box and pulls out two tiny packets of white powder, handing one to you. “Put it on your tongue, let it dissolve.” She waits until you hesitantly comply to continue. The powder tastes faintly of oranges but isn't unpleasant. You roll it around in your mouth, a little put off by how similar the texture is to the sand you have inadvertently been tasting for a while. “That's an ESAP. Energy Single Application Packet. About the closest thing to food a girl can get her hands on these days.” She pops one into her mouth and there's silence for a few minutes as the powder dissolves. She grabs two bottles of water from a fridge and hands one to you. The cool liquid is a relief as you wash away the last remnants of the powder.
Something brushes against your leg and you jump and look down just in time to see Gogu scuttle past. He gives you what almost passes for a dirty look, then curls up on an old dog bed. He circles a time or two before flopping down, metal creaking. You watch in semi-horrified fascination, then blink as one wing flicks out, settling across the front of the bed and blocking you from his view.
“What is that thing??” You nearly shriek, greatly unsettled.
Riba looks nonplussed. “That's Gogu. Logan made him for me.” At your puzzled look she elaborates. “He's a bug-dog cyborg. I'm pretty good with machines, but Logan is a wizard. He grafted the metal onto my old dog's body when he died, then used one of the giant beetles that hang out in the desert for the living parts.” You make a disgusted face and she frowns. “Don't. Gogu's really smart. He's saved my life a couple times. And once we perfected the wing to metal ratio he made a great getaway vehicle.”
Still unconvinced, you look at the wall of thick red cloth. “He's...smart?”
“Well, as smart as Gogu the dog was. You know how some dogs are just really smart? That's Gogu. I trained him to do a bunch of stuff, not just the usual things like sit and roll over.” She seems proud and smiles brightly, combing her wild blue hair back from her face. You muster a weak smile in return.
“So...where's your brother? Logan, was it?”
The smile drops off her face faster than you can catch and she quickly busies herself putting the box away. When she returns from the kitchens she seems a little more composed. “MLA got him. I haven't seen him in...well...over a year. He was the brains behind the revolution, the first time we fought back. He made our guns and shields and transportation. He's super smart. His birthday's tomorrow...” She trails off, looking towards the workshop side of the diner. “He'd be turning-” she stops, shakes her head and continues more forcibly “is turning 18. I know he's still alive. He has to be. He's probably just another Walker.”
Not wanting to upset her but needing to know you ask softly, “What...else would they do with him?”
“Everybody knew how smart he was. Without him, well...we fell apart for a long while. MLA would want him...out of the way.” Her chin wobbles a little and you fall silent, feeling a little guilty.
Her chin tilts up again, stubborn. “It doesn't matter. We're going to fight, and we're going to win. Sunshine's already authorized the move.”
“Sunshine? The guy on the radio?”
“Yeah. He's the rebel leader. Most of us have never seen him, but he's been fighting back ever since MLA took over.”
You nod like you've actually followed all of this. “So...what now?”
“Now we've got work to do. But not until tomorrow morning. You can take the booth at the end. Try and get some sleep...things are going to be crazy tomorrow.” She stands and makes her way around the room, checking on various things before sitting down on her bed and kicking off her shoes and socks. Uncertain, you go to the booth she indicated to you and find it also converted into a bed. There are large boots just under the edge and masculine clothing spills from the booth one over. With a jolt you realize this must be Riba's brother's bed. You sit gingerly, kicking off your shoes. Sand scatters across the floor and you sigh in resignation, pulling off your socks as well and shaking them out.
After several minutes you think you hear Riba say something, but before you can ask the overhead lights flick off and the diner is dark but for ambient light from somewhere on the garage side. Reluctantly, you climb further onto the bed and lie down, closing your eyes. There's an eerie feeling that you're not the only one in the bed, like her brother's ghost is still there, but you do your best to ignore it.
Sleep doesn't come easily and your dreams are full of winged monsters and faceless people on rollerblades. It's a relief when noises pull you from your nightmare the next morning. The sand against the windows is just beginning to brighten and you can hear Riba clattering around on the other side of the space as well as the skittering sounds Gogu makes when he moves. You sit up slowly, blinking, coming to terms with the fact that yesterday wasn't just a dream.
