Riptide

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Chapter 49

“I didn’t get you anything,” I whispered, trying and failing to keep my tears to a minimum.

She laughed. “I know,” she said. “It’s part of the fun of being the one who’s sacrificing her life for billions of people,” Zuri cried.

I chuckled. “Too soon for that joke,” I said, knowing it would never be the right time. I laughed quietly at the universe’s cruel irony as I waited for Zuri to break the silence.

“Sorry,” Zuri giggled. “I’ll make that joke in a couple years and see if you’re ready for it.”

I smiled sadly, looking out at the wonderful sunset which danced across the sky for miles surrounded by the gentle evening mountain breeze. I glanced into Zuri’s eyes. The same mysterious glint remained. A strange wave of hope hit me hard. I’m not sure what caused it, but it was as if this uncertainty gave me a much-needed light at the end of this endless dark tunnel.

***

“Hey,” Elizabeth said sleepily as we walked in through the doors. “Glad to see you,” she said with as much excitement as she could muster. There was a pause of hesitation as if she simply wanted to sleep but knew other obligations overruled her basic want. She sighed. “Sorry to do this to you,” she said more to herself than to us, “but we should go over our plans for tomorrow,” she smiled and paused for a moment. “Ready?”

I looked at Zuri, who glanced back at me. She opened her mouth to speak but seemed to realize something important and closed her mouth. I sighed, knowing what she was going to say had something to do with what that strange glint in her eyes which has been following me around. I nodded, “oh well,” I thought. “Guess I’ll never know.”

We followed Elizabeth, keeping our silence each for our own reasons. Elizabeth seemed to keep her silence because words themselves seemed to take too much energy from her already depleted supply. Zuri seemed not to speak because she worried she might say something she would come to regret, it seemed she wanted so badly to scream what she had to say at the top of her lungs that keeping her silence took far too much self-control than it should have. I wanted so badly to know what she couldn’t say. I wanted to ask her what she wanted to tell me. But I kept my silence. I kept my silence because I feared that if I began speaking I would be unable to stop. I worried that everything would come pouring out of me despite my need to keep it inside. I was absolutely terrified that if I began to cry, some horrible part of me would beg the rest of me not to go through with the next day’s events and most of all, I was horrified that if it was allowed to reason with me, that it might win me over. I was scared to death that this small part of me might convince me to allow billions of the entire world’s population to fall under the control of a psychopath. “No!” my mind screamed. “How could you even think that?” my brain asked, wanting to slap me for even considering the possibility. I sighed and brushed the thoughts away, acting as if they had never existed, ignoring the fact that they ever did, begging myself to pretend not to have had them.

***

I nodded, smashing the palm of my hand onto my forehead as if trying to get myself to think harder. “Alright,” I said. “Let me get this straight,” I whispered to the group after a while. “So Zuri and I are going to lead a team of Combos through the facility, unlocking as many aliens and other Combos as possible, we’re going to leave the humans because they could be under his control,” I said, watching the group nod their heads at our strange plan. I sighed and continued, “we’re going to do that until we reach the big fork in the road, where whether you go to the room where Dr. Brown is being evil, or you continue down the hall of cells, we’re going to split up, half coming with me and half going with Zuri to free the rest of the prisoners with alien blood and the half coming with me is going to basically go on a murderous rampage until we reach the room with Dr. Brown, where he’ll probably have some kind of villain speech and some crazy battle planned for me. I’m going to pretend to lose, he’s going to hook me up to the machine despite the fact that I haven’t been primed, I’m going to fight mentally, somehow, no one will tell me how or what it’s going to be like, I’m going to destroy the machine, end up dying in the process, have some kind of dramatic death scene while the rest of my team who isn’t dead finds a way to fix the automatic self-destruct Dr. Brown rigged his machine with,” I paused for a moment, the absurdity of my life hitting me like a sack of bricks.

The room was filled with embarrassed nods as if everyone around knew just how vague this plan was. “Pretty much,” Elizabeth sighed.

“You guys know how insane this is, right?” I asked. The room erupted with agreements. “I mean, if this works, we’ve got to be the luckiest people on the planet. So much of this is just hopeful guessing and begging who or what ever is listening that we’re right about everything. I mean what happens if I don’t instantly know what to do? What happens if I’m just smart and everyone’s wrong about me? What happens if there’s another Combo out there who is more powerful than I? What happens if we’re wrong and Dr. Brown really can control Combos?” I asked, realizing just how worried I was. “Or,” I said, horrified of the possibility I was about to voice. “What if Dr. Brown is expecting us?” I asked, unprepared for the overlapping voices of calming confidence which came next as almost every person in the room came closer and quickly wrapped one arm around me. I chuckled quietly, sadness taking a firm hold over my soundless display of expression with its cold, empty hands.

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