Dystopia (Season 4 AU)

Written by: Nemesis

If there is any period one would desire to be born in
And is it not the age of Revolution; when the old and the new stand side by side…
When glories of the old days can be compensated by the rich possibilities of a new era?
(Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Episode 1 – A New Era

The Guardian closes his eyes, feeling the burning midday sun on his skin. The sound of the rotating airplane, the deep vibrations that seem to touch him through the air. They have arrived - the true bringers of chaos

“Guardian?” It’s Luke’s voice.

“You sound worried”, the Guardian answers calmly, without opening his eyes. Not now, he can’t commit his visual senses, his full attention to the presence of mortals now. Now that Zoot’s spirit is filling the air with power, power and deep, destructive chaos.

“I am worried.” Luke’s voice gets louder. He has stepped closer. “These people might be our enemies. They have technical knowledge and resources beyond our imagination, and they haven’t even landed yet. Wouldn’t it be safer to retreat to the boats, leave this area and send spies when we know they have landed?”

The Guardian opens his eyes and smiles at his old Lieutenant. “So you’re joining us.”

“Yes, I am.” He sounds sad, but determined. The Guardian can see it in his eyes, this old yearning for order, for a believe he can mantle his devoted personality around. Luke likes to plan, he likes to have clarity and order, other than power and chaos. Maybe this is why they made such a good team, and why they fell out in the end.

“So you accept Zoot as your master again?”, the Guardian tests him.

“I do. I always did.” Luke looks up to the airplane again. “But I fear these people might be Zoot’s enemies.”

“He could have send them”, a Chosen in the background speaks up.

“Yes, but why, Emmanuel?”, Luke turns around to him. “He could be testing us, our ability to see our enemies, our abilities to stay alert for dangers of our cause. Don’t forget, Zoot was a great warrior.”

“What if he’s testing our faith?”, Emmanuel replies stubbornly, his eyes seeking the Guardian’s for approval. The approval he wanted from his methodistic parents when he grew up, his teachers, the priest in his church. It’s what every word of his aims at, and he will never be at peace, until someone gives him an approving nod, a clap on his shoulder.

Luke shakes his head. “We don’t know that. I suggest we keep a distance, let Zoot guide us the way to wisdom, Guardian.”

The Guardian smiles at both of them, a gleaming in his eyes that worries Luke deeply, that is the main reason why he wants to rejoin the Chosen splitter fraction of his, to keep a close eye on him. Just in case.

“Welcome back, Lieutenant!”

“They were headed this way”, Pride points out. He helps Cloe down from a fence over which they climbed to save time. “There’s footsteps. I suggest we keep going until we reach the farm houses down the hill, call for them and move on to North, if they already moved on.”

Tai San shields her eyes from the sun, trying to get a clearer view. “Why north?”

“The Eco camp is in the north. It’s where Eagle would go.” He seems certain of this.

“Eagle is not Amber”, Tai San reminds him. “And they might not come far. I sense great danger for them. Amber hasn’t been well for days, her pregnancy is in it’s last weeks. The child will be there any day now, I just know it.”

“It’s only been thirty-eight weeks”, Trudy disagrees. “I had my baby after fourty and two days. That’s normal if you’re having a baby at our age. The time frame doesn’t shift much.” Her desperate voice sounded insecure, almost disbelieving of her own words. She was clutching onto straws, and she knew it. Tai San smiled at her encouragingly and put one arm around her.

“Bray said it can happen at any time from thirty-seven to fourty-two weeks”, Cloe said thoughtfully.

“When did he say that?”, Trudy answered, surprised that Bray would discuss such a topic with Cloe.

“After you had Brady, I asked him how long it takes. He said he read books about it, to help you.”

“That’s very considerate.” Tai San nods firmly.

“It’s good for Amber.” Pride looks grim. “But if we don’t find them before dark, it might be all Eagle… Amber can rely on. And it’s not enough. Amber’s situation is severe. She’s been badly nutritioned and treated during your kidnap”, he looks quickly at Trudy, “and she must be traumatized. Not to say terrified to be away from a state of safety. If we can find them and bring them to my tribe in a day, Amber would have all the medical support she needs.” With that, he starts walking faster.

“Didn’t May want to come?”, Cloe asks Trudy, but she’s sensitive enough to ask it quietly.

“No”, Trudy answers quickly. “She’s looking after Brady and Tally and Andy, while Lex and Jack keep the Mall safe. Come on, walk quicker.” She sounds worried, when she mentions Brady’s name. It would have been unsafe to bring her daughter out of the city, when a hostile tribe might land their airplane at any minute, but she still misses her baby any second she is not with her, she still worries. Keep it together, Trudy!, she keeps telling herself. This isn’t about her daughter, who is perfectly safe. This is about Amber and Bray, and their unborn baby. She owes it to them to be here.

“But why, doesn’t she care about Amber and Bray?” There’s a stubborn, almost repugnant note in Cloes voice. She hasn’t forgotten how May sold Bray out, the day after he sacrificed everything to give them one last, passionate speech, to remind them who they are. To Cloe, this feels as if May betrayed what the Mall Rats stand for.

“It’s a grown-up thing”, Tai San tells her, smiling. “May is aware that Pride still likes Amber very much. She’s hurt by that and we should show her some compassion for that”, she adds, careful not to let Pride hear her.

Cloe looks at Prides broad shoulders, his quick step, the long hair moving with the wind. It makes her heart beat faster to look at him, something she doesn’t yet understand, something that makes her feel silly and happy at the same time. This is what May must feel, and it must hurt very much that Pride does not feel the same about her.

“I understand”, she says quietly, not noticing Tai San’s knowing smile.

“I told you everything would be fine.” Ebony pours two glasses of aged Gin. She turns around to her ally, sending her a triumphing smile. “Don’t make such a face, we won!”

“You mean, you won”, Moz answers curtly, her arms crossed. She doesn’t touch the liquor, merely looks at it when Ebony gives her the glass. “You’ve maybe gone blind in the last hour, but have you seen something unusual, let’s say an airplane?”

Ebony let’s their glasses click together. “There’s something you don’t know about me, Moz. I see every new element in my life as a new possibility. And I know whoever’s flying that airplane must have enormous resources.”

“And power”, Moz adds, drowning her glass at once. “Not to mention technical knowledge. That’s a military plane, what if they have other military stuff, like bombs and guns. Do you know how hard those are to get around here? We’d be totally defenseless!”

“So you have… a gun?”, Ebony asks, her voice sounding a little uncertain for the first time. Bray and Amber have been nothing but a pacifistic threat. Tai San has her head in the clouds and without them, the Mall Rats are nothing. Pride’s there, but he’s a follower, a follower of Amber to be precise. He’ll be gone within a week. And Lex… Lex is just out for himself, as long as Tai San doesn’t push him in another direction. She can solve that with money. Some unknown tribe could become a threat, or a new triumphant alliance. But Moz, Moz with a firearm, that’s something real, something she should worry about. She’s given her more than enough reasons to distrust her, and Moz doesn’t scheme, Moz reacts with immidiate violence towards oponents.

“Relax”, Moz rolls her eyes. “If I wanted to shoot you I would’ve done it long ago. How about you worry about a real threat? It’s landed, you know.”

“What’s landed?” An uneasy feeling is coming over her.

“The airplane. It’s landed, that’s what I came here to tell you. I need cars, with petrol. Now!”

“For what?”

“To investigate”, Moz says as if that is the most natural thing in the world. “If they have weapons we can’t go there by foot. Do you want the whole group to be preforated with bullet wounds?”

Ebony hestitates. Pointing out to Moz that she doesn’t trust her one bit would be foolish, but she still can’t help but feel intimidated by her connections and influence in the city. That and the unbelievable short time it took Moz to become an indispensable ally in this city. She’s not as clever as Ebony, not tactical enough to take her place, but she’s mighty quick to cooperate with the most powerful person in the city. Even if that person just beat her in an election. Who says she won’t sell her out for a shiny new gun and some fancy food at the first opportunity?

Bray’s hands are shaking, when he roams around in his rucksack for another water bottle. When he finally finds it, he feels so weak and dried out that he drinks too much, too fast, starts coughing. He wipes the sweat from his face and looks over his shoulder at Amber’s shaking and moaning figure. This wasn’t normal, Trudy hasn’t been like that.

“Bray? Bray! Arrgh!” Amber’s hand clasped to the one clean towel they had taken and positioned under her, so that the baby would not run the risk of touching the floor or having an infection.

Bray moves to hurry back towards Amber, when the door opens.

“Bray? Amber? Are you there?”

It’s Pride’s voice. Bray jumps up, rushes towards them and hugs the first person he comes across. It’s Trudy, who embraces him with a concerned look on her face. “Is everything okay? We thought we heard someone screaming in here. Are you guys alright?”

“Where’s Amber?”, Cloe demands to know, while Tai San and Pride have already seen her. They walk past Bray and hurry to Amber’s site, unpacking the clean sheets and fresh water they brought.

“How far along is she?”

“I don’t know”, Bray has a look of sheer desperation on his face. “The contractions are so close that she should already be in labour for over an hour. We’ve tried, I’ve tried to guide her, to help her, but it doesn’t work and there’s nothing I can do. I don’t know this stuff, Trudy, I’ve never done this before! Not like this!”, he adds desperately, pointing out the grave difference between Brady’s birth and the old shed they are in.

“Relax”, Trudy encourages him. “Just breathe, and drink some more water. You look dehydrated. We’ll get there. Amber must be holding back. It’s an instinct, you have no idea how painful it is to do the pushing part of a birth.

He looks up, not feeling particularly better by her words.

“It will be alright”, Trudy continues and maneuvres him back to his writhing girlfriend. “In a few hours you will hold your beautiful new baby and it will all be worth it. Amber? How are you feeling?”

Amber’s face is covered in sweat, her hair is messy and has straws in it. “I’ve been better”, she answers weakly and grips back at Bray’s arm the second he sits down beside her. “Don’t leave me!”

“Don’t worry.” Bray leans in, kissing her forehead. “I’m right with you.”

Pride leaves the barn silently, an impassionate expression on his skin. “I’ll stand guard”, is the only thing he says.

“Amber, do you think you can push again?” Bray asks carefully, making sure her head is resting on his jacket comfortably.

“I don’t know, it hurts too much!” Her eyes are filled with tears of pain, her hands clawed into the sheet and Bray’s arm. She’s breathing hard and her face looks waxy, too hallow for a pregnant girl in labour.

“Amber, you have to.” Trudy puts one hand firmly on her shoulder. “You need to drink something now and then you need to push, no matter how much it hurts. It’s the only way, believe me. And the faster we get startet, the faster you will have your baby and it will be over. Are you ready?”

Amber takes a sip from the water bottle Cloe holds for her, then nods. “Okay.”

Bray changes positions with Tai San, who puts one hand on his shoulder. “You need to let me help you”, she warns him quietly. “I know you’re more experienced than I am, but your energy level is low. We can’t have you lose strength during.”

“I won’t”, he answers brusque, without looking at her.

“Okay, Amber, are you ready?”

Amber looks up at Cloes comforting smile, her hands dabbing her sweaty face and neck carefully with a tissue, to Trudy who’s holding her hand now, to Tai San and Bray who are looking under the sheet that has been draped over her naked legs, but quickly remember to smile encouragingly at her. And then she pushes, with all the power that’s left in her body.

“Section II?” The first landed parachuter starts talking into his head-set. “Section II, are you there? Please come in.”

After a few seconds of static a voice answers: “This is Section II. What are your orders, General?”

“Move towards the airport carpark. Chose cars with silent motors. Fill ten cars with petrol, then meet up at the plane and start unpacking our supplies. We will move into the old Sports stadium after nightfall.”

“Understood. Should we start taking hostages in the concerned sector, General.”

“No”, the General answered. “That is not part of the immidiate plan. The plan is to take fourty hostages in the suburbs that are marked as Sector 15 by the end of the week. Noone can see it. And please remember everyone the official version is we’re just travelling through.” A short silence follows. “Be careful, Ved.”

“Aren’t I always?”, Ved’s cheeky voice answered. Then the static set back in.

Amber yelled in pain, while Trudy switched hands with Tai San, who was now sitting at Amber’s side and leaving the barn for a few minutes of fresh air. She squeezed Bray’s shoulder in comfort and gestured to Cloe to follow her, but Cloe shook her head stubbornly. She kept sitting, Amber’s head in her lap, humming another calming song into her ears, like her own mother used to do it after she had fever dreams after a child.

Trudy walked out of the barn with shaky legs. “Do you want some company?”, she asked Pride, smiling exhausted at him.

He tried to return her smile, but the grim look didn’t disappear from his face. “Is she doing alright? It could be dangerous if we stayed the night here.”

“Did you see someone? From the airplane?”

Pride shakes his head. “I thought I saw more parachutes earlier. But it’s been very quiet since then. Too quiet.”

“Tai San’s worried, too.” Trudy crossed her arms. It was getting quite cold out here. “Do you think they’re planning some kind of invasion?”

“They could be.” Pride nods. “They have the means, from what we’ve seen. But whether or not they’re armed is another question.”

Amber yelled out again, louder than before.

“The baby should be here very soon, Bray says he can already see the feet”, Trudy tried to make more communication. She noticed how Pride’s face shut down at these sentences, how his eyes got narrow.

“That’s good”, he replied. “We should get moving soon!”

“She can’t leave today!”, Trudy replied in shock. “She’s just having a baby! Do you know how exhausted she’ll be? I say, screw Ebony, we’ll bring her into some house in the suburbs. It’s still safer than out here with airplanes and parachutes!”

“They might be heading for the city, have you considered that yet?”, Pride answered thoughtfully.

Trudy wanted to answer, when Tai San appeared in the doorway and grabbed her arm. “Something’s wrong”, she whispered.

“Why, is somebody coming?”, Trudy asked in panic.

“No, it’s… it’s Amber!” Tai San was breathing heavily, sweat on her face and shoulders. She had taken her coat off hours ago. “Bray doesn’t want to say something to scare Amber, but… I see it in his eyes, something’s really wrong!”

Trudy pushes both Pride and Tai San out of her way and runs back into the barn. She sits down by Amber’s side, trying to look careless and excited. “You’re almost done”, she whispers to an exhausted Amber. “You’re almost done, just a few more pushes.”

It’s Bray’s eyes that do it for her. He doesn’t have the calm, collected attitude that helped her thorugh Brady’s birth. His eyes are a mirror of pure panic, his face expressionless and his lips pressed together to a very thin line. He doesn’t even react when Amber starts screaming louder, when Tai San is kneeling down by his side, helping him do… something. Trudy can see Tai San’s face go from worried to horrified, while Amber throws back her head in pain and screams.

“Is everything okay? What’s happening?” Cloe demands to know.

“Nothing. Keep going”, Bray lies smoothly, his face ashen. He’s trying to do something, Trudy just can’t figure out what it is. His hands are shaking up to the shoulders and even Cloe can sense that something is wrong now.

“Is it over?”, Amber asks quietly, shivering in the cold wind that comes through the open barn door.

“You have to keep pushing”, Trudy advises her, her voice shaking violently. “There’s still the afterbirth. Keep pushing, it won’t be long now.”
Amber nods, obeys. She seems close to losing consciousness now and Trudy remembers that it has been about an hour since she last had something to drink. She wants to move, but Bray’s face keeps her sitting there in shock, waiting, counting the seconds.

“You’re done”, Tai San informs Amber in a soft, warm voice that is barely shaking. “You can rest now. Try to sleep.” A single tear rolls down her cheek, but Amber doesn’t see it anymore. Her eyes are closed in exhaustion, her breathing gets more even with every moment.

“What’s going on?”, Cloe asks, tears running down her face, too. The exhaustion, the suspense, Amber’s screaming and now Tai San and Brays facial expressions – it is just too much for her.

“The umbilical cord was around the baby’s neck”, Bray answers, looking at Amber, who looks almost peaceful now, in all the sweat, straws and the tears on her face. “The baby couldn’t breathe during… we managed to cut it, but it’s too late.” His voice is breaking, but his face still looks strangely empty, lifeless. “It was a boy”, he whispers, while Tai San puts her arms around him in comfort. He doesn’t move, doesn’t return her embrace. It is as if she’s not even there.

Written by: Nemesis

Losing personality, one lost the hurry, the stir; and always some exclamation of triumph over life
when things came together in this peace, this rest, this eternity of the Lighthouse
for watching them in this mood at this hour one could not help.
(“To the Lighthouse”, Virginia Woolf)

Episode 2 – To the Lighthouse

Trudy has her arms around a pale, almost non-present Amber. the shadows under her best friend’s eyes are visible even in the pale light of dawn. She can feel the tears welling up again, but holds them back for Amber’s sake. And she misses her own baby, more than ever.

“Somebody should say something”, suggests Cloe, her voice shy and quiet. “That’s normal, right?” She looks from Bray, who is standing on Tai San’s site, stonefaced, to Tai San herself, who has her arms around his, supporting him, even though he seems not to notice it.

Pride steps forward. “Maybe I’m not the right person to say this”, he begins hestitant. “What we have gone through in the last days is a tragedy. It seems cruel to say that life must go on. It’s cruel that the most innocent life has been taken from us, that we never got to meet the person this baby could have become. But it happened, and nothing I or anyone else can say, will make this better. The only thing we can learn from this is how precious life is and how fragile we all are. We can leave this dark place and seek healing in nature and in each other.”

They stand around the tiny grave for a few minutes, without the power to do anything but look at their worst nightmare. Cloe begins to cry again, shielding her face with her hands when Bray looks at her. She feels guilty for making him and Amber even sadder, but she can’t help it. Her parents, the Locos, the Chosen, the loss of Zandra, Patsy, Dal, and now this!

“We should leave”, Bray finally starts to speak. It’s the first thing he says since he told them about the death of his son. His voice sounds steady but hallow. He looks at Amber, a new wave of pain appearing on his face. “Do you think you could walk?”

“This is nonsense, we should go back to the city”, Trudy disagrees.

“We’re going to live with the Gaians, Trudy”, Amber tells her friend quietly. “We discussed this before…” She can’t speak on.

Pride nodds firmly. “I’m coming with you.”

Trudy looks back at the grave, a strange expression on her face. She thinks of Zoot, of all the misery this city has brought them. “I’m coming too. But I need to get Brady first.”

“What about you?”, Pride asks Tai San and Cloe.

“I can’t. I don’t want to leave my home”, Cloe replies, her voice telling the others that she’s still crying.

Pride looks at Tai San, who shakes her head. “I will join you, for now. But my place is with Lex. I will only stay temporary, if the Gaians council will let me.”

“They will”, Pride answers firmly, his eyes on Ambers fragile figure. “Then it’s decided. I will bring Cloe back to the Mall, so Tai San and I can pack up some things and inform the others. Trudy, you probably want to come with us, to pack up some things for Brady.”

“Yes.” Trudy pulls Amber in a tighter embrace. “Will you be alright?”

Amber nodds, but her face speaks a different language.

The hotel seems quiet. Too quiet. Lex can hear his own steps, his own breath, even his heartbeat. Why aren’t Ebony’s lackeys and doormats up yet? Doesn’t she require daily morning baths and five course breakfasts in bed yet?