You can see now that Riba's pulled the tarp off a relic of a car, the sides spray painted with flames. It's some kind of convertible, with the top down. However, the chassis rides higher than it ought to and there are rocket-like protrusions on either side above the rear wheels. You study the car for a minute and then shrug the oddity off, glancing at Riba.
She's got the hood up and is tinkering away, Gogu sniffing around her heels as she tosses things aside. He looks up when you shift and must make some sort of noise, as Riba's head appears around the side of the hood. You realize with a shock that her formerly blue hair is now neon green and blink a few times. She offers a wide smile. “Morning!”
“You...your...hair?” You climb out of bed, straightening your clothes and running your fingers through your own hair in the hopes of coaxing it to lie straight.
“Oh, I dyed it this morning. Like it?”
She seems to like this answer and ducks behind the hood again. “Help yourself to an ESAP for breakfast. I should have Maz running by the time you finish.”
“Maz?” you ask, already moving towards the kitchen. “The car?”
“Yeah. Logan named it. Her. The license plate is MAZ34. I thought Floaty or something would be more appropriate, personally. We hijacked one of the MLA's hovervans and put the hover platform under this baby.” She pats the car fondly. “We can do 80 in the sands and over 120 on the highways. Good for escapes.”
You just stare a bit blankly at her and the car. Finally she shrugs and goes back to work. As she promised, by the time the last of the orange-flavored powder disappears from your tongue the car has started to purr in place. Despite the rusty exterior she sounds fast. Riba loads her down with a ton of things, most wrapped in bundles, tossing in a small blue toolbox last. You get in, still unsure where she plans on going. Gogu jumps in back, then Riba presses a few switches and you watch in amazement as the garage door before you slides open soundlessly onto a tunnel of sand. She hops into the driver's seat and flicks a switch. A loud humming starts up and the car shudders, then lifts slowly off the ground, just far enough that the distended wheels still touch the floor.
You feel a moment's unease at having such a young girl behind the wheel but she eases the car along the tunnel easily. In minutes you come out into the blinding light what seems like miles from the diner, the entrance to the tunnel cleverly hidden.
You bump along sand dunes, the boosters on the car propelling it forward. The faint tracks left are scoured away by the wind from the boosters and soon no trail links you to the tunnel. After a few minutes the car swings up onto the highway. Riba flicks a switch and the car sinks to rest solidly on all four wheels as it zooms along, the noise cutting down until it's just the purring of the engine and the roar of the wind. With a quick grin at you Riba floors it, pressing a button on the steering wheel that sets the boosters going again. The car picks up speed until you're doing easily 110mph along the cracked concrete. You grip the armrest for dear life, convinced you're going to crash, but Riba is completely calm. She reaches over and flicks on the radio, searching through stations of silence until music blasts from the speakers, loud enough to hear over the wind.
The current song ends shortly and Sunshine's rich tones slide from the speakers. “And now, a little reminder of days long past and the flag we fight for. Keep your ears open and your eyes on the road, here comes Miss America by Saving Abel!”
Riba's face lights up and she shouts over the wind as the music pours from the speakers. “Logan loves this song!” She bobs her head to the music as she sings along, pushing the car to go even faster.”
Hello mother its been long,
I'm still here fighting, be proud of your son,
My friends are dying, and I just wanna come home.
The stars are under a different sky,
Your prayers must be working 'cause I'm still alive,
This place is so cold and I just wanna come home.
Im fighting, I'm bleeding,
I know what's coming, but I'm still breathing,
Not giving up, not losing love,
Not running away, I'm not afraid,
I miss America, my Miss America,
When does the fighting end, where does the freedom begin?
You're listening absently to the lyrics when something catches your eye. You can just see a glimpse of a sign beside the road, the familiar white on green of all road signs. It's half-buried under sand but you can just read the words "San Francisco, 100 miles" printed across it. Instantly alert, you reach out and turn the volume way down. Riba looks annoyed and glances at you.
“Where are we?” You interrupt, shouting over the wind.”
“About fifty miles from Biocity, why?”
“No, I mean what country? State? City?”
“We're in the USA, silly. California.”
You feel a sick sense of dread begin in your stomach. “When?”
“When is it?”
“December sometime.” She still looks confused.
You gape a little at the desert around. It must be 100 degrees at least, the sun beating down on miles of rolling dunes. There's not a person or dwelling to be seen anywhere. “What year?”
