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Escape to Wherever There Was (Chapter 1-4)

Chapter 1-


They always told me that someday it would be gone, that everyone would come to their senses and come to face the fact that they had to change their dirty habits or everyone would die. And I had to hand it to them, they were doing well with convincing society to go green—but then the Spacers found the new world, and businessman threw away any worries of pollution, giving out any product they could make a profit on.


It was probably too late anyway, but the mistakes were taking toll. The sales were great, people rushing for every new scam in desperate hope to cure the outbreaks of disease, and pollution became a major problem. They started trying to vacuum the streets, but parasites ST86 and HS57 were everywhere, and workers running the large vacuum trucks with cabs that were supposedly guaranteed to keep diseases out were getting sick too frequently, and the companies running the vacuums had to call off the mission. So pollution was inevitable and getting worse each second. There weren’t any plants growing wild anymore, only weak trees in the Nurture facilities, so oxygen was growing scarce, too.


And oh, the disease. I felt awful every morning riding the Cleansed People's bus, driving through empty streets blocked off to the sickened public, who were always carrying the viruses because they couldn't afford the injections or didn’t have what my family did. Our family was lucky. My grandmother had been called mad, and people had laughed at her for saving all the herbs before the Sweep began, but now we were the ones laughing, immune day-by-day with Grandmother's remedies. Not really laughing, of course. Being filthy rich meant you could stay alive, but to me it was also a reminder that not everyone was as lucky as you, and I felt I was obligated to mourn for those who weren't, and hope for them, because most had given up.


The others on the Cleansed People's bus consisted of celebrity descendants, a few here even heirs of royalty, democratic rulers, or dictators. As if that sort of power mattered. Being royal back before the Sweep may have gotten you endless riches and fancy delicacies, luxurious items of the high life, but now it only got you an extra piece of toast at the bakery, minus the butter, and that was only on lucky days for even the most flirtatious people.


So then there were the streets, where poor, diseased beggars suffering from virus HS57 were starving, dying slowly and painfully from the inside out, while we sat peacefully on the Cleansed People's bus. It made me sick to watch the upper-class citizens smalltalk to each other as if life were normal. And there was always this concern, this lurking fear between me and the other rich children on the bus, that somehow the disease would get to us. I wasn't as scared, because frankly, I trusted Grandmum's remedies more than the injections the stupid government gave the other high-class and “important” citizens, but the idea was still frightening.


Ha, the government. Where were they when we needed them? Sipping cider and tea in comfy, spinny office chairs whilst watching our doom? No, Grandmother always said that they were working with the Spacers at the moon to build the ultimate starship to get the Cleansed out of this sick world. I didn’t believe that, and it was probably the only thing I didn’t believe that came out of Grandmum's mouth. I just wasn’t sure bout the Spacers and the government.


I was watching a Spacers newscast as all these thoughts slugged through my mind, my eyes dull and bored as I sat back in my seat. Louis, sitting next to me, was very much the opposite—leaning forward, obviously intrigued. I snorted loudly.


“Hush, Skylar, they're talking about the estimated dates for lift-off, you should listen, this is important,” he complained in that British accent I liked a lot because it reminded me of Dad. Louis was my brother, also a real pain in the neck. Well, okay, so he wasn’t really my brother, but he might as well have been. From a young age my cousin Louis Tekile had moved in with us: me, Grandmum and my mum. That was when I was just three and he was seven, after his parents had been hit hard after the last wave of the Sweep. I've known him ever since I can remember, and he was always just sort of classified as my older brother, in my head.


He was a tall, muscular, slightly-old school kid with his iPhone 6s and quiffed hair. He was funny and charming, and all the kids and adults at the ISC, or Institute for Cleansed Students, liked him a lot. It wasn’t hard for him to get a room laughing, and he was a pro at the football team; he was always making goals, passing, and dribbling better than anyone else. I liked his stories that he used to tell me, too. Even now I would beg him to tell me more, though time was scarce these days and he usually didn’t have much of it before he'd have to run off to do errands or ISC work. Since he turned eighteen, he really hadn't had much time to do things that had to do with me, though he tried his best to be my brother. No matter what, he'll always be my brother.


“You and your obsession with Spacers,” I chuckled quietly, shaking my head before getting off the couch to head up to my room.


“Sky, you aren’t going to road again, are you?” Mum glanced over at me with a roll of her eyes. I felt pang of distress and annoyance, but I just shrugged, continuing along my way and leaving the two behind in the living room.


