Zugzwang

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Chapter 5

They got to the picture house quicker then Lexie would have anticipated. For all her talk of not being productive, this was the part of the day off that she would avoid if it was possible. It wasn’t. So Ari, Lexie, and Dmitri stood waiting in a line full of both citizens, brain-washed into thinking the pictures were actually entertainment, and students from the school, who just wanted to get the bloody things over with. Great minds must truly think alike.

Lexie watched the Citizens hold out their right arm to be scanned. She watched them laugh with friends and then practically skip into the house. A sick sense of entertainment, Lexie mused to herself. Give them all a taste at a lazer gun and they would think differently.

“Why so glum chum,” Ari smiled up at her.

Lexie sighed, “Explain to me how I’m the old fashioned one when you use language like that?”

“I do it tastefully, you just blurt it out like a fart coming out your ass.”

“I fail to see the difference.”

“Then let me make it simple for you. Fart,” Ari pointed to Lexie, “Poetry,” she pointed to herself.

Lexie opened her mouth for a final retort when she heard a scoff behind her. She froze, cursing herself; she almost forgot he was there. She turned to Dmitri, “Problem?”

There was a sly smile on his face, but he just help up his hands in surrender. “Good choice,” she snapped turning back to Ari.

“Play nice, little kitten,” said the voice in her ear, “Wouldn’t want you to get eaten.”

Oh and that’s bloody brilliant, Lexie thought, one more thing I need to remember today. “you were saying,” Ari asked.

“The moments a little lost now, don’t ya think?”

Ari snuck a glare over at Dmitri, “Yeah, maybe. What’s your problem anyway,” she asked Dmitri, “You hardly ever say anything in class. What’s the deal? Ya a mute or something?”

“Ari,” Lexie sighed, “If he was a mute he would never say anything, not hardly ever say anything.”

Ari stuck out her tongue at Lexie before turning back, “The question still stands.”

Dmitri shrugged, “Why speak when there is nothing to say?”

The two girls paused and stared. Ari was the first to break the silence, “He speaks.”

Lexie rolled her eyes, “You’ve heard him talk before!”

“Yeah but not to me!”

“You talk a lot,” Dmitri murmured.

“Is that an observation or a question,” Ari growled as the line started to shift.

“Uh…”

“I wouldn’t answer that if I were you,” Lexie muttered, “she might be a chatterbox, but she’s a lethal chatterbox.”

“Noted,” Dmitri said.

Lexie chuckled as they slowly approached the drone that stood at the entrance to the picture house. “Arm,” said it’s monotone voice to Ari.

With a beep she was admitted, then Lexie, then Dmitri. The picture house wasn’t crowded yet, but many people were starting to fill the seats of the large room. The seats were placed in rows facing a large screen where the picture was going to be displayed. Ari quickly rushed ahead and grabbed the best seats left.

Dmitri paused and watched Ari rush ahead, a look of almost shock on his face to see her disappear into the tiny crowd. “Watch him,” said the voice in Lexie’s ear, “don’t let him get the better of you. Don’t let him throw you off balance.”

That peeked her interest. Lexie eyed Dmitri as he slowly followed her through the crowd toward where Ari had disappeared. She saw his shifting eyes, his paled skin, and a hint of uncertainty in his gaze. Why would she have to watch someone who was frightened? Because frightened people did stupid things? Why would he be frightened in the picture house? And what stupid things could he do?

She sighed, but kept alert. “Lexie,” Came Ari’s call from amid the thinning crowd.

That was her cue, she stepped up her pace, hearing Dmitri quickly trailing behind her. Lexie spotted Ari as she frantically waved her hand in the air. She nodded to her friend, who then settled into her seat. “Come on,” Lexie murmured over her shoulder.

Lexie surveyed the house as she took her seat next to Ari. It wasn’t a little house and Lexie soon realized more people where there then she originally thought. “When does it start,” Lexie asked Ari through clenched teeth, wanting nothing more than to be out of the room.

Ari mused for a moment, “About five minutes or so, probably.”

Lexie sighed, “Great.”

“At least try to look like I’m not kidnapping you. People might start talking.”