“2153, of course.”
Your jaw falls open a little further and you sit back in your seat, silent now. Riba glances at you, then turns the music back up, driving on in silence.
Twenty miles and countless patriotic songs later you sit up in your seat, looking around again at the endless desert. “What happened to the water? The buildings? Isn't this supposed to be suburbs?”
Riba glances at you, a frown building. “The water? It dried up when we burned an opening in the ozone. BDCs sit on all the remaining water deposits. Well, almost all.”
“Bio-Dome Cities. That's what BioCity is. They put the city under a giant dome so the condensation is recycled or something.”
The desert sands slide by as you mull things over, the sun slowly climbing higher in the sky. Around midday a building comes into sight to the right of the road. As it draws closer you identify it as an abandoned gas station, sand blowing in drifts up against the store. Riba pulls in and cuts the car's engine, jumping out. She crosses to a huge white vending machine with MLA printed across the front. Her body blocks your sight of what she does, but moments later there are several large clunks and she whoops, returning to the car with a bottle of water in each hand. She tosses one to you, then fishes an ESAP out of a container in the back. “Lunch. Enjoy.” You obediently put the ESAP on your tongue as she pulls the car back out onto the road.
A new song comes on over the radio, but another sound catches your attention. Over the noise of the car and rushing wind you swear you can hear another engine. You twist in your seat and Riba must notice because she turns too.
I'm just a step away
I'm just a breath away
Losing my faith today
Falling off the edge today
I am just a man
I'm not superhuman
Someone save me from the hate
Two vehicles approach along the highway, sleek motorcycle-like shapes with a single figure atop each. They glint oddly silver in the bright sun, as though they were made entirely of metal. Riba swears under her breath. “Helidrones. Take the wheel.”
“What?” you yelp, but she's already let go of the steering wheel and is reaching into the backseat. You grab desperately for the wheel and pull the car back onto the road before it starts to swerve. “What are you doing!?!”
It's just another war
Just another family torn
Falling from my faith today
Just a step from the edge
Just another day in the world we live
I need a hero to save me now
I need a hero, save me now
I need a hero to save my life
A hero will save me just in time
I've gotta fight today
To live another day
Speaking my mind today
My voice will be heard today
She lifts a gun from the seat. It's big enough that she has to balance to hold it and consequently she presses the gas pedal down all the way. The car roars ahead, but the helidrones are still gaining. “Keep the car steady.”
It's easier said than done as she aims and fires. The recoil nearly throws her against the windshield and the sound temporarily deafens you. There's a massive explosion that reflects red in the rearview mirrors as one of the helidrones goes up in flames. You yelp and nearly swerve the car off road again. You feel thankful that you did as answering fire rips past inches from the edge of the car. Riba gathers herself and aims again.
Who's gonna fight for what's right?
Who's gonna help us survive?
We're in the fight of our lives
And we're not ready to die
Who's gonna fight for the weak?
Who's gonna make 'em believe?
I've got a hero, I've got a hero
Living in me
I'm gonna fight for what's right
Today I'm speaking my mind
And if it kills me tonight
I will be ready to die
The second shot misses, but your ears ring from the noise. You jump in your seat as the helidrone scores a few hits across the back bumper, but Riba's final shot takes it out in a shower of flames and sparks. She slides to sit properly in the seat again with a smug look on her face, reassuming control of the wheel.
You just watch her stunned. “You....that....where?”
“A girl's got to learn to take care of herself.”
A hero's not afraid to give his life
A hero's gonna save me just in time
I need a hero to save me now
I need a hero, save me now
I need a hero to save my life
A hero will save me just in time
Neither of you say another word until the sun ducks below the horizon. Having taken advantage of the silence to nap, you're unsurprised when Riba wakes you and insists you drive through the night. After the two of you switch places she curls up in the passenger seat and falls asleep.
By the next morning you're exhausted and the car is weaving all over the road. Riba wakes and takes control back from you and you close your eyes, falling asleep.
You're woken when, with a sudden wrench, she pulls the car off-road. Maz's engine whines in protest, then roars as Riba switches to hover mode and the car secures traction and rockets forward. Moments later you wish you had bothered to put on your seatbelt as you nearly fly over the sand dunes, the car lurching and bumping wildly. Riba takes one hand off the steering wheel to point ahead and you turn your head to look, hoping that you won't fly out of the car.
