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Missing Sister

Written by: JacksAnnie

Character Profiles:

ALONDRA
Age: 13
Tribe: Mallrats
Living Place: The Mall (Upstairs, Bedding & Furniture with Jayda and Riley)
Parents: Jack & Trudy
Siblings: Older half-sisters Brady and Jayda, younger brother Dal.
Friends: Riley, Jason
Enemies: The Chosen. Like most others she can’t stand Monique, and Chris tends to get on her nerves. Doesn’t get along too well with others at school.
Importance to story: Main Character
Other: Her sister Brady was kidnapped three years before the beginning of the story, and they still don’t know where she is, only that the Chosen took her.
Her full name Alondra is of Spanish origin and means “lark”. Usually called Allie since Jayda couldn’t pronounce her full name when they were little, something her parents didn’t quite anticipate.

AUDRIE
Age: 14
Tribe: Mallrats
Living place: The Mall (downstairs, Supperette with Charlie and sometimes River)
Parents: Lex & Salene
Siblings: Twin brother Charlie
Friends: River
Enemies: The Chosen, sometimes mad at Trudy for the way she treats her dad.
Importance to story: Major character
Other: Loves nature and camping in the woods with his sister Audrie and best friend River.
River promised to marry her when she was 10, and she intends to hold him to that promise.

BRADY
Age: 18
Tribe: Mallrats
Living place: Chosen headquarters
Parents: Martin/Zoot & Trudy
Siblings: Younger half-siblings Jayda, Allie and Dal
Friends: Used to be close to cousin Bray Junior, and some girls at school. Martyn is the closest thing to a friend with the Chosen.
Enemies: The Guardian, the Supreme Mother and the Chosen in general
Importance to story: Main Character
Other: She was kidnapped three years before the beginning of the story, and has been kept at the Chosen’s headquarters since.

BRAY JUNIOR
Age: 16-17
Tribe: Mallrats
Living place: The Mall (upstairs, Art Shop with Jason)
Parents: Amber & Bray
Siblings: Younger half-brother Jason
Friends: Hangs after Chris a lot. Used to be close to Brady before she was kidnapped.
Enemies: The Chosen
Importance to story: Major Character
Other: Never knew his real father, pretty much sees Jay as his dad. Sort of. Though he usually only calls him dad when he wants something out of him (works every single time!).
His cousin Brady was kidnapped three years ago.
Looks just like his dad. Hates being called junior.

CAZANDRA
Age: 14
Tribe: Mallrats
Living place: currently travelling between places. Hopes to live at the mall in the future.
Parents: You’ll figure that out soon enough
Siblings: maybe, maybe not
Friends: She and Josh have been raised as brother and sister
Enemies: The Chosen
Importance to story: Major Character
Other: Her two goals in reaching the mall are getting the mallrats’ help, and to meet her dad for the first time.

CHARLIE
Age: 14
Tribe: Mallrats
Living place: The Mall (downstairs, Supperette with Audrie and sometimes River)
Parents: Lex & Salene
Siblings: Twin sister Audrie
Friends: River
Enemies: Sometimes Chris.
Importance to story: Major Character
Other: Loves nature and camping in the woods with his sister Audrie and best friend River.

CHRIS:
Age: 15
Tribe: Mallrats
Living place: The Mall (downstairs, cd-shop)
Parents: May and some guy
Siblings: None that he knows of
Friends: Spends most of his time with the Demon Dog kids. Bray Junior hangs after him a lot, and Monique is sort of a friend with benefits.
Enemies: Apart from everyone?
Importance to story: Main Character
Other:
May discovered she was pregnant post-s5, after she slept with that trader to get medicine for Salene. Salene doesn’t know.
He keeps a picture of himself as a child together with three other people hidden under his mattress.
Once beat up another guy who bragged about having raped a girl at a party. Though he was arrested for this, Lex let him go when he found out why.

CINDERELLA
Age: 8-9
Tribe: The Modes
Living place: Apartment complex in the city
Parents: Gel & Darryl
Siblings: None
Friends: The most popular girl in her class
Enemies: Patsy (the younger)
Importance to story: very minor character
Other:Her father, Darryl, died three years before the story while trying to protect Brady from the Chosen.

DAL
Age: 9
Tribe: Mallrats
Living place: The Mall (upstairs, old leather shop attached to the shop where his parents live)
Parents: Jack & Trudy
Siblings: Older sisters Brady, Jayda and Alondra.
Friends: Keeps mostly to himself, but likes to spend time with little Patsy from the farm.
Enemies: Those monsters in robes.
Importance to story: Minor/Major Character
Other:
Witnessed the kidnapping of his sister and murder of Darryl three years ago. Hasn’t said a word since.

JASON:
Age: 14
Tribe: Mallrats
Living place: The Mall (upstairs, Art Shop with Bray Jr.)
Parents: Amber & Jay
Siblings: Older half-brother Bray Junior on mother’s side, half-sister Jayda on father’s side.
Friends: Considers Allie to be his best friend, but generally gets along well with everyone.
Enemies: The Chosen. He dislikes Chris’ influence on his brother.
Importance to story: Major Character
Other:
An aspiring scientist, he loves helping Jack out in the workshop, together with Allie.

JAYDA:
Age: 15
Tribe: The Mallrats
Living place: The Mall (Upstairs, Bedding&Furniture with Allie and Riley)
Parents: Jay & Trudy
Siblings: Older sister Brady, younger siblings Jason, Allie and Dal.
Friends: Riley
Enemies: The Chosen, Monique
Importance to story: Main Character
Other: Trudy discovered she was pregnant after s5.
Her sister was kidnapped 3 years ago by the Chosen.

JOSH:
Age: 17
Tribe: Mallrats, sort of.
Living place: Chosen camp
Parents: You’ll figure out soon enough
Siblings: See above
Friends: Cazandra
Enemies: The Chosen.
Importance to story: Minor/Major character
Other:
Grew up in the Chosen village, born and raised in captivity.

MARTYN:
Age: 16
Tribe: The Chosen
Living place: Chosen camp
Parents: The Supreme Mother and The Guardian
Siblings: He and he alone was born for a special task.
Friends: Brady, sort of.
Enemies: Non-believers
Importance to story: Major Character
Other: ): Raised to believe he is the 2nd coming. Has no concept of the outside world.

MONIQUE
Age: 14
Tribe: Mallrats
Living place: Lives in city apartment complex with her mother, still has a room at the mall.
Parents: Ebony & Slade
Siblings: half-sister Riley
Friends: Chris is the closest thing to a friend.
Enemies: Jayda, Riley, just about everyone else
Importance to story: Major Character
Other:Her dad was killed some months before the beginning of the story. Her mother moved out of the mall to apartment complex, where they live next door to Gel and her daughter Cinderella.

NORA
Age: 7
Tribe: The Ecos/Mallrats
Living place: The Farm
Parents: Alice & Grizzly
Siblings: Younger brother Xander
Friends: Patsy, other kids at the farm
Enemies: The big goose at the pond, it bit her once.
Importance to story: Minor Character
Other: Her full name is Eleonora, named after her aunt that she never met. Hates being called Ginger.

PATSY (the younger)
Age: 8
Tribe: Ecos/Mallrats
Living place: The Farm
Parents: Cloe & Hawk
Siblings: Older half-brother River
Friends: Bobto the dog and other animals at the farm. Sometimes little Dal if he’s visiting the farm or she’s visiting the mall.
Enemies: Cinderella (Gel’s daughter)
Importance to story: Minor Character
Other:Has the Eco name “Butterfly”, which her dad nearly always refers to her as.

RILEY:
Age: 15
Tribe: Mallrats
Living place: The Mall (Upstairs, Bedding&Furniture shop with Allie and Jayda)
Parents: Ruby & Slade
Siblings: Half-sister Monique
Friends: Jayda and Allie
Enemies: Monique, dislikes Chris, the Chosen keep ruining things, and generally people who annoy her.
Importance to story: Main Character
Other:Ruby was pregnant after all.
Ruby was brutally murdered when Riley was 6-7 years old.
Slade was killed on duty (as Head Deputy) a few months before beginning of story.
Known for her temper.

RIVER
Age: 15-16
Tribe: The Ecos/Mallrats
Living place: The Farm, sometimes stays with Charlie and Audrie in their room at the mall
Parents: Cloe, father unknown (to him and most others that is, Cloe knows)
Siblings: Younger half-sister Patsy.
Friends: Audrie and Charlie
Enemies: None, really. Though those Chosen people have a lot to answer for.
Importance to story: Major Character
Other: Has been raised with Hawk as his stepdad. Hawk saved Cloe’s life and delivered the baby, and she let Hawk name him.
He wants to know who his real father is, but Cloe refuses to tell him yet.

XANDER
Age: 5
Tribe: The Ecos/Mallrats
Living place: The Farm
Parents: Alice & Grizzly
Siblings: Older sister Nora
Friends: Patsy, other kids at the farm
Enemies: The pig, it stole his food once.
Importance to story: Minor Character
Other: Just a few weeks before his birth, Alice was attacked right in the middle of the city on her way to the mall from the marketplace. Heroic action from Lex saved her life and the baby, so she named him Alexander. At least that’s how Lex tells the story, Alice simply wanted to name her son after her close friend.

WRITTEN BY: JacksAnnie
TITLE: Missing Sister, the next generation (15 years after)
CHAPTER: Prologue
PAIRINGS/CHARACTERS: Most of main cast feature in this. As for pairings, some you might be able to guess, others will surprise you. A lot has happened in 15 years.
RATING/WARNINGS: I’ll go with PG-13, just in case.
SUMMARY/NOTES: A next generation fic. Three years ago Brady was kidnapped by the Chosen, and the Mallrats still don’t know where she or the Chosen are. Now things are set in motion, bringing the Mallrats and the Chosen towards their final battle, while the next generation of Mallrats are forced to come to terms with their parents’ past.

As a way to make it easier to keep track of timelines in terms of flashbacks, I’ll be using Year (insert number) AV in the headings to let you know when it takes place. AV = After Virus, so s1 is year 0. S1-s5 lasted about 3 years in the timeline of this story.

###Prologue

15 YEARS AGO (YEAR 3 AV (After Virus)):

The five women sat there in silence, hidden inside the thick of the trees. All of them staring at the three pregnancy tests placed on the tree trunk in front of them, all far enough apart to not be confused with the others. Three of them waited for their future to be decided, the other two were there for support.

They had been on this island for several weeks now. The pregnancy tests had been acquired from another boat passing by that stopped to trade; all done in secrecy thanks to May’s sly ways. There had turned out to be a large trading market out on the seas, boats from islands and cities meeting in assigned spots to show of and trade their goods. May’s ‘friend’ had made the other boats aware of the group settling on the half-island, and they’d had constant visits even when he had taken the boat to go and trade himself.

The beeper went off on the watch Ellie had borrowed from Jack. Ellie and Salene glanced at each other as the other three stared at their pregnancy tests as if they were giant scary monsters. Finally May picked up hers, swearing loudly as it read positive. Ruby and Trudy picked up theirs at the same time. Trudy broke down in tears, while Ruby stared blankly at it.
“How can I be sure which one is wrong?” She asked in a low voice.
“Wait and see if a baby pops out one day?” May suggested through gritted teeth.
Ellie had moved over to Trudy, stroking her carefully on the back in comfort.
“It’s going to be fine, Trudy. We’re all here to help.”
“How can it be fine?” May snapped. “We’re stuck on an island in the middle of fucking nowhere, and in some months time there will be three screaming babies around!”
“When Jack and the others come back…” Ellie began.
“If they come back,” May shot in.
“May!” Salene gave her a warning look, as Ellie’s eyes filled with tears.

The coming argument was stopped by Amber calling for them. Almost before any of them had the chance to react, she appeared through the trees, her face a beaming smile. The pregnancy tests were quickly dropped out of sight, down on the ground to be hidden by dead leaves and grass.
“What are you all doing hiding away in here?” She stopped for a moment when she saw the looks on everyone’s faces. “I just came to let you know we can see the boat in the horizon. They’re coming back.”
Ellie shrieked with joy, hurrying off as quick as her legs could carry her. Ruby and May followed after her. Salene looked from Amber to Trudy, before doing the same. Trudy stood up, discreetly dragging her feet over the pregnancy tests to cover them in dirt as she walked over them.
“Trudy? What’s wrong?” Amber looked at her friend’s tearstained face with worried eyes.
Trudy shook her head and tried to give her a smile.
“We should go to the others, say hi to Jack and Ram,” she said as she walked past Amber, following the others to the beach. She could feel Amber’s eyes on her back, but thankfully she let the subject go. Trudy just wasn’t ready to tell her yet.

Ram, Jack and the trader had been gone for nearly two weeks. It seemed to take forever as the boat slowly sailed towards them, until Jack and Ram stood there on the beach. Jack was quickly engulfed in a bone-crushing hug by Ellie, the two of them lip-locked for a few moments while Ram had to deal with the questions being thrown at him from all angles. Ruby was the only one stepping forward to give him a hug, while Jack was overwhelmed with slaps on the back from the guys and quick hugs from the girls.

“Just shut up.” Ram held up his hands to silence the group. “There is no virus, he tricked us.”
This information made everyone stop to a halt, before once again Ram, and now also Jack, were bombarded with more questions.
“Basically,” Jack took the word, “we found no trace of virus in the lab or anywhere in the city. People are already moving back and no one is sick.”
“Why would he lie?” Slade looked shell-shocked, his eyes darting between Jack and Ram.
“Wait, does this mean he isn’t dead?” Lex asked angrily.
“No, he’s dead.” Jack grimaced, glancing at Slade and trying very hard not to think of the condition of the body they had found. “We think he was hoping to trick us into believing he had stopped a deadly virus from killing us all, making himself appear as a hero. Let’s face it; we have fallen for it before. The whole Zoot thing was programmed to go the way it did, that much we could figure out from the system.”
“Then what killed him?” Slade asked.
“My guess…” Ram hesitated, an apologetic look sent Slade’s way. “The helmet wasn’t strong enough, short-circuited and electrocuted him when the pressure got too high on the system.”
“You mean those paradise helmets could have electrocuted us all?” Lex stepped forward towards Ram. Jay and Slade managed to pull him back.
“Technically, yes.” Ram shrugged. “Very unlikely though, it took a lot of power and a much more advanced system than the paradise game.”
Judging by the looks he was getting, Ram knew they weren’t all too sure he was telling the truth.
“Guys, don’t you get what this means?” Salene looked from one to the other. “We can go home!”
As these news dawned on everyone else, cheers erupted and were followed by spontaneous acts of celebration.

Trudy soon disentangled herself from the many group hugs and hurried towards the makeshift tent between the trees that they used to sleep in. Brady was sitting up in her little sleeping area, the loud noises having woken her from her nap.
“What’s going on, mommy?” She asked.
Trudy sat down by her, a smile on her face now.
“Jack and Ram came back to tell us it’s safe to go home again, back to the mall.”
Brady’s face lit up.
“We’re going home?”
Trudy nodded with a beaming smile on her face, and laughed as Brady let out a cheer.

The rest of the day was spent on celebrations, using up a large part of the food stash they had gathered at their camp for a feast. As daylight faded to dark Trudy took a half-asleep Brady over to the tent to put her down next to little Bray. There was no need for a story or a goodnight song, Brady barely managed to return Trudy’s good night wish before she was gone. Trudy remained by her side though, her back against the tree as she looked at the two children sleeping peacefully. Her hand rested on her stomach, and her eyes drifted towards where Amber was sitting with Jay’s arm around her, both their faces nothing but smiles. Her thoughts drifted of, going through various scenarios of how she should tell Amber and what her reaction would be. In Trudy’s head it varied from anger to despair to joy, though she quickly dismissed that last version as ridiculous. She didn’t notice Ellie and Jack approaching until they stood right in front of her. She attempted a smile as Ellie sat down next to her, motioning for Jack to sit down opposite them.

“Jack, the hero of the day,” Trudy tried to sound cheerful, but didn’t quite manage it. Jack smiled back, a little embarrassed but still obviously a little proud.
“Well, I did my best.”
“So modest,” Ellie rolled her eyes, but gave him a beaming smile.
Trudy looked away as the couple gave each other those happy looks. Ellie seemed to notice, and quickly turned her focus back on Trudy.
“I know you said it was a secret, but I had to tell Jack.”
Trudy sighed, but nodded to show she understood.
“We just wanted you to know that we’ll help you out, Trudy; babysitting Brady, moral support, helping out with the baby when it comes, all that stuff.”

Trudy glanced over at Jack doubtfully, fully aware that this was probably Ellie’s idea and Jack just tagged along because that’s how they worked. Yet there was something in the way he looked at the two sleeping children, and a memory flashed through her mind of the day before he and Ram left when Brady had insisted on Jack telling her a goodnight story, and instead of running away horrified he had hesitantly agreed to do it. He wasn’t a kid himself anymore. Maybe he and Ellie were thinking of having kids of their own, she pondered, before realising Ellie was waiting for some kind of response. Trudy smiled to her.