Lexie scoffed, “You wish you could kidnap me. I’ll bet that happens in your dreams, doesn’t it?”

Ari flashed a wicked grin, “Kidnapping is the least that happens in my dreams, Lexington.”

Lexie cocked an eyebrow, “Implication then full name? Way to kill the mood.”

Ari smirked, “I try.”

“Why not just completely turn into a mother and spank me when I’m bad.”

“Hmm, I like this idea,” Ari purred.

“You’re just digging yourself into a hole,” Dmitri muttered snapping her out of her fun.

“Stay out of it,” Lexie snapped, he shrugged as the lights of the house started to slowly dim.

All murmuring stopped as they all waited in the darkness until the screen finally flickered to life. “Thousands of years ago,” said the booming voice to the silent crowd, “the world was a place of barbarians. Citizens, who were not unified but separate individuals with no purpose and no community.”

The usual surprised murmuring filled the room. Desolate places began flashing on the screen as the voice continued, “These individuals, these barbarians, lived in fear. Fear of disease, fear of murder, fear of each other,” more images flashed on the screen. Images of dirtied people huddling in alleyways, of people in stiff beds covered in soiled bandages, and still other images of young men clutching guns with eyes wide in fear.

“This was life,” continued the booming voice, “Until the Lords came to give society light. To erase fear for the Citizens, to save the Citizens from themselves.”

“Enjoying the show?” purred the voice inside her ear.

Lexie didn’t answer, just forced her eyes to stare at the screen which now flashed the images of the War. All the blood and death openly shown as a great thing to society- but no one even knew the names of the people displayed on that screen every month, every day. They all knew their faces, they all knew who they fought for, and, maybe most importantly, they all knew how they died. “This could happen again. You would enjoy that wouldn’t you, Lexington? Al the fighting, all the suspense, all the power you could have in the palm of your hands.”

Would she like that? Would she like to have the power to kill at will, to know she was their only chance at life?

Yes. It was as simple as that. She was trained to crave that kind of power, and she did crave it with the whole of her being. “If you don’t obey, this will happen again. It’s not just your little friend who will rot in the street,” the voice said sweetly, “but everyone in the city- if you do obey then less blood will be shed.”

“Less,” Lexie breathed- aware of Dmitri’s questioning sideways glance.

The voice laughed, “So you finally speak. Yes, Lexington. Steal yourself, for your hands will be soaked with blood before we are done.”

Lexie stared at the screen, no longer seeing what images anymore. The voice’s words began to repeat in her mind, your hands will be soaked with blood. She let out a slow breath; she needed to be calm if she was going to kill. No emotion, it had to be done.

“Listen carefully,” the voice said, becoming serious, “after the picture head to the Brewer’s Pub, clear your throat if you know the place,” Lexie quietly cleared her throat, “Excellent,” the voice cheered, “Go straight there, I know you’ll think of a reason. I’ll tell you what to do once you get there.”

A sense of calm came upon her like it always did before the elimination process. It had to be done, and if someone had to die she was going to make sure she was not going to be that person.

“Aren’t you going to eat,” Victor smirked over at Alexander.

Alexander jumped, startled to be spoken to after the hours of silence, “My Lord?”

Victor inclined his head toward a small table not far from Alexander’s right. Ella stood there, eyeing him wearily, with a silver tray in her hands. He had not even heard her enter the room. How long had he been staring at the board?

“I took the liberty of requesting you a meal,” Anya mused, not taking her eyes off the board, “It has been such a while and I believe you must be hungry.”

Alexander jumped out of his seat, “Thank you ma’am.”

Anya nodded in recognition as Alexander nearly sprinted toward Ella, who nearly backed away from him, frightened. “What are you still doing in here,” she frantically whispered, setting the tray down with shaking hands.

“They told me to watch,” came his muttered retort as he snatched up a buttered roll, “how was I supposed to leave?”

“You were supposed to find a reason,” Ella snapped back, her wide eyes glaring up at him in both fury and fright. She was actually beautiful when she wasn’t making him feel like such a fool, “This is how young men, such as you, lose their lives, Alexander! Don’t you forget that.”