He leans in to knock at her door, preparing for what he has to say, when he hears voices. They are dim, but not exactly silent. One of them is definitely Ebony, the other one… He leans in even closer. Something about this feels painfully familiar and at the same time so wrong. It’s like this feeling he had shortly before he realized that it was Trudy who sold them out to the Chosen. This mixture of guild after having a part in her ominous rise to power.

He takes a deep breath and opens the door, skipping the knocking part. Ebony and Moz look up at him, a caught expression on Ebony’s face, a mildly disgusted one on Moz’s.

“Lex!” Ebony opens her arms widely, a false smile on her face. “What can I do for you at this early hour?”

He looks around, catches sight of a group of Mozzies before the window at the pool. Anger is welling up in him. “Nice to meet your new best friend”, he growls at her. “Although it’s a little early in the day. Don’t you insects usually wait until sundown to come out?”

“Watch it!”, Moz replies sharply. He can see that she didn’t get much sleep at all, but managed to keep her hairstyle fancy nonetheless. Women…

“Is there any particular reason you’re here?”, Ebony adresses Lex in her most impatient voice. She obviously wants to get rid of him, so she and Moz can plan to kick more of his friends out of the city.

“Just tell me before Tai San gets a publish banishment, so we get a chance to pack first.”

“What makes you think I have any plans to act against Tai San?”, Ebony replies, still smiling sweetly.

“Would that mean both you and Yoko out of the city?”, Moz bashes in, her mocking smile as lurking as ever. Sometimes it feels to him like her whole goal in life is to make people lose their shit. As if she feeds of their anger, their violence, feeds off of it.

“Shut it, lady! Nobody’s talking to you. I’m here because I need a few guys to drive down to the airport and investigate the situation.” He puts on what he considers his man-in-charge sheriff face.

“Sure, you do that”, Ebony pats his shoulder and turns back to Moz.

Lex looks from one girl to the other and feels like they’re not taking him seriously. And if there’s one thing he hates lately, it’s people not taking him or his new uniform seriously. How is he supposed to work like that?

“A little late, don’t you think?” Moz grins at him. There’s a strange kind of triumph on her face.

“What, like you know anything!”, Lex snaps at her.

“As a matter of fact… we do.” Ebony rolls out a city plan, which has been marked by little red crosses. “Moz was nice enough to take a few people to the airport yesterday, when they were still there. Now they’ve moved their location to the old sports stadium in Sector 5. The airport is pretty much the last place they’ll be now.”

“They’re smart and fast, gotta give ‘em that”, Moz muses, her eyes hanging on Ebony’s empty coffee cup.

“Yeah, it’s like they can fly”, Lex teases her, his eyes narrowed. Who is this bitch, that she thinks she can strut in here and take his job from him? And why is Ebony going along with it, hasn’t she noticed yet that Moz is bad news?

“Look, I know the situation is not ideal…” Ebony begins, still in her fake-friendly mood.

“Actually the gay little cowboy has a point”, Moz interrupts her. “They might have left clues or supplies at the airport. At least the plane will still be there.”

“Hey, who are you calling…”

Moz just smirks at him. “So there IS homophobia in this tiny weird brain if yours. Interesting…”

“There you are!”, Pride storms into the room. “Tai San has been searching for you all over the Mall. You’re not seriously considering to keep working for this soulless…”

“Okay, now I’m conviced this isn’t a sinking ship”, Moz snickers to herself. “Too many rats.”

“Security!” Ebony moves towards the door. She supresses cursing, when her guards don’t respond right away. Maybe she should make Moz their superior, that way someone else would do the occasional yelling at those morons. On the other hand, Moz practically has “abuse of power” tattooed on her forehead.

Pride blocks her way. “Because of you Amber has lost her baby! What do you have to say for yourself?”

Ebony feels a sudden panic, mixed with a trace of guilt in the shock moment, but tries to conceal her emotions quickly. “It’s not my problem! If they wanted a safe environment for their kid, they should have stuck to my rules, instead of trying to overthrow me.”

“Maybe she hasn’t lost it”, Moz whispers right behind her. “Maybe she just replaced it. With those blondes you never know.”

Ebony can’t help but smile sickly, but the knot in her stomach weighs heavy. She can’t help thinking of Bray. Bray, who was so desperate when his niece went missing, so desperate to have a family after all he’d lost. Bray who wanted this baby so much… how did he react? Will he be able to keep it together? Will he take revenge for this, like last time? He always has been most touchy and irrational when it came to the Amber topic.

“What are you still smiling at?” Pride yells at Moz. “An innocent child just died, and Amber almost did, too! Do you think this is funny?”

“Whatever.” Moz rolls her eyes. She looks up at Pride and Lex’ shocked faces. “What, did I ever give the impression that I give a fuck about some knocked up hobo and babies? Let me guess, it’s the pink make-up, right? Looks too girly?” She leans back on the couch, devoting her full attention to her nails which are now slightly shorter, but black with a thin silver line on the sides. Dark claws, Lex thinks. Very fitting for her.

“Where is Tai San?”, he brings the discussion to a more practical point. “And where are Bray and Amber?”
”They’re waiting for us outside the city. Tai San has decided to accompany us back to the Ecos.”

Lex jumps up, turning towards the door. “Wait, what, Tai San is leaving the city? And she decides this without me?”

“Does that surprise you, Lex?”, Ebony interferes, her voice as smooth as silk. “All the time she spent with the Guardian to avoid committing to your two day marriage after you got back together, all the reasons she sought not to spent any time with you?”

“Hey, we looked after the creep together! Tai San wanted me to be there!”, Lex yells at her, torn between setting Ebony’s opinion on his wife straight for good and storming out of the door.

“Now that’s just sad”, he can hear Moz commenting in the background. “Oh, get a grip!”, she continues, grinning, when he turns around to yell at her. “I’m sure your marriage is rock solid. She probably just did that loony because you suck in bed.”


“Lex?” Pride is already standing in the hallway. “Are you coming? Tai San and I are done packing, we’re just waiting for Trudy to get all of her and Brady’s stuff together.”

“Wait, Trudy is leaving town, too?” Ebony asks, surprised happiness on her face.

She throws a look at Moz, who is grinning to herself and playing around with some more money that isn’t even hers. “This is just getting better and better”; she comments and Ebony looks around in confusion as to where her long fingers got the money from this time. “Good day…”

Lex throws her a last loathing glance and follows Pride down the hall, his mind racing. Are they right? Is Tai San leaving him? A part of him wants to yell at Pride, wants to shake him and ask. Another doesn’t even want to know; he’s afriad the answer might be yes. So he follows Pride in silence out of the hotel, thinking maybe, just maybe he wants to leave this goddamn city with his wife. But leaving this city, HIS city to Moz, leaving so she can do his job, screw everything to hell… God, if he just thinks of her loathsome sneer! How he’d love to wipe it of her face, once and for all!

The car is rumbling down the unpaved street towards the city, literally crashing into potholes and over small rocks every other second. Ram curses slightly, leaning aside so he can look out of the front window. His own windows in the back are darkened, which is the case with most limosines. Classic, boring cars. Ram never had a fascination for them, but he likes being driven around in a car that will get him attention without any of those subhumans actually seeing him. When they get to the city, he has to talk to some people to get them to replace the windows so they will be black from the outside, but see-through from his, like sunglasses. He smiles to himself at that idea.

“Excited for the big city, Ram?” Ved turns around, facing him over the headrest of his seat.

“Not really.” Ram lets his eyes wander over the shiny leather seats. They have cleaned the car well, he has to give Ved that. Always ambitious, always getting the job done. “After Sydney it’s going to feel like small potatoes, but what can we do? It’s a necessary step on the way…” He sighs.

“It’s actually a very fun place”, Ved disagrees, his eyes glittering with teenage rebellion spirit, something his older brother on the driver’s seat has never shown or appreciated in any way. “They say the antidote for the virus was developed here. This one tribe picked up on the formula, almost two years ago. They’re all clean! Plus the girls here are really hot!”

“Ah, mingling with the locals!” Ram smiles affectionally to the little trouble maker and waggles his finger. “Ved, Ved, Ved! Don’t you keep an eye out for your little brother, Jay?”

“I would, Sir”, Jay replies without taking his eyes off the street. “But with all due respect, even if I didn’t have a fulltime-job – it’d be easier to guard a swarm of bees!”

Ram smiles. He likes how even Jay’s sarcastic remarks are overpolite, painfully correct. A born and raised son of the army, like himself. With this kind of upbringing, you either get a rebel like Ved or a model soldier like Jay. Both have their talents and quirks, that’s for sure. “You gotta keep a jar of honey, Jay”, he mocks and notices that while Ved giggles at this, Jay merely has a polite smile for him.

“Oh, loosen up, James!”, Ved nudges his brother. “Come on, have a little fun for a change! If you don’t enjoy the roadtrip, you might aswell have stayed at the stadium working! How come you left, anyway? Aren’t you afraid, Mega is after your job?”

“No”, Jay replies with a flat, desinterested voice.

Ram snickers to himself. “Smart boy, Jay. That’s the spirit! If you fear them, they’ll get to you… anyway, why would I ever replace either of you? Come on Jay, even you are more fun than Mega!”

Jay smirks at him in the back mirror. “That’s not exactly a challenge.”

“Which is lucky for you”, Ved mumbles.

Jay merely looks at his brother. Barely fourteen and he had a handover this morning. Running after every remotely attractive girl, always out for fun, for an adventure, without thinking of the consequences. Dad would roll around in his grave, if he could witness this! for a moment he thinks about his father, his aged, weather-beaten facial structures, the grey temples. Always correct, always an upstanding citizen with high standards for – and great expectations in – his sons. Always insisting to be called “Sir” in the base, in front of colleagues. Is he becoming his father?

Amber nearly jumps when Bray holds the water bottle in front of her face. “You want some?”

She shakes her head, drifts back into obliviousness. Forgetting the pain… why won’t he leave her in peace? She can feel a lump forming in her throat, her eyes beginning to burn again. She feels cold, feels a new wave of hate out of nowhere, when Bray puts his own coat over her shivering shoulders without saying a word. At this moment she hates him for not being able to do something, for convincing her to keep this baby, for getting her pregnant in the first place. She feels a longing she can’t even explain, a longing after this baby she never got to meet, after the old days, her parents, her sister, Dal. Would all this have happened if she never left the Ecos? Surely not!

She can hear Bray’s footsteps, looks up. He’s leaving the farm house kitchen again, closes the kitchen door behind him and then she’s alone again. Alone in her pain, and in some way grateful for it. One minute in which she can breathe, cry, without having to see the pain on his face. Is that all he cares about? Her pain? What about their baby, why isn’t that his priority? Did he just see it as a part of her, did he just want it so she would be his for life?

She looks up again, when Bray comes back. It seems like it’s only been minutes, but when she catches a glimpse of his watch she sees that it has been almost half an hour.

“Pride said they would be at the meeting point in twenty minutes.” He avoids her eyes, packs some water bottles into a bag he found somewhere. Always pragmatic, always independent Bray. No matter how many children live or die, in a way he will always be the perfect lonesome traveller who entered the Mall with Trudy years ago.

She is confused of her own thought for a moment, then notices it’s the poncho. Somewhere in this house he must have found a green poncho that’s literally screaming for a pan flute and some torn-up black jeans. He’s had time to wash the sweat of his skin, to pack, to organize their exile. This is when she realizes what upsets her this much. His face might be as pale and lifeless as hers, but for him, life always goes on. It’s why he used to be her rock, after Glen’s and Dal’s death and it seems strangely disgusting to her now. What is wrong with him? Doesn’t he have a heart?

It’s when he looks at her, puts one hand on her shoulder that she realizes he’s been crying. It must have been some hours ago, since his eyes are almost back to normal again. “I love you”, he whispers, squeezing her shoulder lightly.

She can’t hate him. She’ll never be able to hate him. Even now, when she needs it, to feel something other than the pain that’s threatening to drown her.

May hestitates at the door. She has Brady’s favourite stuffed animal in her hand, while balancing the girl itself on her hip. “We’re ready!”, she exclaims in false cheerfulness, smiling at Pride and Trudy in their coats, waering rucksacks stuffed with warm blankets, food and spare clothes.

“Thank you!” Trudy embraces her daughter, making sure she doesn’t drop the little teddy bear.

“You don’t have to carry her”, Pride reminds her after sending May a warm, thankful smile that feels somehow impersonal to her. “I can do it, I don’t mind.”

“That’s very nice, Pride, but for now I’ll manage. We’ll take turns, Tai San already offered help, too.”

“Then we’re all set to go.” Pride smiles at Brady, enjoys the little laugh she gives him in response. Something so innocent, so pure after all this pain feels like a fresh breeze to him. “Could you go ahead, I’d like to talk to May for a moment.”

May can feel her throat going dry when Trudy passes her, giving her an impassionate little smile as a good bye. They’ve never been good friends, never really got close after all. She’ll miss little Brady, though. “Bye”, she murmurs. “Bye, Brady.”

“Bye”, Brady echoes, hiding her tired little face in Trudy’s shoulder.

“So…” Pride closes his coat. “I was hoping we’d have more time to say good bye, but Amber and Bray are waiting.”

“Are they okay?”, May asks shyly, the scene where she offered the Guardian Bray’s head playing over and over again in the back of her mind. She wants to feel guilty, wants to be thankful for Amber, who stood up for her, but all she can feel is sadness. Sadness over a lost life, sadness over Pride leaving.

“They will be. They’re strong, stronger than most people I guess. They have each other.” He doesn’t seem to want to explore the topic any further.

“Yes, they’re lucky.” May swallows hard.

“I wouldn’t call it that.” Pride looks down the staircase, where Tai San and Lex are talking quietly, Jack, Ellie, Cloe, and a somewhat distant, almost lifeless Alice are saying their good byes to Trudy. “I guess this is good bye.”

“So you’re not coming back? Ever?” May can hardly hold back the tears. “And you’re not even asking me to come with you?”

Pride looks up, his vision clear, friendly, but distant. “No”, he responds quietly, so impassionate, in the exact same spot they kissed for the first time. Does he even remember? “Your life is here, mine is with the Gaians. I have to go home, May. I tried postponing it, I found a job, made new friends. And I liked it here, I like you a lot! All of you. But this has never been my home and it never will be. I couldn’t live in the city, especially not with people like Ebony and Moz in charge. It’s better to make a clean cut here, trust me.” His eyes wander over the crowd downstairs, before her turns back to May. “Listen… will you look after Alice? I have the feeling she needs a friend now, to overcome this shock.”

May nods, not even bothering to blink the tears in her eyes away.

“Look after Alice, will you?” Tai San whispers to her husband.

“I will”, Lex promises. “Are you sure you don’t want me to come?”

Tai San shakes her head, looking to their locked hands. “It will be hard enough to be away from you. Besides, you have to protect the Mall.” She looks deep into his eyes, kissing his lips lightly. “It will only be for some weeks. I will be back very, very soon. I’ll send you messages, if I can. And little gifts. And when I’m back…” she leans in closer, whispering into his ear: “I’ll dance for you!”

“I’ve seen you dance before”, he teases her, but the sound of her voice sounds promising, exciting.

“Not like this.” She smiles, as she turns away.

Lex stops her, kissing her again. Out of the corners of his eyes he can see Pride coming down the stairs, starting to say his good byes to everyone. “Do you really have to leave? Amber and Bray have each other! And they have Trudy!”

“Amber has Trudy”, Tai San corrects him solemnly. “Bray has always supported me, even if he didn’t share my beliefs. He was there when I needed someone trustworthy for the antidote, he was ready to sacrifice his life so I wouldn’t give up believing in resisting the Chosen and he always trusted me. And he supported your trust in me, when I was the Supreme Mother. I owe him that, now that he needs me. I owe it to both him and Amber, I have to do that. Do you understand?”

“Yeah, you’re a little crazy”, Lex jokes, but becomes serious again at the same second. “It’s why I married you. You’re just the most interesting woman around, babe! But seriously, tell Amber and Bray I’m sorry for their loss. I mean it.”

Tai San gives him one last, quick kiss, then turns to hug all of her friends for the final time. “I will miss you”, she whispers into Alices ears. “Promise me, you’ll let Lex and the others help you, will you?”

Alice nods, but her eyes are still lacking any kind of spark, or recognition. Something in her seems just gone.

Ellie puts one arm around her sister, while they watch the little group leave. “They’ll come back”, she murmurs sadly.

“Pride won’t”, Cloe disagrees.

“Well, the others will”, Ellie insists.

“What?” Jack turns around to face an uncharacteristically serious Lex.

“Do you have a minute? KC and I could use some help.”

“For what?”

“The Guardian. Did it ever occur to you as strange that there was no body?”

Jack feels like someone pulled out a carpet from under his feet. “I… now that you say it…”

“Now imagine Moz remember how much she hates the loonatic and sends us another mob to take a corpse so she can do whatever it is that turns her sick mind on –“

“What will they do, if there is no Guardian?”, Jack finishes the thought for him.

“Exactly.” Lex nods, a grim expression on his face. “So, are you in?”

Pride walks by Bray’s side, noticing that the ex-leader of the Mall Rats seems to keep a distance to Amber, or Eagle, as she know will be again. He is reluctant to accept that it seems to be in their personalities to deal with pain alone, instead of together. He notices Trudy, who is walking by Amber’s side, Tai San, who is holding Brady and Amber, Amber who always was the strongest person he knew. Now she seems like a shadow of her former self, even worse than it was when he first found her.

“Is it much further?”, Bray interrupts his train of thought. “Or should we take another break?” His eyes travel to Amber, who visibly struggles with every step, but is too stubborn to ask the others to be considerate. In a way it’s strange to Pride, how Bray can be this caring, this focused on Amber’s needs and still not see that she needs him now, more than ever.

“About an hour and a half, if we can keep up the speed.” He leans in, talking at a lower volume. “Listen, I know it’s none of my business, but if you’d like some privacy with Amber, to talk things out… I could take Brady and the others and you could fall back.”

“Now’s not really the time”, Bray replies without thanking him for the offer, his face cold, in a way Pride has never seen it before. “Do you want to take a break?”, he calls back to Amber.

“We keep walking!”, she answers firmly, overtaking both Bray and Pride and walking quicker.

Trudy passes them with an apologetic look. “I’ll keep an eye on her.”

“I know.” Bray looks after Amber’s figure, a strangely lost look on his face. “I know. Thanks, Trudy.”

They keep walking in silence, Trudy supporting Amber’s weight for a while, switching places with the others. Brady falls asleep when the sun goes deeper, when golden lights start dancing over the trees, slowly fading into a shining red light.

Amber keeps walking with a determination of her own, setting one foot before the other, passing trees, bushes, birds, butterflies and flowers without paying any attention to the beauty around her, to the violent red sky, the dark clouds painting a somewhat impressive picture on it. If she just keeps walking, just doesn’t stop, she won’t have to pause and think, won’t have to feel the pain for some time more.

She realizes the others have fallen back, come to a halt, when Trudy stops her. Looks up the giant trees to see the last few sunbeams, the violet, red and golden light reflects they paint over the storm grey clouds.

“We’re here”, Trudy tells her, when the first drops of rain fall down.

