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The shadow peered around the cramped room from underneath a cluttered desk, paying close attention to the movement of the room’s occupants. It had been concealed there for the past hour, watching as more people appeared – each more anxious than the last. They chattered amongst themselves quietly, their eyes darting about the room warily, jumping at any abrupt movements. The shadow wasn’t worried about being found, however, as it wasn’t fully in this world anyway.
Normal shadows cannot think, act, nor feel, and yet, strangely enough, this one did. The easiest way to explain this phenomenon would be to say the shadow was not a shadow at all – rather, it was a person, suspended between two separate worlds. These two worlds were exactly the same, with exactly the same people, in the exactly the same time. The only difference between the two worlds is that Elra Vandrake would enter this one, and disappear from the other. But currently, she half-existed in both worlds – a state called “shadowing.” If someone looked carefully, they might be able to distinguish a faint human figure in the shadow, but wouldn’t think much of it, as the shadow was only a foot wide. Elra barely understood the science behind shadowing, not that she really cared. The only thing that mattered was that she was able to use it effectively to carry out her missions.
“Thud!” The nervous chatter receded instantly, and the small, stuffy room fell into an uneasy silence. Six pairs of eyes shot towards the source of the sound – a small leather pouch had been thrown upon the large oak table in the center of the room by a tall, hard-faced woman, who sported tight black pants, and a long black tailcoat. She had not been in the room seconds before.
Anna crossed her long, muscular arms, and peered emotionlessly at the tense figures before her. They were an experienced lot, and they were her good comrades. The news she was about to tell them would not rest well on their shoulders, or hearts – heck, she felt an empty pit within her, and she’d once been told she was as empathetic as a rock. Anna frowned, and sniffed the stale air. There was something not quite right about this room, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. She was beginning to have doubts about choosing this location for the meeting; she had only agreed to this dump because Johnny assured her it checked out safe. Perhaps she was just being paranoid, but that is what had kept her alive all these years, along with the rest of The Humans.
“I have called you together to inform you of an unfortunate event that has recently taken place.” No one spoke a word; all eyes were fixed intently upon Anna. “We were formed for one sole purpose: to free ourselves from the oppression of the Idealists. Many have questioned our actions – why rebel against a perfect society? A society that is functional, enlightened, and civilized? We have been called savages, scoundrels, and fools. ‘You should be proud to be a citizen of the new age, the age of Transcendence.’ But we were ashamed. Yes, we were ashamed.” Anna paused, making eye contact with each of her twelve companions. “Why? Because the society might have been perfect, but it was a lie to say that it’s people were. This so-called new age was formed by the slaughter of all those who were deemed unworthy of living in it.”
A murmur ran through the crowd – they all knew of the Deletion, where thousands of people were deleted within a span of an hour. A few people clenched their fists, and others muttered cold words. They knew where Anna’s speech was heading, as they had heard variations on it too many times in the past. Anna acknowledged their agitation with a sigh, and said, “Many people were disgusted by this horrific act, but anyone who publicly voiced their disapproval was deleted as well. In defiance, a secret order was created: The Humans.”
“The Humans.” Echoed the listeners, as they ceremoniously touched their forehead with two fingers. Burned upon each of their foreheads was a small red heart – the symbol of The Humans.
“But the Idealists discovered us soon enough,” Anna continued, grimly. “And used their worst technology yet: rewiring. We were tipped off by an inside source, and counter-plans were set into action. But when we were finally able to steal the technology, we were much too late. The universes had been rewired, and the damage could not be reverted." Her gray eyes scanned the room, and locked onto a skinny young man, who couldn't be more than twenty. Aleck met her piercing glance, and shot her a stiff nod. Out of all of his comrades, he was the only one not born into the resistance, and had been rewired at birth, like every other baby born into the Idealist society. Most people cannot be unwired, but Aleck, whom showed early signs of open rebellion, was an exception. The Humans rescued him from being deleted when he was twelve, and successfully converted him back into a normal existence. But it was a normal existence only to the extent that he, as a person, was normal – the universes themselves weren’t.
"But as long as we stand strong to our beliefs,” Anna resumed, “We shall never fall – our order has already survived three generations of this 'new age.' The Idealists fear us. And rightly so!" Anna exclaimed wholeheartedly, despite the nagging doubts that currently tugged at her spirits. She told herself the source of her discontent was the room, as she felt as though she would suffocate from the musty air. But what truly bothered her, though she’d kill herself before she admitted it to anyone, was Jack. She always had a little soft spot for him, and subtle things, such as not yelling at him when he messed up as loudly as she would to others, betrayed this secret.
Jack had many nicknames: lover–boy Jack and little Jackie, just to name a couple, and everyone would agree that he is a sweet, baby-faced pacifist. Not all the rebels liked these qualities; Aleck hated Jack’s guts, and would never pass up an opportunity to display it publicly. This was a one sided rivalry, however, as Jack, who was a few years older than Aleck, bore grudges against no one – he even thought that the Idealists were simply “misguided” in their actions, an idea that Aleck was especially opposed towards.
