Sirens greeted the group with each corner they passed. White linoleum and white plaster walls with red flashing lights stretched forward and around as they maneuvered through the building. Apparently, finding an exit was easier said than actually done, and it was evident that everyone was at their limit. From all the excitement from surviving the jungle to cave, it was another to be completely submerged in enemy territory. Earlier, they had passed multiple guards and scientists knocked out, unconscious, or dead by the holding cells.
Aden explained that while the warden’s guards were giving him a warm welcome with their fists, he had managed to escape and set off the bombs. It was easier to understand how he did it when he pulled out a laser pocketknife, created again by Olivia, from his pocket.
Around the time he finished explaining, Charlotte stopped walking down the white halls and burst into tears. The thoughts of Charie dying in some unknown way weighed heavily in her mind. Cesium nuzzled its head into the crook of her arm, trying to comfort her despite just being woken up.
“Charie . . .” Xavier remarked and pinched the bridge of his nose. He wasn’t good at handling girls when they cried. “I’m sorry, okay? I know all of this is hard to comprehend. I can’t even begin to fathom what we’ve all been through. It’s too surreal.”
Damien moved over to Charlotte’s side and beckoned the awakened Cesium over to him. She reluctantly let the robot go and wrapped her arms around her.
“Damsel, we don’t have time for this. Keep walking,” Aden replied before pushing them onward. The smoke was billowing from a couple of research rooms nearby that he had set off with spare flares.
And while they were running, she bumbled through her words, “I remember Charie coming to life back in third grade. Olivia was determined to make a robot that would be sentient just like a human. Further, she created it to make others smile. She claimed that if she could make the world greater, one smile at a time, she had done her job.” She wiped the tears off her cheeks. “She was a friend, babysitter, tutor, expert, teacher, guide, advisor, and mediator—pretty much everything you could picture. The only thing I never understood was why she resembled me.”
She peered down at her hands that were now shaking. “Did Olivia see this happening to her invention? I’m sure she wouldn’t have let it happen if she were better prepared. How—” She stopped to gaze at Aden. Out of all the guys, she knew he would be the most direct. “How did she die?”
Aden closed his eyes for some seconds before grunting. He was reliving the moment every single time he closed his eyes throughout the last couple of weeks. Even though he knew Charie was not a real sentient being, he still couldn’t think of the alarming image of blood seeping from her chest or the smile that she gave him before she whined her last gear.
“She died trying to stop Zaine from killing me.”
Damien interjected midstep, “Aden, you—”
Aden cut him off by stopping abruptly. “She died because I was too powerless to protect anyone. It was a harsh reminder that I am still young and inexperienced.”
“If you think for a second you’re going to take all the blame in this, Aden, you have another thing coming!” Damien surprisingly raised his voice out of character. “I told her to help you. If anyone is to blame, it’s me! I should have left the bloody door and come to your aid! I let her die too!”
Xavier shook his head at this comment. “I don’t think Charie would like you guys thinking like that! I think she knew that you all had something more important to live for. Something to protect, and that it wasn’t your time to die.”
Charlotte was silently watching the trio argue back and forth between one another. Shock, regret, confusion, and disbelief were still apparent in her mind, still playing nonstop as she continued down this bloody path of destruction and death.
“She died because I was trapped underneath Zaine’s boot and couldn’t find the willpower to push him off. I was thinking like an immature brat and that I was guaranteed to see another day. It took a sword through her chest and him sawing into her vertically to see that that was not the case!” Aden lashed out and snapped his head away when he saw the hurt expressions on all their faces. “That robot died, and it made me think that I was seeing the real thing dying before my own eyes.”
The next couple of seconds were tense. No one wanted to move because of how tense the statements he made were. It took a surprising event when the last person they were expecting to move moved in front of Aden to grab his cold hand resting on top of his forearm.
“I think”—Charlotte choked out, looking straight into his emerald eyes—“I think Charie was feeling exactly like Xavier said. She knew you had something else to do and that it was her place to see that you would survive. I think she knew what she was getting into, Damien. Even if you didn’t say anything to her, I think she would have run over to help. She would have done that because I would have done it.”
Aden snapped at that moment, “Don’t you see that this is a revolving door where you endlessly throw yourself into danger for me or for any of us? You’re asking to die and then leaving us behind to mourn for you! I don’t want nightmares of you dying in our arms and burning you on the fucking funeral pyre because you were trying to be fucking selfless!”
“She wouldn’t want you to mourn, and neither would I!” Charlotte snapped back, her tears now drying on her cheeks. “I am here, alive and kicking! I just do not want to see the people I love dying before or because of me again! I’d rather die than see that again!”
Two guards ran around with their guns up, but before they could shoot, Aden had thrown a couple of pieces of debris at the men. Both hit them bull’s-eye in the center of their forehead, and they dropped like flies.
Damien interceded Charlotte, not even batting an eyelash at the two guards that had been rendered unconscious. “We all feel that way, Lionsheart! You can’t assume that we do not feel the same! When you fell off the Division and we couldn’t find you, we all felt our stomachs drop! We didn’t know where you were and assumed you were good as dead! Imagine getting picked up by Cheric and then having her unearth a robot that resembled the one person we thought had been lost at sea!”
“Further,” Xavier added—picking up a sturdy piece of wood—and handled it like a bat, “to find out that the girl we rescued lied about her identity, although it was to protect herself. You were someone with great importance.” He swiveled on the balls of his foot just as a guard tried to ambush him from the side. Bringing his makeshift bat down, he thrashed the guard before continuing a beat later.
“You are one of the precious links between the stones and the state’s vision of what it is trying to achieve. This all isn’t some dream that someone conjured up. This is reality that drags all of us in as puppets being placed by its masters to dance. We then magically start getting written mail from you, saying that you’re all right and that you wish you were with us. That tore me up, Char! It was devastating that you weren’t near us, and then Cheric created that scheme where Charie would use the stones as buffer to reveal the rat—”
Aden grunted, “Robert Petersons, that son of a bitch started his onslaught as soon as the sun set down. He went straight for the one impersonating you: Charie. All the pirates didn’t give two shits about the stones. All they cared about was killing you or, rather, her. You see where I’m getting at?”
When Charlotte widened her eyes at this, Aden grabbed her wrist to yank her out of the way of some shots that were fired. “You are more important than the Relic stones. You are the thing that can put all of this to an end, and they know it!”
Damien whistled by placing his two fingers between his lips, and blue and yellow macaws flew in through an open window with glaring eyes and began preoccupying the guards. Cesium, who was scared of the blaring sirens, had jumped up on top of some of the guards in fright.
Aden clung onto Charlotte to make his point known that she was the one that needed to live. “They do not want to stop producing the stones, and the only way to prevent that is to kill you. I don’t know what you possess that will thwart them, but it is something here—”
He moved her hand to put it onto her chest. “That is capable of stopping them. You have a heart with compassion and warmth that lifts those around you. You have the power to stop them, but you do not know how to wield it. We all don’t know what the hell you can do, but before this ends, we need to keep you safe over any of us. Get that in your head already and stop giving us grief!”
Charlotte stared at all of them, dumbfounded at the new revelation. She couldn’t be, but they all were looking at her with such serious expressions. She was going to deny everything that he said, but Aden interrupted by pulling his own hand away.
“Now can we move along so that we don’t have our blood paint this hallway?” He didn’t wait for an answer because he began running again with Charlotte in tow.
Damien followed after whistling for Cesium to come. Xavier gave the girl a sympathetic glance before gesturing that they had lingered too long.
۞ ۞ ۞ ۞ ۞ ۞ ۞ ۞