Ahead on the horizon you can see a shimmer of what seems like glass, a huge dome with darker spires beneath it. You get no more than a glimpse before the rising sands obscure it again. Rather than try and speak and inevitably get a mouthful of sand you suffer in silence, waiting.
Soon enough the car slows and stops in a bowl-like depression of sand. Other cars are pulling in from all directions and you look around as a motley collection of people step out. There are all ages ranging from ten to fifty. All carry weapons and are dressed in whatever they could find. Riba steps from the car after shutting everything off and a few wave to her with friendly smiles. You open your door and slide out, noticing with confusion that the gathering has more the atmosphere of a party than an encroaching war. People greet each other with smiles and hugs, remarking about the younger members and asking after the older ones.
You run your hands through your hair to try and tame it as you follow Riba across the sliding sands to a minivan doctored much like Maz. Kids pour from it, none older than 17. All carry firearms and you try not to take a concerned step back, especially when a thirteen year old carts out a bazooka. “Does he know how to use that?” you whisper to Riba, concerned.
“Who, Pyro? Of course. That's pretty tame for him.” she responds with a smile, waving the kid down. “Pyro! Over here!”
The boy looks up and trots over. “Riba! Didja bring me my boombooms?”
“Got 'em in my car. I brought all the flamers I had, and most of the sparks.”
“Three. Think that'll be enough?”
The kid nods excitedly and trots off to Maz to look for himself.”
“Do I want to know?” you ask, glancing over at Riba.
“We're gonna need a distraction. A big one.”
“So...are you all geniuses?” you ask a little sarcastically, watching kids and adults plan all around you.
Riba just grins. “Only two kinds of non-Walkers survived. Those smart enough to opt out, and those rich enough to buy in. We fell into the first category. We're the grandchildren of geniuses. The new generation. And it's time for us to take what belongs to us back.” Those around her who overheard cheer at her impromptu speech.
What follows nearly bores you to tears. The rebels plot and plan for hours, going over things again and again. You gather that the coo will happen that night, a little after sundown and finally give up and go back to the car to nap.
Riba comes and shakes you awake an hour or two later. “Come on. I want you to see this.” You follow her as she starts to walk out of the depression. “This?”
She says nothing, just lies down and slithers the last few feet to the top of the dune. You imitate her, the sand scratching your stomach where your shirt rides up, warm from the sun. You glance sideways at her to see she's brought out a pair of binoculars and is scanning the horizon. Following her gaze you realize she's watching BioCity and wait impatiently, hopeful for a turn at the binoculars.
Finally she offers them to you, but pulls back just before you can grab them. Her face is deadly serious, the laughter gone from her eyes. “This is why we fight. Remember what you see.” Finally the binoculars are in your hand but suddenly you're not sure you want to look after all.
Eventually you muster the nerve and lift them to your eyes, peering through, trying to find the city. The glare from the sun blocks your sight briefly, then the city beneath the dome comes into focus.
Houses with white picket fences stand in lines. In every driveway a boy plays basketball. The boys are all different ages and types, but every boy's basketball dribbles at the same time under every hand. They run as one towards the hoops affixed to every garage, and leap together. Every ball swooshes through the net at the same time.
You almost lower the binoculars, but your attention is caught by the girls at the end of each driveway. They all jump rope, wearing cute summer dresses. Every dress is the same. Every rope swings at the same time. Every girl jumps in synch.
Fathers mow the lawns. The mowers turn the corners at the same moment. A mother appears in every doorway and as one everyone on the block stops what they're doing and turns to go inside. You lower the binoculars, feeling sick to your stomach.
“That's…what being a Walker means?”
“No thoughts of your own. You're part of the whole.” Riba's voice is soft and hard at the same time, anger underneath the concern. “Do you understand now?”
You just nod a little and hand back the binoculars. Once you return to the depression you curl up in the car again and eventually doze off, haunted by dreams.
You're awoken by a song coming on over the radio from every car there. The sun is just sinking below the horizon and all chatter dies as everyone listens.
If you feel so empty
So used up, so let down
If you feel so angry
So ripped off, so stepped on
You're not the only one
Refusing to back down
You're not the only one
So get up
Let's start a riot, a riot
Let's start a riot!