“Thank you, I really appreciate that. I’ll need the help,” she said as genuinely as she could manage. She was grateful. It was just difficult yet to focus on all that.
“I think I’ll try to get some sleep now,” Trudy hoped she wasn’t being rude in dismissing them, but Ellie and Jack both smiled and wished her good night.
As soon as they were gone, Trudy lay down next to her little girl. She soon fell asleep despite the noise still coming from the others, one arm protectively lying over her daughter as she snuggled up next to her.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Only a few hours boat-trip away, and an hour or two of walking from the harbour into the forest and up a hill, another small group of people were gathered by a stream. The Guardian was pleased. Just like he had expected his loyal followers had found a way to free him from the cages. He hadn’t managed to bring those two mallrats with him in the riot that followed, but that was of very little concern when the important people had been picked up from the Techno camp.
He looked at the woman in front of him with a pleased grin on his face. She was every bit as beautiful as she had been the day he met her, despite all her ordeals. The dress one of the women had found for her was covered in blood stains as she sat by the stream to wash her hands. The lines of red blood from them had long disappeared now, but she was still staring out into nothing. Barely there with them. That did not worry him, she did that from time to time now. It was the Technos’ fault, she would be alright again soon.
“Tai-San?” He asked gently. She didn’t answer or react. He decided to let her be, and stood up. As he walked away he motioned to one of his guards to keep an eye on her. The Supreme Mother. Finally the way he wanted it to be.

The other woman sat outside the makeshift tent they had built. Her messy and dirty hair hiding her face from the world, keeping her usually glaring eyes shielded from him. The little ones were sleeping inside, she sat there almost like a guard, even though there was nothing she could do if anyone else wanted to get in. Her legs drawn as close to her body as she could, elbows resting on her knees, hands fiddling with the loose hems on the tattered robe he had allowed her to wear.
He hated her, with a passion. She always opposed him, fought him, and made things harder. The easy thing would be to kill her, it would save him a lot of trouble. But she was a challenge he liked. How he would enjoy turning her into one of his followers. As she looked up at him now with a tearstained face, the anger and hate was gone. Just defeat was left on her face. Broken. As the sides of his lips turned upwards, she once again hid her face from him.

The Guardian turned away from her, now facing the sunset with all the colours playing on the sky. In a few hours it would rise again, another beginning. Their beginning. The time of the Chosen would begin here, on this hill.

WRITTEN BY: JacksAnnie
CHAPTER: 1/?
PAIRINGS/CHARACTERS: Most of main cast feature in this. As for pairings, some you might be able to guess, others will surprise you. A lot has happened in 15 years.
RATING/WARNINGS: I’ll go with PG-13, just in case.
SUMMARY/NOTES: A next generation fic. Three years ago Brady was kidnapped by the Chosen, and the Mallrats still don’t know where she or the Chosen are. Now things are set in motion, bringing the Mallrats and the Chosen towards their final battle, while the next generation of Mallrats are forced to come to terms with their parents’ past.

CHAPTER 1:

Sunrise

Sunrise, sunset, you wake up then you undress, it always is the same.
The sunrise and the sunsets, you’re lying while you confess, keep trying to explain.
The sunrise and the sunsets, you realise then you forget what you’ve been trying to retain.
Bright Eyes – Sunrise, sunset

YEAR 15 AV (After Virus)

Lex woke up with a groan. His hand went to his head, finding something wet and sticky at his temple. He stared at the blood on his fingers perplexed for a second, before it all came crashing down on him; Tai-San’s grim smile (that even after all these years sent a pang of pain through him), the Guardian’s laughter, the terrified screams of his deputies, then pain and nothing. A moment of panic hit him as he looked around at his deputies strewn across the ground around him. A few were, like him, groaning in pain, a couple of them were wobbling around to try and help the others. But they all seemed to be alive; the Chosen hadn’t taken the time to kill.
May was holding her left hand tightly over a bleeding wound at the back of her head. She glanced at Lex and their eyes met. The accusation and anger was clear. Suddenly it dawned on him. He had screwed up. He had really screwed up.

Without a word to anyone he jumped to his feet, for a moment swaying as his head spun from this sudden movement. As soon as he could see straight he ran. He ignored the calls behind him from his deputies. Inside the city there were a few people walking around with confusion evident on their faces. Lex ignored their calls to him, their many questions about where the Chosen had gone, why had they suddenly taken off? There was only one thing on his mind.

He was first to reach the mall. The other Mallrats had been situated further out, holding the outer line with many other tribes. They had always known someone would manage to get through, so they had put up two lines of defence surrounding the city. It was the plan Lex had not only approved of, but heavily been involved in the planning off. How could he be so stupid? His deputies had only followed his orders, they had realised too late he had gone of the official plan and made his own. That they had gone out to face them rather than hold the line. As he raced inside the mall, the alarm bells blearing in his ears, the accusing eyes of May swam through his head again.

He stopped inside the hall, shouting their names before running around like a headless chicken. He stopped by the market stalls, staring at the entrance to the sewers. The lifeless form in front of the doorway was covered in blood, the floor around a large puddle of red. There was no doubt that Darryl was dead, long before Lex even reached him. The Chosen had not killed him, they had slaughtered him. No compassion had been shown; someone had brutally attacked him with a knife several times, sending a clear message to the rest of them.
He felt like crying. Lex, of all people, felt like crying. He had done this. He had made Darryl do the baby-sitting duty, to keep him out of the way. It would have been a brilliant idea, if only Lex hadn’t been so foolish.

Lex forced himself to look away, jumped over the body and hurried into the sewers, hoping beyond hope that Brady had managed to escape that way. There was no sign of her down there, but there was sign of a struggle. A piece of torn white fabric that looked like it could be from a Chosen robe was on the ground. Someone had dropped a bloody knife. Lex saw something on the ground and bent down to pick it up, it was a heart necklace on a broken chain. Brady had put up a fight. Lex gritted his teeth. Tai-San’s face appeared in his head again. Had she known that he would do anything to get her out of the Guardian’s grasp? Had that been their plan all along, depend on Lex to screw up?

He put the necklace in the pocket of his sheriff’s vest, and marched back upstairs. It wasn’t long before he heard running footsteps. Soon there were heartbreaking cries as the other Mallrats saw the dead body of their friend. He was suddenly grateful that Gel and her daughter were at the farm with the other kids and out of harm’s way; that she wasn’t there right now to see her husband like this. Lex stared into Darryl’s lifeless eyes. He kneeled down and put his hand over to close them. As he moved to stand up again, something in the corner of his eyes caught his attention. Under a cart was a little boy, the bright red hair being what had caught Lex’s attention. His wide terrified eyes were locked on Darryl and all the blood. Little Dal. What was he doing here?

There was no time to ask that question out loud before the scream Lex had feared took his attention away. Trudy had fallen to her knees just a few feet away from him.
“My daughter! Where’s my girl? BRADY!”

YEAR 18 AV (After Virus):

Cazandra ran through the uphill forest ground as fast as her legs could carry her. She could hear the sounds of fighting behind her, screams of pain, roars in defiance, and orders being yelled. Sickening noises she knew came from the Chosen’s iron canes connecting with some body part of a fighting opponent. For a moment she stopped, looking back in the darkness behind her, the sun still a couple hours away. It felt so cowardly to be running away. She had been taught her whole life how to fight them, albeit with her mind and not her fists, and now that the act was over for her family and friends she was running away, turning her back on them. But what choice did she have? They couldn’t do it alone, they needed the Mallrats. She turned around again, and without another glance back she hurried through the thick mossy ground leading her slowly upwards towards the mountains.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

As the sun rose in the city the only sounds that could be heard were the wind rustling the trees and the twittering of the birds. The usually busy city was still asleep this Saturday morning, gathering strength for another day.

A young girl, only a few months past her fifteenth birthday, swung gently back and forth on the swings by her home, the mall, where she had lived every day of her life. Her short blonde hair was swept back by the wind, and then forward again as she went back and forth on the swing. She felt like a little child again, gaining speed until she felt like she was flying, like she and her friends used to do when they were little, her green eyes shining with joy for a moment as she laughed softly to herself. Finally she slowed down, breaking with her feet in the dirt under her until the swing only swayed lightly.
Jayda looked up at the sky where the sun was now high up and shining down on the world again. Usually by now she would have been back in bed, under the covers and drifting back to sleep, until she was woken up by her mother coming to check if they were awake. No, to check that they were there, that no one had snatched them during the night.
Absentmindedly she picked on a new hole in her worn jeans. They were already covered in brightly coloured patches that she had sown on herself every time there was a new hole. Her mother had tried to make her throw them away, but she couldn’t do that. They had been Brady’s once. With a sigh she planted her feet to the ground to bring the swing to a complete stop. As soon as the thought of her mother getting worried entered her mind, she heard her calling for her.
“I’m right here.” Jayda called back.

Trudy hurried around the corner, relaxing first when she saw her daughter. For a moment Jayda thought she looked just like the young woman in the pictures she had seen from earlier days of the Mallrats. But then the worried look returned, these days it seemed etched on her face. Trudy looked older than her years now, all the time spent worrying about her children had given her a few wrinkles in her pale face. Her four pregnancies had left clear traces on her body, she was rounder and not always so well-kept as other things took priority over such things as grooming. She kept her hair short, though longer than before, usually pulled back in a messy bun at the back of her head. Now it was flowing loose in the wind, still the same purple colour that had become her trademark.
“I wish you would use the roof to see the sunrise, it’s not safe out here so early.”
Trudy glanced over her shoulder quickly as she said it. Jayda wondered sometimes if she actually thought someone might jump out of the bushes, or if it was just a habit she couldn’t get rid of. But she didn’t say a word, just gave her mother a smile and followed her inside.

Up on the roof another young girl, about a year younger than Jayda, peered over the edge to look down at them.
“Mommy’s little girl.” She said to herself in a mocking voice as she sat back up.
Monique snorted and shook her head slightly as she turned back to her newsletter, and the “In or Out” pages of Mode Mag, Gel’s fashion newsletter. Her eyes narrowed when she saw “braids” on the Out list. Instinctively her hand went up to her own hair; she had gotten rid of her own braids just a few weeks ago. She twirled a strand of her hair around her fingers as she scowled down at the page in front of her. She knew Gel had only done it because she was mad at her mother; they had an argument just a few days ago where Gel had stormed off in a huff, and Ebony had been left behind smirking. Monique had enjoyed that moment. She glanced down at the page again, the clear image of her mother’s triumphant grin, as Gel slammed her door shut, came into her mind. It was a very rare moment these days to see her mother smile, even if it was an arrogant smirk. Monique tore out the page, rolled it into a ball, and threw it off the roof.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

In the café Jason was busy cleaning after the party the night before. Despite the adults letting them stay up late, Jason had been the one going to sleep earliest of the older kids, and apart from Jayda he had been the first up that morning. Absentmindedly he scratched his head, forgetting his hand was covered in foam. He quickly grabbed a towel to dry off his blonde hair.
Amber walked in at that moment, smiling at the sight of her son.
“You do know we have showers, right?”
Jason jumped, but smiled in relief when he saw it was only her.
“I got foam in my hair.” He explained.
“You’re such a good boy, Jason.”
Amber kissed him gently on the side of his head, before attempting to straighten out his messed up hair.
“What did our little saint do now?” Bray walked in with his stepdad Jay in tow, a teasing smile on his face.
“He is cleaning after the party,” Amber beamed.
“Such a good little boy,” Bray teased, walking closer and splashing some water at his brother.
He hurried away, before Jason could get him back.

Instead, Jason’s retaliation hit Riley who entered the café just then. Jason froze, as Riley’s dark brown eyes glared at him. You never knew when she’d blow up at you. Quickly he threw the towel over to her.
“It’s only water,” he said, hoping this would calm her down.
She tugged at her purple shirt and examined the stain, before looking back at him. She threw the towel back, and turned her focus away from him. The danger was over.

“Why don’t you sit down and eat with us?” Amber smiled at Riley with her head tilting a bit to the side as she did so.
Riley tried not to snap at her, despite her annoyance at the never-ending sympathy smiles.
“I’m not really hungry.”
“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, you really should eat something.” Amber insisted, her head now tilting to the other side. Riley grabbed an apple to please her.
“A little too much to drink last night?” Jay grinned, and then actually winked at her.
Riley resisted the urge to roll her eyes, and glanced at Bray, the only one to really ever drink too much. She had seen him lying over toilets, bushes, fences, while throwing up after one too many shots at a party.
“Did you have fun, Riley?” Amber ignored the comment from her husband, and once again turned to Riley with that smile almost painted on her face.
Riley somehow managed a smile in return, and nodded. She quickly bit into the apple so she wouldn’t have to say anything, before hurrying out of the café as quickly as she had entered, regretfully dropping the idea of having anything more for breakfast. Whoever came up with the idea that birthdays should be celebrated deserved many years of torture, in her opinion.

It was supposed to be a joint birthday party, for her and Chris. It was tradition, since their very first one. They had been born only three days apart, somehow this meant they just had to celebrate it together. Of course, it had been two years since Chris actually bothered staying more than a few minutes, and even longer since he had bothered staying for the birthday cake. This year he hadn’t shown up at all. She didn’t really blame him (for this anyway, there were enough of other things to blame him for), she hated it herself. But it would have been nice to have someone else take some of the attention, especially after Slade’s death. Somehow this being the first birthday without him was supposed to mean something to her. Riley had become an orphan the day her mother, Ruby, died. Her father being alive or dead made little difference in that sense.

These days the birthday party was only there as a distraction anyway, everyone knew what happened the day after her twelfth birthday. The one thing on everyone’s minds was really the fact that three years earlier they had been in panic preparing for an attack, and failing to keep Brady from being taken by the Chosen. Having a party seemed so wrong when they all knew they’d be waking up the next morning knowing it was the anniversary of the day Brady had been kidnapped and Darryl brutally killed. No one in the mall had seen Brady since, and no one knew where the Chosen had taken her or what they were planning. Riley saw no point in celebrating that.

On her way to her room, the sound of heels clicking on the floor made her look up. The heels belonged to a pair of ankle-high boots. The legs had fishnet stockings on them, leading up to a brown leather mini-skirt, and a corset top that left little to the imagination. The brown eyes that met hers when she finally came to the face were glaring, before Riley received the same once-over in return, though Monique was much more skilled at making the receiver feel about two feet tall.
“Going to see your boyfriend?” Riley asked with as much venom in her voice as she could muster. Monique only smirked.
“Not jealous are we, sis?”
Riley narrowed her eyes at that last word. Monique only ever acknowledged their shared genes if it was to mock her. Riley didn’t care that they supposedly had the same father, sisters were supposed to have some kind of connection, but that was missing between them.
“Of Chris? Please, I wouldn’t touch him if he were the last man on earth.”
“Well, you’re the one missing out”, Monique said with a wink as they passed each other.
Riley snorted, not at all convinced of that.
“You’re probably right though. Maybe you should go for girls instead, your track record with men isn’t much to brag about.”
Riley turned around. “What are you on about? I’ve never even had a boyfriend?”
Monique gave her another once-over with a smirk on her face. “No surprise there.”
Riley crossed her arms and glared.
“I meant your daddy issues, honey. One left, one didn’t want you around. Dad never cared about you, you know.”
Now it was Riley’s time to smirk. “I didn’t care about him either, so I guess we’re even then. And Ram had his reasons for leaving.”
“You just keep telling yourself that.”
Monique raised her head and swung around, walking away with her hips swinging from side to side.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Meanwhile, Allie was still lying in her bed in the room she shared with her sister Jayda and their friend Riley. It was Saturday morning and she saw no reason for getting up early, even if she had been awake for an hour already, just staring out into the air. She had never been one for lazy mornings, but today of all days she really didn’t feel like facing the world. Her mother would be even more skittish and emotional than usual, her dad would lock himself in his workshop the entire day. Dal would be the same as every day, which was painful enough. And worst of all, Jayda would want to talk. She always did that, wanting to talk about Brady and look at the pictures plastered all around the walls of their room.

Most of them were taken by Jack, after every time he found and fixed a new camera he would excitedly annoy everyone by snapping pictures at every opportune moment. Allie’s eyes fell on the wall opposite her bed, where an enlarged photo of four girls and a little boy hung proudly in a frame. On the left was Riley, sat next to Jayda who had her arms around Riley and Allie in a loving embrace, though the look on Allie’s face was slightly annoyed. Brady sat on Allie’s other side, her eyes looking straight into the camera and with an angelic smile on her face. On Brady’s lap was Dal, his smile as bright as the red hair on his head. Allie looked away quickly.

