Unless you’re not human.
In which case . . . . hi.
As promised, you will now get to read the short story I’ve been working on since like January! It’s . . . it’s not my best work, in my opinion, but I had a deadline and limitations like length and content because it was for school. So I mean I think this went as well as it could have.
Full credit to Tashah Claymore for the idea, as I may have used her world and a bit of her story in making this. She was in a short story contest a while ago and I was helping her out by putting my character in the story so she could explore the world and see how the characters would react to things and such. It was awesome, but anyway. We needed some random side characters for something, and Lucy and Sam showed up. I decided they deserved a little story of their own, and this short story was born.
(Check out Tashah’s website for Greater Good, the original)
So without further ado HERE IT IS
“And how can I help you, ma’am?” Lucy said, trying to make her voice upbeat and cheerful. She wasn’t sure if it worked or not, but the lady sitting in the booth didn’t give her any weird looks. In fact she didn’t give her any looks at all, as her eyes were riveted on the cellphone in her hand.
Lucy waited for a response, straining to keep up her fake smile while clenching her stupid little notebook so she wouldn’t deck the customer. It wasn’t really that big of a deal, but it was the last straw in a day full of frustration.
Finally, after about seven very long seconds, the woman looked up. Lucy had to keep smiling and nodding like one of those dumb bobbleheads as the customer mumbled her order. When she was finally done, Lucy spun on her heel and walked to the kitchen, brushing strands of escaped pink hair out of her eyes.
The tiny restaurant she had been working in for the last three weeks was sickeningly familiar now. She knew every scratch on the rickety red plastic tables, every flickery lightbulb in the low ceiling, every splash of garish color on the poorly designed tile floor. The nasty smells coming from the dimly lit kitchen were familiar too. She’d nearly gotten used to them.
She dropped off the order and was about to head for the other customer when the bell on the front door rang. When she looked up, she saw a boy, around fourteen, wearing worn jeans and a dark blue hoodie, the hood pulled up to partially hide his blue hair. Lucy huffed. Again?
The boy slipped through the dining area to the kitchen entrance. Lucy put her hands on her hips.
“Sam, I’ve told you a bajillion times, you’re not allowed to come here when I’m working.”
Sam grinned, both hands hidden in the pocket of his hoodie. “I found one.”
Lucy had just opened her mouth to keep scolding, but she froze as his words registered. She glanced at the two cooks and the other waitress before pulling Sam into the corner.
“Where?” she whispered, a hint of excitement breaking through her voice.
“Well, I didn’t actually find one,” Sam amended. “It’s been following me. All day. That’s how I know it’s for us.”
“Are you entirely, completely, one hundred percent, dead sure?”
Sam gave her a look. “It’s a big swirly blue and purple oval. I’m pretty sure I know what a portal looks like.”
“I’m supposed to be the snarky one,” she said with a smirk. “Where is it now?”
“Last I saw it, on the wall of the bank across the street.”
Lucy glanced through one of the windows facing the street. She couldn’t see much through the reflections, but in the near darkness outside she could see a faint purple glow.
“Okay, here’s the plan,” she said quietly, turning back to him. “We go back to the room.”
“Why? We could just go through now-”
“Mmhm, in my work clothes and with nothing. Use your head, Sammy. We go back to the room and get everything, then we go through.”
Sam bit his lip, but nodded. Lucy rubbed his head. She knew how he felt. After a whole month; four whole weeks; twenty-nine entire days in this place, she wanted nothing more than to fling herself through that portal this very minute.
She made Sam wait in a corner booth until her shift was over, only about twenty minutes. But every one of them felt like six hours. Finally, finally, she was able to leave. Without even saying goodbye to the others (not like they really knew each other anyway) Lucy raced out into the streetlamp-lit streets, pulling Sam behind her. She could see the portal now. It was beautiful and sparkly, just like she remembered.
As they ran down the sidewalk, it followed them. Not like it just floated behind them, of course. But every time Lucy would glance behind her, there it was, on this wall or that door. The few other people wandering the streets didn’t seem to see it.
Convenient . . .
Within a few minutes they reached ‘the room’, as Lucy called it. They’d been in this one for eight days now, the third such room. Lots of buildings around this area were abandoned for one reason or another. It wasn’t too hard for two kids with their upbringing to stay undetected in a place like that.
As they ducked through the boarded- up windows, the portal planted itself under a streetlight and stayed there, pulsing patiently.
Once inside, Sam immediately grabbed his weathered backpack and began stuffing things in it. “D’you think Rain ‘n everybody will be waiting for us? D’you think the Corporation’s gotten beat yet? D’you think my slingshot’s still where I put it?”
