“So you remember,” she states.
“As I was growing up my father had a cottage in the woods,” I explain to Tessa, “He would take me out there and we would play a game. ATL. That was the name of it. I never understood the name. I assumed it was a game from Atlanta. Either way, the game is a game of the heart. There is one path and as many players as you want. And the goal of the game is to find your heart at the center of it.”
“The Special cards were the one that advanced you further…”
“You know the game?”
She smiles, “Yeah. I know it. Strange you remember that. Strange I remember that Bronx used to talk about the same game. Strange, some of you did and some didn’t…”
“What are you talking about?”
“The reset, some of you were cleared of your memories and others didn’t. I just ran into Macro and he had no memory of who I was…”
I had no idea who she was talking about.
The name sounded familiar but I couldn’t put my finger on it. She sighs a little bit, “It’ll come back to you. Took a while for it to come back to me. I wonder why we remember. IT promised we would forget. It promised we would be happy…”
“I don’t feel happy. I feel like something is missing,” I state, “I feel like someone is missing.”
I remember something. Something about a revolution. Something about waking up to the real world. And I remember this girl. This girl was part of the real world. Just like me. And she was angry about something but I can’t remember what. Even looking at her now I can see a resentment in her eyes. She wasn’t fully happy, not like the way she is trying to portray. There is hidden motives behind her smile. A reason that it doesn’t seem…human.
“All I want to do is forget about him,” she states, “But don’t tell anyone. Don’t tell IT. If IT realizes that we haven’t forgotten, we will be erased.”
And I knew that wasn’t a good thing.
I should have so many questions for this girl but only one keeps coming into my mind.
“Who is Bronx Barnes?”
She is not surprised by the question. It’s the opposite. The way she rolls her eyes and sighs makes me think it was a matter of time before she knew I would ask that question. She didn’t welcome it. That much is clear as well.
“I don’t know.”
“Don’t play with me, Tessa.”
We are in a hallway right now away from the main party. That’s why I feel comfortable grabbing her up. What I’m surprised about however is the fact that she floats above the floor with minimal effort on my end. Her eyes peel open widely when she realizes how strong I am. This definitely came to a surprise to her.
“I don’t know. I ran across an old friend of ours, Larson Danders. Rumor is you were the last person to be seen with him. Rumor was it was you…”
She nods, “Yes. You were the one who killed Bronx Barnes. That’s why IT has favored you so much. You were the program who eliminated the virus.”
I can’t sit still, andI think that all night. I have this sense of sadness and disappointment. Why would I be mad that someone was dead that I didn’t remember? Why was I locking myself in the bathroom and crying for almost an hour and a half before my fiancé knocks on the door?
I wash my face and open the door to see Coyote on the other end of the door. By the way, he is looking at me it is clear he isn’t satisfied with me washing my face as a distraction. He can see right through it and immediately a concerned expression is shared.
“What’s wrong?” he asks.
I walk past him and into the kitchen. I know he’s following me but that doesn’t stop me from getting some juice. I’m at Coyote’s apartment. I have some stuff here. I have clothes. I have a toothbrush. He feels uncomfortable with me going to my dorm. I have the feeling he wants me to be comfortable here but it isn’t comfortable. This place just doesn’t seem natural for me.
“Talk to me,” he states, before pausing for a moment and then adding a desperate, slow, “Please…”
“That boy from earlier…”
“He was an intruder.”
“He was shot…and killed…”
I see him about to open his mouth and repeat the fact that Nano was an intruder. The fact that he was killed because he was somewhere he wasn’t supposed to be doesn’t make it any less of a murder to me. He didn’t have a weapon. He wasn’t a threat. It was an execution.
“I’ll talk to my dad. I don’t know what’s going on but I think I can find out…”
“I know what’s going on.”
He turns to me. Coyote doesn’t expect it, but he looks at me and he sees that I’m really serious right now. Maybe that’s why he gets serious too. He stands next to me. Our eyes looking at one another and there is this deep, dark tension between the two of us.
And then I begin.