Amber looks around herself, notices all the treehouses, all of her old Gaian friends greeting Pride, sending her curious and concerned looks. She would have walked right past them, if Trudy hadn’t been there. In a way she felt almost relieved. This was her paradise. She wouldn’t be happy, not for a very long time, but at least she would have the only place in the world that had this kind of healing powers on her soul. Safehaven.

Her legs broke down, before she could do anything against it. She heard surprised, scared voices, screams, saw Pride and Bray running towards her, while Trudy kneeled by her side. Voices, rain on her face and voices, and then everything disappeared into blissful darkness.

Written by: Nemesis

The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake.
Power is not a means, it is an end. Power is inflicting pain and humiliation.
A world of fear and treachery and torment, a world which will grownot less
but more merciless as it refines itself. If you want a picture of the future,
Imagine a boot stamping on a human face. Forever.
(“1984”, George Orwell)

Episode 3 – The Last Illusions of 1983

One of Tai San’s little crystal bottles in his hands, Lex sinks into a chair. He smells the rich fragrance, vanilla, yasmine. Tai San’s parfums and elixirs, her dried tea leaves and herbs – he already misses her. It’s unfair that she had to go.

He knows it would have been foolish to try and stop her. Another argument, another level of understanding they don’t match on. He feels for Bray and Amber, he really does. They have been his friends for a long time. He even remembers talking to Bray about becoming a dad, what it meant to him. And how it pained him when he lost both Zandra and the baby. If Bray were here now he would of course offer him an open ear, would be understanding towards his pain. But the fact is, he’s not. And leaving his home, his mall, to help someone mourn is just too much.

Tai San of course has to do the right thing, the spiritual-karma-right thing. She probably tells Bray to meditate with her now, cooks him fresh meals and soothing teas. Talks about destiny and live’s mysterious ways.

It’s stupid to be jealous at Bray, for having this, having her. She’s HIS wife, she loves him, right?

Ebony’s words keep re-playing in his head. What, if she’s not going with Bray, but going away from him, Lex? What, if her true motivation is that she doesn’t feel the way for him that he does for her, that she feels trapped in their marriage? She is a free spirit after all, a person who doesn’t believe in the instituation of marriage. Someone who puts their vows aside if she believes she can “safe somebody”.

And then there’s Bray, Bray who always trusted Tai San, more than her own husband. Bray who had more faith in her than anybody, who sacrificed and risked everything for her beliefs ever since the Chosen captured him.

What, if the true reason she shared the antidote formula with him, the true reason she wants to be at Bray’s side instead of Alice’s right now, is that she feels more than friendship towards him?

Nonsense! Lex lifts the scented oil towards his nose, closes his eyes. Tai San loves him! If she wanted anyone else, she would not have married him, Bray was single long enough. Why is he listening to those bitter bitches anyway? Are they happily married to the love of their live? No!

He smiles to himself. They’re just jealous, all of them…

Ellie puts down her book, when Jack enters the room. Awkward and self-conscious in his movements, but the darker, more mature hair and the worried look on his face show how much he has grown up, show of the things he’s seen, the things neither he nor Cloe want to talk about.

“Animal Farm, hm?” He points awkwardly to the book. “Not thinking of skipping out on us, too? Going back home – you know, to the farm?”

“It’s George Orwell, Jack”, Ellie answers, a tone of impatience towards his personality in her voice. Luke would have known this, she thinks and feels guilty for her indifference the same moment. Guilty and sad about Luke leaving her.

“Yes, I can see. Says so on the cover.” He grins.

“It’s about politics”, Ellie explains. “It’s a metopher, to no matter how many times you tear down the oppressing powers and find a new form of self-government, even if it is communist, there will be new tyrants amongst you and they will be the next tyrants in power. A critic on communism, if you like. I’m reading it for this new article I’m planning to write.”

“That actually sound pretty clever”, Jack acknowledges, throwing the book a curious glance. He seems worried. “Don’t think Ebony will like it much, though.”

“She isn’t supposed to”, Ellie replies, a stubborn look on her face. “It’s the first duty of journalism to point out a current government’s mistakes. I can’t side with Bray and Amber, or I’ll be killed in my sleep by a Mosquito swarm – so I’m chosing a more subtle approach.”

Jack picks up Ellie’s notebook, filled with tiny quotes, written in black ink. “And you think Moz won’t get orders to kill you for ‘they had come to a time when no one dared speak his mind, when fierce, growling dogs roamed everywhere, and when you had to watch your comrades torn to pieces after confessing to shocking crimes’”, he quotes from her notes.

“Like she’ll even understand what it means.” Ellie rolls her eyes. “Besides, Ebony wouldn’t allow her to make a scene that could make them look guilty. I’m just doing my part. People have right to know.”

“And what about this: ‘No question now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.’ – Don’t you think they’ll pick up on that?”

“That’s a risk I have to take”, Ellie insists stubbornly. “Do you just wanna lay back and let the city be run by dictatorship? We still have a freedom of press! Plus, if I point out what this is doing to the kids on the street, the fear this kind of treatment of political opponents is inflicting on them, I might even get Moz on my site.”

“I doubt it.” Jack stands up, looking at a sleeping Alice. “Not with the problems we’ll have if she comes here to collect a certain corpse.”

Ellie looks puzzled.

“He’s gone Ellie!” Jack lowers his voice, looking carefully at a sleeping Alice to make sure she doesn’t hear them. “The Guardian’s gone! There’s no body, not even a drop of blood – nothing!”

“What?” It takes a few seconds before Ellie understands. “But this is perfect! They’ll have no proof for Alice doing anything! If this comes out, it will make Ebony look bad and it’ll show that the banishment was totally unjustified! If I put this in an article together with Amber’s miscarriage…”

“You’ll make the city believe we’re hiding evidence! They’re suspicious enough against us, Ellie! They’ll believe Luke freed him, left with him and we put up an inscenation, while the Chosen are getting back together!”

Ellie’s head jerks up. “Luke would never…”

“We don’t have proof for that! Besides, if you put Amber’s story in there, you’ll have Bray on your case! Do you think this will make them happy? Do you think Amber wants the people who threw her out of the city to know about her misery? They have enough to deal with anyway! Leave it, Ellie!”

Ellie bites her lip, feeling pushed back, insulted, and at the same time guilty. “I don’t want to hurt anybody”, she responds quietly. “I just want people to realize what they’ve done to them! They’re my friends, too!”

“People haven’t done anything”, Cloe interrupts her from the doorframe. She steps in, looking at Ellie’s books with mild interest. “The baby was born with the ambilical cord around his neck. Bray and Tai San couldn’t do anything, it would have died here or at the Mall. You can’t blame the city for that!.”

“That’s horrible!” They all jerk around when Alice speaks. Her face is still pale, her red hair messed up from sleeping in the middle of the day (and probably some restless dreams), but her voice clear and loud.

“Alice, you’re up!”, Ellie calls out with false cheerfulness in her voice.

Cloe and Jack look at each other, worried, suspicious. Just because they have known Alice for so long doesn’t mean they don’t feel threatened, insecure by this new, violent side of hers. The turn of events has made Alice a person to look out for. And they can’t shake the thought that if she in fact did kill the Guardian, maybe arresting would have been a wise choice of action.

“Lex send me to look after you guys”, Cloe explains. “He wants us all to meet in the cafe, to tell us his new security rules.” She rolls her eyes at this. More rules!

“Tally and Andy aren’t here”, Ellie informs her. “They went to take photos of the new tribe for the Amulet.”

“They what?” Jack and Cloe exchange a quick look. “Ellie, do you think it’s a good idea to send two little kids to some military tribe with the power to fly an airplane?”

“Yeah, it’s too dangerous!”, Cloe agrees.

“I didn’t send them”, Ellie responds, her arms crossed. “They offered to go and take some photos for first research at the airport, that’s all. I told them to keep a distance. Besides, these people have already moved. All Tally and Andy are doing is photographing an empty airplane, then they’ll be back.”

“Sure they will”, Jack mutters, shaking his head in disapprovement. “The two worst troublemakers since KC will do what you tell them to do!”

It’s the picture that won’t leave Ebony’s mind. The picture she used to keep Amber and Bray apart, to get Amber to leave. The picture Bray ripped into tiny pieces in front of her, breaking her heart. Him, her, and her friend’s baby Anabelle. Now his perfect picture of the world has been torn into metaphorical pieces. Did Amber and Bray have a girl, or a boy?

Did they really leave, is it really over? It seems like a lifetime ago that she didn’t care about Bray and the girls he prefered to her. Nice, pacifist little Miss Perfects. Trying to “change the world”. It never really feeled like it was what he actually would have done by himself. So much less than he could have achieved with her by his side. But it’s over now. He’s made his choice and so has she.

“Your security system sucks”, Moz greets her, while walking in, one of her various friends in the same outfit, but with violent pink hair, behind her. She doesn’t knock. Of course not. She’ll need someone alerting her of Moz’s comings and goings, Ebony thinks. A messenger, a warning system. Someone holding her back, showing her her place. “Get this – I walk into the front entrance and there’s this guy who doesn’t even know me, for some reason.” She seems a bit distracted by this for a moment, then continues. “Anyway, he wanted to ask who I am, so I told him – just for kicks, and in a really bad French accent – I’m the stripper for tonight’s party – he just let me in! Can you believe that?”

Her companion snickers silently and puts on a more serious face, when Moz looks at her.

“What, that people take you for a stripper?”, Ebony taunts her, feeling a great, unexplainable satisfaction over this strange piece of news. She’ll have to give the guard in question a raise.

“No, I don’t give a shit. Besides, once they’ve seen your outfit – wait, he has seen you, right? How many people work here?”

“Get to the point!”, Ebony orders in her most authoritive voice. She can feel her pulse rising, can begin to understand why it is that so many people freak out on Moz. Until now it’s just been fun to see the other girl’s temper, her little tantrums and her slightly crazy eyes, but…

“This kid looks exactly like the others”, Moz’s pink-haired friend explains. “Inconspicuous, normal, you know. But for some strange reason you’ve managed to employ the one kid in town who’se not been to the election and never saw any of Moz’s posters. Don’t you think that’s strange?”

“Maybe he just didn’t find them that memorable.” Ebony gives them a triumphing smile. “It was a bit of an unflattering photo of you, if you don’t mind me saying so”, she adresses Moz.

“It’s like he’s not from here”, Pinky stresses her point, since Moz seems to be busy getting into another state. If actual smoke will extract from her nostrils, Ebony will regret taking down the fire extinguishers to improve her interior design.

She just shrugs. “Maybe.”

“We just had an invasion!” Moz’s voice is getting louder with every word. “Don’t you think you should know if one of them is in your own house? What’s wrong with you, is this that “all or nothing” shit again?”

“Oh, just shut up!” Ebony gets up from her chair, making sure Moz can’t see the bag of money under the table. She takes a folder from her cupboard, searching it for the most expensive, official looking stationery she owns. “There was no invasion. Nobody was taken, they didn’t even introduce themselves. We don’t know anything! You’ve gotta learn how to relax and leave the important decisions to me, Moz. And for your information, I know every member of my staff. Satisfied?”

Moz looks at her hands, lets her freakishly long nails wander over the metal of her go-to weapon. “Wrong! We don’t know of someone being taken, that’s all”, Moz insists. “How do you know that was an actual member of your staff? Do you even have the slightest hunch who’s on duty right now?”

“Will you let it go?” Ebony throws a pack of exfoliated envelopes onto the table, notices Moz’s eyes resting on the thick, fancy parchment.

“What’s that?”

“I’m going to write their leader a letter. I’ll send a messenger, with guards, to the stadium. I’ll invite him to my house, have all the tribe leaders present at a pool party and welcome his tribe to my city. He can join the leader’s council, be one of my subordinates. If he wants to overthrow me, he has to win an election, and I’m not planning to hold a new one soon.” She smirks to herself, takes the cap of her pen.

“You’re going to tell him where all the tribe leaders are, in one place”, Moz comprehends very slow, her eyes narrowed, her voice toneless. She exchanges another look with her companion.

“If we present a solid, united front, he has no choice but to accept my proposal.” Ebony starts writing. “It’s simple psychology, Moz. But I wouldn’t expect you to understand.”

“How do you know it’s a guy?”, Moz keeps disturbing her intentions.

“Wait a moment - YOU said you saw the guy giving orders.” Ebony stopps writing for a moment, feeling really irritated now.

“I said I saw A guy giving orders”, Moz corrects her. “I didn’t say he was their leader.”

Ebony keeps breathing in order to not lose her temper. In. Out. In. Out. “I was just assuming.”

”You know, sometimes I think you’re just waiting for some powerful idiot with a penis to hand him all you’ve ever worked for on a silver platter.” Moz seems to think out loud. Not that there is ever more in her head than what she vocalizes, it’s what makes her such an easy opponent. “You know, when I told you about our new Aryan soldier in town I was kind of surprised you were still dressed at the end of the sentence.”

“Ouch!”, Pinky comments, but the conversation seems to amuse her at great lengths.

Ebony puts down her pen. “Get! OUT!” She follows Moz’s movements with narrow eyes, as the other girl just shrugs and strolls towards the door, a self-satisfied smirk on her face. “Do you think you’re so much harder to get into bed than me?”, she calls after her. “Don’t pretend like you’re Miss Upstanding Morals, you’d have to never look in a mirror to believe that!”

“No, what I’m saying is, I don’t focus on men like that. C’mon, Dee.” Moz gives her a wink and leaves the room, hip-swinging and not a care in the world. Until the next opportunity for a riot comes up.

Ebony begins writing again, careful to adress the new tribe’s leader in an asexual way. Halfway through the first page she stops, looking back towards the still opened door. She can’t shake off the funny feeling that she missed something.

Alice can hear them talking. She told Ellie she still felt too tired to come to the meeting, but the truth is, she knows they don’t want her there. She’s seen Tally and Andy with their camera, trying to stay far away from her, after they just accepted her as their head of the family member days ago. No more “Will you look after us now, Alice?” She can’t blame them.

She still feels shocked at what she did. Shocked, not sorry, mind you. That creep was a waste of space in their cage! Someone should have done what she intended to do so much sooner!

She looks up, when a silhouette appears in the door, awkward, almost shy. It’s May, holding an apple and a glass of milk. She makes a vague gesture towards the spot on Alices side on the bed covers.

“Can I come in?”

Alice nods, too stunned by this friendly act. She takes the milk, drinks some of it, then notices that May has brought the apple for herself. Somehow this makes her visit even nicer. She’s come to stay for a while, to be with her. Alice can feel her throat swelling up; her eyes are burning. Why is May being so nice to her? “Aren’t you scared of me?”
”No, why?” May starts eating her apple. “I didn’t waste Ned, did I?”

“No.” Alice stares at the milk. White, so white and clean. A clean slate, that’s what she could use right now.

“You know, I don’t think Bray had the right to talk to you like that”, May continues. “You did what you had to do. I’d wanna see him, if that creep killed Amber!”

“Amber, right.” Alice takes another swig of milk, tries to focus, tries to blend out the Guardians loathsome face. “Do you think they’re alright? Did you hear anything?”

“Not since Pride and the others left”, May denies, sadness in her voice.

“I’m sorry”, Alice responds automatically. She remembers May’s shining eyes, when she told her about her and Pride, her happy smile. She’d never seen the other girl so excited before.

“Guess we’re both alone now”, May thinks out loud. “I mean, I know it’s not the same”, she adds quickly. “But it still sucks… I’ll never meet a guy like Pride again!”

“He was nice.” More simple polite phrases. To be honest, Alice didn’t care about Pride very much. He had an attitude towards Ned, even after the victory. He was neither Mall Rat, nor had he the decency to behave as an outsider. “Maybe he’ll come back”, she says, without really meaning it.

“No, he won’t.” May sighs. “He didn’t go on a vacation to the tree huggers, he went home!”

Alice can feel something like a little laugh escaping her throat, listening to the sound she produces in sheer disbelief. Happiness seems just like a memory to her, so does laughter. Something from another life. It’s not like she has a reason to be happy.

“Do you think they’ll throw me out?”, she asks, her throat going dry mid-sentence. It’s a thought that scares her – going back to the empty, trashed farm that she spent time with Ned at. Alone, alone with her memories.

“No, of course not!” May shakes her head. “They won’t do that, Ellie won’t let them. And I’m on your side, too. Not sure how much that counts, though”, she ends her thought.

“It counts to me”, Alice assures her and they share a weak, sad smile. “I can’t tell you how much that means to me! I don’t know how I got to this dark place, you know. To think that I almost killed someone…” She sinks back into a world of memories and nightmares, a world she spent the last few days in. It takes some time until she notices that May has uttered some kind of response.

“Almost?”, May repeats. “You… you mean you didn’t kill him?”

“No”, Alice replies, almost in a trance. It hurts, it’s all over her, it’s so strange and yet… “Luke stopped me. The Guardian left with him.” It’s painful to say it out loud. The creep got away. If he was here, right here, right now, she’d do it all again. Hurt him to silence her own pain, to take revenge.

“But that’s great news!” May jumps up. “Why didn’t you say so earlier?”

“I…” Alice searches for an answer, but all she can feel is deep shame, shame and pain. “I guess I wanted it to be true.”

May hurries towards the door. “I’ll tell the others!”, she yells over her shoulder.

“But we don’t wanna clean!”, Andy complains.

“Nobody does. But someone has to, and Jack, KC and I are busy updating security around here”, Lex ignores his objection. Who’s this brat anyway? He should be thankful they let him and his sister stay around here! “The important decision is now, do we tell Ebony we buried the body or do we tell her it’s gone?”

“What will she do to us?”, Cloe asks, sounding more stubborn than scared. “We didn’t tell the whole city he was dead, that was her!”

“How is that the point?”, Ellie rounds on her. “We’ve gotta protect Alice! Who knows what they will decide next? Ebony has no conscience or any human empathy and she made sure this city remains lawless by keeping Bray from working until she could banish him. We really could do with Danni’s Bill of Laws right now!”

“That would mean, Alice would get banished!”, Cloe points out.

“Right, and we don’t want that”, Lex nods at Cloe. “So we gotta keep quiet about the Guardian and see what we can find out about this new tribe first.”

“Andy and I took photos”, Tally lifts a camera and smiles expectantly at everyone. “See? We’re helping Ellie with the newspaper. We’re doing our part!”

“Great news, everyone!” May storms into the cafeteria. “Alice didn’t kill the Guardian! She says he left with Luke, after he convinced her not to hurt him.”

“Who, the Guardian?” KC looks quizzical.

“No, Luke!”

“Of course!”, Jack murmurs, rolling his eyes.

“But why would he do that? Why would he leave with…” Ellie seems more upset about the matter at hand.

“Well, he was planning to leave anyway”, Jack points out the irony. “So why not take his boss with him?”

Ellie wants to protest, wants to yell at all of them, that they don’t know Luke like she does, that he’d never do anything like that, but she can see it in their faces: They wouldn’t believe a word of it. Shocked, she sinks back in her chair, letting her face rest in her hands. This can’t be true, it’s a nightmare…

Tally tips on her arm, holding out a bag. “Andy and I have the photos. Do you wanna put them on your computer now?”

The soldier stays in straight, correct pose, while his general inspects the closed envelope from all sides. He puts up his chin a nudge higher, makes sure his spine is absolutely straight and his feet are parallel, straight and point to zero degrees in different directions.