I padded silently to the staircase and swiftly ascended, two at a time like I was being followed. At the top I flattened against the wall, holding my finger-gun at ready and clicking my tongue as to imagine the sounds of shots ringing up the stairs after me. I rolled along the wall to my room, where I dove inside and sprawled across my floor as my gun was kicked aside by an angry group of ambushers.


“You'll never take me alive,” I spat at the dark-haired man standing over me, and he was about to answer in relishing approval of my defeat, but then my cat leaped off the sunny windowsill and trotted over to lay on my stomach, demolishing the existence of my imaginary scenario.


“Agh, Prada,” I complained, scratching my cat behind the ears in annoyance. She purred, her eyes sliding shut lazily as her tail flicked back and forth. “...Must you always insist on ruining my daydreams?”


I lay there for a while in thought, clicking on the stereo in the corner with my toe. I liked the old music that Louis listened to, the music from the beginning of the twenty-first century, and Mum called me crazy for it. But what did I care what she thought? She was the one who destroyed our family. As soon as I was old enough, which I couldn’t wait for, I would run off to join the Naturalists or something, and never have anything to do with her again. I would keep in touch with Lou and Grandmother, but not her. Never her.


I bit my lip, lifting Prada off my stomach and rolling over to prop my feet in the air, swinging them back and forth. “Prada, what's the new planet like?” I decided to make a way that she couldn’t ruin my fantasy, this time.


The cat mewled pleadingly, pawing at my hand.


“Serious? How?” I leaned towards her with my eyebrows raised. “Is it like Earth? Are there natives? Can we go now? How long does it take to get there? Are things the same as Old Earth?” I buried her in questions, grinning a little at how ridiculous I must have looked. Prada just kneaded the edge of the rug I was lying on, her tail swishing elegantly across the hardwood floor of my bedroom. I nodded slowly. “...Classified. I see. But could you tell me just one thi—”


“Talking to the cat again?” Grandmother chuckled behind me. I rolled over to see the thin old lady with her pretty silver hair tired up, her velvet dress dragging pleasantly behind her as her eyes crinkled at the hint of smile.


“Grandmummy, you're home early,” I smiled broadly, jumping to my feet and hurrying to kiss both her cheeks.


“Indeed I am. I just wanted to talk to you and Louis about tomorrow, since the office let me off early,” she smiled warmly as I pulled away.


“Tomorrow?”


“Darling, don't you know?” She looked suddenly troubled. “I thought Louis and Helen told you.”


“No, I, uh, what?” I stuttered, and I saw my brow knitted in the reflection of her glasses, so I made my face slacken and rid of worry, trying to look interested. “What did Lou and Mum not tell me about?”


“I did tell you, you were just too busy with those ideas of yours that you didn’t notice,” Louis sauntered up behind Grandmother with a small grin.


I stuck my tongue out at him, and he and Grandmother laughed weakly. I smiled gain. “Oh, fine, but what is it?”


“Lift-off dates,” Louis supplied, and Grandmum nodded with wince.


“Oh, yeah, the Spacer's deal,” I waved my hand nonchalantly, but realisation was dawning on me in a rude sense. “What about it? You're not interested in joining the Spacers again, are you, Lou?” I teased.


“No,” he answered, and the humour of the moment was murdered. He'd said it so flat... he must have been joking.


“Skylar, it's not as much as joining the spacers as it is using their help,” Grandmother pursed her lips, which told me she was choosing her words carefully.


My smile faded, and I suddenly knew why they weren’t exactly joyful. “...What?” I blinked at Grandmother incredulously, taking a step back.

“...Grandmum, we're not... going... are we?” My expression couldn’t have been anything other than disgust. We would not go to the new planet. Never. I didn't trust the Spacers or the government, if I haven’t made that clear, and they were involved in the business of colonising the BNW, the Brand New World. I was not about to let my family get on one of their ships to set off to a planet I couldn’t be sure wasn’t dangerous or just another money-making scam.


“Skylar, it's not the planet that we're going to, but somewhere else,” Louis tried to reach out to touch my shoulder, but Grandmother lightly brushed his arm with a shake of her head, and he lowered his hand.


I relaxed, but only a little. I loved my home, and I didn’t want to leave for just anything. “Okay, so where?” This couldn’t be too bad. Nothing could be worse that the new planet or the streets, and I knew for certain we would never go to the streets. So why were they making such a big deal of telling me where we were going?


“Skylar,” Grandmum sighed, looking at me, troubled still. “We're... we're sneaking away, let's say. We can't stay.”


I frowned. “Why?”


“Hey, there'll be really fine—” Louis began, but I silenced him with the repeated question, putting demand into my tone as panic inched into my gut and through my nervous system.


“Why?”