Cheers go up around you and Riba slides into the car as you sit up. “It's time.” Her eyes shine with excitement as cars rev to life and set off, Maz in the middle of the pack. The night wind steals your words but does nothing to calm your nerves as the great dome again becomes visible on the horizon. You can see the silhouette of a city beneath it, framed against the setting sun.
As the last rays slip below the horizon the cars slow to a stop only a mile or two from the city. You gape at it, quite afraid for your life suddenly. It looks like an impenetrable fortress from here. The huge glass dome stops about thirty feet from the ground, held up by pillars at intervals. Beneath it the city sleeps. It's hard to tell from here but you can see suburbs on the edges with towering skyscrapers on the inside.
People pile out of the cars and you follow reluctantly as Riba joins Pyro, who's begun to set up what look like firework launchers facing the city. This preparation goes on for many minutes and you've almost started to relax when white light suddenly floods the darkened area.
Everyone looks up, startled, then screams echo as men pour into the depression. You get a confused impression of masked faces and guns before someone shoves you from behind and you hit the sand, grit rubbing against your skin. The distinctive sound of a gun loading sounds above you and you lie still, terrified. The screams gradually cut off as everyone is pushed to the ground. It's then that you spot a figure silhouetted against the white floodlight, just within your limited line of sight. You can't make out anything but his outline, but his voice, when he speaks, is eerily familiar.
“We meet at last.” There's a cruel sneer to his words. “You really thought you'd get away with this? That no one noticed the radio messages? All your little raids? You didn't think it was odd that you never really encountered any resistance?”
Recognition clicks just as Riba yells from across the floodlit area. “Sunshine!” The word is a scream of half anger, half betrayal, the two emotions battling for dominance. “You...you...!”
“I what? I'm working for MLA? That's the smartest thought to come out of any of you. You really thought you could take down MLA when it was so, so easy to trick you all? You're useless. Half of you aren't old enough to be soldiers and the other half don't have the guts. Enjoy prison.” The sneering tones stop and he steps back out of the light, leaving a stunned crowd behind.
The man above you manhandles you up and into a van with other rebels, keeping a gun on you at all times. You all keep silent as the van engine turns over and roars to life, carrying you towards the city. You can't see outside, but the van doesn't slow once. You can feel it bump onto a road, then descend downwards a few minutes later. You keep your head down, not attempting to make eye contact with anyone.
Once the van rolls to a stop you're forced out of the vehicle into a parking lot. You can see the rebels' cars being driven in and parked as you're pushed into the building. You're hurried along what seems like endless white halls, tripping over your own feet since the man pushing you walks faster than you do. One corridor is lined with endless photos and you see the faces flash by with disbelief. There's Riba's face, Pyro's... a teen with features similar to Riba's has a large "apprehended" stamped over the face. Several others have the same label. Many more are stamped "deceased". You shudder a little and keep your head down.
Eventually the men push all of you into a dull room lined with cells. Scared, silent faces peer at you from behind bars as one man sets about opening several cells in which to house you. Looking around, you realize only the teen rebels have been kept. You spare a brief thought as to where the adults might have been taken before a cry captures your attention.
Riba has broken free of the huddle and run to the bars of one cage, clutching through it at a form hidden in shadow. Tears streak her dirt-covered cheeks. “Logan!” You blink and look again but the shadows conspire to hide the form within. All you can see are two long arms, thin with starvation, reaching through to hug Riba closer. Murmured words don't quite reach your ears and you feel tears threatening at the doomed reunion of the siblings.
A guard is yelling at her to step back but she ignores him. Moments later the guard strikes her on the temple with the end of his gun and she goes down, out cold. There's a strangled cry from within the cell and you just catch sight of brilliant blue eyes in a gaunt face before you're yanked down the hall and shoved into a cell with several others, including Riba's unconscious body.
Riba awakes perhaps an hour later and tries repeatedly to call out to Logan but every time a guard threatens to shoot her. After a few hours she gives up. Food comes once or maybe twice a day, a single ESAP for each of you. The powder makes you desperately thirsty but you're never given water. You can never tell what time of day it is. There's no light from outside and the lights indoors stay on all the time.
