“I still don’t understand,” Jack sighs rubbing his temples, “The box just exploded?” After my scream and our very crushing hug, Jack hid me aside and calmed everyone down, telling them a story he quickly made up. He convinced the other guard to not tell anyone about me and for exchange, he’d get Jack’s breakfast. So now we’re hiding behind one of the tents talking in a hushed tone.
“Not exploded, bombed,” I state, “Look, I don’t know what happened either, ok? I was in the bathroom when it happened, and everything was just chaos. Everyone was screaming and I wasn’t planning on breaking the rules, Jack, but I wasn’t just going to sit there and die.”
“Then you stole a space pod, landed on Planet-E, escaped from a camp, and came rushing here, screaming my name,” he ticks off each phrase as if he’s scolding a child, “Oh, and might I mention, you left Lyra behind! What were you thinking, Ellie?”
“I WASN’T” I shout, “I was trying to save my life! There was no time to think! You wouldn’t unders-”
“Really?” he scowls at me, “Who’s the one sent to Planet-E to fight, Ellie?”
“It’s been two days-”
“Garter died,” he sighs, “And so did two others from my training lessons.”
“I’m sorry,” I whisper to him. I’ve been so caught up in my problems that I forgot how awful the war is. Now I feel bad for getting Lyra involved in all of this. I left her at that camp alone too. Perhaps I should go back to get her. I take a deep breath, gathering my thoughts, “Jack? I have a plan.”
“To get Lyra and leave?”
“Well, to get Lyra...”
“Great, then you should’ve said you have half a plan.”
I dismiss his comment and carry on, “There’s this robot-”
“WHAT!” he whisper-shouts, “Ellie, what the hell? A robot!”
“I got shot and she helped me, ok?” I say squinting and waiting for another shout. Looking at Jack I see his jaw hanging open.
“You. Got. Shot?” he states shocked, “WHEN? HOW? WHY? WHAT THE- ELLIE!”
“Shhhhhhhhhh, they’ll hear us, Jack!” I whisper urgently at him, “I’m fine, the robot healed my shoulder somehow. It only hurts a little. I can’t even feel it now with all this chaos.”
“Show me your shoulder, Ellie.”
“Show me,” he states through clenched teeth.
I sigh and pull down my hoodie’s sleeve. Removing the bandage, I gasp at my shoulder. Using Jack’s flashlight and our glass orbs’ light, I can see that the only evidence of the bullet wound is a scar.
“How...” I mutter.
“Stars! How did I not notice this blood on your hoodie? ’Sarn it, what type of friend am I? I didn’t even notice these holes!” he exclaims pointing at the bullet holes in the hoodie.
“It’s ok, there’s barely any light here.”
“Well, guess I should thank that robot.”
“Yeah, ummm, I didn’t exactly leave the best first impression,” I notice Jack rolling his eyes and hastily continue, “Buuut, she seemed friendly either way. She even helped me reach you.”
He sighs, “Just go on with the plan, El.”
“Yeah, so I was thinking we could go there and ask her how to reach Lyra. Maybe find a space pod to go back to the boxes and act as if this never happened. Of course, this is considering 916 is still there, the robot helps us find Lyra and we can find a space pod.”
“Great, this is just great. You have a half-baked plan with a 75% chance of getting caught and killed.”
“Can we just go to the robot and figure it out from there?” I ask him, “I know you’re angry. I know you’re tired but I’m tired too JC. I want it all to end. I want to run away to a place untouched by this war with you. I want to have a family that doesn’t end up dying.”
“I don’t want this war too, but the only way to stop it is by fighting.”
I gawk at him, “Since when did you have that attitude? You sound just like them,” I say, referring to our captains and teachers back at 916.
“I’ll give you my sleeping bag,” he ignores what I just said, “You can go sleep in the trench for now. You’d be too visible here, even with all the dust.”
“Fine, I’m tired anyway.”
“Do you need anything? Water? Food?”
“No, Jacklinso, I already have some.”
He goes into a tent and quickly comes back with a sleeping bag. As I trudge back to the trench, I can hear him mutter ‘Goodnight, French fry’ and, despite everything, it makes me smile.
The next morning I’m greeted with Jack’s hurried whispers, “Ellie, wake up, come on.”
“I’m up,” I groan back at him.
“Ok, listen we’re leaving for the front lines in about half an hour. As soon as we leave, go back to that robot, ok?”
“What? Jack, no! You’re coming too.”
“El, I seriously don’t have time for this right now.”
“I’m. Not. Leaving.”
“’Sarn it, Ellie! Why can’t you just listen for once?!”
I look at his face and notice something’s different. Usually, when we fight, Jack has this determined look on his face. A look that tells you that he’s already won. But that’s not the case now. Now, he looks tired. He looks ready to just give up.
“Have you always been this tired?” I ask.
“What?” he looks at me quizzically.
“You look tired, and it’s only been one day here.”
“Ellie, I just need to make sure you’re ok.”
“I’m not going back to that metal box, Jack. I’m staying here and I’m surviving whether you like it or not. We can go together. You don’t want to fight, you never did.”