Mum floated up behind Louis, looking outraged. “Pack your things. We've got to evacuate before HS93 makes its way down our street.”


I stood there, staring at my mum with a scowl. HS93 was a myth.


...So then what was this?



Chapter 2-

I shoved my suitcase into the trunk, whirling angrily back towards the house for our last meal as a family, screaming obscene things that would have gotten me expelled from the ISC.


“Skylar...” Louis tried when I swung through the open door, stomping my way past him into the kitchen while letting sobs shake my chest.


“Why? Why is this happening?” I demanded of our mute cook, Angela, who had a pot of boiling noodles going.


She looked at me sadly, her lack of speech telling me all the sorry's she'd never say to me.


“I know, I know, don’t feel bad, I just...” I burst into another round of tears, slamming my fist into the wall as I grabbed a package of dried fruit and herbs off the counter.


“Sky,” Mum tried to comfort me as she strode in, making to give me a hug, but I ducked under her arms with a glare of distaste, flitting out of the kitchen and running down the hall to the library with quick feet. Oh, so now she was here for me? Well.


I collapsed into a ball, sobbing. If I was never going to come back to this place, I was going to stuff my shirt with books and see how mum took my angular gaining of weight when I came out to eat dinner. And I would take all the books with me to the car, where we'd drive away and I'd at least have a piece of home left with me after we were separated at the Demos Mortem...


I thought of these things as I lie on the floor next to the old armchair, sobbing and hugging my knees, feeling absolutely sorry for myself and the situation I was being thrown into. Where the heck was Old London, anyway? I'd heard of it in an Old World book I'd read, but I just sort of thought it was one of the Golden Cities that hadn’t been punched so hard by the Sweep. There was what, ten or fifteen of them? Too hard to remember each of them, but they all seemed to have 'Old' in front of their names. Old Tokyo, Old Vegas, Old New York, Old Moscow, Old Rio de Something-or-other... they were all the same to me. I lived in Old Vancouver, and I was perfectly fine with not leaving. I didn't want to go to the stupid 'Demos Mortem' in Old London, where I'd be separated from Grandmother and Lou. I didn’t want to have a job assigned to me when I got there, I didn’t want to work in the streets of the city. I didn’t want to evacuate for HS93. What if it just killed us here, in our beautiful home that had been immune to the Sweep? I trusted Grandmum's remedies enough to keep us safe from that, too, though she had little faith in it herself. Let us just stay.


But of course not. We had to board a Spacer-built craft that I’d never been on and never seen but already hated, then fly to a city I'd never been in and never seen but already hated, where I'd be forced to work on a street I'd never been to and never seen but already hated, having to wear this stupid surgical mask I'd never worn, and I'd seen those, and I knew I hated them. But Old London was more disinfected than here, and that's why we had to leave everything behind and go to the port to board our designated flights.

This was just great. I'm in love with my new life already.



?????????????????????????


I shuffled towards my flight's boarding doc, following the green arrows on the floor that would point me to a Spacer who would lead me to my shuttle. The hallway was narrow, and there were few people other than the workers occupying its plain white walls and floors, but I still felt nervous without Grandmother or Louis there with me amongst these strangers. Spacers flitted about in their ugly bright yellow uniforms, pressing assorted buttons and flicking various switches in their designated working spaces lining the hallway. Suspended screens flickered in and out of view, and most of them were adds, but the ones behind the Spacer's control stations were riddled with information and calculations.


I sighed, staring down at my new shoes. Well, they weren't new, exactly, but to me they were. Grandmother had shuffled through her closet before we left, and as we were pulling out of our driveway(with Louis driving, since he was the only one who remembered how), she had presented the vintage shoes to me. They were black and white... what did she call them? Converse? And she had them when she was my age. I liked them, but I had a point to prove, so I wouldn’t admit it out loud.


The car had been mostly filled with herb provisions, and mum had warned that we had to become perfectly sanitary with everything in Old London, because she wasn't sure Grandmum's home-made medicines would keep us safe from HS93. This was the worst parasite discovered... ever.


There were three common dangerous bugs out there, now: HS93, HS57, and ST86. HS57 was the bug that made your insides eat themselves out and turned your hair and nails into these blackish scabs. Your eyes would shrivel until you went blind, but usually you wouldn't notice your lack of sight, because you'd already be too insane, in too much pain when your nervous system was consuming itself. ST86 was similar, but the opposite. Instead of your insides eating themselves, your outsides would eat themselves in. The bug made your skin devour itself, and then it would move on to demolish your insides. I'd have rather had this disease, because those who contracted it tended to die more quickly from blood loss through thinned-out, easily-broken skin. Your heart fails from fluid loss, and you're dead before the bug eats all your flesh out. Viola.


