Awakening: The ALPHA Generation

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Chapter 60

The Hub is ours within hours. Gray contacted Pamela’s colony – we warned them before the missile was launched, much to my relief. All of them are on their way, bringing everything and everyone they have. As soon as they arrive, Pamela will meet with me. I’ve asked that she bring Elle, too; I need to see her, especially after Xander.

Gray also gave them a report of the deceased. Elle must know what happened to Xander by now – she’s probably heartbroken.

After organizing our group into different sections, I send out two units to secure the Hub and make sure it’s clean of Redeemers.

We did, however, manage to catch a few fleeing Redeemers – not soldiers, but higher-ups. Members of the Leadership and Tech Squadron. Gray thinks they might be able to tell us more about ALPHA. There are men interrogating them now, trying to get answers.

But for now, I’m sitting in the Hub’s Core, waiting for Elle and Pamela to arrive. The Core is furnished with one long, wide table surrounded by chairs, almost like a meeting room. The tabletop projects holographic images, most likely used to create plans and send out forces. I watch as an image of the Hub – our Hub, now – flickers above the table’s surface.

Gray is with me, standing by my side - he’s battered and tired but refuses to rest until we know the others are here, and safe. I think he doesn’t want to leave me on my own; he knows what today has been like for me. For all of us.

My vision blurs from exhaustion. The weight of the day is threatening to finally take its toll. I no longer have the strength to push away thoughts of all that’s happened today – my mind keeps returning to everyone we lost, the list of the dead.

My thoughts flash to Carper. How he died giving the rest of us a chance to survive. We have to win this. We have to succeed. For him.

Gray, sitting in one of the chairs, must be thinking something similar, because he sighs deeply and runs a hand through his black hair. “We should hold a ceremony to commemorate the dead. When this is over, at least.”

“We will. Carper deserves one.” I pause. “I’m sorry about his death,” I say after a moment.

He’s silent for a second. “He’s at peace now. He deserves that, after everything he’s been through. His past alone was enough to break anyone – at least he’s left that behind now.”

His past. “…How much do you know about his life before the Truth? About his time as a Redeemer?”

Gray falters, looking at me in surprise. “How do you know about him being a Redeemer?”

“I saw his marking. He was part of the Leadership Squadron.”

He hesitates, then nods. “I don’t know everything, but he mentioned having a wife and son.”

“…Can you tell me what you do know?”

“They were both deemed Flawed.” His eyes are on the table, not looking at me. “He must have come to his senses about the nature of the Cleansings after they were sentenced. He tried to run off with them. It…didn’t work. They were both captured and killed. He managed to escape and get out on his own.” He sighed. “After that…I’m not sure. Somehow he established the colony.”

A wife. A son. There was so much about Carper I never knew, will never know. It’s too late to ask now.

Gray looks back at me. “None of it matters now, though. He’s gone.”

Before I can respond, the doors to the Core open. I stand as Elle and Pamela enter, feeling a burst of joy when I see my friend safe and sound.

When Elle steps in, she looks at me with glassy eyes, and I know, instantly, that she heard about Xander. I go to her, wrapping my arms around her small frame and holding her close. She trembles.

I pull away from Elle and turn to Pamela. Dark circles ring her eyes. Her face looks tired, like she’s spent the past twenty-four hours in pure anxiety. Maybe she has. Maybe she was scared for our safety. For mine.

“Did they tell you?” My voice is soft as I ask the question. “…About Darren.”

She answers simply. “Yes.” Her voice sounds pained. “Where is he now?”

“We don’t know exactly.” I step away from Elle, giving her shoulder a light squeeze as I do. “He ran off with the surviving Redeemers. No one’s seen him since – he probably escaped to another Hub.” The coward.

“We have bigger things to think about.” Pamela’s voice takes on a detached, empty tone. It seems forced. I know that she’s probably telling herself to push the pain aside, just like I do so often. Maybe we’re not so different. “We need to focus on shutting ALPHA down. That’s our next step.”

“Right.” I turn to Elle. “We have better tech here, and connections to the Redeemer systems. When can you start working to find out if ALPHA can be accessed from here? I know it’s soon, but we’re running out of time.”

“Now, if you want. Let me get set up.” She pauses, and looks up at me “Can you maybe…maybe stay with me for a while? I don’t want to be alone, not after…” She doesn’t finish, but I know her unspoken words. Xander.

“I’ll stay.”

She gives me a soft, relieved smile. I turn to Pamela and Gray.

“You two should go rest. There’s not much we can do yet.”

“I’d rather stay and guard,” Gray begins, but I cut him off.

“Rest, Gray.” I try for a small smile. “Do I need to make it an order, to get you to listen?”

The corners of his mouth twitch into a smile. He shakes his head. “Fine. Get me if you need anything.”

He leaves, and I look to Pamela. “You too,” I say softly. “You look tired.”

Unlike Gray, my mother doesn’t argue. She simply nods and leaves.

“Okay,” I say to Elle once they’ve both left. “Let’s get started.”

That night, I don’t sleep.

I spent the rest of the day with Elle, helping her try to locate ALPHA’s system. It reminded me of that first rainy day in her room, when this all began. Except then, there were three of us. We were all talking and joking with one another – Xander especially.

Today, it was just me and Elle, sitting in a hollow, painful quiet. Being together just reminded me that Xander is gone – that he should have been there too.

I refused to leave Elle until nightfall. By then, we were both exhausted. I should have fallen asleep the instant I laid on my cot.

But I’ve been lying here for hours, exhausted but unable to rest. Drained but unable to calm myself.

All the emotions and thoughts I’ve managed to keep at bay come slipping back as I lay in the dimness of my room.

I’ve taken a Clikbook and set it to nightlight mode, putting it on the lowest setting and placing it on a table. I stare at the dim pixels, dancing in the air like dust particles. They shine cold, frosty light across the walls. I can’t handle being in the dark yet. It reminds me too much of the gas chamber – and that brings thoughts of Darren.

Darren. Xander. My friend’s face pops into my mind, his eyes empty, blood trickling from his mouth. Just as he was on the ground of the garage, a bullet through his chest. My breath catches at the memory.

I sit up in the cot and press my palms to my eyes, trying to chase the images away. Trying to ignore the stab of pain in my chest whenever I think Xander’s name, trying to forget his eyes looking into mine as they went dim.

I…I can’t handle this.

I get up and stumble to the room’s window. I force it open, letting the crisp night air spill into the room. It’s tinted with the scent of pine. I pull in a shaky breath, squeezing my hands into fists to stop their shaking.

The thoughts numb slightly as the air cools my skin. I lean my head against the pane and close my eyes. I want to cry, but I’m too exhausted, too drained for tears.

Push it away, I tell myself. Push the grief into the back of your mind like always. Worry about it later.

But I know that ‘later’ won’t come. I’ll keep shoving my emotions away for days, months, years, until there’s nothing left to numb. Until I’m empty and hollow.

I grit my teeth, focusing my attention elsewhere.

It’s too early for birds, meaning it’s quiet outside. There are no voices. No songs.

Xander’s words about the birds come back to me. He said people’s lives were like birds’ songs. Once they’re gone, there’s something missing. A quiet emptiness is left behind.

That’s just how I feel now. It’s like he’s taken a part of me with him.

I’m incomplete. Missing pieces. I’m not sure if I’ll ever feel whole again.

I can’t accept that. I must feel whole. I have to push away the pain.

I take in a breath and begin doing just that.

And as I do, I feel myself harden once again.

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