Lucy smiled, stepping into the corner curtained off with old sheets to change out of her uniform. She’d never have to wear the cursed thing again.
Both of them had changed in the last month. Before, Sam had been timid and a bit paranoid, at least in her opinion. Always asking worried questions, never wanting to do anything dangerous. Now look at him.
And look at her. Tense and nervous, barely thinking of anything besides where their next meal was going to come from and how they were going to keep the authorities off their backs. Why, she remembered a time when she’d taken down an entire Corporation lab, whooping as the thing blew sky-high and getting away scot-free because the poor noobs were too scared to chase the wild pink-haired teenager blasting the living daylights out of their computers.
That was, of course, before that girl showed up and ruined everything.
Lucy frowned, fastening the last button on her jumpsuit. As soon as she stepped out from the curtains, Sam shoved her bag into her arms.
“Let’s go already!” he begged, bouncing from one foot to the other.
Lucy took one last look around the empty room. The only evidence of their existence here would be the ratty blankets spread in the corner.
“Right, then,” she said, allowing herself to get excited. “Let’s go home.”
The portal was still outside, but nothing else was. No tired pedestrians wandered the sidewalks, no half-starved cats yowled behind unused garbage cans. The faint wailing of a siren was the only thing to break the dark, dusty quiet of the city under streetlights.
Sam’s hand wormed its way into hers and squeezed. “This is gonna work, right?” he asked, a hint of the habitual nervousness she knew so well coming back into his voice.
Lucy threw her shoulders back, tossed her ponytail, and grinned. “I don’t see why not.”
She jumped feet-first into the portal.
Gray turned to galaxy, blue and purple infinity studded with stardust. Lucy stared in awe as she dropped, strands of her hair floating free about her face. Behind – or above – her, Sam made a weird sound that might have started out as a startled squawk but ended up as an amazed ‘whoa’.
Almost as soon as they took it all in, the galaxy was gone and Lucy’s feet rested on solid ground. She blinked and saw the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen; battered-looking cement walls with a single, high window streaming bluish light into an otherwise pitch-dark room. There was the old computer, held together with duct tape. The wooden closet door covered with curling post-it notes and those pushpins and yarn that Gerard was so fond of.
“Home,” Sam whispered.
Lucy whipped open the closet door, causing three sticky notes to flutter to the dusty floor. “Oh, yes.” Almost every shelf held a gun. She reached in and hefted her SturmHaygen heavy blaster, running her hand down the barrel.
“Now,” she announced, slinging the gun over her shoulder and tucking a couple of pistols into her belt after checking that they were loaded. “Now we’re in business.”
Sam poked a cardboard box with his foot. “Doesn’t look like anybody’s been here in a long time.”
“Prob’ly not. They would’ve had to find a new hideout after the fight, right? Look, Sammy, not a single one of my paint grenades gone. Oh, how I’ve missed you,” she crooned, slipping the fragile and destructive orbs into the cushioned pouch on her ammo belt. Just breathing the air of Orateo, even if it was stuffy and musty from being trapped in a basement, was bringing back everything that made her Lucy. She could practically feel stress dripping off of her shoulders and leaving her a million pounds lighter. Her hair even seemed to be a shade more vibrant.
The Corporation used to call her The Berserker. They said it through snarls and disgust, but she liked it. That’s what she was; she wasn’t a leader who could rally outcasts and recruit them with smooth words; she wasn’t a strategic planner who could anticipate an enemy’s every move and come up with a clever counter; she wasn’t a nimble spy who could blend in to any crowd and hack any computer to find what they needed. She was a force of pure destruction, and she liked it that way.
Sam pushed his hood off. It was hard to tell in the dimness, but yes, his hair seemed to be much more blue than it had in the other place. His face lit up as he scooped a small barrel shape out of the closet. “Look, Lu! It’s my slingshot!” He fitted it onto his wrist and pressed a button, making the little bits of metal on the front end start to glow a subtle neon and crackle quietly with tamed lightning. Newton had worked that out for him; being a kid, they didn’t think he should have a gun. Of course, they were all kids, technically, but at fourteen Sam was the youngest.
Suitably armed, Lucy decided to venture out of the familiar bunker. Obviously this wasn’t the main base anymore. It might not even be a base at all, so it was no use waiting for someone. Their best bet, Lucy rationalized, was to go out and find somebody who knew what was going on.
As she ascended the stairs to the thick, dented metal door, the sudden sound of soft footfalls made her stop in her tracks and drop to one knee, aiming her blaster at the door. Behind her, Sam ducked behind a tilting file cabinet and watched with one eye peeking out.