And then there was HS93. The disease everyone classified before it was real. Which apparently, it now was. It was supposed to give you the stomach flu and a cough and everything, then it would attack this one part of your brain to make you go insane and lose your sense of... well, everything. Victims who'd already lost sanity would take large chunks of any fresh flesh around, even if it was alive, and they would eat their own flesh if it wasn't already in thick, crispy scabs that the disease enforced. The parasite was passed through physical contact, in most cases, so when victims were out looking for flesh with their crazed, frazzled, and insensible minds, they would bite someone in hope of satisfying their thirst for hot blood and muscle, and whoever was bit would catch the disease if they weren’t first eaten alive. The disease spread in this horrifying way. Grandmum called it the zombie disease, and on the ride to the loading docs, she was freaking me out by muttering bout the Zombie Apocalypse or something. I'd never seen her act like that, and when I asked her to stop, she just gave me this really sad look and shook her head, grabbing my hand.


And I'd still rather be home than heading to Old London.


“Miss,” a man cleared his throat in front of me. I looked up from my shoes, a little startled. He was tall with that awful yellow jumpsuit that workers wore and a handlebar mustache that made me want to laugh.


“Yeah?” I bit my tongue, curling my toes inside my shoes.


“Skylar Tekile, correct?”


Duh.


“Yeah?” I swallowed.


“Miss, come this way for your flight, please,” he said ecstatically, sounding like he was just as excited as Lou would be in his position. I followed him reluctantly down a row of suspended screens through the hall to an escalator that led up to a port for various crafts.


When I first saw the place, I had to admit, I was impressed. I could finally understand Lou's obsession. Sort of.


The room was huge, sort of garage-like, directly in the center of the entire Spacer station. It was bigger than the supermarket that I'd visited once with Lou, even. There were numerous hangers with different aircrafts perching near a vast glass window that slid open and closed as flights came and went. Down a little further was a sort of deep pool with underwater traveling units peppering its surface. Yellow jumpsuits jogged around everywhere, working on this and that and fixing whatever needed to be fixed. There were red jumpsuits on men who were calling orders to the men in yellow jumpsuits, and I figured that those were the captains that Louis talked about so much.


The man leading me to my flight was being given instructions by one of these men, so we paused, and I glanced around, looking at the other hallways leading into this spherical room, my gaze in search of Louis or Grandmum.


That was another reason I hated this entire setup. We all had to be separated for our flights, then in Old London we would reunite for a few minutes before they told us where to go to a group in the Demos Mortem, based on our age. I would have to get a street job in my group because I was fifteen, and fifteen year-olds had to labour in the streets, Lou had told me. The more I learned about it, the less I liked it.


Not to mention I'd have to bunk with kids from the city I didn't even know. This was bad because I was terrible at meeting people and getting them to like me. The only friends that I'd ever made hadn't lasted very long, or were inside family relations, or ended up backstabbing me. Go figure. Only the rich kids on the bus would ever talk to me, and I think that's only because I made friends with them back when I liked making friends, back when I was younger and had no idea that real people were never as wonderful as book characters.


Oh, and speaking of friends, why hadn't Louis told me he'd been to Old London before? I'd wondered where he'd come from before he came to us, but I never wanted to ask him in fear of reminding him of his parents. My own brother was from London and I hadn’t even known it until the day we left for the blasted city. I was really having doubts with my family. Doubts I didn't like. First mum, then Grandmother throwing Old London at me, now Louis just now revealing more about him I'd never known.


“I'm sorry, Sky!” he'd said in the car on the way here. “I thought you knew!”


I'd snorted and turned way to stare out the window, immediately feeling a billion times worse when I caught glimpse of houses taken by the Sweep outside. Bodies were still lying in the yard, since no one dared to take the chance of catching those diseases again. How many years had it been?


So maybe the ride to the station had been discouraging, but I'd seen worse things. I'd quickly forgotten about it as we drove on.


“Miss?” the yellow jumpsuit asked me again. I jumped, snapping out of another reverie and looking at him.


“Yes?”


“Skylar, I'm going to show you to your flight now. Ready?”


Ready as I'll ever be, I thought. I showed him my suit case, and he nodded as he took it from my grasp. Gentlemanly jumpsuit.


Then we continued on.



