Oblivion is sometimes a welcome sign upon a desolate road.
When I woke for the second time, I came to, dry-mouthed, fretting.
Nobody was there to greet me. I was in the same room as I had been before but it was in darkness. For a moment I believed myself to be the only person there, wherever ‘there‘ was. In fact, a thought ran through my mind that I might be the only person left alive.
My ears alerted themselves to the sound of the world outside of the room. At first, there was nothing. The world had fallen into silence. At home, I would sometimes awake to the whirring of the BOT as it made its manoeuvres around the apartment. Night was its time to complete the domestic chores, the cleaning, the washing and…, well let’s say other things. On top of that, beyond the confines of our home, lay the city. Vast and spreading, it never slept. BOTS roamed the streets, cleansing and spying, moving interminably along until dawn. People slept and let the other world continue unabated. If I listened deeply, I could pick out the sounds of the somnambulant world. Here, however, there appeared to be only silence.
I listened again, freshly tuned for a different world, and waited. There were noises in the distance: a rattle; a door closing; the mumble of a conversation reduced to dull echoes. So, there was life.
I made to move and my head thudded with a pain that I had forgotten about. Again my hand shot to my forehead and felt the bandages. Pieces of the jigsaw fell into place: The Finals; the chase; the fall. Then came the memory of Evie and Jamie. Then, ever so slowly, came my concern for my mother. It was this that pulled me from the bed.
With outstretched hands touching my path, I moved thought the darkness. As my eyes adjusted to the night, I was able to pick out the outline of the door, a vague rectangle in the wall. Without tripping or bumping, I managed to navigate the short distance. I put my hand on the cold metal handle and depressed it. Surprisingly, the door opened.
The corridor, like my room, was in darkness. I stood assessing my options. To my right, was another ten feet or so before it finished in a wall with a window in it. The window was completely veiled with a heavy blind. To my left, there was a run of about one hundred feet ending in a stairwell. Along the sides of the passageway were a number of doors, each one closed and none of them showing any light. I stepped out and was instantly blinded by a brilliantly white flash. I had tripped a pressure switch that bursts into being for several seconds before returning to a flicker. Temporary blindness fell upon me. I waited, squinting, accustoming to the shock; and then I could see.
My bare feet slapped along the smooth wooden veneer. Although cold, there was a quality about the surface that comforted. My toes stretched out and a relief ran down my spine. I breathed out deeply and then inhaled. The air was old, dusty and reassuring. My mind wandered back to my mother, a vague hope rose for her safety but didn’t last. I knew she would be in danger. They would not let her escape retribution for two AWOL sons. Somehow, I needed to find her. I reached the steps and descended slowly using the handrail to support my still unsure legs. As I approached the last few, my ears picked up those distant sounds that had just been mumbles back in my room.
At the foot of the stairwell, I hesitated. This passage was in almost complete darkness, with just a hint of light towards the end of it.
“The groups should be returning soon,” one voice said.
There was a pause before another answered.
“They’re already overdue.”
I inched forward, intrigued by what I had heard. The conversation was coming from a large door that was ajar. Although the passageway was in darkness, there was enough light spilling from the room to illuminate a large section at the furthest end. I crept closer, believing that I made no noise.
“Adam?” A voice spoke.
I almost jumped from my skin.
“Adam, what are you doing here?” It was Smithies.
His voice was different once again. In fact, he was different; completely. Gone was the subservient stoop that accompanied the deferential lack of eye engagement. The one now before me was my equal.
“Smithies?” I replied, the element of shock replaced with one of enquiry.
I didn’t get an explanation as, just then a door opened and out stepped some figures.
“It’s okay Mother,” Smithies said, “it’s only me and Adam.”
“Adam?” The woman replied. “What’s he doing out of bed?”
They were talking about me as if I wasn’t there so I decided to speak up for myself.
“I woke up and didn’t know where I was. I thought I’d find out.”
The female silhouette laughed and turned towards her companion.
“Sounds like somebody we know, doesn’t it?” The other form replied with a ‘yes’ and it was then that I recognised the voice of my brother. “Anyway, don’t stand out there in the cold for long; you’ll catch your death. Come inside the kitchen and get warm.”
It was then that I became aware that I had indeed got cold. My feet were uncovered and now felt like blocks of ice. Nevertheless, I hesitated for long enough to allow Smithies to place a reassuring arm around my shoulders, something I never thought he’d be capable of doing.
“Come on Adam, Mother doesn’t bite.”
I took his word for it and was led through the warm block of light and into the kitchen. It took less time for my eyes to readjust. Immediately, I saw a group of five people sitting around a table, mugs of drinks before them. Their faces were trained on me as I came into the room. There was something oddly familiar about each of them.
“You all know Adam, don’t you?” the woman called Mother asked. They all nodded which confused me because, for the life of me, I couldn’t remember having met any of them before.
“Good to meet you again,” a man said. It must have been obvious that I was confused because as he offered his hand, I just stood there dumbly.
“He still hasn’t got all of the four out of his system,” a much more recognisable voice spoke from the side of me. I knew without turning that it was the girl called Evie. “I think that he was double-dosed, one by us and one by the Academy. They must have been having their suspicions for a long time. Probably tried to set him up on their own operation.”
The questions were forming towards the back of my throat and the first were preparing to spill out before another man entered the debate.
“Is it safe for him to be with us here? After all, if they have tried to prime him, he could still be dangerous.”
A barely stifled ripple of agreement ran across the group.
“Don’t worry about Adam,” Mother calmed them. “He’s one of us now. And,” she went on, “he’ll be with us for some time.”
She had a smile on her face when she said this. The smile was meant for me, I am sure of it, but when she delivered the final reassurance, it did everything other than make me feel at ease.
“No need to worry Adam,” Jamie added, seeming to sense a change in me. “We are all part of Mother’s family now. Here, we are safe from the threats of The Family. They will never find us.”
“What about Mother?” I asked. “Our mother. Is she safe?”
He didn’t reply. Nobody replied. Eventually, their Mother spoke.
“I’m afraid your mother is not safe. She seems to have been taken into custody by the authorities. It must look bad on her to have had two of her sons become AWOLS. I’m afraid,” she paused, the smile no longer there, “I’m afraid that there’s very little we can do now to help her. I’m sorry.”
I sought out Jamie, but he was looking at the ground. I then looked towards Evie who was doing likewise. In fact, there was nobody in the small group who would meet my gaze. That was nobody apart from Smithie. Again, he put a hand upon my shoulder and consoled me.
“They did the same with my family.”
There were tears in his eyes yet he was fighting to keep them from falling.
“They show no mercy these days. If a boy goes AWOL, his family are taken away.”
He stared into the fireplace where the flames had renewed themselves on a fresh log. I watched as his resignation appeared to ignite and change.
“Someday soon, they will pay for what they have done. Someday soon.”
I waited until he had finished.