Zugzwang

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Chapter 6

“Leave the square,” the voice muttered, “The peace keepers will take care of themselves.”

Lexie didn’t need to be told twice. She turned on her heel, “Follow me,” she said to Dmitri and Ari before she headed deeper into the alley.

Lexie knew the alley would feed into another street three blocks away from the square, apart from that she didn’t know where else to turn. She picked up her pace, hearing Ari and Dmitri’s heels clicking after her. The shouting from the square was becoming softer but more intense as the minutes pressed on. Finally the alley ended.

Lexie peered around the corner, the street appeared to be empty. Not even a stray Citizen, Lexie waited. Something didn’t sit right, it was the middle of the day and the street was abandoned, that wasn’t normal. “What are we waiting for,” Ari snapped creeping up behind Lexie to peer out the street, “No one is looking for you. Let’s go.”

Ari started to step out into the street but Lexie pulled her back into the darkness as a lazer beam bounced off the pavement. Ari let out a gasp as she fell backwards; Lexie pulled out the lazer and crouched, trying to find the direction the beam had come from.

“I didn’t realize Citizens were allowed to use lazers,” Ari snapped, dusting herself off as she stood.

“They’re not,” Dmitri answered as he crouched to be level with Lexie, “Ever since the proclamation of suitable weapons in 2435, no Citizen has carried a weapon besides peace keepers. And even then they only carry lightening sticks, nothing that shoots.”

“Maybe you should actually read those textbooks that collect dust under your bed,” Lexie murmured.

“Cut the crap,” Ari growled, “You didn’t know that either.”

Lexie saw a shadow move from the top of a building diagonal from the alleyway. She readied her lazer and waited. She heard Dmitri hold his breath, Ari shifted uncertainly, “Are you sure about this Lex, these are Citizens.”

“What would you like to do? Go to the inquisition or get shot by a lazer?”

Ari sighed. Lexie felt her emotions drain, sound faded from her ears. The only things were the shifting shadow and her lazer. She fired. She missed.

“Fuck,” she muttered as a cloud of dust rose into the air. She lowered her lazer and glared.

Dmitri shook his head, “It’s an impossible shot. I’m surprised you got that close.”

“Not helping,” Lexie snapped as she readjusted her position and waited for the shadow to move again.

“It’s not going to work Lex, you’re just wasting power. The only way to make the shot is to get closer,” Ari said glaring.

Lexie, not taking her eyes off the shadow, silently willed it to move. It didn’t. Lexie lowered the lazer and slowly stood. “Lexie what are you doing?”

She ignored Ari, aware of both Dmitri and Ari’s eyes on her. She took a slow and tentative step out of the alley, out of the shadows. She stared at the shadow, still it didn’t move. Lexie took a deep breath and stepped forward again. “Lexington,” Ari whispered frantically over at her, “Have you gone completely insane? Do you want to die?”

Lexie ignored her. She let everything fade from her mind. She readied to herself for what she had to do. Emotions drained as she continued forward, sounds faded from her ears, and her breath became deep and slow. Slowly Lexie knelt in the middle of the abandoned street, eyes still locked on the shadow. Had it moved just then? Or was she just wishing?

She raised the lazer once again and took a deep breath. It moved. Lexie was vaguely aware of it taking a shot. The familiar heat of the lazer scorched her hand as the beam fired out. Someone cried out, breaking through her silence. Lexie ignored it and fired. This time she didn’t miss. The body fell from the roof of the building, landing with a sickening crunch. She lowered the lazer and allowed emotion to crowd back into her mind. She felt nothing.

“Lexie,” someone shouted.

Dmitri. That was his voice, she recognized that. Lexie turned and what she saw froze her heart.

Ari lay crumpled hardly ten paces away. She clutched her left shoulder but that didn’t stop blood from gushing through her fingers. Her face had lost all color and she panted up at Lexie with wide eyes of almost fright. That couldn’t be right. Ari was never afraid, even when she should be. The sound of Ari’s rasping pants finally reached her ears. Dmitri was kneeling by Ari when she turned around, hand going to press into the wound as he regarded Lexie with a grim expression.

“Ari-“

“The bastard shot me,” Ari rasped, “Tell me you shot him.”

Lexie nodded, shoving the lazer back into her pocket. “Good,” Ari nodded, eyes still wide, “now help me up.”

Dmitri pushed her down, “You’re going into shock. You shouldn’t move.”

“Like hell I shouldn’t! Help me up!”

Dmitri sighed, “At least let me bind up your shoulder. You’ll do no good collapsing from blood loss.”

Ari growled, but didn’t argue about his restraining hand. Dmitri turned back to Lexie, “go get his shirt; we can rip strips to stop the bleeding.”

As Lexie turned towards the fallen Citizen she heard Ari’s renewed protests, “I’m not letting the bastards gory shit anywhere near me,” she screamed as Dmitri tried to reassure her. Lexie could’ve told him to save his breath but she knew that probably wouldn’t make any difference.

