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Hasp was sitting next to them, yammering about another ill-fated escape plan. They stood on a bridge overlooking a water channel. It was a rare sunny day. The sky was clear and the light glimmered against Hasp’s golden hair. It was one of the few times in their adult life that Hasp was sober. This usually accompanied diabolical escape plans.
“And once we divert their attention, we can use the drones to lift us over the fence and out of here,” Hasp said, their eyes shifting side to side madly.
Arjun sighed, “We could also just stay.”
Hasp glared at them, “That’s not an option! We have one life. There’s so much out there we could discover. I can’t do it alone.”
Arjun placed both hands on Hasp’s shoulder, facing them, “But there’s no guarantee you wouldn’t be alone! What if something bad happens? What if I get caught or my drone dies- then what? You’d be out there alone with no option to turn back. And what if what you discover out there is worse than here? Here, we’re guaranteed safety. We’re guaranteed being together.”
Hasp opened their mouth to argue, but then shrugged, exasperated. They stood there, the tension building in the silence- Arjun’s hands still gripping Hasp’s shoulders firmly. Arjun’s heart beat faster. They knew they were losing Hasp. They were drifting apart. They wanted to express how important Hasp was to them, but the words wouldn’t come.
Arjun knew deep inside that this was about more than the sheer desire to escape, otherwise Hasp would have left a long time ago. It was their unconventional bond with each other that fueled the hunger for freedom and that, at the same time, held them back. Here, they could never be real family, but without Arjun, Hasp wasn’t likely to find that elsewhere either. Arjun was the true source of Hasp’s suffering.
Finally, with eyes glazed over with angry tears, Hasp shrugged Arjun’s hands off.
“You’re probably right. Just forget it.”
That was the last time they spoke about escaping, right before Hasp began working at the Census Bureau and disappeared. It was the last time Arjun saw them sober too.
Arjun plummets towards the burning building below. They frantically push every button on the drone controls, praying for the drone to stop or slow down. Dying wasn’t in Arjun’s plans, even if it was the only way to reunite with Hasp.
The drone beeps awake. Arjun yells:
“Drone, slow descent! Slow down descent now!”
By some miracle, the drone obeys.
They can feel the fire getting dangerously close. They quickly assess their location. The smoke makes it impossible to determine which way is where. Any direction is better than down.
“Drone, move laterally northwest. Slowly, please.”
It’s a lucky guess. The drone flies towards the front of the burning warehouse, right near the approximate location of their cargo vehicle. When they reach a satisfactory position, they command the drone’s slow descent. There’s a break in the smoke, and they decipher the silhouette of the car. It’s rising with the flood waters. It doesn’t look good for the lithium. Crap.
Arjun orders the drone to hover in place six feet above the car. They let go and land on it with a hard thud. They lean over the roof and peer into the back window. Everything looks dry. They hoist themselves back up and kick the window in. Their calf flies through the shattered glass and they cry out in pain as their shin skin is scratched open on the sharp, jagged edge.
The water is rising faster. They are already a foot closer to the drone and it’s nearly impossible to keep steady atop the bobbing vehicle. They call the drone closer. It’s their only getaway vehicle now.
Arjun flattens their body against the roof and hangs their torso upside down, reaching into the back of the car. They grab the box of lithium canisters and crawl back with their legs, just managing to pull the heavy box onto the roof. They wrap their legs around the box, the one shin drenched with dark blood, then they grab a firm hold of the drone legs. They ignore the stabbing pain in their leg and issue another drone command:
“Deliver cargo to downtown subway station- carefully and quickly as possible.”
Somehow, Arjun arrives to the station undetected. The platform in deserted. Everyone is distracted by the dam explosion. They walk along the tracks limping on one leg. Their injury has rendered that leg almost entirely numb. They abandoned the drone somewhere far behind them. Now, seeing how hard it is to walk, they regret it.
They approach the last spot where they saw the rebels. There are figures approaching from the distance. They make out ten. Would the rebels really send a whole troop to meet them? It’s unlikely. Maybe they’re seeing double. They have lost a lot of blood.
They get closer and Arjun’s heart stops. Those are not rebels – they’re agents. They are running towards them, guns drawn.
Hasp appears out of nowhere between Arjun and the agents.
“Miss me?” Hasp winks.
The agents shout and chase Hasp upstairs to the gardens. Hasp just about flies out of their reach. Now Arjun knows they’ve definitely lost too much blood, because they’re pretty sure this is all a hallucination.
It’s Veronic. She grabs the box of lithium and hovers past Arjun at full speed. Behind them, more agents are approaching.
Veronic is barely visible ahead. Arjun can’t keep up and knows the agents are gaining on them. They’ve lost so much blood, they can’t see straight, but they don’t care. Hasp is alive.
Veronic screeches to a halt and spins on her hover boots to face Arjun.
“Duck!” She shouts.
Arjun drops to the ground, and Veronic throws three metal discs at the agents like frisbees.
The discs fall to the floor and project familiar-looking holograms. One looks like Hasp- another looks like Veronic. The other looks like the big drug dealer.
The holograms run past the agents, who immediately turn on their heels to pursue them back in the direction where they came from. The agents think the holograms are real. This must be what Arjun was chasing when they first saw Veronic and then found a disc where she disappeared into a cloud of smoke.
Veronic is disappearing ahead again. Arjun tries to run, but stumbles. Their heart palpitates, and they feel themselves losing steam.
Arjun can’t tell who’s speaking. Someone is approaching them. It looks like Hasp, but they can’t be sure. Their face is blurry, as is everything surrounding them. The subway walls are closing in. Hasp grabs them just as their legs buckle beneath them. They hold Arjun close. It feels so real.
“Arjun, are you okay?”
It is Hasp. They’re really alive.
TO BE CONTINUED.
Oly is a musician, writer and gamer exploring the Somnium Space VR metaverse.
See what she’s working on at linktr.ee/olysounds.
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