“What if everything you thought you knew wasn’t right?” I ask, “What if humanity were extinct? What if everyone in the world were androids except you and your family. What if you are being kept alive so that we can watch you. So that some god computer can understand better how to program androids like me to act like you.”
He doesn’t react immediately.
Then 10 seconds later there is a fierce laugher, louder than anything I’ve ever heard. He’s amused by this. I guess I should have expected it even though the longer it lasts the more pissed off I get. He thinks I’m a joke.
And maybe I am.
Maybe I was going crazy with the memories in my mind.
But I remembered something.
I remembered someone. And I wasn’t going to let it go.
“I need to find someone,” I state.
I pause. I’m desperate when I turn to Coyote. I grab him and he’s so surprised that he spills over a glass of water that he has in his hands. When the water splashes on the floor his eyes get real buggy by how aggressive I am.
“How did you know that name?”
“You say it in your sleep all the time,” he states, “Bronx Barnes this, Bronx Barnes that. Who is Bronx Barnes?”
I shake my head, “I don’t know, but I know someone who might.”
I remember a name that Tessa had mentioned. She said that there were other people who remembered something too. Remembered something like I did I’m assuming. One was Nano…who was dead. One was Tessa who wasn’t willing to talk. And then there was one last one.
His name was Larson Danders.
I arrive at Larson’s home. It doesn’t take much digging. Drees literally did crap like this for a living on the Dark Web. It was highly illegal but it helped her get through school. She was an amazing hacker and it didn’t take me long to fill in the blanks and end up here. A three-story home in one of the best neighborhoods in the city. I can’t even get to the house.
I get to the gate and after minutes of struggling with the doorknob, I see someone running up to the house. Someone who is shirtless. Shirtless and handsome who runs to the door clearly curious about what I needed and who I was.
“Hello?” I ask.
The guy is an attractive guy. Some sort of male model and almost immediately my mind goes into something completely different.
Was this Bronx Barnes?”
Was this the man in my dreams?”
That’s when it happens. I lose it. I am hugging him. I am in his chest and all these memories fly into my mind. Memories that I thought were gone. Memories so shrouded by some sort of frequency that I had to literally break through to feel it. But here it was. I was feeling it. This warm feeling all around my body. But the problem is the person I’m hugging isn’t hugging me back.
And when he looks down at me, he sees nothing more than a stranger.
“Hello, can I help you?” he asks.
He gets close enough. Close enough for me to know this isn’t the dream that plagues me at night. This person just looks a hell of a lot like him. Same slanted eyes and brown skin. Same almost grimacing smirk and mysterious sexiness.
Maybe that’s why I notice someone else standing there at the gate. Someone else seeing me hug this stranger.
“Eddie, I got this,” a voice states.
“Larson, you know this guy?” the man responds.
“Yeah baby,” Larson responds, “He’s an old friend.”
Larson smiles at me, inviting me in the house and making sure that we follow this man who he clearly is in a relationship with. This beautiful shirtless model of a man who seems to want to do nothing but look perfect all day and smile. This was even more evident when we get into the house, the gentleman holds the door for us and then offers both of us cold beers as we talk in the living room. Larson smiles when he grabs his beer and stares at his lover’s ass as he walks out of the room.
“Sexy isn’t he?” Larson asks, “It’s OK to look. He’s amazing, isn’t he?”
I look at the guy who disappears into the backyard probably prepared to work on that amazing body that he has.
“He looks like Bronx Barnes.”
Larson drops the lemonade.
“So you remember?”
I sigh, “Partially. My memory is all over the place.”
“You remember enough though,” he states, this time not asking and crossing his arms, “I didn’t expect to remember anything but it doesn’t matter. It’s amazing how powerful IT is, isn’t it?”
I look around. This house was everything someone could want. It was a mansion. A beautiful mansion. There are pictures everywhere. Pictures of a happy couple. Pictures of a happy man in Larson. I look around. It even had a certain smell to it. One of those smells where the house always was in tip-top shape.
“IT gave you all this?” I ask.
