Awakening: The ALPHA Generation

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Chapter 22

The van goes silent. By the lights of the glowing control panel, I can see all eyes turn towards me.

“We just saw the Redeemer’s true colors,” I continue. “Are we just going to ignore what we know now? And that thing, ALPHA. We need to let the public in on that.”

Dead silence.

“Are we just going run away?” I look from one person to another. “The Redeemers have been killing the Flawed. Everyone who has been Cleansed is actually dead.”

I hear Xander’s breath hitch, but I can’t make out his expression in the dim light.

“…You’re right,” he says after a moment. There’s a strange heaviness to his words. It worries me, but Darren speaks, forcing me to bring my attention away from Xander.

“It would be dangerous,” Darren says. “Besides, there’s barely any information on the Truth. How do we know that it’s even an organized group? All we’ve seen of them is a few unhinged shooters.”

I remember the man at the Renewal Ceremony. If the Truth is no more than that, there’s no hope for us.

I shake my head. “We have to take a chance,” I tell him. “It’s our only option, other than hiding for the rest of our lives. Don’t you want to make a difference, Darren? Don’t you want to fight back?”

Across from me, Elle says, “She has a point.” She looks towards Darren. “The Truth is our best option.”

I give her a thankful smile and look back to my brother. He stares at the dark road ahead, fingers tapping against his knee, brow furrowed in thought.

“The Truth,” he murmurs. Then, as if a switch has been flicked, he makes his decision. “Alright. Let’s do it.”

I break into a weak smile, relaxing a bit.

“How do we find them?” Darren asks.

Xander raises his head. “Cliks,” he answers. “The Truth is mentioned in thousands of posts. There’s bound to be something we can use.”

Elle nods. “We could use a Clikbook…if we had one.”

“The van has techwave access,” Darren suggests.

“Perfect. It might take a few hours, though.”

Darren waves one hand over the control panel. A screen opens in front of the passenger seat. My brother nods to the seat next to him. Elle accepts the invitation and joins him up front, then begins her work.

I look out the window. It’s almost pitch-black outside. There are no streetlights here to brighten the road. Only the stars and moon.

After a moment, I notice that Xander has slumped in his seat and put his head in his hands. I give him a nudge. “You okay?”

His hair is flattened and his face slack. “Yeah,” he says after a moment. “Just tired. And shaken.”

I nod. “Tell me about it. I almost can’t wrap my mind around what’s happening.”

He leans his head back and stares blankly. Shock and exhaustion line his face, but there’s something deeper there. He looks more than tired. Almost…grieved.

“Xander?” I press.

“It’s just…what you said,” he says. “About the Flawed. Cleansings.” He hesitates. “The people who’ve been Cleansed. They’re actually dead?”

“…Yeah.”

“Including my mom.”

His mom. She was Cleansed, years ago.

Oh, no. This discovery is more than just betrayal for him. It means that his mother was never Cleansed of her Flaws. She isn’t in a Dormant Community, and she won’t be coming back when the Upgrade is complete.

She’s gone. Forever.

“Oh Xander, I’m so sorry.”

He shrugs half-heartedly. “I can’t change it, can I? It was done years ago. But to think that all this time, I thought that she was alive…” He rubs his eyes, dragging in a shaky breath before looking up again. “At least I know now that she hasn’t been suffering this entire time. I was always worried that she would be homesick, or unhappy. It’s just the fact that all these years, I didn’t know.” He blinks at the darkness, like he’s fighting tears. “I didn’t know,” he repeats in a quiet whisper.

I nod softly. I don’t know what to say, don’t know what words would help.

After a moment, he says, “And people still believe that the Flawed are alive. But, their friends, their family, who’ve been Cleansed, they’re all-“ He cuts the words off before the thought is complete. “I want to help those people,” he says instead. “I need to. But…”

I don’t prod him to continue. Instead, I just sit next to him, giving him the chance to sort his thoughts. He speaks after a minute.

“I want to help them,” he says again. “But if we’re joining the Truth now – if that works out - then the only way to really end the Redeemers might be to kill them, isn’t it?”

I let a moment pass by before shaking my head.

He frowns. “I know it is. Just like how at the Hub, the only way to escape was to…you had to…” He can’t seem to finish the words, so he lets them hang, incomplete.

He swallows and looks out the window, avoiding my gaze. “I had never seen someone die before,” he murmurs.

Xander, the boy who hates violence, who pales at the sight of a gun, thrown into a bloody rebellion.

The world seems to spin around me as a wave of images flood my mind. The bodies of the two dead men in my Cleansing room. The Redeemer who was going to Cleanse Xander. What was it like for Xander to sit there helplessly, seeing that man die in front of him? And I was the one to pull the trigger – I was the one who ended his life without hesitation.

I steady myself and reach out to put my hand on Xander’s shoulder.

“We’ll make it through this,” I reassure him, but the words feel like lies.

He nods, but his eyes betray his doubt.

“We’re going to be fine, alright? You’re going to be fine.”

He responds with a small smile. “Yeah. Alright.”

I know that he doesn’t believe me. Not completely.

But I mean every word I say. And as I lower my hand, as I lean back into my seat, I make a promise to myself.

Xander will survive. I’ll keep him as far from death as possible. Even if something happens, if I’m killed, he’ll make it out of this alive.

Even if it costs me my life.

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