Chapter 3-

The flight to old London was actually quite fantastic. I got to eat these little pink snacks called shrimp, and the attendants also gave me cubed melon that was real and not from a can. They offered me some fizzy, bubbly water, too, but I declined, suspicious of the stuff. Then I sat and read the rest of the time with earphones in my ears, which were hooked up to this little player they had for each seat containing every song in the history of ever on it. It was the coolest thing. There were twenty or so other people enjoying the ride with me, but they were mostly business men and I wouldn't let myself make eye contact with any of them. Never trusted them, never will.


I didn't want to get off the craft when we arrived, but as I waited in the Cleansed's public area for the rest of my family to arrive off their own flights, I was singing a mash-up that my brain had made of all my favourite songs, and I wasn’t even mad that I'd left a book on the plane by accident. I just sat at a lounge table, drawing, with my suitcase at my feet.


I carved a line onto the paper, blinking pleasantly at my work, and I was about to add more when a hand touched my shoulder.


I jumped, looking up.


He was a frighteningly smiley man with a short pedophile mustache and rather tight trousers the colour of faded fire hydrant, wearing a bright pink polo under his bald head to top off his ridiculous look, and immediately I knew I didn't like him.


“Hello, dearie,” he chirped, winking with a robotic motion, and I resisted the sudden urge to cringe.


Ew. Did he just wink at me?


“Um... can I help you?” I swallowed, feeling nervous. Where was Louis? Grandmother? I'd heard of kidnapping, but I didn't want to experience it.


“Did you have a nice flight?” he ignored my question and held up a clipboard I hadn't noticed at first glance.


“Yes...” I answered slowly, scooting back as he stepped closer and scribbled something down with his finger onto his clipboard.


“Your name is Skylar, correct?”


It occurred to me that everyone seemed to know my name. I thought about lying, but I eventually just nodded.


“And you will be attending the Demos Mortem?”


Another nod.


I spotted Louis grabbing his bag from the baggage claim, and I waved to him, trying to look calm, even though the man—who I realised smelled like bad cologne—was inching closer and flicking his wide brown eyes up at me every so often. But Louis didn't see me. I swallowed.


The smiling man wrote a few more things as I sat there awkwardly, readying myself to run for it if need be, but after a moment he folded his arms and nodded, tucking the clipboard under his arm as he stuck out his hand.


“Thank you, Skylar. I can't wait to get to know you and your three relations in the Demos Mortem.”


I knew that I didn't really want to get to know him, but all I could think about was his use of grammar.


It's relatives, not relations. My grandmother is a relative, not a relation. Weirdo.


I didn't shake his hand, and he sat there blinking at me for a moment before nodding and turning to quickly stride away. I watched him speed-walk around the corner, feeling queasy.


What was that about?


“Skylaaaaar,” Louis sang as he pranced towards me, his backpack bouncing on his shoulder as he swung down beside me with a grin.


I tore my eyes from the corner to look at him with a smile, waving the incident from my mind for the time being, and we both spoke at once, excitement practically vibrating through the air.


“How was your flight?”


“Absolutely perfect,” he answered. “Did you get to visit the pilot's cove?”


“No, but did you get an infinite jukebox?” I grinned, trying to match his smile.


He grinned wider, and it was suddenly a contest. “No, but did you get to drive the plane for exactly five point eight seconds?”


“No, but were you served delicious foreign foods?” I broadened my smile.


“No, but did you get told you had great potential to work withing the works?”


“No, but... hey, what are the works?” I cocked my head in curiosity, forgetting to grin wider.


He chuckled, propping his feet up on a neighbouring chair and shaking his head, glancing around before pulling out his phone. “Tell you later. Gonna text the gang, let 'em know I'm home.”


I shrugged, going back to my drawing. He was referring to his old group of friends, which I figured I would meet soon.


Shortly, Mum and Grandmother had joined us, and each of us shared our ecstatic tales of each of our trips here.


Mum breathed airily, smiling brighter than I'd seen in a while. “Ready for the Demos Mortem, now?”


Everyone drooped a bit. Nobody said anything for a moment.


We all sort of shuffled into a hug, having a silent goodbye, before drawing away and picking up the happy chatter and our suitcases, continuing through London's spaceport to get outside onto the streets.


I was given a surgical mask as we stepped out into the Old London air for the first time, and Lou showed me how to put it on before we all boarded a red bus with two floors. Louis told me it was a “double decker” before the Sweep. It was cool, and I wouldn't admit it, but I was liking the city. There was a large shut down Ferris wheel, a grand bridge, and a clock tower. I'd never really seen any other places besides Old Vancouver, and even in my home city I hadn't seen much other than the main route we took to school and the market and things like that.


We rode a while to an old bus stop station, where men in dark blue uniforms ushered us along through thick crowds to a large skyscraper. I was wondering if that smiley man would be here to greet us, and that made me want to be out of the situation even more. Who was that guy?