Jay holds up the envelope. “Who gave you this?”

“A messenger, General. He had guards with him and waited outside the front gates. I was on duty, so I took the letter. He said it was from the city leader.”

“They have a city leader?”, Ved mocks the guard at Jay’s side, snickering to himself. “What, did he beat the others in their annual street fights? Did he draw the long match?”

“I’ve brought into my knowledge that their leader is female”, Jay informs his brother, looking closer at the writing on the envelope. For the attention of the leader of our newest tribe in town. Dark blue ink. He has to smile at that. A hand written letter. Are they serious?

“A girl? Ram’s getting official letters from a girl?” Ved grins at the guard, who has to repress a smile himself.

“And you didn’t invite the messenger in for questioning?”, Jay adresses the the bearer of this strange, handwritten message from another time, another culture than theirs.

“Like I said, he had guards”, the boy responds. “And, err… he didn’t want to.”
”Didn’t want to – what?”
”Come in. Sir.”

“Smart boy”, Ved mutters. “So, are you gonna give it to Ram?”, he asks Jay, looking at the envelope with a newly awakened curiosity.

“I will ask whether he accepts it, yes. Go back to your post!”, he adresses the guard and starts walking to the main media room of the stadium. “We didn’t expect them to be organized”, he says, more to himself than to Ved. He wouldn’t say it out loud, if his brother wasn’t present of course. He’s not a crazy person!

“Will this change our plans?”, Ved asks.

“Not for now. If it comes to it, we’ll just have to improvise a little with our current tactics!” Somehow, this seems to set him in a good mood.

“Yay! Tactics party! Let’s get out the balloons!”, Ved comments sarcastically. What his brother understands to be fun has always been strange to him, to say the least. Born with a stick up his ass and if something doesn’t happen soon, he might die the same way. Especially if he keeps “improvising with tactics”. What’s next, juggling with statistics?

“Don’t mess this up for yourself, David”, Jay reprimands his younger brother by his full name. “You’re the youngest member of our organization to ever be considered for a Commander post. I keep recommending you, and you know Ram favours your talents. You’re just one successful project away from moving up to a higher rank, so don’t lose focus now!” Jay knocks on the door, standing back respectfully. Ved mimics his movement, but adds an eye roll.

A female assistant of lower ranks opens the door and salutes Jay. Ved she barely notices. “General.”

“I’m bringing a message from the city leader, Katy”, Jay informs her.

“What does it say?”, they hear Ram’s voice in the background.

Katy steps aside and closes the door behind Jay and Ved, while casually ignoring Ved staring at her breasts. Little perv! How old is he anyway, twelve?

“I didn’t open it, Sir.” Jay smiles politely.

“Of course you didn’t. Well, do it now!”, he says, slightly impatient, signaling with a hand gesture that he does not wear his black silicon gloves and therefore will not judge germ-infected envelopes from any Locals, not even their leader.

“Yes, Sir.” Jay opens the envelope quickly, lets his eyes skim through the lines. “It’s an invitation to a meeting of their leaders.”

“A welcome party?”, Ram guesses, sharing a smile with Ved.

“No, she’s just welcoming you to her court”, Ved answers sarcastically.

Ram raises his eyebrows. “She?”

“Yes, the name is Ebony”, Jay offers extra information. “And it does sound like she intends to call for a special meeting to welcome you, and ensure her position in the city is noted, most likely. She writes food and beverages are supplied, but tries to make it sound casual, as if that is the norm.”

“She’s trying to impress you, Ram”, Ved comments, leaning in, so he can have a look at the letter, too. “You’re a lucky guy, she sounds hot!”

“How do you take that from a letter?”, Jay asks irritated.

“Her name is Ebony!” Ved shakes his head, as if that is the most obvious sign for general hotness in the world. “That’s a black name. Hot black name, actually!”

“Did she send Ivory to bring the message?”, Ram teases Jay, before he can respond to his brother’s weird, possibly racist remark.

“He didn’t introduce himself, but I assume his name was less colourful”, Jay answers curtly.

Ram smiles to himself, looking at the letter with a newly awakened interest. “Well, send “Ebony” a message of my own. Tell her I will attend her little meeting, if you can observe the place first. Make sure it’s germ-free and has fire exits. Install a few bugs, while you’re there.”

“So you’re going with her agenda”, Ved asks, stunned by this uncharacteristically submissive act.

“That’s what we want her to believe.” Ram smiles, leaning back in his motorized wheelchair. “For now.”

Written by: Nemesis

Dreams that were terrible realities at the time, left vague perplexing memories.
Strange creatures, strange scenery, as if from another planet. There was a distinct impression, too,
Of a momentous conversation, of a name – he could not tell what name – subsequently to recur,
Of some queer long-forgotten sensation of vein and muscle, of vast hopeless effort, the effort of a man near drowning in darkness.
A panorama of dazzling unstable confluent scenes.
(H.G. Wells, “When the Sleeper Wakes”)

Episode 4 – When the Sleeper Wakes

The morning sun is already paling down, when Natalya opens the back door of her tribe’s house to call for her cat. She’s only had the little devil for a few weeks, raised it herself, with milk and everything. She got it for her birthday, at the party Sniper threw for her. One of the inivted tribe leaders, Moz, brought it.

Natalya remembers Moz most vividly of all of them. She remembers her leaning in, handing her the kitten herself, their hands touching when she stroked the little animals fur. “She doesn’t have a name yet.” That’s all she said while Sniper was still present. “Won’t take one. Little beast.”

“Then why are you giving her to me?”, Natalya remembers asking, remembers the weird feeling of Sniper giving her a kiss on her earlobe, like she’s his property, while her hand was still touching Moz’s, remembers it like it was a minute ago. The electricity, the intensity of the moment…

“You can learn from him.” Moz leaned in closer, her lips almost touching the spot Sniper kissed. “He wouldn’t put up with a boyfriend who does that…” Her long fingers traced the thin material of Natalyas dress, right where her ribs were bruised. Natalya didn’t wince, didn’t shrink back into her seat. She felt hypnoticed by Moz’s dark eyes, by the three glasses of various drinks she’d already had at this point. How did the other girl know? As often as their paths may have crossed before, Moz had never talked to her before, in her entire life.

Natalya steps out the door, making sure her top covers everything, checking her reflection in a window. When she was younger and still living with her orthodox parents in a part of the city that was solely inhabited by Russian immigrants, Sniper was just Mark, the guy who never came to math classes, who smoked on the school grounds and once stole and wrecked a teacher’s car. Natalya, the sweet daughter of her strict parents went to school, studied, went to ballet, practiced, went to church every Sunday. And after church she sneaked out to meet Mark. He was her form of escapism, the thrill she’d been searching, he made her feel alive.

Now he just makes her feel like trash. She wonders who’d told Moz about it… it can’t be that obvious, can it? She always coveres it in make-up, concealed it with clothes – and Sniper is so sweet to her in public!

“Come here, Lucifer!” Natalya let her hands wander over the tiny cats fur, smiling to herself. Sniper might accuse her of a lot of things, searching for excuses for what he did to her. What he doesn’t know is that she has been cheating on him ever since the party. A new escapism, a new thrill, better and stranger than any one she had found before. Revenge, and sweet indeed.

The good-girl boredom, the morals, all of it is just a surface, and Sniper knows that much. It’s why he can’t control his anger, why he calls her a hippie, a whore. If he only knew…

“Nat!” Sniper’s voice is hard, almost like an order. Everything he says sounds like an order. “Come in! Our visitors want coffee!”

Visitors? She walks slowly, hestitates in the kitchen door. A couple of Mozzies are sitting around the big dinner table. Carefully avoiding Moz’s eyes, she moves towards the gas cooker, fills some water from bottles into a pot and begins to heat it. She realizes there’s no more coffee in the kitchen and leaves it for the storage room, feeling like everybody is staring at her bruised body, like she’s on a platform, a deer in the headlights.

She almost jumps at Moz’s voice: “Got any spoons in here?”

“Pol’noe dermo!” Feeling guilty for the cursing a moment later, she starts pulling out boxes, looking for the coffee. “There’s no spoons in here, I don’t know what gave you the idea…” She looks up carefully, sees that the door behind her is open. Sniper can see in. Everybody can.

“You’re aware that you’re nothing but his doormat, right?” Moz throws a quick, mildly interest look around, then steals one of the choccolate bars from a box. Natalya can’t help but to stare at her quick fingers – thief fingers. Moz chews on the chocolate, pulls a face when she discovers it’s way past it’s expository date. “Sonofabitch!”

“I could’ve told you that.” Natalya takes the chocolate from her hands and puts it away.

“Fuck! Why don’t you throw this shit out?”

“Because it’s chocolate. We used to use it for trade. You know, until your favourite friends jammed a new monetary system down our throats.” She smiles at Moz, half expecting her to start rambling about the Mall Rats again. Bray this, Lex that, and so on. An unexpected silence follows.

“When are you gonna dump the loser? My offer won’t stand forever”, Moz reminds her, her voice sharp and full of hate. For Sniper, his macho friends who know exactly what’s happening here, for her parents who taught her obedience in the presence of a man, all of them.

“You know I can’t!” It pains her to say no. All she longs for is someone like Moz, who could protect her like a lionness, if she just let her. Someone who’d give her some peace of mind… But she’s still too ashamed. It’s just… it’s so wrong! If she left Sniper, he’d know right away. And then? What would he do to her then?

Moz’s eyes are narrow, and darker than ever. “You mean you’d chicken out like a little bitch?”

Sniper leans over, banging his empty cup on the table. “Nat! Nat, where’s our damn coffee!?”

She opens her eyes at 29. she forgot what comes after. It took her some time to count this far, and she’s not sure she did it right. The sun is blending her; she blinks. Charlie will know the answer, Charlie went to kindergarten before the virus, two whole years, from four to six. Mouse doesn’t know how old he is now, or how old she is herself, for that matter. Which is sad, since that means they won’t have birthday cake again, like mum made it. With cream in the middle, and her name on top of it. On the chocolate frosting, in whichever colour she chose.

“I’ve counted and now I don’t know the numbers anymore!”, she yells, only to warn Charlie that she will be starting to search for him sooner. “I’m coming now, do you hear me? Charlie?” Oh, right, he won’t answer of course! Mouse presses her hands in front of his her mouth to supress a giggle. So silly! Of course he won’t answer, that way the game would be much too easy!

The little girl starts tip-toeing through the old house, careful not to stand on one of the floor boards that make the loud noises. Charlie can never remember them, but she can. It’s why he always let’s her go first, to follow, observe. Watch out for her. Mouse smiles to herself. It’s sunny outside, she’s playing hide-and-seek and they still have apples. It’s a beautiful day.

She only notices the masked men in uniform, when they walk on the wrong floor boards. She feels scared, like something really cold is holding her in one place and keeping her from breathing or moving. Mostly because they have no faces. They have metal, where their faces are supposed to be. Shiny, shiny metal.

She breathes as quiet as she can, crawls into one of the kitchen cabinets and waits. Eyes closed, fists closed, she waits, hears their steps, their voices that don’t sound like voices, but like mechanical replicas of it. Sharp, accurate, cold. Like metal.

“Charlie, oh Charlie”, she wispers and hopes with all her heart that they won’t find him.

Ved feels pretty stupid, leading a group into the Horton Bailey Hotel to make sure it is clean enough for his leaders. What will he do, if it isn’t? Give his friends dusters? Vacuum cleaners with batteries? Just tell Ram the “city leader” is a construct of his own fantasies?

The guards, various beefy guys with clubs (Clubs! Hilarious!) try to stop them at the main entrance. “Who are you?”

“We’re everything we wanna be”, he tells them, smirking at their various face paintings and weird helmets. “Tell your boss, our leader accepts her invitation for tonight’s meeting”, he repeats Jay’s orders through gritted teeth. “He wants to know what he’s getting into. We’re just here to talk to your leader.”

“And why should she talk to you?” The woman that steps out of the shadows must be their city leader, Ved assumes. Not black, which was his first guess at the name “Ebony”, but definitely hot! He loses track of his own thought, staring at the older girls body in a really scandalous black bikini, her skin and hair still dripping wet…

“My eyes are up here”, she growls at him, holding her towel like she’s gonna use it as a weapon any time soon. Her eyes muster him with mild disgust, which makes her both annoying and hotter to him. “Who sends little kids to the city leader anyway, doesn’t he have you in a grown-up version at home?”

“My brother is Ram’s general”, Ved informs her, standing up as straight as he can, in order to show that he’s at least taller than her. “He doesn’t bring messages, he’s got more important things to do.”
”But you do!” It’s not a question. She walks backwards into one of the other hallways, grinning at him in a way that suggests that their uniforms aren’t that impressive to her. “Tell your coward boss if he doesn’t come, we’ll live!”

Ved stares at the guards, who have managed to shoo some of his men back outside. Stupid shooting ban! He could have them on the floor in no time, if he had premission to use a taser, or even better, a real gun! “Tell your leader, we’ll get in here either way”, he informs one of the guards in his most authoritive voice. “And while you’re at it, mention that Lord Ram doesn’t take mockery lightly.”

They exchange looks, grinning goofily at each other like the stupid doormen they are. “What makes you think that was Ebony?”, one of them asks Ved in a weirdly triumphing way. Like he’s the stupid one, like he’s really just some messenger of Ram’s.

Ved bites his lip, making a gesture towards his legion that it is time to draw back. He’ll have no other choice than to ask Jay for tactical advice. Again. And they’d get things done so much faster, if they just went by his methods…

Ellie looks up from her computer desktop, when she hears the giggling and rolls her eyes annoyed at what she sees. It’s like Tally and Andy can’t be productive, unless you keep them on the shortest leash possible!

Shaking her head, she turns back towards her article. The photos are in their place, the text is typed, but it still doesn’t feel right. The headline, it’s all in the headline. People need to read it and want to read the whole article, like they do when they decide to read a book or not. Like people used to look at movies in the cinema, and songs in the record store.

She smiles to herself, tipping in the letters “What your city leader doesn’t tell you”, a nice bridge towards the other articles that don’t feature Alices confession, but the facts Tally and Andy discovered about the so-called “Technos” and some observations on how the Mosquitoes used to work for Ebony and the sheriff Ebony appointed for an interestingly long amount of time. Too long to take the election seriously? Well, she’ll let her readers decide.

Cloe’s voice almost makes her jump. “You can’t print that!”

Ellie curses silently, until she’s regained balance on her chair and glowers at the younger girl for scaring her like that. “Why not, what’s wrong with it?”

“What’s wrong with it is that you basically say what Bray and Amber said. And that means she could kill you, if she ever read that!” Cloe has her arms crossed and there are lines on her forehead, concentrated, stubborn lines that suggest that she really means what she said.

“Not if she wants everyone to know it’s true!”, Ellie answers, chosing not to look at Cloe’s accusing face.

“Well, maybe you could think about the rest of us, instead of just doing your own stupid thing!”, Cloe yells back at her. “She could have all of us killed, if she wanted! The Guardian said she freed him, Lex said he said that she gave him a weapon, so she basically killed Ned AND Amber’s baby! What makes you think she won’t kill more people? She was a Loco, Ellie, and Locos-“

“I thought it was the ambilical cord”, Ellie interrupts her. “I thought the baby would have died in any place. I thought we couldn’t blame Ebony for that!”

“Leave Ellie alone!”, a younger, male voice yells. Andy and Tallie have come into the room. “She’s trying to find out things about who killed Ned! Why are you stopping her, are you on their side?”

“No, she’s not, she’s bringing us all in danger!”, Cloe yells at them. “Why don’t you see that, why do none of you see that? She’s gonna get us all killed!” She bursts into tears, leaving the room with hurrie steps.

“Don’t listen to her”, Tallie reassures Ellie, who seems more uncertain about her article now. “She’s just hysterical, like Salene was. it’s her way of coping.”

“Yeah, she’s just a stupid girl!”, Andy joins in, but soon realizes that he’s made some sort of mistake, when they both glower at him.

“I don’t know, you guys, I think she could be right.” Ellie looks at her articles again, her heart heavy, when she reads over the Orwell references, the subtle hints instead of out-loud accusations, the lists of evidence she’s covered in it. It could’ve been a brilliant article! She wonders if she should ask Alice about it.

“You’re just gonna drop it, because she’s a little cry-baby?”, Tally asks her incredulous. She exchanges another look with her brother, this time they seem far less on her side.

“Yes, you’re stupid, too!” They both nod, running off with grim expressions on their freckled little faces.

Ellie sighs, looking after them. She almost doesn’t notice Jack walking by, until he shyly greets her.

“Where they giving you trouble again?” So much for a conversation starter! Jack curses inside, quickly puts a smile on his face when she looks up. You’re an idiot, Jack! An idiotic idiot of an…

“You’re implying they’ve been giving me trouble before.”

“Yeah… no… I meant them and, er, Cloe. – Don’t be hard on her, okay? She’s been crying almost every night since she came back, KC’s really worried about her.”

“Yeah, she’s crying now!” Ellie rolls her eyes and turns back to the monitor. She can see Jack’s reflection on her article, can see his colourful shirt and the tube of hair-coloration in his hands. “Going back to red?”

“Maybe. I mean I’ve thought about it.” He shrugs. “It’s because of Patsy, you know”, he adds.


“Yeah, the crying – Cloe – I mean, she’s lost almost everyone: Patsy, Ryan, Salene, and now Amber, Bray and Tai San. Imagine how you’d feel if Alice was gone!”

“We’ve all lost people, Jack!”, Ellie murmurs, thinking of Luke and his heart-breaking letter. He couldn’t even look her in the eyes… “Life goes on.”

“Yeah, well, it’s not that easy.” Jack sits down, playing with the tube in his hands, studying the ingredients that are printed on the back of it, so he won’t have to look at her. “Don’t you miss them? Dal, and… and Danni, and all the others. We don’t even know if most of them are alive!”

Ellie looks at him, this lost boy who is without a best friend in this cruel, strange world. She doesn’t feel pity, she feels respect for Jack, remaining this strong, this caring after all he’s been through. She admires that he still sees other’s pain, still keeps track of all the people that are missing, when she has been living a lie, of suppressed memories, of names and faces that she has accepted she will never see again, and somehow moved on. She remembers the day they took him, and how her whole world broke apart. It seems like memories from her childhood, distorted, in strange colours, without sound. Just single words, smells, a picture or two, and a feeling.

Ellie clears her throat and gestures towards her computer. “Jack, can I have your opinion on something?”

“And they thought Moz was you?” Lex shakes his head, grinning at the thought. Not that he would say it out loud, but the comparison isn’t that far-fetched in his opinion. One crazy bitch in a bikini like the other… not that he’s had the pleasure to see Moz out of her cat suit, of course.

“Noone that matters.” Ebony smiles sickly at him in the mirror. Clearly, she and Moz aren’t on best terms right now. Maybe there’s some way to win her back for the Mall Rats after all. If they want her back, that is.

“And when are you gonna tell him? Tonight?”

“I’ll do nothing.” Ebony puts on new earrings, examining her own, stunning reflection. She nods satisfied, pulls out a lip stick. “I’ll welcome him as city leader, he’ll feel stupid, his lackey will pay for the mistake and Moz will have to learn to restrain herself.”