“This isn’t about what I want, Ellie.”
“So, should I leave alone?”
Jack looks at me and I can make out the little sparkle in his eyes, “Stars, what am I doing,” he sighs, “Fine, just wait here for a second.”
He sprints to a tent and comes back a few minutes later with a heavy bag.
“Ok, let’s go. We have to move quickly before they realise I’m gone. Which direction is that robot you talked about?”
“Opposite direction of the front lines.”
“Ok, ok, this is good. Let’s go.”
“Why do you even want to go to the robot?”
“We don’t know what we’re doing, Ellie. These supplies will only last us a week at most,” he points to the bag, “Robots know the whole planet’s road maps including all underground settlements, flire factories and illegal merchants.”
“Wait, wait, underground settlements?”
“Later, let’s just move.”
It takes us most of the day to reach the robot’s little hideout. We had to take constant breaks to hide from passing soldiers or drones.
“Isn’t it supposed to be here, Ellie?” Jack asks when we finally stop.
“Yes, but with all of this sand and dust, the hatch is probably covered,” I look around the place and try to remember where exactly the robot was. “I think it’s somewhere here,” I finally tell him, crouching down and trying to feel out the hatch.
“Hurry up and find it. I don’t know if any more soldiers pass through here!”
As if on cue we hear marching and shouting. “Oh, stars! Where is it?! Where is it?!” I hastily try to find anything as the sound grows closer. Of course, we had to end up in this situation!
“Here!” I hear Jack exclaim before something squeaks and groans and the door to the robot’s hideout opens. I rush to him and jump down the opening. A thud and a metallic click informing me that Jack landed safely behind me.
“Stay still, humans,” the robot’s voice warns.
“Hey,” I take a pause trying to remember its name, “Ummm, Carla, right? I’m Ellie, you found me yesterday, remember?” I look around trying to find the robot when I notice two red dots in the dark.
“Who’s with you?” she asks as her eyes turn blue.
“I’m Jacklinso, a friend of Ellie’s,” he looks around trying to find the robot. I nod in its direction, and he faces it as he continues, “I wanted to thank you for saving her earlier.”
“You’re welcome,” it finally comes out of the dark and Jack can clearly see it as his jaw practically drops to the floor.
“Wow, I’ve never seen an actual robot before.”
“Are you hurt? Is that why you’re here?”
“No, we,” I start to answer before realising that I don’t know what exactly it is we want. Are we still going back to find Lyra? Are we trying to find somewhere to hide?
“Where is Lyra, Ellie?” Jack questions me.
“The last I saw her was at that camp. Someone told me it’s 32km away from the front lines.”
“That’s the main camp. It’s where all the spaceships with food and new equipment land,” the robot states.
“Ok, great so we just have to reach the main camp,” I say looking at JC.
“No, we can’t go there,” he sighs, “The whole camp is crawling with soldiers, we won’t be able to escape. We need to reach the underground settlements. Do you know how we can get there, Carla?”
“I know someone who can take you there for a fee.”
“A fee?” I inquire.
“Yes, mostly food since that’s the only thing useful to them, but they might accept your gun,” it says pointing at Jack’s gun.
“Ok, so can you contact that someone?”
“Yes,” the robot simply answers.
“What do I owe you?”
Carla looks at Jack for a moment before it lets out a giggle, “Nothing. I do this because I prefer helping people rather than killing them.”
I roll my eyes at the statement, but Jack puts out his hand, “It was very nice to meet you, Carla.”
She looks at his hand before her eyes turn yellow and she shakes Jack’s hand, “Nice to meet you, too,” she says chirpily.
We decide to rest at Carla’s hideout waiting for the people she called. I was very sceptical of sleeping near the robot, but once I rested my head on the worn-out pillow, sleep overtook me.
I wake up to a creaking sound and Jack calling me, “El, they’re here, let’s go.”
I take my bag, put on my shoes then go up the ladder. Once I step out of the hideout, I’m met with a weird looking car and three people dressed in dusty clothes with make-shift masks over their faces. One of them is talking to Jack and they’re clearly arguing.
“We don’t have anything else now,” Jack states, “Can’t we just pay when we reach the place. We could work extra or something.”
“Listen, kid,” a gruff-voiced man tells him, “One gun, one person. That’s it. If you want passage for two, get another gun.”
“From where?! We’re stranded here! I can’t go back; they’ll kill me and my friend for trying to escape!”
“Not my problem, child.”
“What else can we offer then?”
“Shit,” JC mutters, “We’ll need that.” He rubs at his temple clearly annoyed that we were so close to escaping and now it’s near impossible.
“Jacklinso,” Carla calls out to him. He turns around and crouches down to see her through the open hatch.
“Here,” she hands him something and Jack takes a pause before tsking the thing, which turns out to be another gun.
“Thank you,” he whispers. He then turns around and hands it to the man. “That’s two guns, two people.”
“Alright!” one of the people exclaims, probably a girl, “All aboard the luxury express!”