She had managed to sit up in her bed, wincing as her bare feet hit the cold floor, and dragged on her camouflage trousers, when Jayda entered the room.
“Been sleeping late?” Jayda asked as she sat down in front of the mirror in the corner of the room.
Allie just murmured something in reply as she continued getting dressed. She looked at her sister as she applied her make-up. Jayda always dressed like a girl, in girly tops and fitted jeans. She styled her hair, and used make-up, she put effort into her appearance. Then again, unlike Allie, she had a body to dress up. Allie was thin and shapeless, puberty hadn’t yet made much impact on her looks. Allie caught sight of herself in the mirror, her eyes glancing over her own baggy camouflage trousers and slightly-too-big black sweater under an old corset top that was also a size too big and looked more like a vest on her, and the wide red belt Jayda had given her for her thirteenth birthday. Her eyes travelled up to her hair, short and half-braided with colourful beads in every braid, dyed in a dark purple to mimic her mother. Her hair was really the only part of her appearance she had ever spent time on, and even then it was usually more out of necessity than vanity. If she left it alone it tended to turn into a large bird-nest that only got in her face.

Their eyes met in the mirror, two pairs of an almost identical shade of green. Jayda smiled as she put the lipstick down.
“Want me to do your make-up, Al? Something other than dark green or black for once?”
Allie grimaced, making her sister laugh.
“Alright, alright. Just the markings, then?”
Allie bit her lip, but finally nodded. She sat down on the free stool, letting Jayda paint her left cheek with red symbols neither of them knew what meant, but that Allie had found in a book somewhere in the mall.
Riley walked in, looking annoyed and aggressively taking bites off an apple.
“Did the apple offend you somehow?” Jayda asked with a small laugh.
“Monique!” Riley grunted, her dark eyes narrowing just at the thought of her half-sister.
No more explanation was needed for the other two. It seemed unreal for Jayda and Allie that two sisters could be so distanced from one another, when despite their own differences and arguments they would never dream of being so venomous and cruel towards each other.
Riley fell back on her bed, sitting in silence as Jayda sang softly on one of those cheesy love-songs she liked so much, that Allie couldn’t stand. They weren’t so bad when Jayda sang them though.

Jayda finished just as Jack knocked on the doorframe, giving her stepdad a smile as she started to pick up the clothes the other two girls had thrown on the floor the night before.
After giving her a smile in return, his eyes searched out Allie.
“You want to help out in the workshop? Trudy said she would bring breakfast down for us.”
“Sure,” Allie said quickly. She could think of no better way to spend the day. Her mind would be occupied, and she would have an excuse to avoid everyone else.
“Jack?” By the way Jayda dragged out his name in that innocent tone of voice, Jack knew she wanted something.
“Did you talk to mom about that party tonight?” She tried to make it sound casual.
“Yes, and she will let you go.”
Jayda let out a squeal that drowned out the groans of the other two girls.
“As long as everyone else is going.” He added quickly.
Jayda’s smile faded a little. She knew Riley and Allie would go simply because she asked them to, Jason as well, but she was unsure of the trio of tree-huggers in Audrie, Charlie and River. Jack shrugged apologetically at the slightly dejected look on her face, before following Allie who had already hurried out of the room before Jayda had a chance to beg her to go.

At the bottom of the stairs they passed Audrie. She was leaning against the railing, sighing loudly to herself as she twirled a strand of her curly black hair around her fingers.
“Waiting for someone?” Jack asked casually, but not managing to hide the smile on his face. Audrie rolled her eyes, but returned the smile. Charlie was always late.

A few minutes later he finally emerged, sprinting out of their room towards her, his red hair styled carefully to make it look as if he just rolled out of bed, with it sticking it out in spikes in every direction.
“Sorry, sorry, sorry!” He repeated as he came to a halt in front of his twin sister. He flashed his usual grin, knowing perfectly well that she could never be mad at him.
Without another word spoken they turned to go just as they heard Jayda call for them. Charlie lit up as she walked down the staircase towards them, stopping a couple steps from the bottom.
“I was just wondering if you’re going to the party tonight?” she asked.
“Actually, we’re…” Audrie began, but was interrupted.
“Of course!” Charlie said.
Jayda looked confused from one to the other, but then settled for the answer she wanted.
“Great!”
She smiled at Charlie, whose face reddened immediately. Audrie excused them both quickly, and dragged him with her down the last few steps and towards the exit.
“I thought we were camping out tonight?” She asked in a low voice.
Charlie shrugged. “I just thought it would be fun to go to a party for once.”
He gave her that smile again, and Audrie sighed in defeat. “Fine.”
Charlie’s triumphant grin faded when he turned to look at Jayda again. Audrie looked in the same direction, to find Jayda talking to Chris. He was leaning in close to her, and she was melting under his charm. As usual. Audrie dragged her brother away from the sight, just as Monique came hurrying towards her boyfriend. Right in front of the now dejected Jayda she planted her lips on Chris’.

“She doesn’t deserve you.” Audrie said as soon as they were outside. Charlie snorted.
“She’s the prettiest, kindest girl in the universe. If she’s not good enough, then who exactly does deserve me then?”
Audrie didn’t reply. When he glanced over he saw a thoughtful look on her face. “Can’t think of anyone?”
She shook her head, and put her arm around her brother’s shoulders. “That girl simply does not exist, dear brother.”
“Oh well…” Charlie sighed dramatically. “I guess I will just have to live with you and River when you get married.”
Audrie removed her arm and used both hands to push him away, trying to send him her best glare though unable to hide a smile. She heard his laughter behind her as she hurried on ahead of him.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

As soon as Jayda had wandered off, Monique came up with an excuse to leave him as well.
“We’ll have some fun later,” she said and winked.
Chris just shrugged in reply. They were all about fun, that’s what he liked about Monique. She expected nothing from him, and promised no loyalty herself. It was uncomplicated, just sex. Chris had no want for anything else.
He turned to walk towards his room as he heard footsteps coming towards the stairs. He looked up to see his mother and Sheriff Lex on their way to work. He stopped for a second, watching until May’s eyes met his own.
“Happy belated birthday,” she said, a hint of annoyance in her voice. “Maybe next time you could actually show when they have a party for you.”
Chris snorted. As if the party was for him. “My party is tonight, mommy dearest.”
She rolled her eyes and turned her focus back to her boss, who finally turned his usual glare away from Chris. Lex always had a way of looking at him as if he was expecting trouble. Chris couldn’t blame him though, usually he got what he expected.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Far away on the other side of the mountains, though not as far as the Mallrats thought, life at the castle now belonging to the Chosen was in full swing for another day.
Brady had spent a long time already on the terrace belonging to her rooms. It was a perfect spot to watch the sunrise, and as usual she didn’t want to go back inside to face her reality once the sun was up. She looked up at the building that had become her prison, the gray stone walls seeming to stretch out forever in one direction. It wasn’t really a castle, even though that was what the Chosen preferred calling it. It was an old mansion that the Chosen had built further on, with help of slaves and loyal servants that carved stone out of the mountains nearby. Brady shivered slightly as she thought of all the people who had met their end in the camp the Chosen had sent their prisoners to all those years ago. Some of them people she had known, though when she was still too young to remember them now.
She could see almost the whole village nearby from here, and the courtyard belonging to the castle. Her kingdom, apparently. It seemed ironic now, remembering the many fairytales her mother had read to her and how she had wished to be like the princesses in them. Now she had a castle, she was treated like a princess and could have everything she asked. Except one thing; her family.

WRITTEN BY: JacksAnnie

CHAPTER 2:

We’re not okay

I hope my love can blind you, I hope my arms can bind you
So you’ll never have to see what we’ve grown to be.
We need lies to make it through the day, we’re not okay.

  • Perishers - Pills

YEAR 18 AV (After Virus)

At the farm another early morning had finally settled down as the farmers went back to their homes for a rest and something to eat before the rest of the work day.
The farm looked nothing like it once had. The woods surrounding it had been overtaken by the Ecos, turning the farm into a village. The farm itself had become a very productive and important part of the city, as it was the leading farm of those that provided food for just about everyone.

The old farmhouse that had belonged to Alice’s family was still her home, but it had been remodelled and rebuilt to where only a part of the house still looked like her old house.
Next to the farmhouse was a rather large hut, actually an extension of the house more than a separate building.

The hut housed four people, two parents and two kids. Now the eldest three members of the family had returned for breakfast. The youngest, a girl aged eight, had only just woken up, and was too busy playing with her dog outside to come in to eat. Her older brother, River, fixed himself some food and sat down on the bench on the small porch that had been added to their hut to watch her play, soon joined by his mother. Cloe sat in silence, chewing slowly on a piece of dried meat.

“Looks like a good harvest this year,” River commented, frowning as the big golden Labrador jumped up to place its front paws on his little sister’s shoulders. Cloe laughed loudly as her daughter fell to the ground with the big dog licking her face.
“Patsy, you’re not supposed to let him do that!” River shouted.
The girl shrieked with laugher. Hawk came outside and shook his head along with River.
“Butterfly, you’re supposed to be the pack leader. This is not being the pack leader.”
Hawk sighed defeated as his daughter only shrieked in joy again.
“Let the girl have her fun. A dog is supposed to be your best friend, not your slave,” Cloe reprimanded. Hawk narrowed his eyes, but then smiled at her.
“I’m heading back out on the fields again.” Hawk gave his wife a quick kiss, and looked at his stepson.
“You are meeting your friends?”
River nodded, his mouth full of food. Hawk patted his shoulder and walked away.

Cloe had fallen back to her silence, a serene look on her face as she looked at her little girl who was now back on her feet with the dog jumping excitedly around her.
“She reminds me so much of me at that age. Salene always says she has nothing of Hawk in her, that she looks just like me.” Cloe’s smile grew bigger.
River looked at her for a moment, chewing and swallowing the last bit.
“Who do I look like then, you or my dad?”
Cloe’s smile vanished in an instant. She closed her eyes for a moment and sighed. “Don’t, River.”
He let out a sigh and stood up. “I’m going to meet my friends.”
“River…” Cloe stopped.
“I know. Someday you’ll tell me who my dad is,” he sighed. “I’ll see you later.”
He gave her a small smile before taking off. Cloe looked after him with a wistful look on her face.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Brady had dressed in the dullest and most comfortable robes she could find in the large closet in her bedroom. She didn’t even bother taking a look in the mirror; she had long ago given up her appearance for the sake of resistance. She found herself a book and settled down on the sofa in the main room of her suite. It wasn’t long until there was a soft knock on the door. Brady didn’t reply or move to acknowledge it. She knew who it was.
He opened the door without waiting for a reply, Martyn was used to it by now. Brady glanced up when he entered. His long black hair hung loose around his thin and pale face. His robes were black, lined with dark purple and gold, underneath he wore black pants and sandals made out of wood and string. His dark eyes fixed on her as he offered his usual polite greeting. Brady ignored him.

The routine had become almost comfortable within the past year and a half. Martyn was a creature of habit and always showed after breakfast and stayed until lunch. Occasionally he stayed in her room for lunch and extended the visit until dinnertime. His visits were pretty much all the same now, after he’d given up talking her into seeing things from the Chosen’s point of view. Martyn found himself a book and settled down in the chair opposite her. For a long time they sat in silence, only the sound of pages being turned.

There was another knock on the door, a little sharper than Martyn’s but more hesitant.
“Come in,” Brady said loudly. Soon a young woman in a tattered yellow robe walked in, a large tray holding Brady’s breakfast in her hands. She put the tray down on the table, all the while glancing nervously at Martyn. He completely ignored her.
“Thanks, Fia.” Brady gave her a wide smile.
Brady took a few pieces of the bread, some meat and fruit and wrapped it in a napkin that she handed to Fia. Now Martyn looked up, and Fia’s excited smile faded.
“Don’t worry, he won’t tell.” Brady smiled comfortingly.
Martyn made a small waving movement with his hand and returned to his book. Fia bowed clumsily and put the food in her pockets before she then quickly disappeared back outside.
Once the door was closed, Martyn turned his attention to Brady again.
“Do you always give your food away to the slaves?” There was a clear distaste in his voice, mixed with a hint of surprise.
“She has two small kids in the village. How else is she going to feed them?”
There was a slightly puzzled look on his face as he considered this. For someone who was used to having food brought to him at set times of the day, the idea of going hungry was very distant.

Martyn was a very spoiled child; that was the first thing Brady had noticed about him back when they first met. Though it wasn’t a surprise, he was as close to royalty as you could find, along with the Guardian and the Supreme Mother. And Brady herself.
“The villagers are fed,” he stated eventually.
“That very much depends,” Brady muttered, going back to her book. Martyn frowned, but seemed to get the hint and picked up his own book. Once again they fell silent for a while.

Martyn sighed suddenly, slamming the book together and placing it on the table.
“Did you know there was a riot during the night?”
That got her attention. Wide-eyed she turned away from her book.
“Some of the villagers attacked. It was pretty tame, actually, they all got captured and a few got injured. Why they sacrificed their freedom and health for that pathetic attempt is beyond me.”
Brady frowned, her eyes drifting towards the window facing in the direction of the village. Worry seeped into her mind, she knew exactly who the first rebels would be, but they would do it better than this, surely? Martyn’s next words snapped her out of her thoughts and back to her own mission.
“Could you tell me more about the Mallrats?”

Brady struggled to hide a smile as she glanced over at Martyn again. He looked slightly ashamed, but also very eager. The first time he had gotten her to talk about life at the mall she had been suspicious of it being another trick, but the truth was that Martyn was really bad at tricks. He was too sincere for that. She had noticed more and more the rising curiosity in him while faced with her, a girl who had grown up in such a different environment and with such different beliefs. He had been sheltered most of his life, and Brady was pretty sure she was the first person outside of the devoted Chosen that he had ever had a real conversation with. Carefully she placed a bookmark in the book before closing it and putting it down on the table.
“What do you want to hear about this time?”

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

The calm of the forest was a welcome escape for Audrie and Charlie. Usually the entire weekends were spent camping out there, but their mother had made them stay at the mall for the birthday party. Their eyes searched the ground and the trees for signs of their friend as they were sneakily moving forward on the forest ground. Suddenly Charlie stopped, holding a finger to his lips. He pointed towards a tree in front of them. Audrie spotted what looked like the back of River’s brown leather jacket. With triumphant grins spreading on their faces they hurried closer, jumping out from behind the trees.
For a few seconds they looked confused as they saw River’s jacket hanging over a couple branches. They had only just realised he had set them up when they were tackled to the ground. River’s long dark hair, that his mother often referred to as a bird’s nest, disrupted their view before he finally let go of them.

River was rolling around on the ground and laughing loudly as the other two sat up glaring at him, but they soon joined him. It was an old game of theirs, hide-and-seek having spread from the comforts of the mall or farmhouse to the entire forest they camped in. River had always beaten them, his sneaky stealth seeming to come natural to him. Then again, he had been raised by Hawk, while the twins had been raised by Lex who preferred stomping his way around and making his presence known, so River had a clear advantage.
“I could hear you coming minutes before you reached me.”
River had finally calmed down and sat up with a smug grin on his face.
“So, how was the birthday party?”
The groans from the other two gave River another laugh.
“Parents should never be allowed to dance,” Audrie said, shaking her head.
“At least ours don’t drink,” Charlie said with a shiver, as he remembered the impromptu karaoke show by Doctor Patch and Nurse Dee, who had been joined by Jack and Jay halfway through.
“Poor Riley,” River shook his head, the smile never leaving his face.
“I don’t think I have ever seen anyone looking so depressed at their own birthday party,” Charlie said with a laugh, before his face got serious and he glanced down at his feet.
“Speaking of parties… we were thinking of going with the others to the Demon Dog party tonight.”
River’s eyes narrowed slightly, as he looked from Audrie to Charlie. Audrie was glaring at her brother, so it wasn’t hard to guess that she wasn’t really that interested. River looked back at Charlie’s hopeful eyes, and just shrugged in response.
“If that’s what you want, I’m in.”

As Audrie’s glare turned to him, he only grinned in return. Soon her glare dissolved into a smile. Charlie wasn’t the only one with a grin she couldn’t resist. Their eyes were locked together for a moment, until Charlie started whistling a short tune. As the two turned towards him he stopped whistling and raised his eyebrows at the two of them with a smirk on his face.
Audrie got to her feet quickly and looked away from the two boys.
“Where did you set up camp?” She looked at River as she brushed the dirt of her clothes, avoiding his eyes. He only nodded in the direction. The two boys took the hint as she started walking and jumped to their feet, River soon up front to lead the way.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

On the opposite side of the building from Brady’s rooms a man was sitting on a throne-like chair in a large living room. The stone walls that drowned every room had been covered in fabrics with Chinese and Japanese-inspired patterns to soften the look, and sofas, chairs and a table had been placed in a sitting area close by the throne, a large platter of fruit on the table. The room had a strong scent of incense, and candles were spread throughout every surface to lighten up the dark room.

