Awakening: The ALPHA Generation

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Chapter 11 - Nat

Xander and I stand in front of a dilapidated house, glancing at each other. The air buzzes with the movement of the coastal city. Neon signs create ringlets on the edge of my vision, painting my view with shades of pink and blue. It has taken longer than expected for us to get here; twilight’s already starting to chase away the sunlight.

Xander clears his throat. “Are you sure this is it?”

I glance down at my Clikbook, and then back at the slouching structure in front of us. “Pretty sure. Doesn’t look like much, huh?”

“No kidding.”

The building sits on the very edge of the city, practically falling into the ocean. The crashing waves echo in my ears, masking everything else.

I straighten my back and brace myself. “We need to get moving if we want to be home before nightfall.”

Xander hangs back, clinging to the sidewalk hesitantly.

“C’mon, Xander, it’s not like other people don’t use Era.”

“I know, I know.” He shuffles to my side, taking in a deep breath. “Let’s just get it over with. Do you have the money?”

I nod. We had stopped by my house to get some money from my savings. I took a good thousand dollars – who knows how much this is going to cost us?

Xander takes the lead, going up to the decrepit door and giving it a knock. Nervousness buzzes between us as we wait for it to open.

And wait.

And wait.

He glances down at the Clikbook screen hovering above my hands. “Are you sure this is the right place?”

I double check and nod. “Maybe no one’s home…?”

“Or maybe…” Xander starts to circle around the side of the building, me following. We hop from the yard and onto the banks of the beach. The sand spills into my shoes as we walk around to the back. A set of stairs leads up to a rotting deck, where an old wooden door stands. Xander mounts the steps and I follow close behind. The rickety stairs creak under our feet.

Muffled voices come from the other side of the door, along with a myriad of strange sounds.

I tilt my head. “Are those….drills?”

“Maybe they make the tech in there or something.”

When we knock, the clicking of locks being undone comes from the door. It opens seconds later. A tall, thin-waisted woman leans against the doorway, one hand on her hip. It takes me a moment to find her face under her makeup. Two dark eyes stare at us from under heavy eyeshadow. Her black hair is twisted into layers of dreadlocks that hang from her head like ropes.

The hum of voices and the shriek of drills overpowers her voice when she asks, “What do you want?”

“Uh, yeah,” I say. “Is this an Era branch?”

The woman cocks an eyebrow. “Who’s asking?”

“A customer.”

“A customer,” she repeats suspiciously. “Do you have money?”

I nod, taking out the wad of bills.

She eyes the money. “Well, I guess that’s worth any risk you might bring.” She glances over her shoulder, and then opens the door wider. “In that case, come on in.”

I’m about to step inside when Xander grabs my arm.

“Give us a minute,” he tells the woman, then pulls me to the side. “Nat,” he whispers, glancing nervously at the woman, who crosses her arms impatiently. “Are we sure we want to go in there?”

I frown. “We need the tech.”

“I know, but this doesn’t exactly seem like the safest place to be. Going in there alone doesn’t feel like a good idea.”

At first, I want to argue with him. My training has taught me enough self defense to protect myself, if worse comes to worst.

To protect me. Not Xander. I might be able to defend myself, but Xander wouldn’t – he hardly knows how to throw a proper punch. Going in wouldn’t only put me in danger - Xander could get hurt as well.

“Alright,” I finally relent. His eyes fill with relief. I turn to the woman again.

“We’ll wait here,” I tell her.

She raises a single eyebrow. “Too scared to come in, huh?”

Exactly. “We’re in a hurry.”

She looks quizzical, but shrugs all the same. “What’re you looking for?” We tell her, and she narrows her eyes. “A brick-breaker?” she repeats, giving us a quick look-over. “What are you two, hackers or something?”

“Clikers,” I explain.

She rolls her eyes. “Of course. Wait here, I’ll get the tech.” She slams the door.

Xander shifts his feet and scratches the back of his neck. I know him well enough to read his nervousness. I can’t blame him – I’m a bit jumpy myself.

After an agonizing moment of silence, the door reopens. The woman holds up a small plastic bag with a tiny microchip inside.

I squint at the chip. “That’s it?” It looks awfully small to be called a ‘brick-breaker’.

“It’s the code that matters.”

“How much is it?” Xander asks.

Her answer comes quickly and smoothly. “Six hundred. And that’s a deal, by the way.”

Xander’s jaw drops, but he quickly collects himself, clearing his throat. “Are you serious?” The woman nods, dreadlocks bobbing. He lets out a breath and glances at me.