I opened my mouth to tell my brother about the man, but he nudged me suddenly.


“Welcome to the Demos Mortem,” Lou whispered in my ear, putting a hand on my shoulder, and I closed my mouth and gave him a small smile before returning my gaze to the building.


The skyscraper was large, mostly made of concrete and steel, with huge glass doors trimmed with silver for an entrance. Windows scattered its walls in reflective arrays tilted towards the ground, mirroring the movement down on the street. It was grand, seemingly nice and without secrets. I swallowed, a pang of nervousness suddenly striking me. This place looked dangerously welcoming.


Louis' hand patted my shoulder, and I turned to smile hopefully at Grandmother, nodding to my mum and exchanging a knowing glance with Lou. Then we all shuffled forward to the entrance of the building, and I tried to pay no attention at all to the uniformed guards flanking us from each side. We were about to enter, and I was as ready as I'd ever be to step out of the comfort of my original life, I guessed.


But a hand stopped Louis.


“Hey, you can't do that,” one of the dark-clothed authorities snapped at whoever had grabbed Lou's shoulder.


I stopped, turning worriedly. Grandmother looked suddenly terrified, trying to push me towards the doors. “Skylar, go,” she hissed in my ear, shoving me and my mother inside as Louis was dragged to the side by the authorities and the one who had grabbed him.


“But—Lou—“ I began, whirling back around and ducking under Grandmother's arm.


“Skylar! Please!” She pleaded, but I dashed back outside with my suitcase in tow, almost running into the person beside Louis. I gasped, looking up.


My heart stopped.


He was gorgeous. I'd run into some pretty attractive book characters in the pages of books, but that boy standing in front of me...


“Lyle?” Louis sounded surprised, blinking up at the boy, who stood several inches taller than him. He had dark, curly hair, green eyes, and his jawline was sharper than the Space Needle. I think. I'd never seen the Space Needle.


“Hello, Lou,” the boy grinned, flicking his hair arrogantly. “Where'd you pick up this pretty face?” he winked at me.


“Hi. Yeah, hands off, she's my sister,” Louis looked mildly annoyed. I reddened, racking my brain for a smart comment. What would Will Herondale say?


“Glad I caught you before you went in there,” Lyle continued as if he hadn’t heard Lou.


Louis' eyes flashed with an emotion I didn't recognise, and Lyle's grin faded. “I told you,” my brother said, “I can change their minds.”


“You honestly still believe that?” the boy furrowed his brow in sudden concern. “Look at what they did to—”


“Hey! Get away from him, street rat!” and officer had begun to advance on us, marching angrily towards Lyle.


“Oh, hello, officer!” he turned to grin to the authorized man with a generous smile before looking back at Lou and I, lowering his voice. “Louis, it's now or never. I'll buy you some time, but...”


Louis looked suddenly worried, glancing at me before looking back at the boy. “Lyle, are you sure?”


“Yeah, Sam and I have been spying,” Lyle's expression turned grave for a split moment before he whirled to the officer and picked up a haughty gait, opening his arms to the man. “How long has it been, my friend?”


The blue-clothed man looked confused for a second.


That gave Louis the time to grab both my shoulders and stare me directly in the eye. “Skylar,” he said slowly. “...do you want to live for sure?”


I gaped at him, sudden fear creeping into my chest. Live? This was life or death? What did he know that I didn't about what was going on?


I nodded.


He nodded, too, then dragged me after himself as he took off down the street. I gasped, clinging to his wrist, clutching my suitcase desperately. He'd slung his backpack over his shoulder, having brought no where near as many things as I did, so he wasn’t thinking about having to haul something as he ran. I fought to keep up with my large suitcase in tow, stumbling over a curb as he dragged me across an intersection.


I whipped my head around to look back for Lyle before we disappeared. He was in a choke hold, and the officer looked outraged, pulling out a gun to aim at his temple. Lyle spotted the weapon with a quick, calm gaze, and I watched in awe as he slithered out of the guard's grasp and flipped out a pocket knife, jamming it into the arm that was pointing the gun. A shot sounded, and Louis suddenly stopped, turning quickly.


“Lyle?” he called, panicked.


The boy was fine, even grinning as he jerked the bloodied knife back and snatched the gun from the pained officer, who had collapsed to his knees in agony. Lyle leaped over the man and sprinted in the opposite direction of us, throwing back a thumbs-up to let us know he was okay before he disappeared.


Louis let out a breath, but his relief was short-lived, for the other officers had spotted us.