The man took no comfort of these things now though. He looked older than his years, his hair in some lights looked more gray than blonde, and his face was lined with worry. His head rested against the back on his wooden throne, as if all his thoughts made it too heavy to keep up on his own. His wife sighed in the other end of the room, her eyes never leaving him.
“You worry too much, Guardian,” she said gently. “Zoot will let us know when the time is right. There is no hurry.”
He had no time to respond before the door opened, and Martyn walked in. The Guardian sprung to life immediately, rushing towards him and stopping right in front of him.
“Anything new to report?”
The boy shrugged and sighed, the feeling of hopelessness clear on his face. The Guardian walked over to the nearest wall and leaned his forehead against it.
Martyn turned to his mother with a worried look on his face. “Is father alright?”
Tai-San smiled gently to him as he walked over to sit next to her on the sofa.

“Are you not willing to bring power and chaos to the world, my son?” The Guardian asked suddenly. Martyn instinctively sat up straight.
“Of course I am willing,” he insisted.
“Then why does it now show in the Divine?” The Guardian finally moved away from the wall, and looked at the boy.
“They poisoned her mind too well.” Tai-San jumped in to defend her son. “It is my fault. You were right all those years ago; we should have taken her when she was younger, before they could poison her. I was wrong to suggest staying out of sight until she was old enough to take on her role…”
“It does not do to dwell on that.” The Guardian said through gritted teeth.
“It’s not so easy when she’s locked up all the time. She hates us because we’ve taken her away from her family.” Martyn said, blowing his hair out of his eyes.
“They are poisonous!” The Guardian spat out.
“Yes, but they are her family.” Martyn continued.
“What do you mean by this?” The Guardian’s eyes narrowed.
“I think he means that she needs a family,” Tai-San shot in. “We need to show her that we are her family now, instead of Martyn alone trying to show her the right path.”
The Guardian looked thoughtful, for a moment he stared into the air with his eyes wide and gleaming, before they narrowed when he in the corner of his eye saw Martyn once again blowing his hair away from his face.
“I really wish you would cut your hair.”
Martyn looked down, while Tai-San quickly started talking.
“Let’s go see her, all of us,” she suggested, “the four of us are destined for this task, it’s only right we all spend more time together. It shouldn’t be all up to Martyn.”
“You’re right!” The Guardian’s face lit up again, and he gave Tai-San a kiss. “Let us all go.”

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Charlie was chewing on the last pieces of meat left on the bone he was holding in his hands when he looked up and saw the way River was staring into the fire.
“You okay?” He asked, mouth full of food. Audrie grimaced and was about to chastise her brother when she realised what he had been saying. She turned her focus to River. He simply shrugged, snapping out of whatever he had been thinking of.
“I’m just thinking,” he explained finally. The other two waited for further explanation, and he knew there was no point leaving it at that. They knew him too well. He told them about the conversation he’d had with his mother.
“I just wish she would tell me. What is so bad that she can’t tell me who my father is?”
“Well, we know whoever it was, she got pregnant while she was a Techno prisoner,” Audrie began the same summing up of facts the three of them had done many times before.
“Meaning it was either another prisoner or a Techno at the camp she was held in.” Charlie continued for her.
“And given that this is something she doesn’t want to admit to, it’s reasonable to assume it was a Techno and that’s what she won’t tell me, that I’m the son of a Techno,” River finished the train of thought, leaving them in the same place as always.

The three fell silent, staring into the flames of their bonfire. Charlie eventually looked away, glancing at the other two before speaking again. “Maybe it’s better left alone?”
“What do you mean?” River’s voice was as calm as ever, but Charlie could tell he was not happy with the suggestion.
“Maybe she has a good reason to not tell you yet. I don’t think we always have to know everything, some things are better kept hidden.”
“How am I supposed to know who I am, if I don’t know where I come from?”
“You’re you, River. Whoever he is, he didn’t raise you. He has nothing to do with you.” Charlie insisted.
River opened his mouth, probably to start another speech on the human nature and blood, but Audrie held her hands up.
“Let’s just drop the subject, okay?” She looked from one to the other. “Arguing about it, or even talking about it won’t get us any closer to the truth. Let’s just enjoy the day? God knows we need it before the party.”
River and Charlie looked at each other. River’s sour look disappeared and turned into a smile. Charlie gave his trademark grin back at him, and within seconds the tension was gone.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Brady was surprised to see all three of the chaos-family (as she liked to call them). At the knock on the door she had expected Martyn, it happened on occasion that he came by more than once during the day, but she hadn’t expected to see the other two enter the door to her rooms.

Brady had three rooms all to herself. Her bedroom alone was bigger than the room she had shared with Jayda and Riley back home, her bed one for a princess. She had a bathroom all on her own, and a sitting room fully furnished with a sofa and chairs and bookcases filled with books. They had given her every luxury possible to please her, but it was all just things.
Brady sat down on the window seat, away from the other three. The Guardian and Martyn took a chair each, while Tai-San sat down on the sofa. She patted the seat next to her casually.
“Come join us,” she said with a smile.
Brady didn’t move or reply, she just kept her arms and legs crossed and stared at her reflection in the full-body mirror on the opposite wall.

She used to have long soft golden brown curls all the way down her back. It had been her pride since she was old enough to grow it that long. She had spent so much time washing it, combing it, and styling it… in the mirror now her short uneven hair looked as if someone had attacked her with scissors. It was her way of fighting them. They had tried making her into some Chosen princess; they had paraded her around the old mansion and in the village nearby while speaking of the glorious times ahead. She wouldn’t go through that again. One day when they brought her food, she had taken the knife on her tray and cut of all her beautiful hair until she looked like a boy, and cut up her arms to cover her robes in blood. The Guardian had forbidden knives and scissors to be brought to her, but Brady had her ways. Some of the Chosen were so in awe of her that she could have asked them to jump of the roof and they would have. Though that was a step she wasn’t prepared to take, most of them were just kids as well. She hated taking advantage of her status, but in this case she thought it was justified. She looked at her reflection again, a small smile spreading on her face.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Monique smoothed out the wrinkles of her top, before standing up and grabbing her leather mini-skirt. Chris leaned back, his body barely covered by the sheets, watching her.
“In a hurry?” He asked.
Monique shrugged, as she bent down to pick up her fishnet stockings.
“Need to check up on mum, haven’t been home for a couple days.”
“So you’re not going to the party tonight?”
Monique grimaced, images of loud drunk kids throwing up rushing through her head. She was not in the mood for that today, even if getting drunk with other teens often seemed the more pleasant option to being sober around her mother. “Probably not.”
Chris nodded slightly. He took the book from the bedside table while Monique turned to the mirror to fix her hair. He opened the book, but didn’t look down at it.
“How is Ebony?”
Monique froze with her hands on the knot she was tying her hair up in. “She’ll be fine. Why? Since when do we ask each other these things?”
Chris rolled his eyes and looked down at his book. “I was just wondering.”
“You’re not going all emotional on me, are you? I don’t want that, Chris, you know that. For fucks sake, that’s why I’m the closest thing you’ve ever had to a real relationship with a chick.”
Chris sighed, looking up from his book again now that Monique had finished her hair and focused completely on him again.
“I’ve been your friend since long before we even knew what sex was. It was only a question.”
“Okay, fine. Let’s drop it. I’m gonna go…”
Chris put his hand up in a still wave.
“Have fun at the party.” Monique said over her shoulder as she walked out.
A smirk appeared on Chris’ face. “Will do my best.”

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Allie wasn’t much help in the workshop, though Jack showed no sign of annoyance. He looked at her as she sat picking on the leftover food on the tray Trudy had brought down for them.
“You okay?” He asked.
“Fine.” Allie shrugged.
Jack wanted to settle with that answer, though he knew she was far from fine, just like he was nowhere near fine. He glanced over towards the picture on the wall, the same as he had enlarged and framed for the girls in their room. His kids. Only two of them were really his, if you wanted to get scientific about it. But Jack had known since he fell in love with Trudy that being a father had nothing to do with science or biology. They were just his. Even Riley, though he had no obligation even through Trudy to care for her. Jayda, even though her birth father was alive and well and living right there with them. And Brady… he’d give everything to have her back. His mind drifted off back to the days when she was a tiny little girl, when he’d fix her toys and do small experiments to make things blow up just to see the excitement on her face and hear the thrill in her laughter.

Back in reality Allie was sitting heartbroken in front of him. He knew that, he knew she was hurting as much as him. But he didn’t know what to do about it. It had been easy when they were little. When their tears could be stopped with a hug or a kiss, and their cries could be silenced with bribes of popsicles and new toys. It was the worst part of these last three years, to know that he couldn’t fix it like he had fixed their toys. To know that all his knowledge, all his inventions, were useless. He felt so helpless seeing the pain etched in his little girl’s face.

“It’s a tough day.” He decided not to let it go like he usually did. It was so easy with Allie, she had been so self-sufficient and independent since she was little. She could work for hours even as a toddler with something all by herself. It was so easy to believe that she was fine, that she could handle it on her own. Once again she shrugged, her usual response.
“You know that if you need to talk or… something, then I’m here. You know that, right?” Jack almost stuttered, for a moment feeling like he was the kid and not her.
“Don’t start.” Allie’s voice broke, and Jack thought she was close to tears. But she quickly pulled herself together and he was soon sure he had imagined it.
“Today is no tougher than every other day. It was just the same yesterday and it will be the same tomorrow. I don’t want to talk, I just want to avoid everyone who thinks today is the day we should talk about things.”
“It might help.”
Allie shook her head.
“It never does,” she mumbled so he barely heard it.
As he was trying to decide if he should keep pushing her, Jason walked in to save him from making a decision.
“Need a hand?” Jason asked brightly. Not much more was said, Jason just settled into the usual routine.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

The old apartment complex Monique and Ebony had moved to, along with three others, had been partly rebuilt and remodelled a few years earlier, to accommodate the new lifestyles of people now compared to before the virus. Monique knew very little of life then, but it was just fine for the now. She glanced up at the window belonging to their living room; it was dark. That didn’t necessarily mean anything, as Ebony could be asleep with a hangover. She found the keys in her jacket pocket, and unlocked the main door. Monique shook her head in disgust, as she usually did, when she entered the landing of the staircase that led to the apartment she shared with her mother. The door next to theirs was painted a bright pink and a large golden star had been painted on top of the pink, with the names of the inhabitants in glittery purple inside.
“Here lives Gel and Cinderella”
As if there was a need for that. There was no one else in the entire city that would paint their door like that.

She opened her own door, looking in at the empty darkness inside. As soon as she had lit the gas lamp that stood on the coffee table, her eyes surveyed the room. A large amount of bottles were spread around every surface, covering the kitchen counter, some of them empty, a few not yet opened and a couple were about half-empty. She threw her little rucksack on the floor, and gently opened the door that led to her mother’s room, half expecting, and half hoping, to see her mother passed out on the bed. It was empty.

She walked back into the living room, ending up staring out the window for a few moments while contemplating if she should go to that party after all. Eventually she decided against it, and turned to look at the mess of the living room and kitchen. With a sigh she turned away and walked to her own room. She dropped her jacket to the floor and kicked off her shoes. She lifted the mattress slightly and pulled out a brown leather jacket, many sizes too big for her. She just held it for a moment, before putting it around herself and crawling into bed. Within moments her eyes were filled with tears.

WRITTEN BY: JacksAnnie
TITLE: Missing Sister, the next generation (15 years after)
CHAPTER: 3/?
PAIRINGS/CHARACTERS: Most of main cast feature in this. As for pairings, some you might be able to guess, others will surprise you. A lot has happened in 15 years.
RATING/WARNINGS: I’ll go with PG-13, just in case.

CHAPTER 3: Where we were before

When we started it was years ago, we tried so hard to find our souls
And lose the innocence that won’t let go
So we crossed the line and can’t turn back, happy endings never last
Cause there’s always more to stories never told

Blessid Union Of Souls – Where we were before

15 YEARS AGO (about 3 weeks after returning from the island):
Year 4 AV (After Virus)

Jack rubbed his eyes and yawned. For the past couple weeks he had done nothing but sit in front of a computer, day and night. First figuring out codes and security systems, then searching through a massive database for their friends and other people reported missing. Slade and Ebony were in charge of the stream of people arriving at the hotel (well, the part of the hotel still usable anyway) and getting the list of people having gone missing since the first arrival of the Technos. A small group of Jay-approved Technos along with Jay, Lex and Amber had been sent to the other city the Technos had occupied, to find the prisoners that had been shipped off. Jack’s job was to find information in Mega’s files, and then forward it to the other Techno camp so they knew where to look.

He leaned back in the chair and looked at the folders in front of him. That one pile he kept right next to his computer, adding to it whenever he could. He couldn’t wait to see Ellie’s face when he came home that night. Amber had sent him the message that Alice and KC were alive and well, and both eager to come home. He hadn’t said a word to Ellie about finding Alice in the computer files, he didn’t want to get her hopes up without knowing.

Bray hadn’t been possible to find as of yet, his file said he was missing after the rebels overtook the guards in a bloody fight. Tai-San’s file said the same. Jack had with some curiosity and confusion noted that Mega had placed a notice on Tai-San’s file that she was a safety risk and it was urgent to find her. Jack couldn’t quite see Tai-San as a danger to anyone.

Ved was dead, at least that’s what Jack had read into Amber’s short response that there was no point to looking up his file.

Tally and Andy had files, but not much in them, the last notice on either had been months ago. He had come to suspect files that stopped suddenly with no more information most likely meant the people in question had died.

Cloe was the last he had yet to hear back on. Amber’s last message had told him to wait for more information, which was already three hours ago now. He felt his eyelids dropping, wondering if taking a nap was a good or bad idea. Just then a plinging noise sounded, and a message blinked on the screen in front of him.

“Re: Cloe. She’s alive, barely. Let’s hope she makes the trip.
We’re getting ready to board the ship. We will see you all in a week’s time.
Say hi to everyone. Give my son a kiss from me. –Amber”

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

A WEEK LATER:

It was a cold morning the day the old cargo ship sailed to the shore. On the docks a large group of people had gathered, the Mallrats standing at the front. The only absences being the little ones and Gel and Sammy who had grudgingly agreed to babysit. Ellie kept shifting her weight from one foot to the other, one hand clutching onto Jack’s tightly while the other was up to her face as she bit her nails. Trudy placed an arm around her, gently patting her on the back. Next to them Lottie was clutching a picture of KC in her hand, still staring at it with a look of disbelief. Was it really possible that she would get to meet her brother again after all this time? Ruby placed her hands on the girl’s shoulders, giving her a comforting smile. Salene stood in silent anticipation, her eyes occasionally meeting Trudy’s with neither of them daring to smile just yet. Before they actually saw their friends walking off that boat it was too soon to believe.

They soon saw Jay stepping of the ship with a few Technos. He waved at them, but stayed behind to register people as they walked off the ship, listing down their names. One by one former prisoners stepped onto the ground of their city again, none of them quite believing it was true. Shouts and screams filled the air as tribes and families found their loved ones. The Mallrats stood of to the side, their faces growing more worried for every person stepping off that wasn’t one of them. Finally Jay waved them over, before disappearing onto the ship again. They all followed.

Ellie was ecstatic to see her sister again, the two of them locked in a tight embrace and crying in joy. Lottie was unsure in her approach to her brother, KC didn’t even recognise her at first, it had been so long. The hug that finally came after a nudge from Ruby was awkward, but they were together again. For Salene it was a moment of dread and shock to see a heavily pregnant Cloe barely conscious and wrapped in blankets on the ship’s deck. For Lex and Amber the moments on the ship were about not showing their disappointment more than anything else. Lex had asked KC and Alice about Tai-San, but they had never seen her. Unlike Bray, who KC had met briefly only to be taken away from the Techno camp Bray had been at. They also let them know the Guardian had been with them before the riot at the slave camp.