“Why, Ella, it is almost as if you care about me.”

Ella gave a little scoff, as she finished laying out the dishes from the silver tray. “It is only Ole Sally’s worries I pass on to you,” she whispered snappishly, then quickly scurried out the door.

Somehow Alexander didn’t believe her.

There was a chuckle from behind him, Alexander whipped around and met Victors knowing smile. Alexander quickly made his eyes fall to the ground as Victor continued to chuckle. “It’s always the same, isn’t it love? A young man risks his life, sometimes for a loved one, other times just because he’s hot headed. But always do they deny feelings. Always the same.”

“My lord,” Alexander asked, risking a glance up.

Victor shook his head and turned back to the game board. Alexander slowly sank down into a chair but the side table and forced himself to eat. Ole Sally’s stew burst into wonderful flavor in his mouth, but it didn’t help to settle his stomach. As he continued to shovel the stew into his mouth he stared at the game board with a need to see what was going to happen next.

“Alright,” Ari sighed as they stepped out into the square after the picture show, “Lay it on me.”

Lexie was gazing toward the Brewer’s Pub trying to work out a way to get there, “What’s wrong now?”

“I know what you’re going to say. ‘There is no way humans would have just laid down and let the Vampires take over! Vampires must have killed nearly the entire human race to allow that to happen’,” Ari rolled her eyes, “Blah, blah, blah. Can’t you ever just enjoy the pictures! One of these months it’s goin’ you hit ya that these are just for fun.”

Lexie nodded, not paying attention, “Sure, I guess,” Dmitri walked into her line of vision making her jump, “Bloody hell don’t you ever make a sound! Where the hell did you come from?”

“He’s been following us all day, thanks to you,” Ari snapped, “What’s with you all of a sudden? Forget your brain back in the picture house? Do I have to crawl around on the floor with a flash light to find it and relax today?”

Lexie held up a hand in surrender, an idea sparking, “No, sorry. I think I just need a drink.”

Ari shrugged, “alright, Parkston’s Pub is right around the corner-“

“Why don’t we just go to Brewer’s Pub? It’s closer,” Lexie suggested, trying to keep the edge out of her voice.

“Because you usually say something clever about the alliteration of Parkston’s pub.”

“Really,” Dmitri laughed, eyeing her quizzically.

“Let’s try something different for once in our lives,” Lexie called over her shoulder as she made her way across the square towards the pub.

“Good,” said the voice, “Once you get to the pub do not look the tender in the eye. That is really important, life or death.”

“Got it,” Lexie muttered.

“You will go to the farthest booth on the left hand side. I will tell you what to do from there.”

Ari and Dmitri caught up with Lexie at the front of the pub. Laughter erupted from within, and chatter continued without pause. Lexie suddenly remembered why they didn’t like going here. No way to talk without shouting over the people next to you. And no one that came here seemed to be able to hold their liquor. Ari jumped up to the door and waltzed in without a second thought, Lexie quickly followed with Dmitri on her heels.

Lexie looked down at the floor boards once she entered, taking no chances of accidently looking at the tender, and surveyed what she could of the pub. It was crowded. Citizens milled about the room, leaning forward towards their companions and shouted about their latest frustration. Lexie spotted the empty booth at the back of the room, “Ari,” Lexie called as she made her way toward the booth.

It was draped in shadows and next to the kitchen doors. Lexie guessed they would at least have hot food if they planned on ordering any. She slid into the booth, Ari sat next to her, and Dmitri sat across from them. “What is with you today,” Ari snapped, “first him,” she motioned to Dmitri, “no offence. And then you decide to come into the trashiest pub in the square. Who are you and where did my anal Lexington go?”

“If I’m forced to go on these monthly outings I may as well make them interesting.”

“That’s one way to put it. I’m going to get drinks, don’t get any weirder while I’m gone.”

Lexie rolled her eyes as Ari slid out of the booth and bounced off to the bar. “Under the table,” the voice said, Lexie bit back a wince, feeling Dmitri eye her again, “feel around.”

Lexie obeyed, almost immediately be hands brushed against something cold and metal. “Take it,” the voice ordered, “It’s a lazer gun.”