Lex shrugs, getting up from her bed. He doesn’t even know why she tolerated him there in the first place, with shoes and all. Not that he cares. “Well, see you tonight. Hey, can I bring KC?”

Ebony turns around, a truly priceless expression on her face: “KC!?”

“Yeah.” Lex shrugs. “He’s my new vice-sheriff.”

“Oh no, he’s not.” Ebony still looks mildly shocked when she’s looking in her mirror again, this time to find a matching necklace for her diamond earrings. “I’ll appoint a new vice-sheriff for you. In the mean time, just make yourself presentable. And lose the hat! We don’t want them to think they’ve walked into a circus!”

Lex marches out with enraged steps, where KC is already waiting for him.

“And?”, the younger boy wants to know excitedly.

“No chance, buddy. Sorry!”

“What?”, KC splutters. “But… you’re the sheriff! Can’t you just…”

“Tough luck!” Lex puts his hat back on. He really doesn’t get what Ebony’s damn problem with his wardrobe is. The way she dresses this Techno leader won’t have to do a lot of guess work as to how she got the job – not that that’s true, but it won’t hurt to spread the rumor. At least not him… “I have a better job for you, KC!”

The Techno stays in perfect pose, when his Commander inspects the unit, but can’t repress the nervosity.

“Did someone see you?”

“Two little kids. Siblings, from the looks of it. They were planning to leave the city.”

“Did they tell you that?”, the Commander asks without even looking at the two kids, shivering in fear.

“No, but they had back packs, and water and food with them.”

“I see.” The Commander steps infront of the children, taking their healthy appearance in account. “Why did you arrest them, the General ordered you to stick with Sector 15 for arrests.”

“They saw the other prisoners, Sir.” The Techno pulls a little black object out of one of the back packs. “They made photos, and one of them spoke of a local newspaper.”

“A newspaper?” Commander Mega smirks at the prehistoric little instant camera. He remembers having almost the same model when he was a kid. “Well, it seems like they already have the required amount of nutrition and water with them.” He looks down at the two red heads, still smiling impassionately. “Take them to the other prisoners. That will be forty. Level one, fulfilled”, he declares out loud, blinking satisfied into the hot midday-sun. It’s been a good first week in the new city, it really has!

Written by: Nemesis

When the tyrant has disposed of foreign enemies by conquest or treaty,
there is nothing to fear from them, he is always stirring up some war or another,
in order that the people may require a leader. This is achieved by democracy,
which is a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder,
and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequals alike.

Then the first thing will be to establish a censorship of the writers of fiction,
and let the censors receive any tale of fiction which is good, and reject the bad;
and we will desire mothers and nurses to tell their children the authorized ones only.
(Plato, “The Republic”)

Chapter 5 – The Republic of the Future

They share the last apple. Charlie holds out his hand for his sister to take, and they walk down the little path into the woods, where there will be berries, sweet red berries they can eat. The sun is shining through the tree branches and leaves, but it is colder, stranger, like a different world.

“We could leave the city”, Mouse suggests. “Here’s food.”

“No, Mouse. We need some place to sleep”, Charlie reminds her, picking a few raspberries from a bush.

“But it’s got berries! And mushrooms!”

“Mum always said, some mushrooms are bad for us”, her brother reminds her. “They have white dots on them, and they’re big and red.”

“We just don’t eat those, then”, Mouse suggests, a happy smile over the simple solution on her face.

The two little kids drop their berries in fear, when they hear a car’s motor coming closer. Through the branches of the raspberry bushes they can see a car moving closer on the small road nearby. It’s one of the big, brown ones, like the one the metal-faced men put all the other kids in.

“What should we do?”, Mouse whispers in panic.

Charlie bents down lower, so he can see the car, see the faceless driver. “We run”, he whispers. “Into the woods, where they can’t find us!”

Mouse looks up at him, nodding silently. Charlie always has the best plans!

It’s like she’s cursed! Ebony throws another pair of shoes to the floor, ready to scream in frustration at any given moment. Nothing seems to fit, nothing seems to send the message she wants to give this mysterious “Lord Ram”, and the party is in less than an hour!

“Jesus Christ, what did they ever do to you?” It’s Pinky, followed by Moz, in a scandalous dress that somehow manages to show everything and nothing at the same time. Ebony curses inwardly. If Moz looks better than her tonight, she might just have to throw her into the pool. Maybe keep her head under water just long enough…

“Oh, I’m sorry, is that a problem for you?”, Ebony responds through gritted teeth, putting on her most convincing fake-smile.

“No, our place looks like that everytime we go out.” Pinky sits on her bed without asking. She’s gotta put a stopper on people doing that! “We’re not going crazy on purpose, of course, it’s mostly Moz’s stuff”, Pinky goes on and becomes a whole lot more likeable in the course of just one sentence.

Moz sends her a glaring look. “Watch it! Or do I have to take care of what you call your new hairstyle?” She makes a vague, claw-like hand gesture in the direction of all the violent pink that seems to disturb her aesthetics.

“You said we can dress more individually”, Dee defends her hair, while Ebony decides to put a silk coat-like open blouse over her dress for the meeting before the party. “We all knew it was just because YOU wanted a new outfit, but we went with it. I’m just smart enough to make the most of it.”

Ebony turns around to her, observing both of them with care. An idea has come to her, a brilliant idea: “Dee, is it? How would you feel about a new job?”

“What job?”, Moz answers for Dee, careful not to loose control over more than just her friend’s hair.

“It seems like my vice-sheriff has skipped town, after a certain… incident. And I could really use someone smart to keep an eye on Lex, before he somehow manages to sneak in his little buddy KC. That kid is so much trouble, he’ll increase the lawlessness in this city rather than fight it.”

“Like Lex does?”, Dee comments lightly, but it shows why Moz keeps her around. She does have a rather interesting attitude!

“Seems my instincts were right!” Ebony smiles brightly at Dee, triumphing over her finished outfit. “So, what will it be, Dee? Are you interested?”

Dee wants to answer, but Moz cuts her off with one hand gesture: “What’s the pay?”

“The same Pride received, of course. Fifty percent of Lex’s salary plus expenses for overtime.”

Dee opens her mouth again, but Moz keeps cutting her off: “Seventy.”

Ebony shrugs. “Deal.” She’ll find someone to get into Luke’s position, maybe one of her own people. It’s not like money is something she has limited access to. She should maybe try and find someone else to deal with the production of new money, now that the city is becoming quite crowded again.

Dee looks a little uncertain about her new position, but at least Moz is pleased.

The guard at the hotel’s front door sends the blonde girl on Lex’s arm a surprised look. Not that she’s not presentable arm candy or anything, but he happens to remember the sheriff’s wife – and that’s certainly not her. Have they split up? Is it a divorce? Can there even be an official divorce, if there’s no more official marriages? And why is the blonde wearing a camera around her neck and carrying a note-pad?

“Evening, gentlemen, I don’t suppose we have to be searched for any weapons?”

“No”, one of the guards answers, while the other looks oddly paniced. “We… we had an incident about that earlier tonight. We don’t check for weapons anymore, unless the new tribe gets here, cause you know… guns!”

“So the Demon Dogs are already here”, Ellie observes, and makes a mental note to herself, to put a snide remark about the lack of security, thanks to the cowardly guards, into her article.

“The Mosquitoes, actually”, another guard member corrects her, grinning, while his colleague blushes feverishly.

“Shut up, T-Bone!”

“Have a lovely night.” Lex leads Ellie into the front hall. “And try not to get beaten up by too many girls, if you can manage!”

“She beat up Bray, too, you know”, Ellie murmurs. “Are you planning to tease him with that too, or do you plan to wait until he’s over his recent death in the family and then be horrible?”

“Bray was practically in a coma from all the booze, it doesn’t count. A butterfly could’ve thrown him down! There’s no medal to win there.”

“Hm”, Ellie nods, understanding. “Like when May stole your shoes?”

He shifts uncomfortably. “Can we talk about something else?”

“Lex!” Ebony opens her arms, smiling wildly. Her smile falters slightly, when she notices Ellie. “And Ellie! What a lovely surprise. Did I at any point mention that you should invite the press?”, she attacks Lex verbally through gritted teeth, while still keeping her smile on full-power mode.

“You said I could bring somebody”, Lex defends himself, quite enjoying Ebony’s discomfort.

“Yes! A date, not a reporter!”

“You didn’t think that through, did you?”, Ellie interferes, looking quite smug about people repeatedly calling her a professional journalist. “He’s married, why would he bring a date while his wife is out of town?”

Ebony rolls her eyes, dropping all pretense. “It was a judgement based on character observation! And put that camera away, we don’t want the new tribe to think…”

“Actually, it looks quite official with a journalist there”, Moz interferes, turning up out of nowhere, quite possibly sensing the approaching fight and her opportunity to cause trouble of some sort. “We should get someone else to carry the camera, so it looks better – Rachel, over here! – and while you’re at it, if we let someone list down all of tonight’s agreements between the leaders and they’re printed for the whole city tomorrow, it will look really organized. Plus, those army boys will know from the start that we have a functioning information system even without anything fancy, like airplanes.”

“See, why didn’t you say stuff like that when I interviewed you before the election?”, Ellie bursts out. “That would have been a lot more helpful for my article than any snide comments about my boyfriend or my hair!”

“At least you’re capable of working with criticism”, Moz answers grinning. “It’s really an improvement!”

“Hey, he left the city, quite possibly of something you and Ebony did!”, Lex snaps at her. “It’s not Ellie’s fault!”

“I was talking about the hair”, Moz answers, caught between irritation and amusement. “But congrats on getting rid of that whiny blue thing too, Ellie.”

“And who’s that, your date?” Lex point towards the explosion of pink next to Moz, in a dress that is an explosion of … other colours.

Moz grin is getting so smug, it might aswell have jumped off her face and hit him. “Glad that you asked. This is your new vice sheriff. And I didn’t bring a date. I plan on leaving with someone else’s tonight. You know, takes the edge off of all the preparation stress.” She looks around quite happy with that decision, as if she’s still deciding on what to chose from the desert section of a buffet.

“Oh, dear god, not again!” Everyone’s eyes turn to Moz’s companion. “Hi! I’m Dee. Sweetie, can I talk to you for a moment? About – you know, your plans for later tonight?” She pulls Moz aside, a deeply annoyed look on her face.

“I’m certainly not giving one of her people my camera”, Ellie comments dryly over the barely audible bickering of the two girls in the background (“DON’T call me sweetie! Do you even KNOW what that does to my image?”). “Might aswell trash it.”

Lex smiles into Ebony’s still mildly shocked face, behind which her sharp mind must be jumping between the advantages and disadvantages of having Ellie here, to the plans she has for tonight and the next ten years of her career, to the arrival of the army guys in the background, to the damage Moz might probably cause very soon, to… “Sure, why don’t you stay, Ellie. I’ll have to see this article before you insert it into your little newspaper, of course.”

“Sure, no problem. I’m sure one of your employees can pick it up tomorrow at ten and bring it back with your comments. It will have to be before lunch, though, we planned to do the print right after. KC already organized a volunteer group to bring it to the different sectors.”

“I’ll send someone. At nine. Make sure it’s done.” Ebony sends Ellie one last, rather undecided look, then hurries towards the entrance to greet the new arrivers. “Welcome! How wonderful that you could make it!” She takes first Jay’s hand, then Mega’s and stops dead in her track upon noticing that the third person seems to be in a wheelchair and critically inspecting the room for some reason. “Have we met?”

“No, no, I would remember that, having quite an accurate and impressive cognitive system”, he smiles widely. “Or in the common street language, I’m the brains behind the big organization. You may call me Ram.”

“Well, welcome, Ram.” Ebony quickly finds back into her most charming state. “It’s nice to finally meet you. New tribes are always welcome in my city, assuming their intentions are… friendly.”

“Oh, I’m sure we’ll be very, very good friends.” Ram beams brightly at her. “Allow me to introduce some members of our organization. This is my General Jay, my right hand and most trusted advisor. And this here would be Commander Mega, one of the more technical oriented members of my staff. They’re all brilliant, of course!” He winks at Ebony, who keeps on her smile, while carefully trying not to look too impressed. “Oh, and I trust you’ve already met my friend Ved here. A rising talent in my ranks. I’m afraid to say, I can’t introduce him as a Commander yet, but he’s working so much overtime, and we all deserve a little fun for the recent hard work that went into coming here, don’t we, boys?”

Ebony looks from Mega to Jay, who both look like they have no understanding of the term ‘having fun’ whatsoever – her eyes linger on Jay – towards Ved, who is grinning sheepishly and looking over her shoulder with sort of a look between pure teenage awe and fear. How did Moz get there, anywhere? She’ll have to keep a closer eye on her back, if a crazy person lingers behind it all the time.

“Well, how nice to meet you all. I trust you boys will have fun at the party, while Ram joins our leader’s meeting in a suite we prepared for this occation on the third floor. Number 23, at eight o’clock”, she adds.

“How do you suppose he gets there?” Moz points at Ram. “No offense, man.”

“My men will help me find a solution for that.” Ram smiles confidently. “Not to worry, we’ve found solutions to bigger problems.”

“Well”, Ebony gestures towards the people nearby, who are intently listening. “These are my sheriff, my deputy sheriff. Over there is a tribe member of mine, who works for the city newspaper – we will of course send you copies tomorrow.” She notices Ved still staring at Moz, who seems too bored to glower back and instead looks over to the newly arrived party of Demon Dogs. If Moz already has been seen in an authoritive position and she doesn’t explain this to Ram, it will weaken her own position. Certainly not a desirable state. “And this is my chief of staff, Moz”, she states, making Moz’s head turn around in surprise.

“Pleased to make your acquintance”, Ram answers politely. “So, your Ebony’s right hand, so to speak?”

“So to speak”, Ebony echoes sercastically.

Moz grins in triumph. “It’s a great job. You should see my paychecks!”

“Ebony is a very generous boss then?” Ram continues to make conversation, while Mega and Ved have started an animated discussion in the background.

“Oh, that’s not even gonna start to cover it!”

“Wonderful! In this case you don’t mind showing Jay around a bit, do you? We’ll deal with the err, upstairs problem in the meantime.” Ram makes an impatient hand gesture, and Jay follows Moz, who seems far less excited about her new source of income by now, through the crowd.

Ebony feels as if this has gone very, very wrong somewhere down the line, but decides not to let it show. “I’ll have to welcome the other leaders for now, you’ll meet them at the council. If you should need anything, please adress my staff!” With that, she vanishes into the crowd, cursing her recent employment decisions silently.

Ebony still has no clue as to how Ram managed to get upstairs half an hour later, but her best guess is that his men must have carried him and the wheelchair upstairs individually. Which makes the fact that he sent Jay off with Moz all the more surprising. Does he think she’s an easy target, that she’ll tell them everything they need to know – whatever that might be? Is Jay in the end the one that fancies Moz, and not his brother?

She watches them coming closer. Observes their movements in every detail, trying to make out what they’re saying. Moz doesn’t look very interested in Ram’s General, but maybe she’s just very good at faking non-chalance after coming on to someone in a hotel room? There are far too many of them around here, anyway. Ebony bites her lip, pretending to study tonight’s discussion points in her notebook, while sitting behind a plant they will eventually have to pass by. She feels her heart beating louder, as they’re coming closer. Feels the hate for Moz’s decollete, also called navel, and her freakishly long legs and nails.

“… use to do before Ebony hired you as chief of staff?”, she can finally hear Jay’s voice. It sounds polite, too polite, almost forced.

“Freelance projects, mostly”, Moz answers curtly, and Jay’s indifference becomes more clear. Apparently Moz isn’t the most pleasant conversation partner, a solitary soldier can wish for, once she’s sticking to the protocol of not offending someone. Ebony exhales reliefed.

“That sounds very interesting”, Jay responds, still painfully polite. “For different tribes, or for Ebony in person?”

“I work for myself”, Moz informs him, not even attempting to hide the annoyance over his oh-so-correct attitude. Ebony smirks to herself, leaning over and watching their tall figures, both dressed in black, both obviously umcomfortable with the given situation. She decides it’s time to release Moz from her guard duties for tonight, after she has managed to actually be polite – at least polite for Moz’s standards.

“There you are!” She hurries towards them. “Are you coming? The meeting’s about to start. I’m sure you can join your brother downstairs at the party, Jay. You have to try the souffle, it’s wonderful!”

“And while your at it, tell the little creep I’m not a pedophile”, Moz adds, in a tone that actually still passes for polite, if you’re familiar with her impolite, normal self.

Jay just smiles at the comment. “Actually, Ram asked me to be present during the meeting, so I can explain some of our tactical plans we’d like to work out – with the help of the city leader council, of course. I’m certain you are very interested in the opportunities we have to offer.”

“It’s tribe leaders only”, Moz rejects him, without showing any emotional response of his breach of protocol. Apparently she has adapted to the military form of conversation quite well during their tour through the hotel.

“What Moz means to say”, Ebony answers Jay’s question more generously, “is that normally we only allow each tribe one representative. But since we’ve also invited the press and it’s your first meeting, I’m sure we can make an exception.”

Moz just rolls her eyes.

Jay returns Ebony’s smile broadly, which makes her heart beat a little faster, even though she thinks there is something mechanical, reactionary behind it. Like it’s just the social protocol to smile at a woman, to thank her for being polite in the nicest way possible. She could imagine nicer ways for him to think her, though.

He turns back to Moz and Ebony happily notices the slight difference with which he approaches the other girl. Is it just the lower social rank he sorts Moz into, or the fact that she just insulted his brother? Is he attracted to her, Ebony? And if he is, is he aware that he, being one of the most attractive men she has ever met, has been chosen to become her trophy in the battle against Moz’s own, slightly rougher attractions?

“I will of course ask Ved to break off his advances, since you’re obviously not interested in him. He tends to overlook such things as age barriers when it comes to – having a crush.”

Moz rolls her eyes. “Whatever, just tell him to back off!”

“Or be gentle about it”, Ebony interferes with a smile as sweet as honey, “Just tell him she’s gay.” She gives Moz a triumphing smile, which the other girl, to her utter disappointment, just returns mockingly.

“And to think it took you only two months to pick up on that…” With that she steps into the council room, leaving an open-mouthed Ebony and a slightly surprised Jay back in the hallway.

The first few points of discussion pass quickly. Ebony notices that something seems to upset the leader of the Demon Dogs, which must probably be the Technos presence. Upon the notice that there would be two of them, most tribe leaders have invited another member of their people to join the meeting, which makes it extremely crowded and had lead to Ebony’s decision to keep two protocollants around, in order for future misunderstandings to be avoided by going back exactly to what was said in which context.

Finally, Ebony gestures towards Ram. “Now, our newest tribe in the city would like to introduce themselves. Their leader and his second in command are here to make, as I understand it, an offer towards technological improvement, which I see as a welcome opportunity for all of us. It’s a historic moment for us: the first newcomers to the city since we have our new monetary system will be included in our society. I trust that we will take the time to listen to what they have to say. Of course, for the time being, it is your decision, if the city accepts their offer.” She smiles at Ram, a welcoming, but hopefully authoritive enough smile.