Every few hours one of you is taken from the cell. Some come back. Some don't. Eventually the black-masked guards come from you, yanking you from the cell. They pull you roughly down winding hallways, finally shoving you into a small room. There's a large mirror on one wall and a table in the center with two chairs. You sit obediently when one guard shoves you.
You're trembling slightly and fold your hands tightly in your lap, trying not to show how much they shake. The two guards stand behind you, completely silent. When the door slams open several minutes later you jump nearly out of your seat. A man dressed all in black sweeps in, places his hands on the table and leans over, staring at you. He has sharp features and salt-and-pepper hair, paired with a scowl that has you scooting back.
“Who are you?”
You keep your mouth shut, unwilling to answer.
“What are you doing here? There's no birth record for you, you're not chipped… Where did you come from?”
You have no idea how to answer, since you're not entirely certain yourself. “I… I just met Riba and she told me to tag along?” It comes out a squeaky question.
“We confiscated all your vehicles and are searching that diner you stayed in as we speak, so you'd better start talking. It'll go worse for you if you don't share what you know.”
“I swear, I really don't know anything! Riba found me on the highway and took me back to the diner.”
The man is silent for a minute then pushes away from the table, facing the mirror. “You expect me to believe you're not a rebel?”
“I'm not!” Your voice cracks a little. “Look, just…let me go and I'll get out of your way.”
“We can't do that. You were found in the company of known rebels, possessing firearms and an illegal cyborg, amassing with the intention of overthrowing MLA. You see how this looks, don't you?” He sounds almost gentle, but you know full well that he couldn't care less about you.
“I'm n-not going to tell you anything.”
“Come on now.” He's still using the same false gentle tones. “I just need to know if any of you escaped. Who're the ringleaders? Is this Riba girl important?”
He leans close to you again but you keep your mouth shut. “Talk to me and this could go a lot easier on you.”
You stare blankly at the mirror behind his head, ignoring him despite the trembling in your hands. He finally growls something and makes a motion with his hand. You're yanked up, dragged back to your cell and dumped in. They don't take you again after that, but Riba is taken multiple times and always comes back with bruises and cuts on her skin.
After a few days you start to go a little stir-crazy, spending hours staring at a wall like it contains the secrets of the universe. Riba has gone silent as well, pensive and reclusive. The others in the cell are no better. The few of you that are left stay quiet and don't make eye contact.
In what you think are the early hours of the morning about a week later you hear a familiar sound out in the corridor. It's a scraping, scratching sound, like nails on tile.
Everyone holds their breath while the guard paces the hall. He doesn't seem to hear until too late, looking up just as something sweeps into the room. There's a sudden, blurred flurry of red and the guard drops soundlessly. Gogu stands over him, thin legs wrapped around his body, one sharp one spilling blood from his neck onto the floor.
There's a huge tear in one of Gogu's wings and he's spilling a trail of oil as though it were blood. Another panel of canvas is completely missing from his wing. He looks like he's been through a war. Riba leaps to her feet, hope flooding her features even as alarms go off in other areas of the building. “Gogu!”
The cyborg pulls back, seems to sniff at the body, then reaches out and plucks the key card off the guard's uniform, hop-walking over to the cell and holding it out to Riba with a proud air around him. He's missing one of his long spindly legs but the other five are enough to keep him upright.
Riba snatches the card, praising him all the while, and reaches through the bars to swipe the card in the lock. The cell pings and the door slides open. You all rush into the corridor, glad to be free of the small cell.
Riba quickly lets everyone in the other cells free, coming to Logan's last. The guy who emerges is emancipated and grungy, brown hair hanging lank around his face. He has Riba's shining blue eyes and they're the only thing that hasn't dulled over his time in prison. He sweeps her up in a hug so tight you swear you can hear bones creak, burying his face in her neck. They cry, both of them, but you're restless.
“Riba, we need to go before someone gets down here…”
Others have already left, running in threes and fours down the hallway. Gogu snuffles at your feet and then skuttles down the hall the moment Logan lets Riba go. You follow the cyborg, trusting him implicitly. You can hear the siblings behind you, following, talking softly to each other. Gogu leads you down endless white halls and as you pass the posters you stick an arm out, ripping one after another down off the wall. It's a useless gesture but you feel compelled to do it anyways.