The Mallrats had never quite managed to figure out how Tai-San and the Guardian got back to the city or how they ended up together.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

THE NEXT DAY:

Cloe moaned in her half-conscious state. Frustrated Salene kept dabbing at her forehead with a damp cloth, as Trudy and Amber stood back, their expressions as pained as Salene’s. Their attention turned towards the doorway when Jay, Jack and Ellie walked in, all three short of breath and still wearing their jackets and coats.
“Anything?” Salene stood up quickly and then sunk back down on the bed deflated at them shaking their heads.
“The only antibiotics we found we can’t be sure won’t hurt the baby,” Jay said with a sigh, “I guess when Ram and Mega had it made they weren’t too concerned about pregnant women.”
Salene took the cloth and dipped it in the water basin next to the bed. She looked thoughtful as she squeezed the water out again. Once she had placed it back on Cloe’s forehead she turned to look at Amber.
“Then we need the Ecos.”
Amber sighed. “Even if they are at the farm like rumours say…”
Salene stood up, waving her arms around in frustration.
“Jet said it! She’s been there, she saw them!”
Jet had told them the Ecos were forced out of the woods by all the people escaping the city when they thought the virus was coming. The woods had been the favourite escape route.
“Even so, Hawk won’t come to the city. I doubt any of the others would either.”
Salene went quiet for a moment and glanced back at Cloe in the bed.
“Then we bring her to them,” she turned back to face the others with a determined look on her face.
“We can’t be sure she’ll survive a trip like that,” Amber said quickly.
“Well she won’t survive if we just stand around here and argue about it!”
Amber and Salene stared at each other, thoughts racing through Amber’s head before she finally nodded.
“Okay. We need a stretcher of some kind. Jack, you’re the genius here, any ideas?”
Jack scratched his head.
“Well, there’s an old wheelbarrow, I could make some kind of stretcher and attach to it, would go faster than carrying her all the way.”
“Do it!” Amber said quickly as he opened his mouth to keep explaining his idea. “Jay, Ellie, help him out. Find some others as well, we need this done quickly. I’m sure Slade wouldn’t mind some distraction from his drama.”
The three disappeared on her order, hurrying downstairs to Jack’s workshop. Amber turned to Trudy.
“You help me find sheets and pillows to make it as comfortable and warm as possible. Sal, you stay here and take care of her until we’re ready okay?”
Salene nodded. Amber was out of there without another word. Trudy gave Salene’s shoulder a quick squeeze before hurrying after her.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

A FEW DAYS LATER:

Cloe blinked a few times, the light making it hard for her to focus for a few moments. She thought she must be in a hut of some kind. The ceiling above her seemed to be made of thick grass. There was light coming from somewhere, sunlight. She could hear birdsong around her and distant voices. Before she could look around any more, a face appeared above her. For a moment her thoughts raced to Pride, everything about his appearance screamed Eco.
“Hello,” he said, a smile spreading on his face. “You had us worried there for a while.”
His eyes were kind and she couldn’t help but smile back. She tried to figure out how she had gotten here from the gray concrete walls, black streamlined furniture and the endless walls of monitors and gray computers in the techno camp, but the vague memories were hard to get hold of. A ship? No that didn’t make sense, why would she have been on a ship? But she was sure… and Alice and KC had been there. And then she had been at the mall, she was sure of that. Or had that been a dream? Sometimes the line between reality and reality space or dream-world seemed too blurred now. She wasn’t always sure. But Salene had been so clear. She had remembered trees, gliding across the ground on her back with trees and blue sky above her. That had to have been a dream. And pain, she remembered pain, a lot of pain. A voice telling her to push.
“My baby!”
Her hands travelled towards her stomach.
“He is fine.”
Cloe turned towards the man again.
“He?”
Again that smile, that gorgeous smile. She was sure she had never seen a smile just that pretty before.
“Yes, you have a beautiful baby boy.”
Cloe could feel the tears pressing behind her eyes.
“Where is he?” She tried to sit up, but he placed a hand on her shoulder to gently push her back down. Cloe quickly pulled away from him. He looked taken aback but removed his hand.
“Salene is taking care of him, he’s in safe hands. But he’s asleep right now. As soon as he wakes up she’ll take him to you.”
Cloe nodded, a smile spreading on her face again. A part of her wanted to race off to find him, another just wanted to go back to sleep.
“Do you remember me, Cloe?”
She shook her head, stopping as soon as this caused her head to hurt.
“Not surprising, you’ve barely been conscious these past few days. My name is Hawk, I’m the leader of the Ecos.”
His smile was comforting and she relaxed again, only then realising how tense she had been since she felt his hand on her shoulder. She smiled back at him.
“Nice to meet you, Hawk.”

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

A COUPLE WEEKS LATER:

Alice and Amber strolled on to the farm; Alice determined, Amber a little more hesitant. They found Cloe with her little boy, and Mouse sitting next to them. Mouse shrieked with joy when she saw Amber, and gave her a big hug. Alice introduced herself to the little girl, before giving Cloe a hug and cooing over the baby.
“Hello.”
They all looked up to see Hawk standing there, a look towards Amber that showed very clearly he wouldn’t welcome her with open arms. He gave her a small nod before he turned his attentions elsewhere.
“You must be Alice? I understand this is your farm. We won’t occupy it much longer, but I wanted to thank you for allowing us to borrow it.”
Alice and Amber glanced at each other.
“Actually, that’s why we’re here.” Alice said quickly. “Could we talk in private somewhere?”
Hawk nodded, before turning to Cloe.
“It’s a bit chilly, maybe you should take him inside.”
Cloe rolled her eyes and gave a small smile.
“Alright, Hawk. You just keep thinking of a name for him.”
“I told you…”
Cloe interrupted him.
“And I told you; you saved our lives, I want you to name him. Something Eco-like. Think about it.”

She moved away from them to go inside, Mouse following her after making Amber promise to come see her afterwards.
“You two seem to get along well,” Amber noted, a small smile on her lips as she watched Hawk’s eyes follow Cloe as she walked inside. Hawk’s eyes searched her face, before deciding to change the subject.
“I understand congratulations are in order, City Leader.”
“Thanks,” Amber sighed. “Which again brings us to why we’re here. The city needs a food source, and this farm gives us a great opportunity, but we need help to…”
Hawk held up his hand, and Amber stopped.
“This is her farm, right?” He motioned towards Alice.
Amber nodded.
“Then I want to hear it from her.”
Alice looked from one to the other. “Okay. Amber and I discussed the best way to get the farm up and running, as quickly as possible, and I suggested asking you and your tribe for help. I know farming, but I can’t do it on my own. All my old farmgirls are long gone, god knows where, and not many others in the city know much about it. If you guys stayed here to help get things started, and help teach some kids who want to learn, then this could be a food source for the city for years to come.”
Hawk looked at her intently, before he sighed, almost in defeat.
“I can’t deny we’ve enjoyed living here the past few weeks. I’m not happy at being that closely involved with the city though.”
“We know that,” Amber spoke up, “but I can assure you the city won’t be like it used to. We’re also planning to set up something at the old hospital, we could use a hand there to. Even though now that Patch has come back we have someone with a clue on these things. I’ve been talking to Salene about setting up a school of some sort. We’re building a new future.”
Hawk gave Amber the same look he had given Alice just a moment earlier, though slightly harder.
“And electricity? We will not work with a city that goes by the same principles the Technos used.”
Amber had to hold back the first response that came to her mind.
“The system the Technos set up will be destroyed. It mostly has been already, from the inside. Jack will be in charge of setting up generators for the important buildings, mainly the hospital for now, and the hotel until Jack and Ram are done looking for the people still missing. I can’t promise we won’t expand that in the future, though mostly we’ll be going back to the old ways of recharging batteries, only on a bigger scale. Another project for Jack, he’ll be busy in the near future.”
Hawk didn’t reply, he just looked thoughtful, his eyes not really focusing on either woman but somewhere between them.
“This is our chance at making the new city dependant only on nature, Hawk. If we don’t get enough food for everyone there will be riots. We might end up forced to turn the power back on to keep things calm. I do not want that.”
Amber felt slightly bad for using that against him, but she could already tell his vision of a nature-friendly world was looking slightly more possible in his eyes.
“I will call a meeting tonight, and we will discuss it. You can stay overnight or return tomorrow for our answer.”
With that he walked away from them.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

LATER THAT NIGHT:

The mall was finally quiet. Baby Bray had been difficult, but had eventually fallen asleep. Salene yawned and rubbed her eyes as she entered the café, the old café that they had now moved back to. She made herself a cup of cocoa, staring at the brown liquid in her mug with a sigh when she sat down at one of the tables. Her craving for something stronger was still there.

She had spent the last few weeks being a good friend and listened to all worries and complaints from the three pregnant girls. She had helped deliver Cloe’s little baby, and taken care of him while Cloe recovered. May was being strangely cold towards her, refusing to speak of the father of her unborn baby, and mostly just cursing her life. Ruby had found new entertainment in making Ebony jealous by constantly talking to Slade about the baby and having him touch her stomach to feel if it was kicking. Though Salene didn’t think it was about getting Slade back anymore as much as it was about simply annoying Ebony, Ruby spent most of her time with Ram these days and Salene was sure she had seen something there. She couldn’t quite understand why Ruby would want Ram, but at least it might calm down all the drama with Ebony. Trudy was in her usual moods; high or low at all times. She was either crying over her situation or overly cheerful and kind to everyone. Cloe was the only one seemingly happy about her baby. Salene didn’t understand it. Didn’t they know how lucky they were?

She was startled when Lex entered the café. He raised his eyebrows at her.
“Jumpy tonight are we?” He sounded slightly annoyed, despite the sheriff’s star glimmering proudly on his chest. He soon fell into the chair opposite her with a glass of water in his hand and the bottle in the other, the star being slammed down on the table before he downed the water in his glass in one.
“Rough day?” Salene asked.
He looked at her for a moment as if he was debating with himself what to reveal, the lines on his face softening as he sighed.
“The city is full of messed up kids. That paradise game caused more damage than I thought.”
Salene appreciated his openness, and the fact that not many others would have gotten the same answer.
“The Technos really did a lot of damage,” Salene said, her mind drifting towards what Cloe had told her about her imprisonment, and with a jolt of pain Pride’s face came into her head. Slightly blurry, she had trouble remembering some of his features already, when she wasn’t looking at a picture of him. Finally Salene understood what was on Lex’s mind.
“You’re worried about Tai-San?”
He poured another glass of water, staring at it the same way Salene had found herself staring at her cup of cocoa just a few moments ago.
“Who knows what they did to her or where she is. If she’s as messed up as them and got lost when the prisoners rioted over there…”
Salene reached out and took his hand.
“I should go back and look for her, find another boat…”
“Do you really think there’s any point?”

Their eyes locked together, before Lex quickly looked away. They both knew the stories told by the other prisoners, the varying – but always large – number of dead bodies following the riot. Not one death had been put on record.
“Maybe you should talk to Amber, you’re in the same boat…”
“No, we’re not,” Lex interrupted her. “She has Jay, and her kid. I’ve got nothing.”
“Yeah, I know the feeling,” Salene said weakly.
He turned his hand around to grab hers back, both of them sitting lost in their own thoughts for a moment.
“So the baby-boom is getting to you to?” Lex said finally. Salene nodded, tears pressing behind her eyes.
“It always surprises me how much I actually wanted to be a dad, back when Zan…” Lex stopped himself.
“I never wanted anything more!” Salene barely managed to get the words out before collapsing in tears.

Lex instantly moved closer, letting her cry on his shoulder for a while. When she calmed down and started pulling back he did what he usually did in these situations. He kissed her. To his surprise she kissed him back. When it ended Salene looked horrified.
“Sorry,” the lack of sincerity showed through the smile that appeared on his face. “Don’t know what happened there.”
Salene no longer looked horrified, more confused.
“We-we’re lonely, and tired, and upset…” She began, her voice cracking. She then looked at him, head tilted slightly to the side. Before he could say anything, she kissed him again.
“Just to be clear, this is one night only,” she stated as the kiss ended.
“What I do best, babe,” he replied.
She stood up. “Your room,” was all she said as she walked out.

Lex was left behind a little shocked. Was this really happening? Salene of all people? Would this ruin their friendship? Wait, why was he doubting this? A pretty girl offers him a night of sex with no strings attached, what was he waiting for?
Quickly he got up and followed after her.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

6 MONTHS LATER:

Trudy walked down the stairs and towards the workshop, only just woken up from her nap to find her little baby girl, Jayda, blissfully still asleep. In the doorway she stopped, blinked a few times as she tried to make sense of the vision in front of her. Jack and Brady were sitting by his table, Brady with his goggles on and staring intently at something hidden behind a stack of boxes. As Trudy opened her mouth to announce her presence, she heard a loud bang and something hit her on the head. On the floor in front of her fell a small black container, the perpetrator of the pain on her forehead she assumed. She heard Brady giggling, while Jack looked more vary.
“Sorry, Trudy. I didn’t see you.”
“What…what’s going on?”
“Fysacs magic!” Brady shouted excitedly.
“What?” Trudy couldn’t help but smile at the look on her daughter’s face.
“Physics magic,” Jack corrected.
“Yes, fysacs magic! Goes boom!” Brady exclaimed as she threw her hands up in the air to demonstrate.
“I could tell,” Trudy said with a laugh, her hand still covering her forehead.
“Where has Ellie gone?” Trudy glanced towards the desk and spare computer Ellie used for her newsletter.
“Research,” Jack looked from Trudy to Brady, again a vary look on his face.
“Brady, sweetie, why don’t you go to your room and find your crayons and paper? I thought we could sit in the café and draw, and leave Jack to work.”
Brady’s face turned from grin to sour, but she did as Trudy said, shouting goodbye to Jack as she ran off.

“You could leave her here, you know. I don’t mind,” Jack said as he started cleaning up from his little experiment.
“I can tell,” Trudy smiled at him. “You’re her new best friend.”
“Wouldn’t go that far,” Jack mumbled, his face slightly red.
Trudy sat down on the nearest chair.
“So Ellie is doing research? Any news?”
Jack shrugged. “Nothing. Someone saw someone in what might have been a robe. Last time it turned out to be a guy in a long coat.”
Trudy bit her lip. “But he is out there. Alice and KC saw him.”
“A long boat ride away, different country.”
“Lots of boats out there, remember?”
Jack sighed in exasperation, having been through a nearly identical conversation a few times already in the past weeks.
“I’m sorry,” Trudy’s voice broke. “I’m just worried, I just…I know what he wants. And I don’t know how I can protect her.”
Her hand slammed down on the table in frustration, making all the screws, bolts and other little knickknacks on Jack’s desk move. Hurriedly he tried to stop it all from falling to the floor. Trudy fell silent, studying him for a moment.
“Are things okay, with you and Ellie?” Trudy asked after a few seconds of silence.
He was suddenly very busy putting things in place.
“Sure, why wouldn’t they be?” He replied without even looking at her.
“You’re hardly together anymore, and when you are…” Trudy let the sentence hang in the air. They both knew perfectly well the whole mall had heard them fighting, and this time it wasn’t a trick to fool Mega.
“We’re just busy, she’s got stories to chase and I’ve got stuff here.” Jack said sharply, starting to remove screws from an old computer.
“I take the hint,” Trudy tried to put on a smile and ease the tension that had gripped them, but failed. She stood up again, turning in the doorway.

“You’ve been really helpful and kind to me lately, Jack. I’ve enjoyed spending time with you these last few months, and not just for the sake of having you and Ellie babysit,” she smiled but he didn’t look up. “I consider you a friend, despite… despite our differences in the past. I hope we’ve put all that behind us now. My point is, if you need to talk, I’m here.”
“You’re the last person I can talk to,” he muttered, but loud enough for her to hear it. He seemed to suddenly realise he had said it out loud.
“I didn’t mean…”
Trudy held up her hands.
“I get it. Obviously it’s not behind us. Brady’s waiting.”

As quickly as she could she hurried towards the stairs, so he wouldn’t see her getting teary. The emotions threatening to overpower her were stronger than she had expected and confused her. She quickly wrote it off as her hormones still playing tricks on her and pushed it away as she went to face her daughter. In the workshop Jack had sunk down on his chair, elbows on the table and head in his hands.

LATER THAT NIGHT:

Trudy sat on Brady’s bedside, watching over the sleeping girl. Next to the bed was the crib little Jayda lay in. They both slept peacefully. Trudy didn’t these days. She’d wake up from nightmares, the instinct to not wake the kids only just overpowering her urge to scream. She pulled her robe tighter around herself as she stood up and walked towards the doorway. Catching a glance at herself in the mirror; hair standing out in all angles, bags under her eyes darker and larger than she remembered from that morning, the last time she had a moment to worry about such things. With a sigh she hurried past the mirror and towards the stairs. She knew it was silly to constantly go check the security cameras when nightmares woke her up, but it was the only thing that stopped her heart racing. She stopped abruptly in the doorway of the workshop when she saw Jack was in there. He looked up at the sound of her footsteps and for a few seconds they simply stared at each other.