It’s a lot of money – money I can’t afford to spend. Exactly how far am I willing to go on this? It could just be a dead end. But then again, what if we’re right? Images of the Truth conquering the Remainder pop into my head.

Before I can regret my decision, I spit out “We’ll take it,” and begin counting the bills in my hand.

“How does that thing work, anyway?” Xander asks.

“Hyper speed coding systems,” she says, watching me count the money. “Kind of like a Clikbook, just faster and more expensive.”

I hand her the money hesitantly. She reaches to take it, then suddenly grabs my wrist instead, pushing my sleeve away and exposing my mark. The wad of money falls from my hands as I try to twist out of her grasp. Her fingers are like iron, forming five slender dents in my skin.

“Just as I thought.” Her lips curl into a snarl. “A Redeemer, huh? Here to spy on us, shut us down?” She thrusts my hand away and then snatches the fallen bills from the ground.

I try to keep a brave face, but a sliver of fear cuts through my act. A quick look through the open door gives me a view of the other Era members inside. If this escalates, we’d be very outnumbered.

“She’s not a Redeemer.” Xander’s voice trembles slightly, but he stands firm.

She barks a rough laugh. “What, she just got the mark for fun? Please.”

I pull my sleeve back over my wrist and straighten my back. “If you don’t want to sell it to us, fine. Just give us our money back, and we’ll pretend we never came here.”

“You’re lucky to be getting out of here with your lives. Now I suggest you leave before I call for backup.”

My eyes travel to open door behind her. We’ve attracted some attention – several Era members are making their way to the door. I try to swallow, but a lump has begun to form in my throat.

“Nat,” Xander says, a hint of pleading in his voice. “It’s fine, let’s just go.”

“Not yet.” I look the woman in the eye. “Give me back my money.”

Her eyes narrow. “Leave. Right now.” Her voice raises with each word. She points a long finger to the stairs. “Or I’ll make sure you don’t make it home.”

“We’re going.” Xander takes my arm. “Come on, Nat.”

Every part of myself wants to fight back, but I know that’s impossible. Cheeks reddening, I back away towards the steps. We hurry down the stairs. The sound of the door closing and locks being latched comes from above.

There goes the brick-breaker.

And my money.

A headache begins to form behind my eyes. The money. A thousand dollars, lost.

Soft sand sinks under my feet when I step off of the last step. I take off down the shore - I want to put as much distance between us and the house as possible.

Heavy clouds begin to mask the sky. The wind smells of coming rain as it blows my hair across my face. I trudge on, sand filling my shoes as I go. My walk speeds to a jog, and soon I’m running, wanting to get away from Era, from the anger and humiliation. Xander silently matches my pace, his breaths sounding like a rusty machine.

“Can…” he takes a huge breath. “Can we stop running now?”

I don’t answer, just keep going. Waves splash against the shore relentlessly. They sound like endless rounds of sledgehammers hitting pavement, each lap like a pounding inside my aching head.

I glance over my shoulder and, seeing that the Era building has faded into the distance, slow to a walk.

I kick at the sand. Frustration bubbles, heating my face. I feel like a child throwing a tantrum out of embarrassment. Like a small, angry little girl who just lost a thousand dollars.

Xander stops. He looks at me, attacking the sand, and smiles sympathetically. “We screwed up pretty bad, huh?”

I grunt in response, finally giving up on the kicking. The pain behind my eyes grows stronger as fatigue falls on me like a heavy blanket.

“We can work together and make up for the lost money,” Xander offers, sticking his hands in his pockets. “I’m sure Elle will be happy to.”

I sigh, offering him a dry smile. “You’re a good guy, Xander.”

“Why thank you.”

We start walking back, shaking the sand from our shoes as we step onto the concrete of the sidewalk. Fat raindrops have begun to fall. A chilling breeze has picked up, dancing down the shadowed alleys and tossing pieces of litter across the street. The runaway cans and candy wrappers twist and bend in the wind like dancers, tumbling into each other and gripping the pavement for dear life.

My mind swirls with thoughts and plans of how to earn back the money I’ve lost.

Reality dawns on me suddenly.

Darren. He’ll be home by now. What will he say when I walk in after dark, having lost a chunk of my life’s savings?

Our life’s savings. I might have helped earn that money, but I wasn’t its sole owner. Darren played his part in earning it, too. It was meant to serve both of us.

As raindrops burst on the sidewalk, I begin shaping scenarios of how the next few hours of my life will play out.

None of them are very pretty.

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