“Thank you for those kind words.” Ram smiles around. Most tribe leaders, like Moz, look very suspicious to say the least. The Roosters leader seems downright hostile, but at least he has stopped yelling interjections when somebody else is talking. “What some of you might not have noticed yet, since we’re all sitting around a table, is that I need a wheelchair to move forwards. Now, you might think my dear general has carried me up the stairs like an infant.” Several tribe leaders laugh, others seem offended by the mere idea of wheelchair jokes. “This is not the case. We used the elevator of course.” Shocked silence follows. “That’s right, the elevator. What you might not be aware of is the back-up generator of this hotel, which was obviously shut uff by the hotel management when they left this lovely hotel for the very last time. However, we will be able to enjoy electrical light for our party tonight, thanks to my dear friend Ved, whom you will meet very soon. It took him a record time of seventeen minutes to readjust the elevator in all it’s functions. Jay?”

His General nods, stepping aside to use the light switch. The tribe leaders murmur in amazement at the light bulbs lighting up immidiately.

“Thank you. Of course, this back-up generator isn’t the newest product. It will not run on forever. But you will be pleased to know that we already are working on the last reparations and adjustments to the old power and water works in this city. We plan to contribute to this society by selling running water and electricity. We do not expect the pay for these obviously very precious goods in their worth, but in the man power necessary to produce it. Of course”, he chuckles, “this will also mean that we soon have quite a few well-paid positions to offer.”

“That would give you a lot of power”, Moz observes quietly, while some of the other tribe leaders seem caught between her concern and downright extasy at the opportunity of taking showers and microwaves again.

“Who says this won’t get out of hand? Who says we won’t end up working for you, if we take your offer?”, the Roosters leader agrees.

“If you don’t want fresh water and power, shut up!”, someone yells at him.

“Yeah, nobody’s forcing you to buy in!”

Ram nods towards Jay, who steps forwards, his hands neatly folded behind his back. “Of course we do not want to run the risk of upsetting your power-balance in this city. Our visit is temporary. We have been to two other cities, Auckland and Sydney. We stayed five months in both locations. We re-integrated electricity and running water into the city, re-stashed a hospital in each city and built a connection over satellites. Our goal here is the same. We want members of as many tribes as possible to work in the power- and water works so we have an opportunity to educate the most suited employees in order to promote them into higher position. Our rough time plan, until we leave for Vencouver is seven to ten months. After that time period we plan to sell our remaining property in order to get enough supplies and enough petrol for our plane to leave the country.”

It’s quiet for a while. Some leaders seem unsure if they should clap or laugh. It all sounds like a fairytale, too good to be true. Several people begin to whisper, while both Ellie and the protocollants are taking notes furiously.

“In addition”, Jay adds, turning the attention back to him. “We have developed a dictation machine that runs mainly on daylight and needs almost no battery power, with a solar system that was used mostly on calculators before the virus. We would like to give this to the council, as a gift, to thank you for welcoming us so openly.”

Jet nods furiously, obviously keen on the goods that a cooperation of this will bring for her tribe. The Demon Dogs still seem uncertain, since their leader is whispering angrily into his companion’s ear.

“We could put our final point to a vote”, Ebony suggests. “If your project receives a majority, we will have to discuss the price system of course, in order to avoid an inflation.”

“But it will still be up to the tribe leaders, if they let their members join these… factories?”, Moz digs deeper. Ebony can tell she has her reservations when it comes to handing the new people too much power right away. Or handing over power to anyone at all, while ironically getting electrical power in return.

“Of course.” Ebony smiles. “I just want to be certain that the majority of you is on board with this.” She gives one of the protocollants a wink, who hands around a small box for the tribe leaders to put their votes in. Ebony watches them nervously, then puts out the little shreds of paper of the table before her. “Nine votes pro cooperation”, she counts, “and eight contra. I suppose this means, welcome to the city!”

Several tribe members clap, to show it was them who voted in the advantage of the Technos. Ram thanks the people around him and lets his General help him to manoeuvre his wheelchair to the lift, where he pushes a button and, to the amazement of all other people around him, the doors slide apart.

The leader of the Demon Dogs still seems furious with something when most of the tribe leaders have left. Ebony only planned to go back to collect her protocolls, after Ellie has added notes from them to her own, but instead runs into a full-blown fight, in which Moz is, as expected, a passionate participant.

She can barely make out all the yelling, notices that Ellie is now taking notes on what’s happening right before her nose, while Dee, Jet, Lex and several Gulls are trying to keep Moz and the angry Demon Dogs apart. Her guards have approached the scene and seem rather uncertain on how to proceed, since they feel obliged to take the side of their new boss, but don’t really understand what’s going on in the first place.

“WHAT is going on here?”, Ebony yells, to get everyone’s attention. Her guards hurry to get in the middle of the fight, which leads to some pushing and pulling, but finally a clear barrier between both fighting parties is built.

“I’ll tell you what’s going on here”, Sniper yells at Ebony, his face red under the silver make-up. “That cunt is fucking MY fucking GIRLFRIEND!”

Moz seems more amused than angry at this point: “Well, it was about time that somebody did it right, don’t you think?”

“Shut up! Just SHUT UP! Get off of me, all of you! I’m gonna smash your head in, you bitch!!”

“Bring it! We all know you just LOVE to beat up women, why not make it official with someone who can actually defend-“


“Get him outside!”, Ebony yells at her guards, who take quick action to manouvre all Demon Dogs included towards the fire exit. It gives Ebony a certain satisfaction to see the Locos’ old arch-enemies leave in such an unceremonial way, but she can’t help to notice that it sounds like Moz provoced this fight herself.

“We can take in Natalya for a while”, she hears Jet promising one of the leaving Demon Dogs who seems in fact concerned about – whoever this Natalya girl is.

Ebony steps closer to Moz, glowering at her, even though she is relieved this didn’t happen in Ram’s presence. “What was that all about?”

Moz looks a bit annoyed now. “Random asshole, beating up his girlfriend for months – I was trying to get her outta there for almost five weeks now, but she was too scared of him to break it off.”

“And his… other accusations?” Ebony feels almost uncomfortable asking. Moz apparently being gay seems somehow strange to her, wrong. As if some puzzle pieces were missing. She can’t help but wonder if it maybe was a lie to make her feel uncomfortable, or to get rid of Ved.

Moz avoids her eyes. She seems strangely touched, vulnerable for the first time since Ebony has met her. “Really? A helpless girl gets beaten up on a regular basis and THAT’S your main concern?”, she lashes out and it seems to Ebony for a moment as though she saw tears in Moz’s eyes, but then it’s gone. Must have been a trick of the light. “I’ll see you tomorrow”, Moz murmurs and collects her weapons, passing by a speechless Ellie in the doorway.

Mouses head is spinning and she feels sick. There was running, walking, breaks, more running, and all the smells and sounds and lights of this strange place. She tries to call out for Charlie, but can’t breathe controlled enough to do so.

In a desperate attempt to get his attention, she starts running again, calling his name as loud as she can manage, which isn’t very loud, and disturbed by all the panting: “Cha-ar-lie-ie waiiiit!” The moment the words are out, everything starts to move very fast, in a very disturbing manner. Her feet are lifted of the ground, and she is pulled upwards, like on a swing. When she can think clearly enough again, after the first shock has settled down, she begins to start fearful. Her hands can’t reach out of the net and the leaves around her, and she’s pressed together, trapped. There’s only thing she still can do: “Charliiiie!”

When two big, grown up human figures approach her, she fears for a moment that they won’t have faces, that they will be the robots from the city. They move closer, and to Mouse’s relief they have faces, smiling ones. One is that of a man, framed by long, black hair. The other one is female, framed by dark purple hair. They’re both wearing dark, long coats and carrying fishes in a net.

“So, little girl”, the man asks, smiling. “What brings you to our forest?”

Written by: Nemesis

Trust me, it’s Paradise

This is where the hungry comes to feed
For mine is a generation that circles the globe
In search of something we haven’t tried before
So never refuse an invitation, never resist the unfamiliar
Never fail to be polite and never outstay your welcome

Just keep your mind open and suck in the experience
And if it hurts - you know what… it’s probably worth it

Episode 6 – Safehaven

It’s been twenty-two days since Mouse and her brother have been taken by the strangers, to a place that is like a fairytale. A place where the air tastes fresh and wonderful, where the food is so different than anything they have ever tasted before, where mysterious people live mysterious lives in a secret world, unknown to the people outside, far, far away from the masked robots.

Mouse loves to observe them, hiding behind bushes and trees. She loves that it is so much easier to hide here than in the city, loves her games with Charlie so much more in this magic place. She’s seen Amber, beautiful sad Amber, who they sometimes call Eagle. She’s seen her come back from long walks in the woods, with her friend Trudy. She’s amazed by their leader Pride, the strange man who found her and Charlie in the woods, who brought her to paradise. She’s a little frightened of the dogs, and of Hawk, who is almost as silent as her and her brother. Then there is the man who vanishes now and then. He doesn’t seem to belong here, like the others. He looks almost like them, even with his short hair. He moves like them, works with them, but Mouse can feel he’s different. Come-and-go-man, Charlie calls him, and Mouse giggles every time, reminding her brother that the name is Bray. It doesn’t matter though, Come-and-go-man does his name justice. It’s like a funny game, standing up in the morning, guessing where he will be.

But most of all, Mouse has seen of Brady, the little girl they all adore so much. Trudy, Come-and-go-man, Pride, all of them. The way her little laugh makes them smile. The way she makes the one called Amber sad, and Mouse can’t understand why. Brady, and her huge, loving family. She’s seen Brady with Trudy and Come-and-go-man, and she’s envied her. This is what her family used to be like – this is how her parents used to look at her. Mouse would give anything to have Brady’s life.

Charlie says they can’t speak to the forest people. And Mouse agrees. They seem nice, but so did the last people. In the end, grown-ups always turn on you, get rid of the weakest, smallest mouths to feed in order to save themselves. They leave their tribes, for love and strange other reasons. Charlie and her have stayed behind one too many times. There’s no more faith in grown-ups left between them.

“I know.” Mouse looks up, seeing Pride’s broad smile in the fire light. “It’s Salt and Pepper. Your true names are Salt and Pepper, am I right?”

Mouse shakes her head. Salt and Pepper, that’s stupid! Not like her real name isn’t stupid, too. Charlie told her that their parents also had another, different name for her, but it’s hard to remember it. As long as she can think back, she’s always been called Mouse. At some point in time, the memories from before the virus started to vanish, and her true name along with it.

“Marco and Denise? Clark and Lois? Luke and Leia?”, Pride keeps guessing.

Mouse keeps shaking her head. She watches Come-and-go-man appear in the background, while the others keep suggesting names, watches him give Brady a good-night kiss and go over to talk to Amber. They’re weird around each other, Mouse thinks. Sometimes, they give each other these looks, like her mum and dad used to, but they’re not wearing matching rings. Come-and-go-man is wearing a ring, though, and if she would feel save to talk she would ask him, if Amber gave it to him. He gives Amber a kiss, but it looks like the one he gave Brady, and she doesn’t look half as happy about it as the little girl did. She leaves her maybe-husband to join the others at the fire, where Trudy and Hawk stop their conversation to make space for her. The moment Amber looks up, Mouse quickly lowers her eyes to the sandy floor. Somehow, it doesn’t feel like beautiful sad Amber likes her and Charlie very much.

The leaves’ murmur in the air, a bird, and the silence of the rest of the world. The consuming world, the modern, loud, destructive world that humans have created over the centuries. Here she can barely hear it. It’s the middle of the woods, a small, magic place, wonderful at both day and night, where she comes to find peace within herself.

Tai San sits down on the dry grass, lifting her hands to the sky. It’s different when she meditates here. It’s like she can touch the universe, like every memory is crystal clear. She can see where she went wrong, what was not her path, but seemed like it. She thinks of Lex, the Guardian, of all the people she’s lost. Patsy, little Patsy who loved to listen to her stories, who was so full of life and spirit. Dal, who was so close to nature. Ryan, wonderful sweet Ryan, so strong, so corageous. Danni, with whom she had had so many arguments, but who fought for her beliefs. Salene, who is on her own journey to find herself. Luke and Sasha, who left the Mall in search of a new life. Glen and Zoot, who died at the Mall, but still touched their lives in a way they couldn’t have imagined. And the Guardian, the man who did such horrifying things, even though she could see the scared little boy inside him, and at times, she could reach him.

Tai San feels a slight pinch when she thinks of Zandra. So vivacious, and so vicious at times. She met Zandra at a point in her life, when she was still new to the Mall Rats, when everything was fresh and challenging. She remembers comforting Zandra, fighting with her, feeling threatened by her and laughing with her. It was special, Zandra’s laugh, full of life and youth and beauty.

She feels glad that Zandra had Lex in her life, someone she could love in her time. When she wanted to marry them, she wished them joy, and a long life together. She remembered that, on her own wedding day with Lex, and she felt that Lex did, too. She remembers Zandra’s funeral and the feeling that she could never say one bad thing against her. Nothing about her naivity, her childlike nature, or her gossiping. Just the wish that Zandra found it in her heart to forgive her, before she died. She and the baby…

A gruesome picture re-appears in Tai San’s mind and she almost wants to open her eyes, almost wants to stop the meditation. The baby, covered in blood, underneath which its skin is so pure and fresh, the embodyment of innocence. Bray’s shaking hands, trying to rip, scratch, cut the ambilical cord off it’s neck, her own, finally on his arm, telling him it’s too late with just one look…

The unease doesn’t leave her mind. What, if it wasn’t destiny? What, if it was her who killed the baby?

She hears steps, feels a presence, warm, graceful, a healing, guilt-driven presence. “Trudy?”

The other girl smiles, sitting down beside her. “Bray told me where to find you.”

Of course. Tai San can feel her own hollow face, the guilt in it – Trudy must see it. She must know what’s going on!

“Do you – do you mind?”

“No, I – I’m just surprised. We don’t talk much, you and I.”

“I know.” Trudy looks down to the floor. “I’ve never had the chance to apologize to you, about, you know, the Chosen and everything.”

“You don’t have to apologize to me Trudy. Not after everything you’ve been through, not after my presence in the Guardian’s life nearly cost you your life!”

Trudy nods, but it’s obvious she disagrees. “But… you saved Brady! And… and you were just helping Bray and Lex and Amber – it’s different with me! You know, at first, all I wanted was to run. Take Brady and run. And when I gave up on that hope, I began to listen. What they said, it began to make sense to me, despite knowing better. When I met them, Martin was just this shy, sweet boy in my memories, who couldn’t handle the pain. That was the boy I wanted to tell Brady about when she grew up. When I came back to the mall, Zoot had become this powerful stranger in my mind. It was like it was true, what they said! Amber insists that I was just brainwashed. Bray keeps telling me he would have done anything to protect Brady, too. But that’s not all and I feel so… so guilty!”

“Do you want to know a secret?” Tai San takes Trudy’s hand. It’s time, time to reach out and trust each other again. “I had doubts, too. I played my part, I still knew Lex was the one I loved, I still knew all of my believes, but in the Guardian’s presence, they became weaker, until he became weaker, until I finally saw my chance to help him heal. I think I understood him, in a way, but I never truly healed him. He played me to get my sympathy, my friendship. He even played me to avoid a trial and I fell for it. It was me who stopped Bray from handing over the Guardian, and…” she can barely speak on, her voice is shaking. “I made Lex help me. It was me who could stood aside and saved you after just days of your horrible imprisonment, who could have saved Amber. And I didn’t. Salene said it was because I had to prove what a great healer I am, and maybe she was right?”

“It doesn’t matter now”, Trudy reassures her. “I’m sure you wanted to help us, you just didn’t want somebody to die for it. You didn’t know who you were dealing with, you couldn’t even know we were still alive. There’s no sense in blaming yourself, Tai San. Sometimes there just isn’t one right way to go.”

It’s early in the morning, when Pride, Bray and a group of five more Gaians take off to the more closely populated area of the woods. Rabbits, deers and boars have learned to avoid the Eco tribe over the years. They don’t hunt much, since most of their diet is based on vegetables, fruits and fish, but occasionally they do and that means an almost certain death for the animals that cross their path.

They don’t speak, walk side by side in silence. It takes Bray, who is lost in thoughts, a while to notice he and Pride have fallen back. He tries to catch up, but Pride stops him. “It’s alright, no need to rush. They’ll wait for us.”

“Yes, but…” It takes Bray another moment to notice that this has not happened by accident. Pride planned this, to talk to him. It’s one of his favourite things, now that Amber’s misery has left him in charge of the Gaians: Get Bray in a secluded place and talk him into talking “Eagle” into things she doesn’t want, things she’s not ready for, like re-joining the council.

“Have you thought about joining the leader’s council?”, Pride surprises him. He doesn’t receive an answer. “Look, Bray, I understand your reservations, but we could really use you in there.”

“Because I’ve been such a great leader back in the city?”, Bray asks cynically.

“You’re capable of much more than you think. And here we won’t leave you alone with your decisions and responsibilities, so it won’t be your fault if something doesn’t go prefectly. That’s the cause of a council – we each bring our suggestions, instead of cornering each other. I think it could be good for you, and for us, if you were there. I know Tai San found it very inspiring.” He notices a certain motion at the mentioning of her name. “You don’t still blame her for pressuring you, do you?”

“I never blamed anyone but myself”, Bray answers quickly, too quickly.

“It’s the same answer Tai San and Trudy used to give me”, Pride tells his friend calmly. “Maybe the answer is not searching guilt for what has happened in the past. Maybe it is building a future and learning from your mistakes.”

Bray laughs silently. “You sound like Amber.”

Pride nods. “She’s a close friend. And a teacher in so many ways. We’re glad to have her back on the council. You know, I think with the two of you together we could come to a lot of progress. And you could spent more time with her. Isn’t that what you want to do?”

“I want what’s the best for Amber”, Bray answers quickly. “These meetings exhaust her. Being with me depresses her. You really think adding that up is a good idea.”

“I know fighting for what she believes in has helped Eagle come back to live before”, Pride switches the names without noticing. “And I also know that her love for you is very strong. Maybe this is an opportunity for healing, for both of you.”

“Ah, you mean like group therapy?” Bray starts walking faster. The sooner they will catch up with the others, the sooner Pride will have to be quiet and he will be able to go back to blissful oppression. It’s what Amber does, everytime she smiles, everytime she laughs. It works for her, so why should he not be allowed to do the same? It’s easier. It’s what helped him through Martin’s death, through the death of his parents. Focussing on himself, on regaining balance in private, instead of drowning in pain. Fighting it down, instead of burdening other people with it. Other people like Amber, who must feel so much worse.

“It was just a thought. Bray, I’m trying to help you here!”, Pride says in a harsher voice, when he’s caught up.

“No, thanks. I’m fine.”

“That’s what Eagle said. You must be unhappy with the way things are – living in different places, barely seeing each other.”

“Did it ever occur to you that I’m just giving Amber space, like she asked me to?” Bray shakes his head over Pride’s blindness of Amber’s vulnerable, not-so-perfect site. If Amber doesn’t want to see him, he won’t help either one of them if he forces his presence on her.

“Maybe she needs you now more than ever”, Pride answers, the same sentence that Tai San and Trudy have told him, again and again.