Lucy’s finger curled on the trigger. The door whooshed outwards, momentarily blinding her as dim daylight poured in.
“MAX!” Sam screamed, just before Lucy fired. She dropped the gun like it was about to explode.
In the doorway, framed in light, stood a boy around eighteen. His grayish eyes widened as he reached up to push a lock of auburn hair from his face. His jaw dropped.
“L-lucy? Sam? Wha-what are you- are you doing here?”
Lucy jumped to her feet and threw her arms around Max before she quite knew what she was doing. Sam ran out and bodyslammed Max, nearly knocking all three of them over.
Once they all got untangled, Max was still shocked. “One of you pl-please explain what hap- what happened to you two!”
Lucy laughed, pushing her bangs out of her face. “Would you believe me if I told you?”
Max grinned, grabbing Sam and ruffling his hair. “Prob’ly not. Hey, Blueberry, how’s your s-sister been treating you?”
“Max there was a PORTAL! It sucked us up, you know right after the big fight at the Corporation building, and dropped us in this weird place called California.” He made a face. “We were there for a whole month. It was awful.”
“A m-month? It’s been two . . . two months here.” A low rumble of thunder echoed outside. A sudden gust of cool wind made the hair on their arms stand up.
“Is the Corporation still a thing? Has everybody been un-brainwashed?” Sam pulled his hood over his head.
Max rubbed the back of his neck. “W-well . . . technically the Cor-Coporation is . . . is gone. There’s a few r-renegades wandering around and causing tr- causing trouble. But the probl-problem now is that a lot of people are try . . . they’re trying to get out of Elysium City a-after being Corporation officers. But people aren’t le-letting them. The orations . . . the orations have stopped and the c-citizens are angry.”
Lucy blinked. “Yeah. Of course they are.” She could think of at least five of those former officers she’d like to have a nice chat with, involving her fist colliding with their face. “Are we pounding them?”
“ . . . no. W-we’re helping them.”
A flash of lightning lit up the sky behind Max, starkly outlining every detail down to the scratches on his shirt buttons.
“Why would we do that?”
Sam looked from his sister to his friend, taking a couple steps away. The familiar alleyway was strewn with garbage and chunks of obliterated robots, scorched pieces of metal and wire. Somebody had enjoyed doing that. Now drops of rain plopped onto the sidewalk here and there, making dark spots on the concrete that gradually melded together into uniform wetness as the storm began in earnest. Clouds crowded out the daylight of mere moments before.
“Things have . . . things have ch-changed, Lucy.”
Lucy laughed. “Oh, you’re joking. Because Max Redlee, the Max Redlee, would never help Corporation officers.”
His face began to turn red. “Lucy-”
“Not after what they did to him, and his family, and his friends and their families.” She had to raise her voice to be heard over the rain. Her hair and clothes were soaked through. Sam cleared his throat in a desperate attempt to distract them. “Where are Rain and Gerard and Newton and everybody?”
Max looked away from Lucy, water running down into his eyes. “They’ve l-left the city to set up a place for the refugees.”
“Oh, so they’re in on this too?” Lucy knew she was being unreasonable. At least, part of her did. A very small part that she never cared about or listened to. The rest of her was aching to scream at Max until he changed his mind, realized that it was insane to try to help the people who took her parents away from her. That was why the rebellion existed; kids whose parents had been taken and who wanted revenge. The Corporation didn’t care about who it hurt. They shouldn’t either.
“The fight is-is over, Lucy. Things h-have ch-changed.” Max began to shiver, hugging his dripping arms to his body as the wind ripped viciously through the alley. “The storms are . . . the storms are getting worse. People are g-getting . . . are getting sick. The Corporation is the le-least of our problems.”
“So when it starts raining you just forget everything and forgive those monsters?”
Sam slipped back into the bunker. The other two didn’t even notice.
“I d-don’t know if I forgive the-them,” Max yelled. A thunder crash punctuated his exclamation. “But they deserve a chance! The city is-is angry, Lu! They m-might die if somebody doesn’t help!”
“Maybe I’m fine with that!” Lucy shook her head, her limp ponytail flinging water everywhere. “I’m gonna go destroy stuff. Bye.”
Lucy stalked off, her hand clenched around a paint grenade.
Max watched her go, his shoulders slumping. He shook his head and slowly descended into the bunker. Sam was looking through a cardboard box full of bits of metal and battered books. When Max sank into a squeaky metal folding chair, rubbing the water out of his eyes, Sam looked up.
“I’ll help you,” he said. “Save those people, I mean. I’ll help.”
Max sighed, reaching over and ruffling the boy’s hair. “Th-thanks, Sam.” He looked up at the storm beginning to rage outside. “I . . . I hope it works.”