“C'mon,” Louis growled under his breath, tugging on my arm as a dark blue-clothed man pointed at us and began to advance. I nodded, my eyes scanning the doorway to the Demos Mortem one last time before we were going to take off again.


I shouldn't have looked. Anger swelled up in my throat, and I felt grief strike me. Grandmother and Mum were gone. And I had to go. I had to abandon them minutes after reaching the Demos Mortem, and from the previous conversation I'd watched my brother converse in, the Demos Mortem was a dangerous place.


I knew Old London would be awful.


?????????????????????????



Louis and I huddled together inside a grimy red telephone booth. I shivered as I stared out at pedestrians passing, most wearing surgical masks like the one Lou had shoved over my mouth. My mind kept wandering, but it always stopped back onto one thing—Lyle.


Where had he gone after he ran from the officer? Who was he? How much did he know about Louis and I? How much did he want to know about me? How much did I want to know about him?


It was an irritating business, picturing him and his violent ways with that amazingly attractive appearance. Could I trust him? He must have been a part of Louis' gang. I wasn't sure if I wanted to meet the rest of it, if that's what one member was like.


Louis jammed coins into the designated slots, his hands shaking as he dialed a number I didn't recognise.


“Who are you calling?” I asked, watching his trembling fingers warily. He wasn't shaken easily.


“Sam,” He answered, swallowing and turning so I couldn't see his face.


“...One of your friends in the city?” I bit my lip. His unnerving behaviour was worrying me even worse.


“Yeah,” he mumbled, but then the line picked up. “Hi! Sam! Yes, ah... Yeah. We ran into Lyle,” his tone turned darker, and goosebumps rose on my arms. “Yeah. He convinced me. We're—my sister and I—we're safe, for now.”


For now. I swallowed unsteadily.


“Anyway, can you pick us up? Or... oh, you're up there. I see. Alright. Be up in a minute.... also, warn the others that I have my sister with me,” he paused as Sam answered, then laughed. “...Okay. See ya.”


He put the phone back up and turned to me, the calm in his eyes really showing through. I raised my eyebrows quizzically, feeling queasy. He wasn't as scared, after talking to his buddy, but I couldn't shake the feeling that something was going horribly wrong.


“They're excited to meet you,” He said with a small smile.


My stomach churned, and I couldn't tell if it was from nervousness or excitement.



Chapter 4-


So, Sam wasn't a boy.


Samantha was a girl from Old London, part of a group of people that were formed in the city by Lou and Sam themselves, and though they were children when they were brought together, they seemed to take the gang very seriously. Though their residence was atop a ta tall building used for drying laundry in a shack that served the members shelter in bad weather, they dealt with each other as if army mates, yet still acted like best friends. I found it slightly humourous that Louis had a friends like them, especially Sam. Well, I mean, of course he'd had friends that were girls, but none like her.


She was tall and muscly, yet thin with model-status features. Half her head was shaved, and the hair she did have cascaded in rough but beautiful layers down one shoulder. Her ears had several piercings, and her grungy hipster style said everything her attitude didn't.


“You must be Skylar,” she'd snapped right off the bat, glancing me up and down with a disapproving stare. But then she had smiled, as though she'd changed her mind, and stuck a hand out to me. I shook it carefully, feeling her long fingers curl around my hand firmly. She'd relaxed, gazing lazily with her calculated brown eyes, and I could tell that she knew what she was doing and that she knew that I knew what she was doing. She was calculated, but laid back. I thought I liked her, but I wasn't sure yet.


And then she'd turned to Lou and morphed into some sort of bubbly, sweet girl, smothering him in a hug and bursting into chatter about things in London I didn't understand.


The others were interesting as well. There was Trent, a tall, shy boy with very large muscles; Miller, a quick, witty girl who was obviously into dance and literature; Blake, a spontaneous blond kid with a carefree attitude that made you forget he wasn't really your best friend; and Kate, sister to Blake, also blond, and a daredevil with a bright personality. And lastly, there was Lyle, the boy who'd distracted the officer so Lou and I could get away. He hadn't returned yet, but no one was concerned, so I assumed he'd disappeared before.


I thought I liked them and their hide out, but my mind was too focused on Grandmum to really decide.


Grandmum. I'd just left her, without a second glance. I kept suffering waves of guilt, and I suddenly wanted my cat and my books more than anything in the world. Unfortunately, my cat was gone, and I was way too exhausted to rummage through my suitcase for any reads.


Lou was conversing with his old friends again, and they were taking on a more serious note. I tuned in from where I sat on an empty crate against the shack wall, my eyes wandering from face to face where they were circled just in front of me.