Lexie gently pulled it off the table’s bottom, trying not to move the table in the process, and placed it under her thighs so neither Dmitri or Ari would see it. She took a deep breath and peered down at the charge- green. The lazer was fully charged. “When the moment comes, kill the tender.”

Lexie risked a glance at the tender, biting the inside of her cheek, thinking. She would have to sit on the outside of the booth or risk drawing attention when she tried to come up with something to get Ari to move. But if she addressed it when Ari first came back. She turned to Dmitri, “why are you always so quite?”

A flicker of a smile played across his lips, Lexie quickly slipped the lazer into her uniform pocket, “Haven’t we already covered this?”

“Not in a satisfactory way, no.”

“But I did answer the question, what makes you think I have more to say?”

“Because you were like Socrates, answering a question with a question- that dude always had more shit to say.”

“But he wasn’t a quiet guy, I am.”

“Stop beating around the bush and answer the damn question!”

“What bush?”

Lexie growled, “If we were at the school I would beat you to the ground.”

“I have no doubt.”

“Wow, what did I miss?”

Lexie looked up sharply, Ari stood there holding three drinks skillfully in her hands and an amused expression played across her face. She set the drinks down and looked from Lexie to Dmitri, “do I even want to know?”

“Probably not,” Dmitri answered quickly, glancing at Lexie who only glared in response.

“Let me have the outside,” Lexie growled, with less poise then she originally planned, “I can’t take sitting by the wall, makes me nervous.”

Ari waited for Lexie to slide out without comment, maybe snarling at Dmitri wasn’t such a bad idea after all. Lexie unconsciously touched the lazer in her pocket as she returned to the seat. It was still there, that was all she cared about. “You’re not very good at the whole, don’t be dangerous thing, are you,” laughed the voice inside her ear.

Lexie scowled, just barely biting back a scathing retort as she grabbed one of the drinks Ari had brought back with her and took a big gulp. “Wow,” Ari whistled pulling one of the drinks closer, “Ya really are in a sour mood.”
“The drink will kick-in in a moment,” Lexie muttered, taking another gulp.

Ari sighed, turning to Dmitri, “So what’s your deal?”

Dmitri cocked an eyebrow, “Deal?”

“Ya know…boys, girls, dogs…no judgment if it’s the latter. I hear they’re an interesting change of pace.”

Dmitri practically chocked on his drink, red faced as he coughed up most of his swallow he rasped, “Where did you hear that?’

Ari shrugged, “You hear things when you have the balls to ask. Do you have balls, Dmitri?”

Dmitri’s eyes widened as he regarded Ari, Lexie took another gulp and said, “You’re going to scar the poor child, and he hardly knows us.”

“I thought that was why we were scaring him,” Ari smiled up at her, Lexie chuckled, “Ah! There’s my Lexie that I know and love!”

“I’m sure Dmitri has balls, Ari.”

“I do,” he blurted, grabbing his drink and chugging half of it, “can we change the subject?”

“Of course,” Ari exclaimed, “How do you feel about threesomes?”

Dmitri grabbed his drink again, “Always about sex isn’t it Ari,” Lexie mused as she regarded Dmitri.

“Well what the hell else are we supposed to talk about?”

“Anything else,” Dmitri squeaked Lexie regarded the tender in her peripheral vision

“Why,” Ari asked, cocking an eyebrow in his direction, “You afraid your mommy wouldn’t like to discuss such things at the dinner table?”

Dmitri’s jaw suddenly set, his face drained of color and his eyes became steal. He slowly set his drink down and glared at Ari. Lexie’s fullattention suddenly snapped on him as she reflexively reached toward the lazer in her pocket. “My family has nothing to do with this,” Dmitri said in a harsh voice, “pick something else to have your fun with.”

Ari straightened, “Touchy,” she murmured, but obeyed.

“That is who you are dealing with,” said the voice in Lexie’s ear, “Never forget that.”

Lexie didn’t think she would be able to forget that expression anytime soon. She regarded Dmitri with a weary glance, that was the boy who survived at the school for so long. Not the studiously silent boy who had been following them around all day, but the commandingly abrasive man who sat before them a moment ago. “It’s time,” said the voice in her ear, Lexie reflexively glanced at the tender.