“Sorry,” Trudy broke the silence, “I didn’t know you were here, I was just…”
A grimace that almost looked like a smile appeared on his face.
“Checking the screen?”
She nodded, feeling embarrassed. Jack had set up enough alarms to wake the whole mall if even a stray cat stepped too close to either entrance (which had happened on a few occasions), and there were deputies and others on guard duty around the city.
“Nothing to worry about, I’ve been sitting here a couple hours.”
“Are you that busy, or just unable to get any sleep?” Trudy tentatively took another couple steps inside, the tension coming from him earlier seeming to have faded. Jack merely shrugged in response. Trudy hesitated before asking further.
“Won’t Ellie miss you?”
Jack let out an exasperated sigh. “We had another fight. Told her I’d sleep down here.”
“What happened to you two? Just a few weeks ago you were so happy.”
“I don’t know,” Jack said, anger in his voice. Like he had many times before that day, he leaned forward with his elbows on the table and head in his hands. Trudy’s maternal instinct kicked in and she hurried over to put an arm around him. He quickly stood up, pushing her away and walking a few steps to the side.
“Don’t! Just don’t!” Jack held out his hands, and Trudy simply took a step back.
Jack started pacing back and forth, and Trudy waited.

“She’s just… she accuses me of stuff.”
“What stuff?”
“She thinks there’s someone else.”
Jack stopped pacing, leaning back against the wall.
“What? No, you’d never cheat on her, she knows that.”
A sound that sounded like something between a short laugh and a loud sigh escaped him.
“No, that’s not it. She thinks… I have feelings for someone else.”
“Oh,” Trudy crossed her arms, “who?” She found herself dreading the answer.
Jack bit his lip, taking a few seconds before he finally replied.
“You.”
Trudy stood still, her arms falling to her sides again.
“But that’s… I mean, why would she think that?” She was speaking too fast now, her voice getting that high pitch.
“I don’t know how to deal with this,” Jack began, his voice growing higher for every word. “I know science, numbers, computers, electronic gadgets, that’s what I know! Not this!” He waved his arms around, nearly shouting now. Trudy stepped closer as she tried to calm him down.
“I don’t know girls, okay? I’m not good with these things. And she’s accusing me of things I have no control over!”
“Okay, don’t wake the mall up. Calm down, Jack.”
She tried to grab hold of his arms to stop him from knocking something down. He didn’t go quiet until his back hit the wall. Now they were too close, able to feel each other’s breath.

Later on neither of them could really remember who initiated the kiss, it just seemed to happen. It didn’t last very long though, and Jack pushed her off him just as she took several steps back.
“This didn’t happen,” he said quickly.
Trudy shook her head. “No, it was nothing. I should go.”
He didn’t object or say anything else as she walked out of the workshop and away.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

2 WEEKS LATER:

They hadn’t spoken since… since that thing that didn’t happen, and now they stayed on opposite sides of the tribe as they all hurried towards the edge of the city. A pang of guilt coursed through Trudy, but she quickly pushed it away. Whatever Ellie needed them for, it had nothing to do with that. The message from her had been vague, but the boy who delivered it said it had been urgent. They sensed danger though, and Slade and most of the deputies had stayed behind to guard the mall. Lex and the small troop he had brought with him were up front, with Amber, Jack and Jay following right behind. Trudy suddenly worried that she should have stayed at the mall with her girls, but told herself they were perfectly safe and guarded. Ellie had been missing for several days now, and when the message came that she needed their help, Trudy hadn’t been able to not go. The continuing pang of guilt wouldn’t let her stay behind. They hadn’t had time to get Alice, but maybe that was for the best, whatever it was Ellie needed them for.

It was while Trudy was lost in her thoughts that things happened in front of them. Around eight people stepped out from the trees, all of them wearing robes. Trudy gasped loudly as she recognised the Guardian, taking a step backwards into Salene who was right behind her. A bigger shock was seeing Tai-San next to him, wearing golden and red robes, stepping out from behind the Guardian. Lex shouted something and ran towards her, only for a Chosen to knock him to his feet and keep him down with his sharpened cane. Two others were dragging something out from the trees, something heavy and burned. It seemed like everyone realised it was a body just as it was dropped down in front of them. The majority of it was burned to the unrecognisable; just a charred body with long blonde hair, and a green amulet hanging around the neck. Someone screamed, several people actually. It took Trudy several moments to realise she was one of them. Jack had fallen to his knees, screaming Ellie’s name. Salene had collapsed to the ground and was throwing up and crying at the same time. Amber was the first to snap out of the shock, putting her arms around Jack and pulling him away from the sight. Lex was shouting obscenities at the Guardian, struggling to get lose from the grip of now two Chosen members. The Guardian searched the group with a satisfied smile on his face, his eyes stopping at Trudy. She had stopped screaming and stared right back at the Guardian with hate in her eyes.

“Just thought we’d let you know,” his voice boomed out over the crowd, “we’re back!”
With that he turned on his heels and together with the rest disappeared among the trees again. The Mallrats were all still too shocked to think of following them. Trudy now only saw one thing, and she hurried over to where Jack and Amber were, putting her arms around him and letting him sob on her shoulder.
Over his shoulder she stared at the spot the Guardian had disappeared, knowing fully well what this all meant. The nightmares had only just begun.

WRITTEN BY: JacksAnnie

CHAPTER 4:

Living for the weekend

Oh yeah, I look around me and I can see this place is full of people like me,
all living for the weekend.
Yeah, I feel the rhythm I see the light, I feel my heart beat, I feel alive,
nothing can stop me now, nothing can bring me down.
Out there tonight is the night of my life got my name on, skip to the beat.
Hard-Fi – Living for the weekend

Year 18 AV (After Virus)

“I don’t like this. Not at all.” Trudy said as she folded the newly washed and dried clothes and put them into different piles. Jack barely looked up from the work he was doing at the next table. Next to him was little Dal, drawing in silence as usual.
When there were no more clothes to fold, she grabbed a washing cloth and started wiping down the tables in the café.
“I’m still not convinced it’s safe.”
“Junior guaranteed it, Trudy. Everyone else is going, we can’t keep them locked up.”
Trudy opened her mouth to object to that last point, but stopped when her eyes caught sight of the drawing her son was making. The monster in blue or white robes was as always present. She sighed as she stroked his hair gently. Just then Allie, Jayda and Riley walked into the café.

Trudy stared at Jayda. She had a skirt on so short it looked more like something Monique would wear, along with a tight-fitting short-sleeved top, and her face was covered in make-up and glitter.
“We’re going now.” Jayda crossed her arms over her chest as she talked. She avoided the eyes of both Trudy and Jack, and hurried out of there quickly, leaving Allie and Riley behind to face her mother’s wrath.
“What is she wearing?” Trudy turned to the other two.
“Clothes?” Allie shrugged, looking very uncomfortable.
“Well, not very much of it!” Trudy objected.
As soon as she turned towards Jack, the other two girls saw their chance to escape.
“I don’t like this!”

Jayda was waiting for the other two downstairs by the fountain. Without another word all three walked outside to meet the others.
Chris whistled when he saw them, his eyes going up and down Jayda’s body with a smile spreading on his face.
“I’ll have to keep a close eye on you tonight, keep all the bad boys away.” He winked, and Jayda smiled back at him.
Riley and Audrie rolled their eyes, while Allie, Bray, Charlie and Jason all glared at Chris. He ignored them, and put at arm around Jayda as he started leading the group away from the mall.
“Monique not coming?” Riley asked, looking pointedly at Jayda as she said it, but without getting a response from her friend.
“Nope. Something she had to do. Who cares,” Chris replied without turning around.
Charlie kept his head down, fixing his eyes on his feet instead of the two in front of him. Audrie put an arm around his shoulders, while River fell in line next to them in silence.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

The warehouse that housed the party was only separated from the others around it by the noise and the glaring lights hung up at the front. Inside the music was so loud they could barely hear each other, and it was crowded with people. Chris dragged Jayda out on the dance floor almost as soon as they were inside, leaving the rest to themselves. Bray took off quickly to, looking for friends or a new girl for the night. The other six stayed close together, ending up in a corner with their backs against the wall.

After years of political battle between the Demon Dogs and the Mallrats, the Demon Dogs’ new leader had finally decided to cooperate with the Mallrats and join the Tribal Union. But there was still a lot of animosity between the tribes, the older generation remembered the conflict from the beginning, and the younger generation had been brought up to distrust each other. There had been certain feeble attempts in the past few months from the Demon Dogs to unite with the other tribes, and this was what Bray had told their parents this party was about.

Mostly they stood in silence, though Jason and River tried keeping a conversation going between them, occasionally joined by Audrie. Riley kept her eyes on the dance-floor, trying to keep control of where Jayda was, though it wasn’t long until she lost track of them in between all the other people in tight embraces moving around, the majority not even close to following the rhythm. Allie just stood with her arms crossed over her chest, chewing on her bottom lip and glaring out into the air. Charlie still kept his head down, looking completely heartbroken.

After about half an hour of the same, Audrie sighed and was the first to move away from the wall.
“Let’s go get something to drink.”
She led the group towards the drinks table. She grabbed a glass and filled it with some of the red liquid in the large punchbowl and handed it to her brother. Before anyone else could consider getting some themselves, Bray was suddenly there taking the glass out of Charlie’s hand.
“Are you kids really this stupid?” He asked, rolling his eyes at them.
“What’s wrong with the punch?” Audrie asked with a scowl on her face. “It’s an alcohol-free party.”
“Really? And where exactly are the adults making sure of that?” Bray asked with a small smile on his face, as the others looked around. True enough, no one seemed be over the age of 20.
“Trust me, there’s alcohol at this party.” Bray said, but still took a sip of the cup he had taken from Charlie.
“And you’re going to help us by drinking it all yourself. How sweet,” Riley gave him a fake smile, and he just shrugged in response.
“I know how to handle alcohol. See it as an opportunity to live a little.” He patted Jason’s hair as he said it. “No reason to always be such a goody-goody.”
“This was all Chris’ idea, wasn’t it?”
Allie now stood right in front of Bray, staring right into his eyes. Once again Bray shrugged.
“God, I’m so sick of you! This is just another one of your parties, isn’t it? Where Jason ends up covering for your mommy because you don’t have the guts to tell her you spent the night drunk in some girl’s bed!”
Bray smirked. “Jealous, are you? Wait a few years, and if Jason still hasn’t manned up enough I’ll consider giving you what you need.”
Riley rushed forward and pushed him hard in the chest.
“You filthy piece of scum!” she shouted, loud enough for people around them to stop what they were doing and pay attention. “Take that back, or I swear I’ll make you regret you were ever born!”
Riley looked so livid the others thought she might strangle him. River and Charlie both had to pull her away, before Bray took off into the crowd, his smile a little more strained.

“God, I hate him!” Riley said through gritted teeth. “He’s even worse than Chris!”
“No one is worse than Chris.” Charlie snorted.
Riley turned on him, a blazing look on her face. “I can’t stand Chris, but at least he doesn’t try to hide that he’s a jerk! Bray is a fake liar!”
Charlie opened his mouth to argue back, but backed down when getting warning looks from Audrie and River. Riley looked angry enough to keep shouting, but stopped when Allie put a hand on her shoulder.
“Leave it, Riley.” Allie looked at her, and nodded slightly towards Jason, who was looking down at the ground.
“Okay, I’m sick of this. Let’s go camping like we planned to,” Audrie said as she looked from River to Charlie. River nodded in agreement, though Charlie went back to searching the dance floor with his eyes.
“No worries, I’ll get her.” Riley sighed dramatically.
Charlie didn’t object when Audrie grabbed his arm and dragged him towards the exit.
“You two stand right here.” Riley looked at Allie and Jason. “And I will go find Jayda and tell her we’re going home. We’re not staying here.”
“She’s not going to be happy.” Jason finally spoke.
“I don’t care!” Riley snapped, making Jason jump. “If your jerk of a brother was right, this place is going to be full of drunk kids soon, and we’re in the Demon Dogs’ sector. It’s dangerous, and being your big sister she’s responsible for you two.”
Allie and Jason had no time to respond before she walked away.

Riley searched the dance floor for several minutes without finding them. The throng of people made it difficult to move, and she had a feeling she could easily pass by them a few feet away without seeing them. She noticed a large door on one side, and quickly slipped inside after a couple too involved with each other to notice anyone else. There was another room there filled with sofas and a strong smell of incense, and a staircase leading up to a hallway. Riley walked into the room, being stopped by a Demon Dog almost before she had taken another step. By the way his eyes went up and down her body, she knew she was in trouble.
“Get out of my way.” She put up her most dangerous glare, but had a feeling this guy wouldn’t scare as easily as the Mallrat kids.
“Oh, I don’t know. I like being in your way,” he smirked as he moved closer, his hand suddenly on her shoulder. She tried to push him away, but he only put his other arm around her waist. Before she could open her mouth to protest or scream for help, someone yanked him away and he fell to the floor. Riley looked on in shock as Chris glared down at the guy, Jayda standing beside him, a mix of fear and awe on her face.
“She’s off limits, buddy.” Chris sneered.
“What’s your problem?” The Demon Dog was up in Chris’ face, neither of them willing to back down.
“Just leave her alone, okay? She’s not interested.”
“How do you know?”
Chris rolled his eyes, and turned to Riley. “Are you interested?”
“No.” Riley grimaced.
“See?” Chris let go of the guy. “So beat it.”
The Demon Dog got to his feet, eyeing Chris for a moment before he shrugged and walked away, not bothering to pick a fight. Jayda rushed over to Riley’s side.
“Are you okay?”
“Fine,” she said quickly, willing herself to stop shaking. “We’re leaving.”
“What?” Jayda looked confused.
“Come on!” Riley tried to pull on her arm, but Jayda pulled back.
“What for?”
“They lied!” Riley glared in the direction of Chris, who only winked and gave her a smirk in return.
“This isn’t arranged by the adult Demon Dogs. There’s no supervision, lots of alcohol, and too soon for comfort there will be lots of drunk Demon Dogs around. We have to get Allie and Jason home now. The tree-huggers already left to go camping.”
Jayda looked from Riley to Chris. “Can’t you take them home?” She asked Riley. “I think I’ll stay here with Chris.”
“Are you dumb?” Riley stared at her.
“There’s no need to be rude. It’s perfectly safe for you three to walk home now, and Chris will look after me.” Jayda gave him a smile, and Chris gave another wink.
“I don’t believe you.” Riley sighed, throwing her hands in the air in frustration. “Fine! Stay!”
She held up her arms as she turned away and walked off.

Riley rushed back to where Allie and Jason stood, still in silence without looking at each other.
“Let’s go!” She shouted over the music.
“Where’s Jayda?” They both asked, almost in unison.
“She’s staying here with Chris.”
Without another word she walked outside, and the two others saw no choice but to follow her.
“What do you mean she’s staying with Chris?” Allie asked as she caught up with Riley outside where it was possible to talk without shouting.
“We can’t leave her here.” Jason protested.
“My priority is to get you two out of here and back home to sleep safely in your beds tonight. It should be her priority to. She’s your fucking sister, not me.”
“Yeah, but…”
“No reason to argue, Al.” Riley held her hand up. “Look, Chris is a lot of things, but he’s not stupid enough to let anything happen to her. Not unless he wants to be thrown out on the streets with the lowlife scum he hangs around with.”
The other two couldn’t really argue with that. Besides, there was no one that she would really be safer with if something bad should happen. Chris had a lot of respect among troublemakers.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Cazandra had gone deep inside the old cave, crawling through small holes in the collapsed walls as she tried desperately not to think of the people that had been killed when they tumbled down. She found herself a little nook where she could lie down and stretch her legs. Using her backpack as a pillow and jacket as cover, she lay down on the dusty hard ground. It didn’t take long for the tears to come, and then sleep overtook her within moments.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

The walk home was spent mostly in silence, with Riley always a step or two ahead, and Jason and Allie focused on keeping up with her. It wasn’t until they walked into the mall, and Riley quickly pressed in the code to keep the alarm from going off, that Allie wondered what they should tell their parents. She considered the possibility of managing to sneak away to her room before anyone could make her tell them anything, but it was too late. Lex was standing at the top of the stairs, looking down at them.
“You’re home early.” He said, a bit too loudly.
Soon there were footsteps and Trudy came hurrying out of the café with Jack, Amber, Salene and May in tow.
“Where’s everyone else?”
“There was a bit of trouble, so we all left. The tree-huggers went camping.” Riley said quickly.
“And Jayda?” Trudy’s voice was already close to becoming that high-pitched tone it turned to when she was upset. Riley and Allie glanced at each other, unsure of what to say. But Jason was too quick for them.
“She went with them. You know how Charlie is, the way he talks about it anyone would want to go camping. Near the farm, they promised.”
Riley raised her eyebrows and looked at Allie, who just shrugged in response. Trudy looked puzzled. Jayda had never exactly been one to enjoy the outdoor-life. She bit her lower lip as she contemplated this, before finally giving a slight nod.
“Well, I guess that’s alright. Those three know what they’re doing. I wish she would have asked first though.”
Relieved that she bought it, the three dared to walk up the stairs towards them.