“...Lou, we've been surveying victims for the passed year,” it was Miller. “We're certain of it. Whatever's happening to their subjects isn't a good thing.”


“But Mil,” argued Lou. “With my grandmum and her ideas–”


“Lou, you know it's hopeless,” Trent sighed sadly. “We don't know what exactly they're planning, but Sammie's had ideas.”


Sam nodded, grimacing as her gaze flicked to Lou. “Sorry, kid. But they won't spare your mum and grandmum for that little a deal. They should be gone within a week.”


Louis sighed as if expecting this answer, rubbing his eyes. “...Agh, I know...”


I sighed, scuffling my feet and yawning. Sammie had shown me inside the shack when we'd arrived, pointing out where Lou and I could sleep when we got tired. It was getting later, darkness just settling in, and Blake was helping his sister to light a fire in the middle of the group's circle. I could feel myself getting really drowsy from what Blake had described as “jet lag”, and my borrowed bunk was in good condition. Perhaps I would sleep soon.


My fingers played pointlessly with the straps on the surgical mask I'd taken off, and my brain started to wander as I began to form my own thoughts about what I'd gathered from the group so far.


So these kids and Lou knew something I didn't about the Demos Mortem. From the sound of it, something unthinkable and horrifying could happen to my grandmum and mum soon. And Lou had been so scared. I felt my gut twist as I tried to think what could be so terrible to make even Louis act so solemn, then laughed quietly at the remembrance that he was rarely serious, then bit my tongue and scolded myself for thinking it was funny. This was serious. I shouldn't laugh at the fact that—


“Something funny?” The words curled softly near my left ear, and I jumped, gasping as I snapped my gaze up to find a pair of sea-green eyes staring down at me.


Lyle.


I bit my tongue, scooting back from the boy who was merely inches away. “Oh. It's you.”


“Didn't mean to frighten you, Louis' Sister,” he cracked a small smile, and he was almost smirking, but something made me decide that if I was writing about this moment that it would not be a smirk on his face, rather a small and somewhat shy smile. “What was your name, again?” he asked as he sat beside me on a neighbouring crate.


I glanced at the others. They'd noticed his return, and Trent gave a little salute to acknowledge him, but they were too enveloped in discussion to pay much attention. I peeled my tongue back from my teeth and forced myself to look at him, speaking cautiously. “Skylar.”


“Right, Skylar,” he grinned. “Sorry about the gruesome little episode you had to witness earlier; bet you didn't have to see much of that back where you're from, now, did you?”


I was about to ask him what 'episode' he meant, but then I remembered the knife being plunged deep into the officer's forearm. “Oh. Yeah.”


He wet his lips, still staring straight into my eyes. It was making me uncomfortable, though his eyes were actually quite nice to look at. And I couldn't look away first, that would be passive and weak.


“I'm Lyle, by the way,” He said.


I only nodded, clawing through my brain to find something a witty book character might say. A second too late, I realised I was staring at him thoughtfully, and his small smile was back, though this time I might've classified it as a smirk.


“So, I'm guessing you've never seen much of London?” He asked, raising a brow.


“No, but I'm guessing you don't know Old Vancouver like the back of your hand?” I answered, flipping the question into a challenge, narrowing my eyes. It was a trick I'd learned from a book somewhere, to dance around a subject and frustrate them with anything but a straight answer.


“Alright, we both have our cities, but the point is that you can't show me around yours tomorrow, while it'd be only polite if I showed you mine,” he countered.


“What are you saying?”


“I think you know, but I'll give you five guesses at it.” Now it was truly a smirk.


“I don't need five. You're being suggestive, why would I need to try to–”


“Incorrect. Four guesses remaining.”


“Lyle, is it really necessary—”


“Incorrect. Three guesses remaining.”


“What if I don't—”


“Incorrect, two guesses remaining.”


I stared at him, suddenly annoyed. “No.”


“Incorr– wait, no?”


“No,” I nodded, feeling suddenly foolish and exposed. He knew what he was doing, just like Samantha. Maybe it was an Old London street rat thing.


“But... why?” he asked, cocking his head and frowning, as if he couldn’t possibly imagine why anyone wouldn’t want to hang out with him all day.


“I don't care for London,” I said, not caring how rude I sounded. “And I don't care for you. Goodnight.” I scowled, cutting off his flirtatious streak as I leaped to my feet and stormed around the side of the shack, bursting through the door and slamming it shut behind myself.


I dove onto the bunk Sammie had told me could be mine, heaving an exhausted sigh.


Why was the boy messing with me? So many questions, such strange circumstances...


And perhaps such little time.




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