You can hear feet tramping along in parallel hallways but only once does a guard turn the corner into your hall. Gogu leaps forward, wings spread and in a moment the guy falls. Without really thinking you stoop and grab the gun off the guard, then straighten and follow the cyborg again.
Riba has managed to coax Logan into a shambling run and you hurry along. Suddenly a door before you flies open and men pour into the hallway. You freeze a moment, just barely recognizing the outline of the man standing before a group of guards. This must be Sunshine. He holds up a hand and starts to speak, urgent, but you react before he does and lift the gun, firing blindly. You're nearly thrown backwards, unprepared for the recoil. Before you can process anything Riba and Logan are hustling you down the corridor past the fallen bodies.
Sunlight blinds you as Gogu pushes through a set of doors out into the morning air. You're in a parking lot, vans and cars all around. You notice a familiar sight and set off running for Maz, the others limping after you. Around you other teens are claiming their cars from the lot, engines starting off. No one from MLA has found you yet but you know it will only be a matter of time.
You cram quickly into the car, Logan sliding into the back, panting from the unaccustomed exercise. Riba jumps behind the steering wheel, blinks at the keys already in the engine and coaxes the car to life while you try to make room for yourself in the passenger seat. The car has been thoroughly searched and her toolbox has been emptied of its contents across the front seat. You quickly scoop them back into the box, inadvertently scraping some of the peeling blue paint off in the process. The moment your rear hits the seat Riba floors the car and you go rocketing out of the parking lot. It's early enough in the morning that no one is out yet. You can still hear alarms going off behind you but you're already halfway to the dome edge. Riba drives like a woman possessed, shrieking around corners and going far too fast for the narrow streets. You get a brief impression of identical houses and perfectly trimmed lawns as you fly past.
Everyone breathes a sigh of relief when you reach the edge of the dome and pass out from under its shadow. Riba's fingers are white on the steering wheel and you can feel Logan panting behind you but everything seems brighter, the rising sun turning the sky a glorious pink. You spare one glance back and feel that bit of determination quail. There are only four cars following, each full of teenage rebels. At least seven were needed to get you all there.
No one from BioCity seems to be giving chase. It's more than enough to worry about and you turn forwards again, trying not to think too much.
Something rustling under you catches your attention and you shift to pull a piece of paper out. Holding it flat against the wind you blink in confusion at the words on it.
You say nothing about it to the others and crumple the note, tossing it to the winds.
“We'll start over. Plan it ourselves this time.” Riba's voice is quiet and neither of you answers her.
As you race along the highway Riba mutely reaches over and flicks the staticy radio to CD. You're silent, staring at the miles of sand a little hopelessly as music begins to filter from the speakers. You listen to the lyrics, feeling hope stir in your chest.
The paranoia is in bloom
The PR transmissions will resume
They'll try to push drugs, keep us all dumbed down
And hope that we will never see the truth around
So come on!
Another promise, another scene,
Another package not to keep us trapped in greed
With all the green belts wrapped around our minds
And endless red tape to keep the truth confined
So come on!
They will not force us
And they will stop degrading us
And they will not control us
We will be victorious
So come on!
After several minutes you lean back in your seat, adjust your feet around the toolbox and close your eyes, shading them against the sun with a hand. You drift off into a well-deserved nap as the music plays on.
You wake to find the sun still in your eyes, the same song playing softly from beside you.
Interchanging mind control
Come let the revolution take its toll
If you could flick a switch and open your third eye
You'd see that we should never be afraid to die
So come on!
You open your eyes, blinking at the ceiling above you. The sheets rustle as you stir and then sit up so fast you nearly overbalance, staring wildly about your room. All your things are there, the beginning of a beautiful day visible outside. You sit there in a stupor, trying to convince yourself the last few days were indeed nothing more than a dream. They felt so real…
Rise up and take the power back
It's time that the fat cats had a heart attack
You know that their time is coming to an end
We have to unify and watch our flag ascend
So come on!
They will not force us
They will stop degrading us
They will not control us
We will be victorious
So come on!
Finally you swing your legs over the edge of the bed, only to yank them back with a hiss as one foot connects with something hard. Peering over the edge of the bed you look with shock at the small metal box sitting there. Its blue paint is chipped and peeling, the crossed wrenches on the side nearly faded away. The lettering on the side is still visible, however.
They will not force us
They will stop degrading us
They will not control us
We will be victorious
So come on!