“And where’s Bray?” Amber looked at her youngest son as they reached the top. Again Jason was quick to think up an excuse.
“He stayed behind to get people home, and sort things out without too much trouble. He said it would probably be late and he’d stay over at a friend’s place.”
“Sounds like Bray.” Amber smiled, rather proudly, as she nodded contentedly with the answer. Allie disguised her laughter with coughing, causing Riley to struggle keeping her smile back. Jason was the only keeping a straight face, but luckily he was the one the adults were focused on.
“So, do you three want to join us in the café?” Salene looked at them. Trudy was still staring towards the entrance, as if she was considering whether or not she should run after them into the woods.
“I’m tired. Going to bed early.” Allie mumbled. Jason and Riley both used the same excuse as the adults wished them good night and disappeared back inside.

“You’re disturbingly good at lying.” Riley said through gritted teeth when they walked towards their rooms. Jason shrugged. She slowed down, and gave him a look that demanded more explanation than a shrug.
“What am I supposed to do? Tell her the truth? It would break her heart.” Jason sighed, leaning against the railing.
“True. But you shouldn’t have to be the one worrying about that, Jason. He’s supposed to be the older brother, but really you’re taking care of him most of the time.” Riley shook her head. “And now Jayda puts you in that position to. They’re not your responsibility, Jason.” Her face softened as she was talking, but then went back to the angry glare. Without another word she turned around and marched off.

Jason looked after her with a sad look on his face, before he turned his gaze to Allie. “I’m their brother,” he said, as if she had asked for an explanation.
“He doesn’t deserve it.”
Jason shrugged again. “Maybe not. But it’s not that easy…”
“Actually it is. Just stop lying for him, and your parents will be forced to see what he’s like. Maybe they can knock some sense into him.”
“Easier said then done.”
“Or maybe you’re just a coward.”
”Maybe I am.”
Allie was surprised at the calm tone of his voice.
“I just… I’m too loyal sometimes, I know. But I’d do anything for the people I care about. Judge me for it all you want, but one day it might be you who needs me to lie for you, and you won’t mind so much.”
“Me? I’m one of the people you care about?” Allie’s eyes widened.
“Well, yeah… you’re my best friend.” Jason shrugged, and gave her an awkward smile.
“I’m your best friend?” She asked doubtfully.
“Who else do you see in the running?” Jason had a small smirk on his face. “Anyone else who hangs out with me is either a grown-up or related to me. Not really BFF-material.”
He rolled his eyes when she still looked surprised.
“Are you really this shocked that people actually like you?”
“No, I…” She stopped, unsure of what to answer.
“Good night, Allie. See you tomorrow.” With that he walked away from her.

Riley was already in bed. Allie noticed the gap between the two beds belonging to Jayda and Riley immediately. They were always pushed together, except for when one of them was sick or during one of their very rare arguments, and usually even those were really arguments between Allie and Riley where Jayda got caught in between. Riley was lying with her back turned towards Jayda’s bed, pretending to be asleep. With a sigh Allie started getting undressed, a bad feeling in her gut.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

It was only half an hour later when Audrie, Charlie and River returned to the mall. Lex walked out of the café, with the intent to get an early night for once, as his two and River walked into the entrance hall.
“Hey.” He looked surprised. “What are you doing home? I thought you went camping?”
“Well, we were worried about the others and wanted to make sure they got home alright.”
By the tone of Audrie’s voice, and the look she gave her brother, Lex was pretty sure it hadn’t been her idea to return to the mall. He smirked when she crossed her arms over her chest and sent her brother a glare as he gave her that smile of his. He really had his sister wrapped around his finger. The smirk faded when he realised there was only three of them.
“Where’s Jayda?”
Just as he asked, the others were coming out of the café, having heard voices outside.
“Jayda?” Audrie asked puzzled.
“Wasn’t she with you?” Amber asked quickly, glancing over at Trudy who looked already close to panicking.
“Why would she be with us?” Audrie said, too quickly to notice the warning look her brother gave her.
“They said she was with you!” Trudy’s voice was now that infamous high-pitched tone. Audrie gave Charlie and River a pleading look as she realised she had screwed up some plan.
“Jason! Riley! Allie!” Amber called. As they all rushed out of their rooms and saw the trio at the bottom of the stairs, they froze.
“Where is Jayda, and why did you say she was with them?” Amber looked at her son, hands placed on her hips.
“We told him she went with them. She’s at the party.” Allie interrupted.
Jason glanced at her in surprise, but before he could say or do anything…
“WHAT?” Trudy screeched.
“She’s fine.” Riley stepped forward. “She wanted to stay behind with Chris. I decided it was best to get these two home, as there was a lot of alcohol floating around.” She motioned towards Allie and Jason, who both tried to make themselves look as small as possible to underline Riley’s need to protect them. Or maybe they just felt small under the glares of Trudy and Amber.
“I didn’t see any adults either, so I think someone must have lied somewhere. I tried to get her to come with us, but she refused to leave. I didn’t know what else to do.”

Before another word could be spoken, Trudy stormed down the stairs. Jack, Salene and Amber all rushed after her and stopped her at the bottom.
Lex sighed and started walking down after them.
“I don’t think it’s such a good idea for you to storm over there, Trudy.” Amber stood in front of her and looked straight in her eyes. Salene placed a comforting hand on Trudy’s shoulder. “It’s not.” Lex agreed. “We’ll go.” He motioned towards May, who sighed and walked towards him.
“I’ll get her home safe, don’t worry.” Lex tried to give her a confident smile.
“Don’t worry?” Trudy turned on him. “Because with you, my kids are safe? How safe was Brady under your protection!”
For a second everyone froze. Salene’s hand dropped from Trudy’s shoulder to her side.
“We know the area better, Trudy. It won’t help anyone if you rush down there and get yourself into trouble.” May was the first to interrupt the silence, and acted as if nothing had happened. “Besides, it sounds like an illegal party, and we need to break it up anyway. We should call for back-up.”
May turned to Lex, who finally moved with a nod and reached for the radio in his pocket. He walked towards the door as he turned it on. May glanced from Trudy to Salene, before following, the static noise of the radio diminishing quickly as they disappeared outside.

“I’ll get the kids to bed.” Salene said quickly and ushered hers and River towards their room. Audrie and Charlie both sent concerned looks in the direction their father had disappeared. Allie, Riley and Jason walked back up the stairs after warning looks from Jack and Amber.
“Let’s go to the café and get some tea, Trudy.” Amber started leading her away.
“I need to check on Dal.” She objected.
“I’ll do it.” Jack interjected. “You should try to relax. Jayda will be fine.”
He walked slowly upstairs and watched silently as Amber guided Trudy into the café, before turning towards the room he shared with Trudy and little Dal.

Amber poured a cup of tea from the warm kettle and placed it in front of Trudy. She sat down opposite her, and gave a small sigh.
“Jayda is fine, Trudy.”
Trudy didn’t answer. Amber waited another few seconds.
“Look, what you said to Lex…”
“It’s the truth,” Trudy said quickly as her hands reached for the cup, grasping it as if her fingers were cold.
“Maybe, but his kids don’t need to hear that, Trudy.”
Trudy sighed, hiding her head in her hands.
“I know. I just… I worry so much I lose my head, I can’t help it.”
Amber could hear on her voice that she was close to crying, so she sat down next to her, gently rubbing her on the back.
“I know, Trudy. It’s only natural that you worry so much, your daughter was kidnapped. But you can not blame Lex for everything because of it.”
“It was his fault.” Trudy finally looked up, her eyes red, and cheeks wet.
Amber sighed. “He made a mistake…”
“A mistake? He went against the plan completely! He left his post, because of his precious Tai-San! He knew the risk.”
“We all wanted to see if we could get the old Tai-San back, Trudy. Even you, remember?”
“Yes, but then we decided to focus on keeping Brady safe! I should have known not to trust Lex. He never wanted me and Brady here in the first place.”
“That was years ago, Trudy. He was a different person back then, you know that.”
“Do I? Do I really?”
Amber didn’t answer, she just looked at Trudy until the purple-haired woman sighed.
“I do know that.”

Amber smiled gently to her before glancing up at the clock on the café wall.
“I think I’ll go to City Hall and get Jay. He should know what’s going on. Will you be alright?”
Trudy nodded, and tried to put up a smile. Amber stood up, grabbing her jacket from the chair she had thrown it over when she returned home from work a few hours earlier. She gave Trudy a quick pat on the shoulder before rushing out.

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Jayda willingly followed Chris up the staircase. Somewhere they could be alone, he had said. He led her into a room with only an old bed. But she didn’t have time to even look around before he had her pressed up against the wall, and his lips met hers. The kiss was every bit as fantastic as she had expected. It sent chills through her body when their tongues met, and his hand travelled under her shirt to caress her stomach. She felt lightheaded, the drinks he had given her had gone straight to her head.
He pulled his lips away from hers, and started kissing her neck.

“You know I’m bad for you, right?” He whispered into her ear.
Jayda let out a small giggle as his tongue tickled her.
“I don’t think you’re nearly as bad as you pretend to be,” she whispered back. He pulled away slightly and looked at her.
“What makes you think I’m pretending?” He asked, his voice sounding a little darker and his eyes narrowing.
“I’ve known you all your life, Chris. I’m three months older than you, remember? I know you better than you think.”
As he kept kissing her neck, she continued talking.
“It’s all an act. I remember what you were like before. Remember that time when we were all little, and we went to the playground? When Allie fell and hurt her knee, and you practically carried her all the way to the mall? She was only, what… four? I remember that. And the way you defended Riley before, from that guy. Underneath it all you’re just a sweet caring guy, aren’t you?”
Chris didn’t reply. He kissed her again, much rougher now, before pulling her towards the bed.

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Jack sat silently on the side of the bed as he looked down at his son. The boy was mumbling in his sleep, sometimes a small cry escaping his lips. His face was twisted in pain, and his cheeks wet with tears. Carefully Jack started stroking the boy’s bright red hair in gentle firm movements.

Dal had only been four years old the first time he saw an old picture of his dad, and demanded to have his hair dyed as bright red as Jack’s had been. Though Dal didn’t speak these days, he always nodded when asked if he wanted to keep it that way, and Trudy was always happy to dye it for him. Jack himself had kept the red to a minimum since he was a kid, it seemed too childish now, especially after he had become a dad. Salene and Trudy both still somehow managed to pull it off, but then Jack had always been skinny and gangly, always looked younger than his age.

Soon the cries stopped and Dal’s face relaxed. It was the only way to stop the nightmares.
In his sleep was the only time Dal ever talked now; usually it was just mumbling, and you could barely make out the words, though Jack could have sworn a few times that he heard the name Brady.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

May and Lex walked in silence all the way to the old warehouse. There was a stench of alcohol, urine, and vomit. Already there were kids lying on the street outside throwing up. Lex snorted in disgust.
“What is wrong with these kids?”
May raised her eyebrows. “Yeah, cause we were so much better.”
Lex opened his mouth to retaliate, but realised she had a point and just shrugged. Without another word Lex threw open the door and walked inside, hands on his hips as he glared around the room. Only some of those standing closest turned to look at him before turning away again. May had to suppress a laugh at the disappointed look on his face. Lex always expected things to stop completely and go quiet when he did that, as if he was in an old western movie or something.

Back-up was on the way, but they had been asked to wait fifteen minutes. They wanted to find Jayda and get her out of there before any trouble started. The two of them split up and walked around the large room looking for her. When they met at the other side, they both shook their heads. May motioned towards a group of boys nearby.
“I’ve seen them with Chris, they probably know where he is.” She yelled over the music.
Lex watched as she marched over, pushing one of them against the wall and keeping him there until he gave her a satisfying answer. She let go of him so quickly he almost fell over. Then she found Lex in the crowd again and motioned towards a door. Lex hurried after her. The door led to a staircase. The upstairs rooms had once before the virus been used as offices and rest rooms for workers. Now they were so-called “private rooms” for party-goers wanting to have sex. As May and Lex stood at the end of a long hallway lined with doors on all sides, they both sighed loudly, almost in unison. May finally shrugged and kicked open the first door. One by one door they moved down the hall.

“If I find her like that with that bastard…” Lex hissed as they closed the door on another half.-naked couple.
“You mean my son?” May said through gritted teeth.
Lex broke up a possible coming argument by kicking in another door. And there they were.
“Get out.” Chris mumbled, without turning around, before Jayda’s hand at the back of his head pulled his lips to hers again. He was topless, lying on top of Jayda with his hand inside her unbuttoned blouse. Her already very revealing skirt was hiked up. Chris broke away from Jayda and turned around to see who it was. He sighed loudly as he moved away from her. She looked up at them, and covered her face with her hands, groaning loudly.
“What are you two doing here?” Chris asked annoyed.
“We’re taking Jayda home, you punk.” Lex growled, walking over to the mattress and grabbing Jayda’s arm to pull her up.
“Get dressed!” He growled at her to. She fumbled with the buttons, and giggled when she couldn’t figure them out.
“Oh great, you’re drunk.” Lex sighed loudly. He took his jacket off and put it around her, all the while glaring at Chris, who just gave him his most innocent smile in return.
“Should have thrown you in jail when I had the chance,” Lex mumbled angrily before he ushered Jayda quickly towards the door.
“Coming, May?” He called back at her as he started down the hall.
May turned to Chris. “Let’s go.”
“I’m staying.” Chris said quickly.
“Fine.” May rolled her eyes.
Without another word she walked out. Chris fell down on the bed with a sigh. He heard noises outside and looked up thinking his mother had come back, but it was someone else walking past the room.

WRITTEN BY: JacksAnnie

CHAPTER 5:

A long time coming

Tore it up and walked away, what you wanna go do that for?
Threw your Lego in the lake, what you wanna go do that for?
And you’re a long time coming, a long time coming home.
Do you see me reeling off the lines I’ve seen your, I’ve seen your eyes.
How can you grow old, you were my triumph.
-Long time coming (Delays)

Outside they had only walked around the corner when Jayda fell to her knees and threw up.
“Try not to get anything on my jacket.” Lex asked, grimacing at the noises coming from the girl.
As she stood back up, Jayda felt a little dizzy and leaned on May to keep from falling.
“You take her home, and I’ll wait here for the others and help break up the party.”
It had been a long time since the sheriff himself took any part in the dirty work of small things like this. May knew he only wanted to avoid facing Trudy again. May loved the thrill of jobs like this, the kick she got out of bossing people around and scaring drunken kids that she would tell their parents what they had been up to. It was much more tempting to stay behind and let Lex take the girl home, but it hadn’t been a question. Despite him being her boss it wasn’t often May let him order her around, at least when the two of them were alone, but she had a feeling he wasn’t in the mood to argue.

The walk home took longer than normal, with Jayda struggling to walk straight. Inside the mall they were met by Trudy. She had been waiting at the staircase, jumping up the moment she saw her daughter. Before Trudy could reach them however, Jayda threw up again. Instinctively Trudy hurried to hold her hair back as she patted her forehead carefully.
“Sweetie, are you sick?” Trudy’s voice was compassionate now, though lined with worry.
“She’s drunk, Trudy.” May sighed.
Trudy looked horrified at that suggestion at first, but could soon smell the alcohol. She pulled Jayda gently to her feet. Jayda looked up, looking as guilty as a person could possibly look.
“Feeling better?” Trudy’s voice was no longer compassionate or worried; the anger was seeping through, though she kept it together. Jayda nodded carefully.
“Go to bed. We’ll talk about this in the morning.”
Even in this state, Jayda knew better than to reply when hearing her mother’s tone of voice. Slowly and carefully she started climbing the stairs, Trudy following a couple steps behind in case she would fall.

The room was dark when Jayda stumbled inside. She aimed for her bed and threw herself on it. It came as a surprise that only part of her body hit the bed, and soon all of her crashed to the floor between them. She just lay there, hearing movement above her and soon Riley peered over the edge. Suddenly Jayda burst out laughing.
“I missed the bed!” She said loudly, trying to pull herself up with one hand but laughing too hard to manage it. “Did you move it?”
“Shh!” Riley hissed. “Allie is asleep!”
“I can’t get up!” Jayda whispered back, before getting another giggling fit.
“You’re drunk.” Riley sighed, sitting up. She moved out of her bed, and helped Jayda off the floor and onto her bed.
“I want to go watch the sunrise!” Jayda objected as Riley lifted her feet into the bed.
“That’s hours away, Jayda. I’ll wake you up for it.”
Jayda nodded and let Riley push her head down on the pillow and pull the covers around her.
“Go to sleep.”
“O-kay.” Jayda whispered pointedly. Riley got back into her own bed.
“Love you.” Jayda whispered.
“Yeah, whatever.” Riley mumbled in reply.