Lexie approached the body. Its head was no longer on its shoulders and a single lazer blast burned the back of its shirt, other then that nothing looked amiss. Maybe she was losing her mind.

She knelt before the Citizen and quickly stripped it of its shirt, ignoring the gaping hole in its chest. Then she hurried back. Dmitri seemed to have convinced Ari to lay on her back. She had her eyes closed and was taking deep breaths; Lexie hoped she was just trying to calm herself. Lexie started tearing the shirt into strips before she even knelt, handing them to Dmitri.

Ari grunted in pain as Dmitri first packed the strips into her wound to soak up the blood and then began to tightly wrap more strips about her shoulder to hold them in place. “I have to move your arm,” he told Ari gently, “This is going to hurt but it has to be done. I just hope the lazer didn’t vaporize any bone.”

Ari nodded and blew out a sigh. Dmitri gently gripped her hand and quickly drew it up so her palm was over her heart. Ari cried out, but quickly bit her lip to silence herself. Lexie laid her hand over her friends, “almost done.”

Dmitri secured her arm so it wouldn’t move then sat back, inspecting his work. Finally he nodded, “You can probably sit up again.”

Lexie helped Ari shift and sit up. Ari grunted and leaned into Lexie as she took several deep breaths, “Fuck me sideways,” she grumbled.

“That doesn’t sound smart given the circumstances,” Lexie chuckled.

Ari shoved away from her, “This is your fault anyway,” Ari exclaimed, “What the hell were you thinking?”

Lexie sighed and stood, surveying the street again, “We should keep moving.”

“Where are we going,” Dmitri asked, gently helping a glaring Ari to her feet.

“Away from the square,” Lexie sighed as she continued walking down the street passed the dead Citizen, leaving it for the peace keepers to find.

“A curious move,” Victor mused taking a drink from his fresh goblet of blood, “What could be your motive?”

Anya smiled over at her husband as one of her players disappeared from the gaming board, “That’s for you to discover, my dear.”

Alexander stared. The man had been a baker. Only that morning he had been taking fresh bread out of his ovens and kissing his wife as Anya had told him to wait on the roof of the building. His wife would never see him again. Would probably never know what had happened to him, or why.

He thought of Ole Sally cooking something else in the kitchens. She had been in those kitchens for years, she had paled when Ella had told her that everything was prepared. But did she truly know what was happening behind those closed doors? Did she sit here once and witness their lord’s play these crud game as he was doing now? What would happen if he couldn’t sit here and watch these people get slaughtered? Would he then be killed? Alexander didn’t move a muscle as these thoughts raced through his head. Didn’t take his eyes of the gaming board.

He watched as the once smiling figure of the man became translucent and finally faded to nothing.

They walked. It felt like hours. Lexie doubted it was even one. Clouds swirled over head as they made their way through the streets. Ari’s panting filled her ears as she led them farther and farther from the square. Why wasn’t the voice talking? Lexie grew more and more frustrated the farther they went.

Suddenly Lexie stopped. Ari and Dmitri quickly looked around for trouble, there wasn’t any. Lexie had led them around busy streets hoping to avoid curious glances. “We should rest for a moment,” Lexie motioned towards a nearby stoop.

Dmitri nodded and led Ari towards the steps. Ari looked worse. Dark circles had formed around her eyes and she had started sweating, making her rats nest of hair stick to her face. Lexie bit back a wince as Dmitri lowered her onto one of the steps, then he returned to Lexie, “What are we doing,” he asked urgently, “She needs the generators, I don’t know what will happen if we don’t get her there quickly.”

Lexie regarded Dmitri silently for many minutes, “We can’t go through the square, what do you suggest?”

“You grow a pair of balls and get her to the school even if it means you face the inquisition,” he growled.

Lexie chuckled, “Good one.”

“I’m serious!”

“As am I,” Lexie growled, “Do you really think I would risk Ari’s life if I wasn’t completely sure about this? We can’t go back! Think of something else, Citizens out here must have generators for themselves. Find one!”

An explosion rocked the ground under their feet. The buildings on either side of them rocked with the tremors and birds cried out in protest as they abandoned their nests. Lexie and Dmitri whipped toward sound. It was the square. They could just make out the tips of the flames as they started to soar into the sky. A cloud of black smoke flew up towards the greying clouds sending a light fall of ask down about them.

Lexie glanced back at Ari, her eyes had widened in shock and she held leapt to her feet during the tremors, now she just stood staring at the flames as if rooted to the spot. Lexie wanted to tell her to sit down; she wanted to reassure her that everything would be fine. But she couldn’t.

“Did you know,” Ari whispered, still staring off towards the square, “Did you know what was going to happen when you led us away from the square?”

“No.”

“Promise on your lazer.”

“Ari-“

Ari tore her eyes away from the distant scene, her jaw set and eyes close to pleading, “Promise on that damn thing, or I won’t believe you!”