He nods, “I wake up one day and I’m rich. I am popular. People like me and I have no fucking idea why because I’m the same asshole that I was before. And then there is him. His name is Eddie or Edward or some shit like that. I don’t even know for sure. All I know is that he loves me more than anything and he doesn’t have eyes for anyone else. You believe me? Try me? Go sleep with him. See if he’ll do it. I bet he won’t…”
“Oh come on.”
He is amused like a kid who wants to show off his new toys. If there was any doubt that he regretted saving us then that was gone. There is a gleam of happiness in his eyes and I am just irritated by it. He has completely sold out, just like Tessa.
I roll my eyes, “I’m here for Bronx.”
“What do you mean why? He’s our friend.”
Larson shakes his head, “Don’t say that too loud. IT could be watching. IT could be listening. Your life is perfect right now, kid. Why the fuck aren’t you appreciating it.”
Larson pauses. He exhales almost like there was a punch to the test. More of us were dead now. Less of us who know the truth about the world. I wondered if that meant anything to Larson. For a moment when he lowers his head thinking about Nano, I assume that he does care. But he’s struggling with the amount of care that is included. I can see the doubt all over him.
“Listen, I’ll miss him,” Larson explains, “I’ll miss Nano just like I’ll miss Bronx. But that was a different world. We don’t have to fight anymore…”
“So the revolution meant nothing to you.”
He shrugs, “We would have died anyway.”
“So Bronx meant nothing to you?”
There is a pause there. Larson shakes his head sighing, “What do you want from me, Cassius? You were new to the group. You don’t see what we went through. I gave up years for Bronx. I gave up years for his cause. Of course, I loved him. I saw his dream. I understood it but some dreams…just don’t come true.”
He seems upset. Confused even. The look on his face seems to almost be drained as though he wasn’t as happy as he wanted me to believe when he walked into the room. Here he was with this happy life. With this guy that looked just like Bronx. He didn’t have to worry about being hunted. He didn’t have to worry about fighting any longer. He could be happy.
But he was feeling the same thing that I was feeling.
There was something missing.
“You can’t forget,” I state, “Me, you, Tessa and Nano can’t forget. And I think I know why?”
“Because we loved him. My father didn’t forget because he loved him too.”
“So what does that mean?” he asks.
“Come with me to find out…” I state, “We don’t have to stop fighting. We don’t have to stop the revolution.”
I’m not sure what I’m saying right now as I’m standing there with a smile on my face.
“We don’t even know where to start…”
“The Mastersons. We need to take them. It would cripple IT.”
“You have no idea what you’re talking about. You’re trying to go after the Mastersons alone.”
“I’m not alone. I’m going to find Bronx. And I want you to come with me.”
Larson pauses for a few seconds. He looks like he’s in deep thought. Just at that moment, we both see his fine ass boyfriend running outside and I can see the look in Larson’s eyes. I’m unsure he’s willing to let this all go at this moment.
“No,” he states.
“I’m not leaving,” he states, “I’m done with this fight. I was only in it for love. And he doesn’t love me. He never has…”
The way that Larson says it is the saddest thing. It’s different from Tessa though. It’s as though Tessa never was able to get over that resentment but Larson seems like there is hope he would. Perhaps he had enough personal moments with Bronx to leave him satisfied where Tessa probably deep down inside is hoping for more.
“I understand,” I state getting up.
As I get up though he reaches over, “What makes us human is not our mind but our heart, not our ability to think but our ability to love.”
I nod, “Good luck, Larson.”
“Good luck,” he states, “And I hope you find what you’re looking for when you find the Ability to love.”
“Is everything OK here?” a voice interrupts.
It’s his lover. The one that looks like Bronx. I notice how he seems really curious about what we were talking about when he walks in, almost like he was trying to pay attention. And Larson gives me a look. A confirmation that yes. He was listening to us.
Even though we were supposedly back “Offline”, it was clear we were still being watched.
Still being listened to.
And I notice something else:
Larson has left an address in my hand.
“You sure this is the place?”