As he listened to Anna’s speech, Jack trembled uncontrollably, rocking back and forth upon his small feet. His chubby arms hugged his chest tightly, and everyone in the room could hear his shallow, rapid breaths.
“No, no, no, no, no,” he whispered, as he shook his head in disbelief, “I won’t believe it. I can’t.” Horror stricken, his brown eyes searched Anna’s face, and silently pleaded for it to not be true. But he received no solace from her grave, gray eyes, which watched him from underneath her hazel bangs. He suddenly froze up; his freckled face distorted into an expression of deep remorse, and he let out an abrupt groan of agony.
“Jack.” Said the slim, brown haired woman beside him, as she took his smooth, clammy hands into her own, calloused ones. “There is nothing you can do, my sweet, sweet brother. She would not want to see you like this, no she wouldn’t. Please, wipe the tears from your sad eyes. It hurts me to, you know.” She soothed softly, reaching out to brush his shaggy brown hair out of his pale face.
Anna felt extremely awkward as she gazed at the tender scene before her; she was very inexperienced when it came to dealing with others’ emotions. “I’m sorry Jack. She was a good person – a brave, clever, and proud woman. I found this at our rendezvous point.” She opened the leather bag on the table, and pulled out a small, steel case that resembled a knife sheath.
A few people gasped, and others quickly touched the heart symbol on their foreheads. Jack pushed his sister’s arms away, and shrieked wildly to Anna, “You should have sent me, not her! Now she’s deleted, and she’s gone forever. Forever!”
Anna stared into his eyes and said, “She volunteered to go. You did not protest then, so don’t do so now. For our sakes.” Her words were harsh, and she knew it; she cringed inwardly when she saw Jack burst into tears. Aleck was right about one thing: Jack was too sensitive for his own good. She feared Mina’s deletion would slaughter his optimistic temperament for good, as they were to marry next month; the resistance needed all the optimism they could get.
The shadow grinned – it appeared that another rebel dirt had been deleted, which she thought was quite excellent. They were like rats: nasty creatures that infested the worlds, multiplying, and shadowing all over the place, stealing and killing. She liked to think of herself as the exterminator, ridding the worlds of these pests with her handy Deleter.
Elra decided she had waited long enough, and that she had gotten all the information she needed. She remembered the tall, tough woman from the file she had reviewed for this mission – her name was Sergeant Anna Smith. Elra thought that this title was ridiculous, and especially disliked the plainness of Anna’s name.
She grabbed her Deleter from her belt, and slid the steel case off, which she threw across the room. At the same time, Elra leapt out from her hiding spot, brandishing her Deleter like a knife. The response from the rebels was instantaneous: they began to shout commands, and form a protective semi circle behind the table. Elra was still not fully in this world; her shadowy figure floated across the room like a ghost.
“Go, go, go!” Shouted Anna, who reached into her inside coat pocket, pulling out a machine gun, “I’ll cover you!”
The other rebels were already taking out their Shadow-Walkers, and activating them. The transition into shadow-form leaves the shadower unable to move, thus completely defenseless. And they all knew that twelve people attempting to shadow at the same time would cause serious lag of at least thirty seconds. Therefore it was imperative that Anna held off their attacker long enough that she herself could shadow.
Anna followed the shadow with her eyes, trying to lock onto it. Then she remembered that she held a machine gun, not her normal pistol, and decided to just start shooting. Once she pulled the trigger, Anna let it spew out bullets, making sure to aim well away from her comrades. She had no idea how many actually hit the shadow, and she knew that only fifty percent of the bullets that hit it would actually hit it in this world – a perk of shadow-form.
Elra, in fact, had been hit twice in this world: on her left shoulder and her right calf. The bullets stung as they ripped through her clothing and wrenched themselves into her flesh, causing her to recoil in pain. She staggered towards the woman, gritting her teeth as more bullets hit her; she was glad she chose to wear a bulletproof vest today. As she came closer, Elra realized the bullets stopped coming, and smirked. She deactivated her Shadow-Walker, and fully entered the world.
Anna was out of bullets, and only twenty seconds had passed since the others started to shadow. She could see only one option now, and it was an unpleasant one. Her attacker was out of shadow-form and Anna could see that she was a small, hawk-faced female, probably in her early twenties. Anna threw the gun at her, and simultaneously plucked a thin dagger from her belt. But Elra was expecting her attack, and nimbly launched herself at Anna, smacking the gun out of her way.
The next few seconds were a blur to Anna, who desperately tried to fend her assailant off, keeping her from coming closer. It was not going well for her though, as her puny dagger had very little range. Anna decided to take a risk and attempted to swipe Elra’s neck, but she ducked, and Anna felt something hard jab her in the abdomen. And then she felt nothing.
Elra let out a childish giggle as she watched the woman fade from existence. She was vaguely aware of blood trickling down her arms and legs, soaking her clothing in a sickly red coat. She let the Deleter drop from her hand, and swayed a bit on her feet. Then she crumbled to the floor, knowing that she would live on in another world, while this woman wouldn’t. Elra closed her eyes, smiled, and filled her lungs with one last breath.