“You know, a few months ago I would have thought the same”, Bray answers, careful not to slide on the unsafe ground. “But what would I say now? That everything’s going to be alright? That I’ll be there for her, that we’ll get through this together? I can barely deal with it myself! I’ve tried. I tried lying to her. Didn’t do much good. If I want to be with Amber ever again, I’ll have to do what she asks me to do?”

“And that’s what you want? Be with her, live with her?” In a strange way it seems as though there’s a trace of accusation in Pride’s words.

“I’d like to avoid pressuring her into anything she doesn’t want”, Bray answers sharply.

Pride seems embarrassed and a bit lost in his own argument now. “I wasn’t talking about…”

“Good.” Bray’s eyes are narrow and as he attempts to smile, it doesn’t quite reach his eyes. “Let’s just leave it at that.”

It’s in the late afternoon, when Mouse notices that something is not alright with Charlie. He’s sitting on his bed, his face pale and sweaty, his eyes glittering with tears. Charlie normally avoids crying, in order not to scare her, so this must be bad, really really bad.

“Are you scared?”, she asks quietly, taking his cold hand.

“No.” He whispers it, his voice hoarse, shaking.

“Are you in pain?”, she jumps to the next option.

Sammy looks up, the agony in his face hurting his sister, too. “My belly feels bad. And I think I can’t…” His hand grips his throat, and Mouse notices that breathing seems to be painful for him.

“You have to stand up! We have to find someone…” She tries to pull her older brother up, but he’s too heavy. Sighing and sweating, Mouse gives up, pressing a pillow under his head. He smells funny, she notices, like she does when she’s so sick that… She presses her hand in front of her mouth, running outside to get help.

All the long legs of grown-ups before her make her stumble back, while her face is directed upwards in order to see theirs. “What is it, Pepper?”, she can hear Pride’s voice, but remembers she can’t talk to them, none of them. She promised Charlie! But then if she doesn’t talk, he might get more sick. With one shaking hand Mouse points towards their little hut, to the wide open door through which a bit of Charlie’s leg is visible.

Pride drops the things he was carrying and hurries over to her brother. He disappears into the hut, and for a few seconds it’s quiet, for the time Mouse needs to count to five nobody says a word. Then she can hear Pride’s voice: “Someone tell Tai San and Hawk we have a situation here, hurry!”

An alarmed Trudy follows him into the hut, while one of the other Ecos runs of to alert the people their leader called for.

Mouse keeps standing in her spot, feeling stunned by the shock, everyone moving around her with big steps, all the giant people, like a flirring motion of lights and colours. She doesn’t even react when someone kneels down in front of her, placing big hands on both of her shoulders. It’s when she looks into Come-and-go-man’s eyes that Mouse feels slightly better. They’re not a stranger’s eyes; they’re warm, friendly, trustworthy.

“Do you trust me?”, he asks quietly, and it’s a stange question, not one that Mouse would have expected. To her own amazement, she nods, tasting something salty, wet on her lips. The cold air feels hostile and frightening on her skin, like everything in this world used to feel. But it’s true, she trusts Come-and-go-man.

“I’m Bray”, he says, very calmly and very quietly, a smile on his face. “What’s your name?”

“Mouse”, she whispers and claps her hand in front of her mouth in shock at the same moment.

Bray’s eyes are lighting up. “Don’t worry, I’m your friend. I won’t tell anyone, if you don’t want me to.”

Mouse exhales in relief, nodding. Noone. That sounds good. That way Charlie won’t know.

“Can you tell me, what happened to your brother, Mouse?”

“Do you promise…?”

“Hey”, he squeezes one of her shoulders lightly. “All I will tell the others is what happened to your brother. I won’t tell them your name, and I won’t tell them that you talked to me. But you do want to help your brother, don’t you?”

Mouse hestitates. If they’ll find out, what she and Charlie did, they will be mad. They could throw them out, like the others before them did, and then Charlie would hate her, too, and she’d be all alone.

“You know, he’s very sick, we might not have a lot of time. I know you want to help him, I had a brother once, too.”

“What happened to him?”, Mouse asks, wiping her tears away with her sleeve.

“He died”, Bray cofirms her worst fears. “But your brother doesn’t have to!”

“We only wanted to try the mushrooms”, Mouse blurts out. “And we didn’t know the good ones, so we took some from the food stash for everyone and Charlie wanted to try them first and he said they tasted funny and now he will die and you will throw me out and…” She starts sobbing in his arms, not even noticing Amber standing on the balcony of her tree house, looking down on the scenery with a strange look on her face.

“It’s alright, it’s going to be okay”, Bray comforts the little girl. “Just come with me and show me which mushrooms he ate. Trust me, we will not punish you.”

It’s dark outside when Pride knocks at Amber’s door. “You missed all the action.”

Amber shrugs, holding on to the book she was looking at, occasionally reading a page or two, while her mind kept wandering to places she didn’t want it to go. It’s not that she doesn’t enjoy Pride’s company, or a good novel by candlelight, but it’s not the same anymore. Nothing is.

“We thought it might be food poisoning, but thankfully Bray somehow found out he only ate raw Shiitakes.”

“He talked to the little girl.” Pride can see a hollow, ghostly smile appearing on her face. A smile that somehow makes her face sadder than he’s ever seen it.

“So they can talk?” Pride nods, both happy and surprised by this development. “Did he say how he did it?”

“I didn’t ask. Doesn’t matter, it’s nothing you can explain, he’s just Bray.” When Pride looks puzzled, Amber puts down her book. “When he first joined us, he sneaked around the Mall for a while and we thought he was a spy. Then, after Ryan and Lex couldn’t catch him, I went down to the sewers with Dal, cause we heard a noise. And there he was, just like that. He told us to lower our weapons, that he was a friend and for some strange reason I believed him. I didn’t doubt him one second. He just sat down at our table and became our friend. When Ryan and Lex were back, he was already more a part of the group than they were.” A true smile appears on her face, indulged in nostalgia. “It didn’t hold long, he kept coming and going, being mysterious and not really trustworthy. And still he managed to make us take Trudy in, while she was nine months pregnant. I was against it at the time.” Her voice sounds more bitter at the last remark, the memory of Trudy’s loyalty during her own miscarriage on her mind. “Then, one day Cloe runs into him talking to the leader of the Locos, and he managed to bring her back to the Mall. She never lost a word about what happened, but I’m sure he just talked her into trusting him again on the way home.”

“He certainly does make friends easy”, Pride agrees. “I talked to him about joining the council this morning.”

Amber shifts uncomfortably on her bed covers. “Why, did he want to?”

“He said he wants to give you space. Amber, are you sure it wouldn’t be easier for both of you…”

“No, I… I can’t see Bray right now.” She looks to her folded hands over the book cover. “I don’t expect you to understand, it just hurts too much.”

“Listen.” Pride puts one hand on her arm. “I know you don’t wanna hear this right now, but you’ve got to find a way to ease things over with Bray. If you want to break up, break up with him. If you still love him, you’ve got to find a way to let him know. Bray’s a wanderer, Amber. It’s not in his nature to stay where he isn’t wanted. if he promised to give you time, than that’s your thing, but don’t take too long.”

“He wouldn’t leave.” It’s the most painful thought that keeps her up at night, it’s illogical, immature, but she can’t shake it off: “He wouldn’t leave Brady, or Trudy. They’re his family.” The bitterness in her voice shocks herself, but it hurts so much, seeing them together. Seeing their happiness, seeing Bray with his niece, and the little stray kids. He’s good at this, it’s what he wanted: being there for children, raising them. She can’t help but feeling like she failed that expectation on purpose, like the little gap of time between finding out she was pregnant and deciding to keep the baby had an influence on what happened.

Her eyes are burning, when Pride takes her into his arms. He says nothing, doesn’t try to calm her down or assure her that things are going to be better, like Bray would. He’s just there. And at the moment, that’s all she could wish for.

The world has gotten so much smaller, and with it her hopes and dreams.

Charlie let’s Mouse rest her head on his shoulder, while they listen to the good-night story for Brady. Only now, it’s their story, too. They listen closely to the story Bray tells, to the lullaby Trudy sings with a clear, loving voice and a smile on her face that reminds them of their own mother.

“Are we home now?”, Charlie whispers in Mouse’s ear and Trudy looks up in surprise.

“So you can talk!” She holds her tired daughter closer, still humming the tune of the lullaby. “What are you whispering about?”

“Nothing”, Mouse answers shyly, looking over to Bray, who sends her a last smile before he leaves them for the night. Maybe there are grown-ups here in paradise that they can trust.

“They’re asleep now.” Trudy sits down at Bray’s side, while he stares into the night. It’s strange, she thinks. Everyone else would look into the fire, Bray seems to prefer solid darkness. “Will you tell me their names now or should I keep guessing?”

A smile hushes over Bray’s face, but it’s gone so fast she’s not sure it was there at all. “Who says I know them?”

“Do you – know them?”

“Maybe.” He looks over at her, starting to say something, but stopping himself at the last second. “Are you happy here, Trudy?”

“I am.” She nods, looking back to the hut Brady’s already sleeping in. “It’s the most peaceful place I’ve ever been to. My best friends are here, my daughter…” She realizes that that might have been an insensitive thing to say and stops mid-sentence. “Are you happy?”

Bray doesn’t answer for a long time. His eyes are fixed on something she can’t see, and this strange sensation washes over her, like a de-ja vue. This is how it used to be, how he used to be, back then… She has evolved, has grown up and found out what was important in her life. She’s left the scared fourteen year old pregnant girl behind and found happiness and peace. And just weeks ago, it seemed like he’d found his way, too. Stopped wandering, disappearing and being uncertain for good. He’d found the love of his life, intended to start a family, and then…

“You know what’s the strange thing?”, Bray interrupts her thoughts. “Everybody keeps telling me that I shouldn’t feel guilty for what happened during the birth, or, you know, right before. And they’re right, I know that wasn’t my fault.”

Trudy leans in closer. Something is wrong, something is very, very wrong about this. she doesn’t know what it is, since Bray is finally agreeing to what she told him for years, but she can just feel it. “What is it?”

“Apart from the fact that I had no business pushing her to have a baby when she didn’t want one? All I thought of was the wonderful future in which we would have a wonderful baby and everything would be perfect. If I could just have listened to her, asked her if she was afraid, or if her mom had c-sections, or if there were any other risks in her medical history I didn’t know about – I didn’t think to ask any of those questions! And you know what I really hate myself for?”

Trudy holds her breath, unsure whether it is better if she hears this or not.

“Without me, Amber wouldn’t have gotten pregnant in the first place. It would have saved her from that dilemma, it would’ve saved her from suffering and she never had to suffer like that.” He looks up, and it’s that facial expression he had when he blamed Martin’s transition to Zoot on himself all over again. “Maybe she’s be better off without me.”

Written by: Nemesis

So, the partys over. Its a quiet night, our fortunes prosper well.
The Foreign Secretary finds succour from the harsh affairs of state in the soft fragrance of the game.
A leader out of touch. A man of straw clutching at straws, his future closing in front of him like a fist
Who would be a leader in this wicked world?
(“House of Cards”, 1990)

Episode 7 – House of Cards

It’s strange, how fast everything changed. Sometimes this all seems like a dream to KC, and he’s not sure whether it’s a good one or not. The city seemed in an upswing during the last weeks on the surface, but they can’t see what he sees. They’re stuck. They buy water, electricity and receive jobs from the Technos and they rely on Ebony for money to buy it all.

Sure, the Mall Rats are still producing the money, so they get a good discount on electricity from the Technos, but it’s Ebony who orders bags of coins every week, and they have to supply. Ellie has been producing very snide articles about it, but Jack could keep her from publishing any of them, for her own good. For now.

“Watch out!”, he yells at the Mosquito who bumps into him on the stairs. He doesn’t know since when, but apparently they’re living on the second floor of Ebony’s Palace now. And the only one of them he can stand is Dee, who can be nice if she wants to, but is too close to Moz, to be a real friend. Then there is that Gull chick, who’s here all the time for some reason. Not that she’s any nicer than the Mosquitoes, but she’s certainly something to look at. And Rachel, a Mozzie who used to be big in taking bets and made money on whatever she bet on, but somehow disappeared from the scene; it’s as if Moz is keeping them all on the short leash, as if she’s afraid something will come out of nowhere to rip her tribe apart – which doesn’t stop her from renewing the feud Ebony’s men used to have with the Demon Dogs, back when they were Locos. There’s a lot of rumors about it out there why, some of it work in Moz’s favour, some don’t. He supports the ones that don’t.

Ebony’s office is crammed with employees, when he walks in. “KC!” Her smile is so fake that everyone in the room must notice. “What can I do for you?”

“Special delivery.” He puts on a smile so wide that Moz must get suspicious, only to notice that she’s not even here. What a waste of time. Driving those two apart is the newest strategy he and Lex have come up with, but their surfacy friendship still doesn’t seem to have a scratch. They’re best buds with the Technos, the shining idols of the city. Two obviously evil hot chicks with all the power, it’s like a good movie. Or a comic. Very Sin City. KC doesn’t want to admit it, but he’s impressed by what they have. Not that he doesn’t want to help destroy it, but it’s still kinda cool.

Ebony throws a quick look at his bag, of which she knows there is money in it that’s not her salary and wouldn’t make one person in the room happy and smiles even wider and faker. “Would you like to have a drink, something to eat? This could take a while, why don’t you wait at the pool.”

KC shrugs, puts his an electronic bug in his chewinggum under her desk table and strolls down to the pool. The sun is shining. He’s just fulfilled Jack’s, Lex’s and Ebony’s wishes at the same time and tonight he’s got a date with the Roulette table in Sector 4. Life is sweet.

“Quit complaining. Life’s a bitch and then you die, get over it.” Moz leans out of the pool and lets her wet hand run over the exposed skin, and Natalya quickly rolls over on her towel, giving her the silent treatment. “or like the French say, c’est la vie.”

Natalya can’t help but smile at the sentiment. “That’s a pretty free translation.” It’s everything. Cynical, not really correct, but so strong and wrong and at the same time so right it confuses her. It’s Moz. And she’s been lying in the sun for too long, apparently. “All I’m saying is the water is too cold.”

“And all I’m saying is you’re a little bitch. Come in and I’ll heat it up for you.”

Natalya can feel her face heating up at the very sound of Moz’s words. Right now she’s glad for the sunglasses, glad for the bit of distance she can create with it. It’s not that she doesn’t enjoy the thrill of fooling around with Moz, of expanding the boundaries of what her church would have considered ‘sin’ behind closed doors – and they’ve been doing that a lot. It’s one thing as long as there’s this exciting secret, creating rumors, making everything more glamorous, more ambiguous, it’s another thing when… “Not here, we’re at the pool!”

She can feel the wet fingers dancing over the heated, sun-cream covered skin of her arms again and is glad noone is nearby. “You didn’t mind last night.” A light kiss on her wrist, as if the lips aren’t even there, as if it’s just someone breathing on her skin. Goose bumps and the fear of someone walking by, seeing this – it’s like her body is working against her. The fine, light hair on her arms is standing up, and she can feel her heart racing, from something, to something, it doesn’t even matter. It’s a constant race. She decides it’s best to pretend being asleep, that way Moz will give up the fastest.

“I know you’re awake.”

“Get lost!”

“You’re getting a sunburn.”

She rolls around, only to notice that now her face is only inches apart from Moz’s, and she’s practically bending over her from the brim of the pool. “You did that on purpose.”

“That is an ourageous accusation and I have no idea what you’re talking about.” There’s something wolfish in Moz’s smile, and Natalya hopes, prays that is not the reason why she’s so irreversibly attracted to her. “You know I could just throw you in”, she adds, but it’s an empty thread.

“You’re a violent disturbing force and I’ll never touch you ever again. Now go away to annoy someone else, you’re disturbing my tanning process.”

Moz just chuckles. “Please.”

Natalya takes off her sunglasses (or, to be more specific, Moz’s sunglasses) to give her the angry silent treatment. It’s not that passive-agressive silence works in Moz’s case, but she can still distract her, the only kind of power she has in an argument with Moz. She knows that the other girl is strangely fascinated by her light blue eyes, like she’s fascinated by her strawberry blonde hair in the sun and her skin that is so bright that it should be a new colour, since ‘white’ doesn’t cover it anymore.

She sighs, considering going back inside. The only problem is, ‘inside’ means Moz’s room, and she doesn’t have the keys to it. Or the nerves to lure her out of the pool in broad daylight in an effiecient way. She leans over, ignoring the other girl’s triumphant smile. “This wouldn’t be an issue if we were in your room, milyĭ.“

The smile fades and Moz starts swimming backwards. “You just want the keys!”

“You’ve got serious trust issues, did someone ever tell you that?”, Natalya snaps back at her.

“Someone… might have mentioned “issues” at one point”, Moz responds, hestitating, but it’s already a game again, nothing she takes seriously. Natalya closes her eyes in frustration, feels the other girls lips on hers seconds later. The vast taste of chlor, lipstick, coffee. She doesn’t have the energy to pull back and start yet another fight, not today.

“Oh my God!” The kid just stands there, eyes and mouth wide open, his blue spiked hair standing in every direction. Natalya grabs her towel, jumps up and heads for the stairs to the next opened door.

KC stares after her in a mix of fascination and disappointment that he couldn’t keep his mouth shut. Two girls kissing right in front of him and he had to ruin it! He stumbles backwards, when a wet hand grabs his collar and turns him around, almost choking him.

“I didn’t see anything, I swear!”

“Good!” Moz glowers at him through narrow, almost black eyes. “I hope you’re not lying, because I can’t – stand – liars! Let me make this very clear: If you tell anyone what you didn’t just see, I’ll be very, very disappointed in you. And I tend to get angry, when I’m disappointed. You wanna know what I do with nosy little Rats when I’m angry?” She shakes the fist that’s still holding his collar.

“N-no?” There’s something he can see besides his own reflection in the whites of her now wide opened eyes. Something that reminds him of a certain crazy guy with a liking for open fires and top hats.

“Trust me, you don’t wanna find out!”

She can see flashing lights dancing in front of her eyes, as the darkness of the hotel hallways surrounds her after being in the bright sun all afternoon, can’t remember feeling so exposed in her entire life. Her legs are shaking violently when she’s reached Moz’s locked room and she can’t help herself, clinging to the doorknob, trying to force it open until her legs cave in. Moz, Jet, Ebony, Sniper, the blue-haired kid, all their faces become one, that judges her, telling her she’s sick, wrong, disgusting for what she’s done.

She doesn’t even notice she’s crying until she hears footsteps coming closer, and a key opening the door beside her. Looking up, she can see Moz’s legs walking by her and jumps up before the door closes behind her.

Moz doesn’t say anything. She just starts getting dressed, kisses her cheek when she passes her, but avoids her eyes. Natalya can’t shake off the feeling that she’s made a mistake that was big enough to hurt even Moz’s apparently non-existent feelings concerning their non-relationship, but she has no idea what it is that upset her in the first place.