Lucy kicked savagely at a piece of trash, wiping rainwater from her stinging eyes. Her sleeve was soaked through so it didn’t do much good.
How dare he. How dare he even consider . . . how could he have forgotten already? Only three years had passed since the Corporation had stolen their families from them. Only three years since they had been left abandoned and alone, left to fend for themselves. She jumped as a flash of lightning whitewashed the gray city, followed immediately by a crash of thunder that shook the ground.
A Corporation ruin stood starkly above her. The harsh wind screamed as it tore through broken pipes and cracked brick walls. Lucy closed her eyes against the rain.
Three minutes later, the building exploded. Bricks and shards of shrapnel flew into the air, a shockwave sending splatters of paint and colored smoke after them. The ground shook both from the bombs and the ensuing crash of thunder. Lucy walked away. That used to be much more satisfying.
She didn’t know what to do. With Rain gone, there’s no leader. With the Corporation gone, there’s no enemy.
And now, after a month of missing him, Max was gone too. Siding with the people she’d sworn to destroy even if it killed her.
This wasn’t what coming home was meant to be like.
If she wasn’t fighting the Corporation, being the Berserker, was she even Lucy?
The familiar crack of gunshots reached her ears through the vicious wind.
“Okay, okay, hurry,” Max whispered, guiding the tense group of former Corporation officers through the oddly angled streets and alleyways. By now the storm had spent its fury; the rain had petered out and the wind was moving elsewhere. Every drip of water or footstep seemed three times louder.
Sam dashed back and forth from in front of them to behind them, watching and listening intently and making sure everyone stayed together. If they could just make it to the train, they’d make it out of the city and out of danger.
They were in a claustrophobically narrow space between two buildings when the gunshot rang out.
“COVER!” Max shouted, shoving the two people closest to him behind a pile of sheet metal. That wouldn’t protect them for long, though. Sam had ducked into a doorway shielded by an awning and was now trying to fire his slingshot at whoever was shooting at them.
There were more shots; not just bullets now, but blaster charges. A piece of brick wall exploded next to Max’s head. He looked up and saw Lucy standing on the roof of the building, a flashing orb in her hand.
His stomach dropped. In the breathless second that followed as the grenade fell, he could only watch, frozen, his mind empty but for an overwhelming panic.
It exploded midair, but instead of fire and pain, opaque hot pink smoke mushroomed out, filling the air within three seconds. Max couldn’t see anything. At all. The shots ceased.
A hand grabbed his arm and nearly yanked him off his feet. He didn’t have time to react before suddenly he was outside the cloud of pink. It was Lucy who had pulled him out, with Sam’s hood clutched in her other hand.
“L-lucy! What are y-you doing here?”
She shushed him, letting go of the two of them and plunging back into the cloud after a second of hesitation. The pink smoke had risen above the buildings, billowing out until it practically replaced the gray stormclouds.
When Lucy came back out, every single Corporation officer was trailing after her, coughing and covering their mouths with their sleeves.
“Hurry. There isn’t anybody between here and the train.” She pushed her hair out of her eyes.
Sam threw his arms around her. “For a second there I thought you were gonna blow us up.”
“Of course I wasn’t.” Lucy looked up at Max. “Right, get moving. That smoke’ll only last for a few minutes.”
Soon the refugees were all hidden safely on the train. Lena, a galaxy-haired rebel who had been part of Rain’s group, gave the three of them a hug and a salute before starting up the (likely hijacked) train and heading out of the city.
“So,” Max said as they watched the last car disappear into the mountains. “You changed your m-mind?”
Lucy sighed. “I . . . I don’t know. I don’t forgive them. I don’t think I ever will. But . . . I couldn’t . . . it wouldn’t be . . .”
Max gently took her hand, still gazing out over the train tracks. “I know.”
Coming home wasn’t meant to be like this. Lucy was supposed to come back, continue the war she’d been fighting for years, do what felt right. But saving the refugees, the former officers of the empire that had destroyed her life, that made her feel more like herself than . . . anything, really. It felt like the right thing to do.
Sam nudged her. “You still gonna be the Berserker?”
“Um, yeah!” Lucy set her shoulders back. “Master of distraction, empress of explosives, legend in the art of blowin’ stuff up. That isn’t changing, Sammy.”
“Oh good,” Sam said with a relieved sigh. “I thought maybe the portal had messed that up.”
“No,” Lucy said, a slow smile spreading over her face. “No, it didn’t.” The stormclouds parted briefly, just enough to let a rainbow of sunset through.
Sooo . . . . what do you guys think?