She let all emotion drift away as she surveyed him out of the corner of her eye. He was a roundish man that seemed to have spent most of his life behind that counter; he didn’t look threatening just a Citizen doing his job. He smiled at a customer that sat before him as he lazily leaned back and dried a glass. She didn’t know him, but he had to die.

Lexie stood without comment. She thought she heard Ari call out her name. She ignored that. The only person who she saw was the tender; he was the only person in the room. She slid her hand in her hand in her pocket until her fingers wrapped around the lazer. The sound of the pub faded from her ears. Her eyes never wandered away from the tender, the prey. She saw him laugh, but didn’t hear it. She stopped, she was right in from of him but his eyes only regarded the costumer before him. Slowly she pulled out the lazer and pointed it at his head.

The tender shifted his gaze away from his customer suddenly and regarded her with a shocked expression. His mouth opened in protest as he reached for his lazer which was next to him on the counter. Lexie didn’t hesitate. She fired.

In a cloud of red mist his head exploded. Pieces of skull landing on the bottles of drinks that had been displayed behind the counter, his body thudded on the ground, and then the screaming started. Lexie suddenly became aware of everyone else. Her target was gone, she could feel again. She was already quickly making her way out the pubs door. Pushing her way through the scrambling people trying to flee the pub. Past the staggering Citizens that had spilled their drinks in their hurry. Such finally made her way outside into the clean air of the square.

Once out she didn’t pause. She headed for the closest alley and ducked into the darkness. She took a few deep breaths and placed the lazer back into her pocket. Peeking around the alley wall she saw the pub quickly empty of more screaming Citizens. They ran everywhere in their panic. Some ran towards the home districts, others ran towards the businesses, probably hoping to find some sort of peace keeper, others just staggered with tears running down their cheeks. Finally Lexie spotted Ari angrily walking out of the pub with Dmitri in her wake.

Lexie gave a piercing whistle and waited for Ari to come. “I keep talking about sex, huh?” Ari growled, pushing Lexie up to the alley wall and holding her there by her collar, “Well you keep killing people! How’s that for a day off? We’re not supposed to have lazers outside of school, how’d you even sneak it out? And for the love of the Lords, why shoot the tender?”

“Why did he have his lazer laying on the counter? That’s not normal either,” Lexie mused.

“Who the bloody hell cares! It was his bloody lazer, you don’t have to shoot everyone that does something unusual!”

“He could’ve been waiting for someone,” Lexie muttered.

“I don’t care if he was waiting for Joan of Arc to come back from the dead! Ya don’t just shoot people because you can.”

“Do you even know who Joan of Arc is,” Dmitri murmured, Ari dropped Lexie’s collar and turned on him.

“Since when did that bloody matter,” Ari exclaimed, “I think I liked you better when you were silent.”

Dmitri wasn’t paying attention to Ari, but watched Lexie with a curious glint in his eye. She was back to peeking around the corner, watching as one of the useless peace keepers sprinted into the square. She brushed a strand of hair behind her ear, touching the ear piece lightly with the tips of her fingers. When she turned back to Ari her eyes were stone, her jaw clenched, and her breathing slightly labored. They stared at each other for a few more seconds. Ai nodded and moved to the back of the alley to check the next street. Lexie sighed as she watched her go, ignoring Dmitri’s eyes as they bored into her.

Things were going to get interesting. The voice stayed frustratingly silent.

Alexander thought that he was going to be sick. He knew he shouldn’t have eaten all of the stew, but he couldn’t stop himself. And now he looked at the game board as the tender’s blood soaked the corks of the bottles behind the counter, he clamped his teeth shut.

Anya smiled, Victor scowled.

“Didn’t seem like you were ready for that one, dear,” Anya said sweetly.

Victor took a deep breath and smiled at his wife, “Believe this, dear. I’ll be ready for the next one.”

Anya returned his smile with a sweet one of her own, Alexander’s stomach began to twist with renewed vigor, “Well then,” she said cheerfully, “Let the blood bath begin.”



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