“Okay, what do you think about this?” Ellie swivels around in her chair, the newest print out of an ‘Amulet’ article in her hands. She faces Jack and May, who sit before her, May with her arms crossed and Jack slightly absent. “’Our government, built by all Tribe leaders and our elected city leader may not be considering all the risks that come with letting a new tribe supply us with running water and electricity. A not very well known fact is that as of today, the ‘Technos’ employ over 100 citizens and still offer new positions. Sure, it might seem nice to use a dish washer again, or take hot showers, but is that really what we should be putting all our energy into? We are all so quick to jump on the band wagon, overlooking questions that have never been answered. Questions like: Why are the Technos so hestitant to give us any information about the exact length of their stay? What are their goals besides making money, and why did they chose our city while being unaware that we had a monetary system in the first place? And most importantly: What could our city leader’s motivations be to not ask those questions?’ What do you think – too agressive?”

May plays with her hair, leaning back on the sofa. “I don’t know… if Ebony decides you can’t print her name in the papers tomorrow, it’s useless. I don’t know why you bother with that anyway.”

“To get an interview with the Techno leaders. To give the public the information they need. What do you think, Jack?”

Jack shrugs. “I don’t know anything about these people, Ellie. I can’t tell you how they’ll react, but there is a certain risk there.”

“Exactly.” Ellie looks down on her print out, nodding confidently. “That’s the reaction I was going for. People need to start doubting big words from people who could be of a danger to us. May, have you found out anything about Sector 15 and 16?”

“No.” May shakes her head, but she’s still not very motivated. “I mean, there was a bar in Sector 16 before the Chosen showed up, but nothing exciting since. And Sector 15 was always kinda empty. There were a few strays in the Loco days, later on some commune people and some crazies, but now it’s like ghost town in there. If you want, I could look up some people in the area, see what I can find out, but I don’t think there’s much of a story there.”

“Possible, but it’s still news, if we have uninhabited Sectors”, Ellie decides. “Besides, I need a few short filler-up articles, there’s not much happening right now.”

“You could always write about the fact that our city leader is living with her election opponent and that we give her as much money as she wants, without regard of Luke’s regulation statistics”, Jack remarks sarcastically. “I mean, I didn’t like the guy, but he had a point. I’ve collected metal for three bags of money today and I know it’s just going straight into Ebony’s safe!”

Ellie shakes her head, looking to the floor. It still makes her sad to think about Luke and wherever he is now. Or Alice, who fled to the farm to avoid the unwanted fame amongst crazy people congratulating her for wasting the Guardian, and from the memories of living with Ned and of what he did to Amber and Trudy. She still visits her sometimes, helps her repair the rusty old farming equipment and sew carrots and turnips, but the Mall Rats life has become so busy with producing more and more money, bringing out a weekly issue of the Amulet and financing it, keeping Dee out of certain rooms so she can’t tell her bff Moz about newspaper articles and other things in advance and trying to undermine Ebony’s regime… it’s hard to stay in touch, even with the most important person in her life. “I wish I could, Jack. If there was a way Ebony wouldn’t know it was me writing this stuff, or if Bray was still here – but it’s too dangerous and I don’t want to hurt anybody. For now it’s gotta be enough to follow Lex’s plan and wait for Tai San to come back, and maybe the others, too.”

May snorts. “Lex! As if he has a plan!”

Ironically this is the moment Lex choses to walk in and place a package on the table. “Got you a new printer cartridge”, he announces proudly. “What are you working on, anything interesting?”

“Here, read it for yourself.” Ellie hands him the article. She gets up from her chair to unpack the new cartridge, but stops when she reads the text on the box. “Lex, this is the wrong one, this one only works for bigger printers.”

“Huh?” Lex looks up from the article, a strange, concentrated look on his face. He seems unsure what to respond, as if his mind drifted of for a second. “Aren’t they all the same?”

“No, this one is too big”, Jack explains slightly frustrated.

May rolls her eyes. “Genius, Lex. You’re really the man of the hour!”

“Hey, I paid for this with my own salary!”, Lex yells at her, crunching the piece of paper in his balled fist. “Just like I pay for the paper and the food around here! And as long as YOU don’t get a job that can help us all, I suggest you better shut up!”

“Whatever!” May throws the pillow she’s been sitting on to the floor and storms out of the room.

“It’s not your mistake, I should have told you exactly what I needed”, Ellie tries to calm Lex down.

“Yeah, I’m sure KC can trade this in for the right one”, Jack adds quickly. “I can go with him and make sure he doesn’t get an empty one”, he offers to Ellie.

“Thanks.” She smiles at him. “And thank you, Lex. I’ll better shut down the computer now, so we still have enough electricity to cook dinner. Do you want a new copy?” She points add the crumpled piece of paper in his hand.

“No, it’s okay, wouldn’t want you to waste your batteries.” Lex smiles awkwardly at her and Jack, whose grin is way too knowing (either Dal or Bray must have selled his inability to read out!) and leaves the room with quick steps.

“You know we wouldn’t have to rely on him if Ebony paid us properly for making the money instead of just taking it from us and treating us as her slaves?”, Jack mutters angrily. “We’d also have more electricity!”

“We have enough to keep the “Amulet” going and cook meals”, Ellie disagrees. “And the water we get from the roof combined with the water we can pay for has already helped me to a few showers and made the Mall a lot cleaner. It’s better than before, you can’t deny that.”

“I know… it’s just…”

“You’d like more electricity so your genius could get all the necessary power to build something even more fabulous than the water filter system and the wind turbine?”

“Yeah…”, he grins, flushing slightly over the compliment. “Well, Dal helped me with that. And the wind turbine isn’t working really well and just on the rechargable batteries.”

“Don’t sell yourself short”, Ellie reassures him. “Come on, we’ve got you, we’ve got food from the farm and we can cook it with fresh water and on an electric cooker. Want to help me cut tomatoes for the sauce?”

“Actually, I’d better get going, if I want to find KC”, Jack excuses himself and heads out of her room with the wrong printer cartridge, a smug smile on his face over having found a way to escape any kitchen duties. Ellie sighs, shutting down her computer. She misses Alice, Tai San and Salene. Their cooking abilities were not only higher than hers, but they actually loved being in the kitchen, baking bread and chopping vegetables. Somehow, now it’s only her and Cloe, while May and the boys shirk any kind of kitchen work.

Cloe almost doesn’t see the girl in the beige coat before the yellow wall, with her blonde hair and face paint. She walks by her, only noticing it a moment later and turns back. “Who are you?”

“Gazelle”, the girl answers shyly. She’s Cloe’s age and wears the Eco amulet around her neck. “I’m Gaian messenger”, she quickly explains. “I bring news from your friends and this for Lex.” She holds up a little package, carefully wrapped in linen and decorated with dried lavender, bearing Tai San’s writing.

“Ok, I’ll call the others.” Cloe takes the gift for Lex and walks towards the stairs. “You can come with me, you know”, she calls over her shoulder, when Gazelle doesn’t follow her right away, rolling her eyes. She’s not the smartest messenger they could send, apparently.

“Oh, alright.” Gazelle catches up with her, looking around in wonder. “You know, I’ve never been to the city since the virus. We didn’t have a Mall in the village I grew up in, but my mom once took me here, when I was seven. It’s changed a lot, but that might just be the graffiti.” She notices Cloe staring at her. “I’m rambling, I know. I’m nervous.”

“Did they send you on your own, or is Pride with you?”, Cloe can’t stop herself from asking.

“It’s just me.” Gazelle sits down on one of the cafeteria chairs. “Pride, Eagle and Hawk are too busy, besides, Eagle is still… recovering. And – and she can’t come back to the city, right?”

“So she and Bray aren’t coming back?” Somehow Cloe had still hoped that they might walk in any moment, with smiling, but exhausted faces and lots of green stuff and feathers in their hair, like Gazelle. They could talk to Lex about making her do the dishes all the time and help them defeat Ebony, but apparently that’s just wishful thinking.


“Did they send a letter?”, Cloe asks, handing Gazelle a glass of water.

“No, it’s just the package from Tai San, I’m supposed to give it to her husband.”

“Oh.” Cloe sinks onto a chair, looking at the clear table which she’s supposed to set for dinner right now. She can’t help but feel disappointed in Bray and Amber. Don’t they care about the Mall Rats anymore? Have they forgotten her already?

“Did I hear someone say Tai San?” Lex storms into the cafeteria, stopping dead in his tracks when he sees Gazelle, the smile on his face faltering. “Oh.”

“Lex, this is Gazelle”, Cloe introduces her. “She brought you something from Tai San. Gazelle, this is Lex and this is Ellie”, she adds, when Ellie comes out of the kitchen, a set of plates in her hands.

“Nice to meet you.” Ellie shakes hands with Gazelle. “Are you staying for dinner? We could really use some news from our friends, they haven’t sent any sign of life in weeks!”

“I know, it hasn’t been easy”, Gazelle answers, while Lex impatiently rips open his present on another table. “We’ve moved the camp after the Chosen, so it’s a longer way to the city. And then the news from this new invasion…” She sends curious glances at Jack, KC and May, who come walking up the stairs and sit down with them.

“You think it’s an invasion?”, Ellie asks her.

“Well, Pride told us about an airplane and parachutes, so … we have to be careful that they don’t find us.” Gazella takes a sip of her drink. “Tai San said, I could stay the night, is that alright? It’s pretty hard out there at night.”

“I thought you Ecos were used to that”, KC teases her.

“Shut up, KC”, Cloe interrupts him, rolling her eyes. “Of course you can stay. I have an extra bed in my room.”

“Thanks.” Gazelle smiles shyly at all of them. “And I can bring back a message to your friends, if you want.”

“That would be great.” Cloe can’t help but feel a little calmer, just knowing that they’re still out there, that she can still communicate with them, even when they are so far away. At least she can reach them, unlike Salene or Ryan or Patsy. “How are they?”

“Good, you know…” Gazelle starts talking, but Lex can’t bring himself to listen. He quickly leaves the cafeteria, heading to his room with Tai San’s gift. It’s herbs she put a blue ribbon on. Blue for tea. That and her hair pins, together with a charm on a leather strap that she must have made for him. He can barely repress the tears, just keeps staring at the gift, breathing in the lavender and the herbs, Tai San’s face swimming before his mind.

“Lex?” Someone knocks at his door. He looks up and sees Cloe in the doorway.

“What?” He straightens up, trying not to look too touched.

“We want to get started with dinner soon. Why did you leave?” She looks around, noticing the herbs in his hand. “Anyway, Gazelle wants to know whether you want to give her something for Tai San. You know, something nice, like flowers. She’s leaving very early tomorrow.”

Lex nods absentmindedly. “Sure.”

Cloe leaves the room, only to stomp back in seconds later. “Are you coming or what? I’m not bringing you your dinner here.”

“Yeah, erm…” He looks down on Tai San’s sleek writing on the linen. Lex. His name. So simple, so short. He knows Tai San could have send him letters, long beautiful letters if he could read them. “You can write, right?” He can feel his face flushing slightly and curses inwardly.

“Yes.” Cloe looks confused. “Why, can’t you?”

Lex closes his eyes. The horror! Cloe, little strange girl Cloe, who was maybe ten years old when the virus struck. “No. I’ll give you money if you don’t tell the others. And… I’d like to write Tai San a letter, but I need help with that.”

“Fine.” Cloe sits down on the bed with him, grinning widely. “Under one condition.”

“What’s there to grin about?”, Lex snaps at her.

“Be nice to me”, Cloe answers, still smiling. “You want me to help you, don’t you? And I don’t want money for it, I want you to help me and Ellie in the kitchen. For one week. Oh, and KC and Jack have to wash the dishes for the next two weeks.”

“And how do you suggest I convince them to do that?”, Lex barks at her.

“I don’t know, be a bully, use blackmail like I do. What, do you want my help or not?”

Lex sighs, looks up at her and finally nods. “Fine.”

It’s after midnight when Ebony finally closes her note books, putting in a reading mark. She has some trouble stuffing it into her safe, since most of her money and jewellry take up too much space. She’ll really have to get a second one, if she wants her finances and plans for the city to stay a secret.

Someone knocks at her door, stumbeling inside almost the same second.

“What the hell-“ Ebony shuts her safe quickly, before noticing that it’s only one of Moz’s friends, Rachel. The other girl leans in the doorway, panting and waving, in an attempt to gesture towards the hallway and bring something to her attention.

“Demon Dogs… downstairs”, she finally brings out.

“What?” Ebony grabs her jacket and follows the exhausted girl in a nightgown down the stairs. “How many and why didn’t you stop them from getting inside?”

“I was asleep. They overpowered your guards. Good news is, they’re pretty wasted. Bad news: They have broken bottles, so they can sorta keep your guards on a distance. We tried keeping them out of our floor, but they started burning stuff and we don’t want them to set the hotel on fire!”

Ebony can’t help but wonder if this is some consequence of Moz moving in here. She hasn’t had any trouble with the Demon Dogs since she left the Locos, and they’ve been pretty civil for over a year now. But of course Moz and her craziness have turned more peaceful people into a crazy mob!

Sniper is clearly drunk. He waves one broken bottle at a guard, who dodges the shards and tries to shield Ebony and Rachel from him at the same time. “Don’t worry, boss, we’ve got this under control!”

“I doubt it.” Ebony puts the hands on her hips. “What is that piece of trash doing in here and why did you morons let him get to the second floor.”

“It’s not like he wanted to go anywhere else”, one of the guards answers. “Erm, I mean, he tricked us. Ran past us and hit down Axl at the front door. We threw some of the others out already!”

“What do you want?”, Ebony adresses Sniper, since the other Demon Dogs seem pretty busy fighting off her men in the back ground and are clearly here on his command.

“I wannmynatback”, Sniper yells at her, his eyes bloodshot. “AnI want thabitch to payyyy!”

“He wants his what back?”, Ebony adresses the guard holding him back.

“His nat. Or hat, I think it’s hat.”

“He’s talking of his ex”, Ebony can hear Moz’s voice in the background. The other girl closes her door, before stepping closer. It’s strange seeing her like this, her long hair open, barefeet, in just a short black dressing gown. “So he can bruise her ribs some more, maybe break a nose for a change. And I guess “that bitch” refers to me, doesn’t it, tosser?”

“Allofyou”, Sniper waves the broken bottle and cuts himself in the process.

“Let me.” Moz walks by the guards, who stop holding Sniper back in confusion. The Demon Dog can’t hold his balance on his own and crashes to the floor, where he loses hold of the bottle and starts yelling uncontrollably, none of his words making any sense. “I’ve seen – if you’d seen what I’ve seen! Crazy! Crazy dyke an… you… youthedevilisyou… seen it all… my Nat – my —“

Moz steps forwards and kicks her bare foot as hard into his groin as she can, again and again. When he stops screaming, only whimpers silently, she kicks into his stomach twice. “Get him up.”

The guards follow her command quickly. Too fast, too eager for Ebony’s command. Moz slaps the coughing and whimpering Sniper hard across the face, her rings leaving red streaks on his cheek. “Wanna know why I don’t kill you right now?” She steps closer, spits in his face. “Because then, you’d never get to see her happy. Happy because she’s free of you; but if you EVER touch her again, I’ll do it, I swear. No get him outta here!” Her glowering eyes follow the guards who are half-dragging, half-carrying Sniper out of the hotel, while the other Demon Dogs don’t need much more encouragement to leave.

“Why was he here, anyway?” Ebony asks Moz, who apparently just wanted to vanish into her room, cursing in a language Ebony doesn’t know. “Doesn’t Nat… Natasha live with the Gulls?”

“Oh, Natasha does. But he doesn’t know her, so that’s irrelevant”, Moz answers in a mocking tone and Ebony can see the shivering girl on her bed, when she opens the door.

“Wait a moment!” She puts her foot between frame and door and steps in. “Are you telling me that this is the reason he was here? You’re hiding her here, or does she live with you? And why don’t I know of this?”

“She’s got a fucking name! And it’s not Natasha!” Moz sits down by the crying red head’s site and puts one hand on her shoulder in encouragement. “It’s alright, baby, he’s gone. Don’t worry, he won’t come back!”

Ebony can’t help but to feel slightly uncomfortable, watching one of Moz’s long-fingered hand brushing the other girl’s hair back and caressing her face, while they share a look that seems way too private, too disturbing for her taste. It’s like she’s reading someone’s diary, or watching a couple kissing. Which is what might happen next, if she doesn’t get them to talk instead. “Could someone explain to me what’s going on here?”

“He was following me around”, the crying red head who isn’t called Natasha answers, still sobbing. “He… he wasn’t leaving the street and started throwing stones at my window until it broke. And he-he killed my cat and then he sent notes that he didn’t mean it, and flowers. Moz said I’d be safe here.”

Ebony can’t help but feeling sympathic towards the other girl. Not that she’d ever get treated this way, but… “What’s your name?”

“Natalya.” The girl wipes her tears away and brushes her hand against her white, lacy neglige, leaving a trace of mascara on the fabric. She looks so innocent, so fragile, that it’s hard to picture her with either Moz or Sniper, but then again looks can be deceiving.

“Can she stay here for a while?”, Moz asks quietly, while Natalya heads to the bathroom, to get her night dress clean again.

“Oh, now you’re thinking or asking?” Ebony can’t help but feeling that Moz is taking over her territory. It’s not like she asked whether the Mosquitoes could move in here in the first place, and now the guards, and Natalya. “How about next time you tell me in advance, if you plan to bring your whole tribe and your girlfriend in here?”

“She’s not… my girlfriend”, Moz answers quickly, but more quiet than anything she’s said before.

“Oh, thank you very much!” Natalyas tear-filled voice makes them both jump. “How evolved of you, with your whole “I don’t do relationships” and your anti-monogamy bullshit! It’ not like you give a shit about me, is it? I’m just your random sextoy, until you get bored, or you wanna fuck guys again next week… Oh, what the hell!” She stomps back into the bathroom, slamming the door shut behind her.

“Thanks, I really needed THAT discussion again”, Moz snaps at Ebony, sinking onto the bed covers and taking of her rings. “Now I’ll get another few days of “Why don’t you ever do romantic stuff with me?” and “Why don’t you ever want to cuddle, it’s me, I’m not hot enough for you, is it?” Which is really fucked up, because she doesn’t even want anyone to know that she’s not straight, but she’s the sensible one, so I have to put up with her shit – really, thanks!”

“What are you doing?” Ebony looks back to the bathroom door, behind which Natalya is sobbing quietly.

“I’m going to bed.” Moz puts the rings in her nightstand and sighs, hearing Natalya crying in the bathroom. She mutters something that could be “Really gotta start bangin’ dudes again”, but that might just be Ebony’s freaked out imagination that has gotten way too much information of Moz’s weird sexlife for tonight. More puzzle pieces that don’t fit together.

Moz looks up, a weird look on her face. “What the hell are you still doing here?”

“Nothing, I’m already gone”, Ebony murmurs, more to herself than to Moz. She closes the door without looking back and walks back to her suite in confusion. She’s too uninformed about who lives in her own hotel, and where. This is the first time she saw which room was Moz’s (one of the suites, of course) and she had no idea who was on guard duty tonight, since Moz makes the schedules and everybody reports back to her. It was comfortable for a while, she could lean back and let the other girl do the work, but now…

She stopps dead in her tracks, when she discovers her door opened, her paintings on the floor and her furniture thrown over. All the paper from her desk is on the floor and someone has painted big, red letters on the wall: THE GUARDIAN IS ALIVE LIAR.

She brushes over the paint with one finger. It’s still wet.

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