Allie was far from asleep, and she heard the whole thing. Within minutes Riley’s heavy breathing mixed with Jayda’s snores. Allie got out of bed, and snuck out of the room. She knew she wouldn’t be able to sleep, and she wanted to know what was going on in the rest of the mall. She heard voices coming from the café, and quietly walked closer. Amber had returned with Jay, and now the adults, minus Ebony who was barely a Mallrat anymore, had gathered in the café.
“I think we should make a real statement, show that we will not accept behaviour like this.” Jay looked at Trudy.
“What do you suggest?” She asked with a sigh, the anger having gone out of her and been replaced with disappointment.
Jay hesitated, looking from Trudy to his wife, before finally making his suggestion.
“Send her to the Ecos for a couple weeks, with the hunters. Kind of like military camps back in pre-virus days.”
“What?” Trudy stared at him.
“I think we should listen to what she has to say before doing anything that drastic,” Jack objected, but Jay kept his focus on Trudy.
“It sends a real statement to her, and to the city. You know there will be talk about this, the best we can do is send a clear message that we do not tolerate this. It’s for her own good; you know there are people always out to have something against Mallrat-kids. And frankly, with that horrible article in Mode Mag last month about Mallrat kids getting away with murder, we really can’t be seen giving her a free pass to do whatever she wants.”
“She’s not a political pawn, Jay!” Jack objected.
“Look, Jack, I appreciate your input, but I am her father, not you,” Jay snapped at him.
Silence fell over the café. Jack stared at Jay with his mouth open.
“Jay!” Amber practically hissed at him, but Jack found his voice again before she could say anything more.
“Excuse me?”
“I just mean that…”
Jack interrupted him. “You just mean that you’ll let me deal with the everyday stuff, but as soon as there’s something bigger, something that could affect your political status, it’s all your decision. You’re no better than Slade!”
“That is not an issue we need to drag up, Jack.” Amber gave him a warning look.
“Never was, was it?”
No one answered, and Jack opened his mouth to keep talking.
“Jack, don’t…” Trudy tried stopping the stream of words she knew was coming. Jack ignored it.
“I-I’m the one who’s there every day. I have always been the one to care for her when she’s sick, who fixed her toys. I made things better when she was sad. I’m the one who helps out with homework, who she comes to when she needs something. When was the last time you even spent any time with her outside of running into each other in the mall, huh Jay?”
“I have a busy job…”
“Oh, and I don’t?” Jack was so angry that his face had turned almost as bright red as his hair used to be in his younger days. “I’m being pulled in every direction by every department in the city to fix every little problem because no one else even knows how to find the on-switch on a computer, but I still find the time to care for your kids!”
He took a very short break to breathe, before he continued. “The last five birthdays the presents she got from her dad were actually from her mother because her dad forgot all about it. Do you even know why she gets up to watch the sunrise every day?”
Jay glanced around the room uncertainly, before shaking his head.
“Because Brady did it, because she misses her sister. You don’t even know her, Jay. So don’t tell me you are her father. Even Jason comes to me for help if he needs it, because he knows you’re never around!”
“You’re going too far, Jack!”
Both men were standing now, staring each other down. Suddenly Jack turned around and almost ran out of the café. Allie only just managed to hide before he saw her.

Jay turned to Trudy now that Jack was gone.
“I won’t accept being talked to like that!” He roared.
A snort from May turned his attention away from Trudy.
“What?” He snapped at her.
“I can’t help thinking you’re so angry because you know he’s right.” She replied.
“Oh, you’re one to talk.”
“Hey, I never claimed to be any better.” She held up her hands. Jay turned away from her again.
“We’re not sending her anywhere, Jay. She’s our daughter, and if you think I will send her away just for making a mistake, you’re deluded. I will talk to her tomorrow, and decide what to do about this. That’s final. You can go back to work in the morning and worry about your politics, and let me worry about this.” Trudy’s words were calm but firm, and the anger was seeping through every word. Jay didn’t dare say another word to her as she walked off to find her husband.

Allie kept still for a while, in case someone else would be coming out of the café, watching as her mother disappeared inside the workshop. Soon everyone but Jay and Amber had left the café. She could hear Amber’s low hissing at Jay inside, but Allie was more interested in what was going on between her parents down in the workshop. She crept silently down the staircase and walked slowly over to the doorway. She could see her parents inside.
Jack was pacing back and forth, while Trudy quietly leant back against the wall and let him rant.

“He thinks that just because she has his genes it gives him more rights, even though he’s never around. He’s no better than Slade. But hey, let’s not talk about him! We couldn’t when he was alive, and now we can’t disrespect the dead, can we?”
“Jack…” Trudy finally spoke. “You know Jay didn’t mean it like that.”
“He did!” Jack objected. “He meant it. Just like Slade he thinks he has some right just because she has his genes, that he can just take control when his kid becomes a problem for him and be absent every other day. I’ll never forgive Slade for trying to send Riley away, and now Jay tries the same. They’re my girls, and I will not let anyone take them from me! I’ve already lost Brady…”
Allie was rooted to the spot. When had Slade tried to send Riley away? She heard her mother’s voice, soft and comforting, but she couldn’t make out the words any longer. Whatever she was saying seemed to calm him down though, as she heard no more than mumbling from her dad and then just quiet. Allie dared herself to look inside, and saw her mother with her arms around her father’s neck, their foreheads leaning against each other. Silently Allie walked away and snuck back to her room, climbing quietly into her bed.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Monique awoke very early that morning, the sun had only barely risen in the sky. Her eyes felt puffy and sore, and her stomach ached with hunger. She realised she hadn’t eaten since the morning the day before. She took of her father’s jacket and tucked it under the mattress again, before heading for the kitchen. She opened every cupboard, but found nothing edible. Everything was either half rotten or rock hard in the case of the bread. As she fought the urge to throw the bread through the closed window, she noticed her mother’s door was open. She knew she had closed it the night before, so she hurried over to look inside.

Ebony was lying on her stomach in her bed, completely naked. Next to her was some guy, him also completely naked. The sheets were bundled up on the floor next to the bed. Monique again had to fight an urge, this time the urge to cry and shout. That was all it took for her to decide to head to the mall for breakfast. She quickly grabbed her jacket from her room and left without another glance back.

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Sundays were never the most exciting of days in the Mall. It was often spent doing homework that should have been done the week before, with Salene guilt-tripping them into it. This Sunday however, things were even more quiet than usual. Even Chris was quiet for once, sneaking back into the mall early in the morning to get some sleep, only to find Monique on his bed.

Jayda awoke with a massive hangover, not helped by a moody younger sister who only talked in grunts, and the silent treatment from her best friend. When Trudy entered the room, they both tried to hurry off, but Trudy asked them to stay.
“First of all, I want to know why you two lied to Jason and us.” She looked from Riley to Allie. The two girls exchanged glances before Riley took command.
“I lied to Jason because I wanted to get him out of there quickly. I just thought it was better that way. I didn’t think Jayda would be in any danger. She’s a big girl, it’s not my job to take care of her.”
Riley didn’t even glance in Jayda’s direction, though Jayda seemed to shrink a little with every word.
“And why couldn’t you tell me where she was when you were back at the mall?”
“We didn’t want her to get in trouble.” Allie replied quickly.
Trudy looked from Riley to Allie, contemplating their replies for a moment, before sighing in defeat.
“Fine, but if it ever happens again I won’t go easy on either of you. It’s dangerous out there, we have to stick together, always. I have to be able to trust you.” The tears in her eyes made the two girls look away quickly, nodding silently with their heads down.
“Okay. You can go now.” She sent them both her strictest glare before nodding towards the door. Riley and Allie scattered as quickly as they could move their legs.

“And you? Do you have anything to say for yourself?”
Jayda sighed. “I didn’t know the party was illegal, I thought it was arranged by the adult Demon Dogs, just like Chris and Bray said…”
“We all did, but you should have left as soon as you realised. You let your younger brother and sister and your best friend walk home alone! You left yourself in the hands of a half-criminal teenage boy! I expect better from you than that, Jayda. After everything that’s happened, after Brady, I expect my kids to take more care!”
“I know, I’m sorry!” Jayda was in tears now. “I just wanted to be longer with Chris, I didn’t think…”
“You will not be involved with him, Jayda. He uses girls for his own entertainment and cares only for himself.”
“That’s not true!” Jayda stood up.
“I don’t want to hear it!” Trudy held up her hands. “You are grounded. Nothing but school, your room and the café for meals, for a week, and then we’ll see if it’s enough.”
Without another word, Trudy turned around and marched out of the room.

Within minutes of her mother leaving, Jayda broke the rules by sneaking downstairs to Chris’ room. She was too distraught to notice the sounds coming from his room before she walked straight inside, only to find two naked bodies moving on the bed. A strangled sound escaped her throat, and the two stopped and looked up.
“Excuse me, is a little privacy too much to ask?” Monique snapped.
Jayda only stared at Chris.
“What?” He asked annoyed. “You’re shocked and surprised? It’s not as if I didn’t warn you.”
Monique let out a laugh. “Have you been a bad boy again, Chris?”
Jayda didn’t hear his reply; she turned around and ran back to her room in tears. Riley and Trudy both seemed to lose their anger the moment they saw her crying. Riley did her best to comfort her friend. By the time Trudy marched downstairs to have a word with Chris, he had vanished again.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Audrie had stripped down to her sports bra and pulled her trousers up above her knees. She was lying on the riverbank with her feet dangling into the water, enjoying the sun on her face and sound of birdsong above her in the trees. Charlie sat next to her, throwing pinecones into the water and then trying to catch them with a fish-catcher he had made of netting, soft wood that had been bent into a circle to attach the netting to, and string to throw it out and draw it in with. River came up from the stream, dripping water on her as he passed her. She glanced up carefully, taking in the sight of him in his underwear and soaking wet. His eyes caught hers and she quickly closed them again. It used to be so simple this. When they were kids they had gone swimming in their underwear or even butt naked with no awkwardness coming from it. Now she and River could barely even look at each other unless they were fully dressed without being embarrassed. Charlie didn’t make it any better either, with his stupid grin and dumb comments.

Charlie wasn’t in that mood today though. Audrie and River had deliberately gotten him quickly out of the mall as soon as things started unfolding with the Jayda-drama. Otherwise they would have been stuck at the mall all day with Charlie comforting the girl. As if she deserved it. Audrie was tired of that whole family; Trudy blaming her dad for everything that went wrong, Jayda with her drama, Riley snapping at people whenever in a sour mood, Allie going around sulking all the time for no apparent reason. Jack was alright, even if he sometimes talked about things she had no understanding of, and he too often failed to understand the Ecos’ worries about more generators taken in use. No, things were much better out here. She was going to live here someday, as soon as she was old enough to leave the mall. She saw no future for herself in the city, and knew Charlie felt the same way. She looked up and met River’s eyes again, this time giving him a smile rather than looking away. She could definitely see her future here.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Bray Junior was restless and a little worried as he paced around his room. Finally he grabbed his jacket and marched out of the mall, heading for a part of the city most Mallrats wouldn’t be seen in, though still a step up from the slum side of the docks. It wasn’t long until he found Chris in one of the usual spots, hanging out with a few Demon Dog kids, passing a bottle around to each other. When Chris saw him he said something to the others, and their laughter rang out. Bray knew they were laughing at him. Most of Chris’ friends saw him as a joke, but they respected Chris enough to pretend he was one of them. Chris took a swig of the bottle before handing it over to one of the others, and then he started walking towards Bray.

“Come to walk me home?” He asked with a smirk as he reached him.
They walked until they were far enough away from the others to not be heard.
“That was a really stupid stunt you pulled, Chris.” Bray sighed. “I mean, Jayda?”
“Not jealous, are you?” Chris winked at him.
“Don’t be an idiot. It’s just that this is going to cause trouble for both of us.”
“Aw, is Junior worried mommy won’t let him hang out with me?” Chris put up a pout, his dark eyes unable to hide his glee at teasing Bray. “That she’ll stop thinking you could be a good influence on me? Maybe she’ll start fearing that I could corrupt her precious little boy.”
Chris grabbed Bray by the arm, and dragged him into the abandoned alley.

“Stop it.” Bray looked annoyed. Chris smirked again, and suddenly pushed Bray up against the wall, holding him back with one hand placed on his stomach and the other on his shoulder.
“She has no idea who you really are…” his voice was gentler now, not spiteful like it had been before. Chris leaned in so close that they’re noses almost bumped together.
“If she knew the things I’ve already done to you…” He leaned in and kissed him, not gentle, but not roughly either. “Or the things you do to me…”
Bray moaned, as Chris’ hand moved further down. He was angry at himself for once again being distracted from trying to have a conversation with Chris, but that thought was soon lost.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Jay knocked on the doorframe to the workshop. Jack looked up, and sighed loudly when he saw who it was.
“What?” He asked sharply as he turned back to his work.
“About last night…” Jay took his reply, short as it was, as an invitation to come inside. “We were angry and upset and said things we didn’t mean. We can’t let this get between us all now, we’ve done so well for all these years with a… complicated family situation, and…”
Jack interrupted him.
“Save your speech, Jay. Forgive and forget, right?” Jack finally turned around to face the other man.
Jay frowned. “Right. So we’re good?”
Jack nodded.
“Okay then…” Jay hesitated.
“I have a lot of work to do, so…” Jack indicated towards the door.
“Oh, right. So do I. Well, see you around then, Jack.”
Jay gave him an uncertain smile, before he finally walked out. Jack leant back in his chair, angrily kicking out at a box of things at the floor next to him. He watched as it smashed against the wall and its content spread on the floor around it.
“Oh, very clever, Jack,” he muttered to himself as he got up to clear up the mess.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Allie was tired of the drama, and didn’t feel like facing her father in the workshop after listening in on her parents’ conversation the night before. Instead she left the mall, walking aimlessly around the city the way she liked to when she wanted to escape. Sundays were always so quiet, so few people around. She loved walking around when it was like that, it was the only way to sort through her thoughts without interruption from the countless other Mallrats. Her head was filled with all she had heard her father ranting about, and her anger at Jayda for being her usual naïve self.

She quickly hurried behind a wall when she noticed a group of kids from school. She hated people her own age, at least the ones outside her closest friends and family. They would usually tease her, make fun of her clothes or her hair, or lack of shape. Girls were the worst, and these girls were the kind that dressed like Monique. Annoyed she walked down another route, going back on auto-pilot while her thoughts raced through her head.

Allie suddenly looked up, realising she was in a part of town she didn’t recognise. With shock she realised she was at the north side of the docks. The slum. The one place in the city she had always been told to never ever go. Not far in front of her was a group of men in weird wire hats standing over a metal bin with a fire in it. They all stared at her, a couple of them with disturbing smiles on their faces, one suddenly lifting his hand and pointing at her. Quickly Allie turned to run, their laughter ringing in her ears. She ran into someone, and would have fallen to the ground if the woman hadn’t caught her, dropping some very unappetising food to the ground in the process. Allie glanced back towards the men, they hadn’t moved but were still laughing and shouting something in her direction.

“Don’t worry about them. They’re the Jackals, what’s left of them anyway. Think they’re still on top of the world, even though they never were.”

Allie looked back at the woman. Her clothes were worn and dirty. A poncho covered most of her, and under she had what looked like a long skirt sown together by several pieces of fabric, and she had some black fabric tied around her hands. Most of her dirty brown hair had loosened from her ponytail and was hanging around her face in chunks. Allie glanced down at the scraps of food lying around their feet, and quickly pulled an apple out of her bag and held it out to the woman.
“Sorry for making you drop the food.”
The woman smiled at first, though as soon as her eyes fell on the Amulet mark on Allie’s outstretched hand, it faded. She let go of Allie, taking a step back.
“I don’t want your charity, Mallrat!” She spat out the last word.
Allie shrugged. It wasn’t the first time she had met people who backed off when finding out she was a Mallrat. Not everyone loved them, though the majority did as was evident at every election.
“Fine.” Allie put the apple back in her bag. “Just go hungry then.”

The woman was examining her face, her eyes narrowed as she looked Allie in the eyes.
“Who is your mother?”
“Trudy.” Allie answered quickly.
The woman repeated the name as if it was venom. “And your father?”
“Jack.”
The woman looked surprised. “What? How did that happen?”
Allie winced. “I don’t really want the details. They got married and had kids, that’s all I need to know.”
“They’re married? He married her?” The anger was seeping through every word. “How could he forgive her?”
The woman’s eyes were focused on something behind Allie, as if she was miles away in her thoughts.
“What? Forgive her what?” Allie asked, slightly wary from the woman’s strange behaviour. The woman finally focused on Allie again.
“So you don’t know? No surprise there. Go home, child. This isn’t your world.”
Without another word she walked away. Allie was tempted to follow her, but those Jackals were still there, watching her. She watched as the woman disappeared around the corner of a warehouse, before she turned around and hurried out of there. Usually going for a walk calmed her mind and gave her a chance to focus her thoughts, now she was more confused than she had ever been.