“Those men don’t look welcoming…”
I’m with Coyote. I don’t feel comfortable coming and he tells me he wants to be involved. The thing was I needed a Masterson around until I found out what the weakness was. The only person that knew how I could use the Masterson against IT was Bronx Barnes. And I needed to find out where he was. I look at the building and this definitely seems like someplace that Bronx Barnes is.
“It’s heavily guarded,” I agree, “Do you have that gun your father gave you?”
“Can I see it?”
He hands me it. I can tell Coyote is sort of confused about what the hell I’m doing.
I notice how these men were standing outside of the door. Strange men. Men that wouldn’t be guards. But they are staring out of the warehouse looking building and I know that they are trying to stop people from getting inside.
They were guarding something.
“Where the hell are you going?”
It’s too late.
My shivering hands opened the bullet chamber of his revolver. My eyes counted the bullets before my hands closed the chamber again. I then took a deep breath and waited for a brief moment. I gathered all the strength in my body to start walking across the street towards the men.
Two men are the first to see me. One is calling out warning me about something. Something about no trespassing or maybe something else. I wasn’t going to wait to get taken like Nano.
I shoot first.
I stood still as the bullets flew around. I’m not sure if it just looked like it, but the lights flicker outside causing it to go dark. They miss their shots right before the lights flicker back on. The men are out of bullets and race to reload their guns. Right then, I jumped out of her cover and aimed my gun in the direction of the guards. I pulled the trigger multiple times.”
I walk forward toward the building. Two armed security guards see me approaching through the windows. They ready their weapons and shoot. The bullets go through the glass leaving small holes. I’ve managed to fall to the ground just in time missing them.
“Where is he?” the voices are saying.
“He’s fast…real fast.”
It’s almost like they were scared. I keep thinking of my programming. What do I know how to do? What am I programmed with? Then I remember Bronx. Somehow he knew there would be a time where I would be needed.
I jump through broken glass and roll into the secured server room. I land close enough to the first guard to deliver a massive but hard kick to the chin.
The second guard turns to help his friend and aims his gun at me.
I pull the first guard with his tie and slams him through the glass wall.
Guard 3 and Guard 4 arrive at the scene at the same time from different rooms, shooting at me. I jump in the air higher than I think is humanly impossible. Both of them notice me jumping over the cardboard boxes set out in the warehouse. The Guards go to town over the cardboard model with their weapons.
With the whole cardboard model exploding, I am running, trying to save myself from the bullets and debris around him. Running zigzag, I stumble and fumble on my way, but don’t stop running.
Guard 4 fires another bullet that flips a cardboard over me. The building is destroyed when the other guard about to fire another bullet when a punch sends him into the floor. I turn and realize that I’m not alone. It’s Coyote. Coyote enters the scene and grabs Guard 3’s gun. As soon as he does I deliver a tight punch into the Guard’s abdomen and another one in his face. Knocking both the guards out, I frantically look over to see if Coyote is OK.”
“How’d you do that?” Coyote asks.
He was looking at me like I wasn’t human.
“Like I told you. Everything that you knew was a lie. Everything they tell you,” I state.
“Not everything,” a voice responds.
I turn at that moment and realize someone is tied up. Coyote and I both go running to find the person. We both find someone I recognize. A small little blind woman tied up in a chair.
“Mrs. Finnick,” I scream with an immediate sense of relief.
I release her, hugging her the entire time.
“You’re back,” she states.
“You’re expecting me?” I ask.
“Of course I am,” she states, “You told me to.”
“What are you talking about?”
She sighs, “You said that you had to pretend to kill Bronx. You said that you had a plan. You’d go back in. You knew one way to get rid of IT forever, but you’d have to go back offline for a while. You promised that you would be back to find me when it was safe.”
I had a plan but the issue was that I couldn’t remember what it was.
“Wait, so if I pretended to kill him, then…does that mean?”
Mrs. Finnick looks up at me. Even with her being blind I know she can see better than anyone, “Bronx is alive. He’s alive and he’s waiting for you. The revolution happens now. Now is the time we take IT down. Once and for all.”