Lexie’s shoulders slumped but she pulled out the lazer and held it up in the air, “I promise on my lazer, Arianna, I did not know what would happen when I led you away from the square.”

Ari nodded, with one more glance toward the square she stepped off the stoop, “We’d better keep going, no telling how far that fire is going to spread.”

Ari and Dmitri quickly started to head down the street but Lexie continued to stare at the square, “Is that what you meant by ‘the peace keepers would take care of themselves’?”

The voice didn’t answer. Lexie felt anger grow in the pit if her stomach. More anger then she felt at her father when she realized he wasn’t coming back. Her hands shook with rage, “Answer me!”

“Your friends are going to leave you behind if you don’t hurry,” the voice said.

“That wasn’t the question.”

“That was my answer.”

“Why?”

“Why did you kill Elijah?”

Lexie felt the blood drain from her face; slowly she turned her heel and started to follow Ari and Dmitri, “I didn’t kill him.”

“No?” asked the voice in mock sympathy, “was that someone else that smashed his windpipe? It sure looked like you.”

Lexie’s anger slowly died, her shoulders began to slump, “What do you want me to do?”

The voice laughed, “Anything I tell you to.”

Lexie took a deep breath and hurried after Ari and Dmitri.

Ari started to collapse not long after. Dmitri had been watching her as she staggered and shuffled forward, but he was almost not fast enough to catch her. Lexie leapt forward as Dmitri dove. They caught her, but she was no longer conscious as they attempted to right her and gently placed her on the ground.

“Shit,” Dmitri breathed when he saw her soaked bandages and the blood that had started to stain more of Ari’s uniform.

“Is she still alive,” Lexie asked, surprised at how steady her voice still was.

Dmitri didn’t even glance at her as he nodded, “Yes, but I don’t know how long she’ll stay that way. I’m not a generator, Lexie; I can only do so much with a shirt.”

Lexie stood, “Then we have to find some generators, there should be an emergency drone house somewhere.”

Dmitri and Lexie tried to gently lift Ari between them. They continued to walk, dragging Ari’s legs behind them as they proceeded. Ari’s dead weight made Lexie’s heart sink, but she stubbornly bit back any doubts. She couldn’t be distracted, not now.

“Come one, Ari,” Lexie muttered as they rounded yet another corner, “Don’t give up on me now,” Dmitri grunted.

They had turned onto a street that had a scattered amount of people; Lexie paused for a moment unsure if she should continue. She took a deep breath, “Citizen,” she called to the nearest person who was attempting to scurry away, the woman turned and regarded them with weary eyes, “Where is the nearest emergency generator?”

The woman blinked. Lexie plastered a distressed look onto her face, “My friend needs help. Please we are looking for an emergency drone.”

The woman pointed back the way they had come, “That way about four blocks,” she muttered, “it’ll mostly likely be swarming with Citizens by now.” The woman scurried off.

“Well Ari isn’t getting any lighter, let’s hurry,” Dmitri turned around pulling Lexie with him without a second glance.

It was four of the longest blocks of Lexie’s life. Many times she could’ve sworn they went too far and must have missed it, but then they rounded the last corner. A mob stood before the emergency generator building, shouting, demanding. Nearly all of the citizens were covered with soot, and were either talking angrily with a neighbor or shouting at the next person who would listen. The ones who weren’t talking were crying. Mothers, daughters, and wives tried to beat back the crowd as they desperately fought to get to their loved ones. Other’s held ashen remains of what Lexie assumed to be individuals. The drones attempted to keep the crowd back from the building as the injured were ushered inside. Lexie gulped, “We have to get through.”

Dmitri nodded, but stayed silent of any ideas. Lexie stepped forward towards the crowd. “Why don’t the Lords stop the flames,” shouted one Citizen from amongst the crowd, “It’ll engulf the whole city!”

“They don’t care about us, you idiot, we’re just breakfast to the blood drinkers.”

The angry shouts continued. Lexie attempted to ignore them as she forced her way through the crowd, pulling Dmitri and Ari with her as she went. Eventually they made their way to the front of the mob. “Help, please,” Lexie called out to one of the drones.

It turned towards her and scanned her face, “Injury report,” it asked in its monotone way.

“Lazer blast, left shoulder, major blood loss,” Lexie recited more out of habit then anything.

The drone held out its scanner as Lexie put Ari’s arm in its grasp. With the familiar beep the drone nodded, ushering the generators over. Dmitri and Lexie gratefully but gently lowered their burden on the generators, watching as they carried Ari away. The drone held up its metal hand, “To busy,” it said.

“She’ll only slow you down anyway,” said the voice inside Lexie’s ear, “Leave her there.”

Lexie wanted to argue, she could tell Dmitri did too by the way he stiffened. She placed her hand on his shoulder and gently shook her head, “Let’s go,” she muttered to him and made her way back out of the mob.



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