The Cave

Cylee was feeling lonely and vulnerable when she got dressed, which might explain her return to the one true staple of fashion in North America: blue jeans and a t-shirt. She also had a slightly armored and also somewhat fashionable short jacket with a few useful things in the pockets…just in case.

Kelly: We’re here! Cylee: Okay. Be right down.

Tamara’s car was old, the huge solar grid still visible on the roof and hood, made before city-wide solar was mandatory and therefore more reliable than trying to park your car somewhere sunny. As Cylee came out of her building Kelly hopped out of the passenger seat and into the back with mock bad grace. “Don’t know why I have to sit in the back just because you’re older. And taller, I guess.”

Tamara’s face and demeanor radiated stress covered over with a thin veneer of good grace. “Hello again, Cylee. I’m sorry about last night…”

“No, Tamara, don’t apologize. I didn’t handle what you told me very well…I didn’t handle anything very well, and I’m sorry.”

They sat facing each other, tangled in a morass of apologies, trying to figure out a graceful way to move forward.

“Okay let’s go already!” Kelly said, her urgent tone belied by the fact that she was sitting back, looking at her fingernails. Cylee nodded and sent the coordinates to Tamara.

“This is a bit of a drive, out on the edge of the old City.” Tamara nodded as well and looked a little concerned. “Is this…an old warehouse, by any chance?”

Cylee looked up. “I guess I should have figured you would have known about that. It’s…not far from there. How much do you know about that night?”

Now Tamara just looked guilty.

“Cassandra and I watched your encapsulated memory of the fire…”

“What!? But you said the Spine was wiped! You said nobody else was with you in that operating room!”

“And that was all true…we just made a copy of your stored memories first…”

Realization dawned. “That’s the whole reason I have this new Spine, isn’t it?” Tamara nodded.

Kelly: Don’t be too mad at Aunt Tamara. She’s felt terrible about this ever since, but she didn’t have a choice. Cylee: What do you mean? Kelly: She needs to be in good with Cassandra so she can find out where the cloning facility is, and if she’d refused Cassandra might have become suspicious.

Cylee forced herself to breathe. It felt like her entire being was permeable now; everyone seemed to have full access to her memories and personality and past and probably her future as well.

“Do you want me to drop you off?” Tamara asked quietly. Cylee was startled and a little embarrassed to see tears in the Doctor’s eyes.

“…No. Let’s keep going. I understand that Pacifica makes us all do bad things. I guess…I guess the whole point of all of this is to make them stop, right?”

Tamara smiled through her tears, and nodded. “Right. We’ve all been used more than enough. It’s time to break their control over all of us.”

The last few miles passed in an empty but companionable silence. They may not have anything to say to each other just at the moment, but there was no longer any animosity and —hopefully—no more painful secrets. Well, except for the ones that were coming up.

Tamara pulled the car into a parking space near the old, burned out warehouse. It had been mostly reclaimed by nature…for some reason nobody ever got the rights to tear it down and build anew.

Cylee led them into the woods, angling away from the warehouse towards a small cliff nearby.

“Kelly, what do you know about this place?” Cylee asked.

“Ummmm you two don’t like it.”

“Fair. But there’s more. This is where Pacifica surrendered and the Child Army was betrayed and massacred.” Cylee said. Tamara nodded.

“But the four of us survived. We got out of the warehouse, after a few days, and escaped. We went to a small cave at first, so that Wes would have time to recover, and to decide what to do next.

The cave wasn’t very deep, maybe five feet from mouth to back wall. Cylee hadn't ever given it a name, even in her head. It was just a cave. But she came here at least every other month. Never really on a schedule or at a specific time. Just when she needed to.

She hadn't really meant to decorate it either. It wasn't a shrine, it wasn't meant to be a trove of memories she wanted to keep alive. But over the years it had gathered memories, like leaves blown into a corner. Printouts of news articles, images, a few solid keepsakes adorned the walls. Some of them were just the things they had used when they lived here, back at the end. She sat down in the middle of the cave, looked at the walls. Kelly walked around, reading the articles, looking at he rough sleeping rolls laying on the floor.

“How long were you four here?” Tamara asked.

“Two weeks, give or take,” Cylee said.

“Then what happened?”

Cylee sighed and stood up. “I don’t remember. Whatever happened, I uploaded to memory storage. I know roughly what’s in there, of course. But I don’t directly remember it.”

“That…shouldn’t be possible,” Tamara said.

The Agent (Cylee): We cheated a little bit. It’s not normally possible, but we understood what you were trying to do, and made it work better.

“I had some help,” Cylee said. She went to a wall, reached down under the sleeping mat (Kim’s) and pulled out a small rectangle. “Does someone have a screen we can share?”

“Yeah, I have a tablet…” Tamra said and dug into her purse. Cylee took the proffered tablet and plugged the memory module into it. There was only one file on it, labeled the_end. She tapped on the file and the video and audio portions of the memory started.

The video is from Cylee’s perspective, indeed it’s her memories.

“We can’t all move together,” Wes was saying when the video began. His eyes were bloodshot, and he was twitching just a little. He was dirty, as they all were, but never looked disheveled. Cylee had wondered about that.

“I know,” Kim said. Her pale skin was also smudged and dirty, and her short brown hair tangled. It had never quite been long enough to braid, but definitely long enough to tangle.

Shaun sat against the wall opposite Cylee. His head was hanging down and he had his elbows on his knees. He didn’t respond to anything the others were saying, just stared at the floor.

“So it’s agreed, We should split up,” Wes said. “I’ll head east, cross Bonneville territory into Montana. Zeta,” Wes always used code names, Cylee remembered. “You said you want to go north?”

Kim nodded. “Canada sounds nice.”

“Zero, you’re heading into Seattle? Do you think that’s wise?” Wes asked.

“I’m going to stay in Washington. I might head east to Spokane instead. I don’t know. I’m definitely not going back up to Alaska.” Video-Cylee said.

“And what about you Sagittarius?” Wes was always the most military of the Ghosts. Shaun continued to stare at the floor.

“Shaun?” Kim sat by him and laid a hand on his shoulder.

“I don’t know. Don’t care. Maybe I’ll try my luck in Texicali.” Shaun said, not looking up.

For a moment they were all silent. Not looking at each other, not really looking at anything.

Kim finally said, “it looks like our food is cooked. Does anyone want to take the solar oven?”

“You can have it, Zeta,” Wes said. Kim served everyone lunch, and the video skipped ahead a bit.

The four of them were standing outside the cave with what few bits of equipment they had been able to salvage. Cylee checked her weapons, checked her backpack straps, and they all looked at each other. There wasn’t anything to say.

Cylee turned west, the others all started heading out as well. Cylee’s vision seemed simple and peaceful, and dead quiet for about two minutes. Trees, trees, more trees. Cylee remembered thinking that someday she should learn what different trees were called—

There was the sound of a shot. Cylee instantly dropped to the ground and scanned the scene. She pulled her gun from her jacket, but there was no obvious target. The sound had come from southeast of her position. She started heading that direction. Through her Augments, she could tell that the others were converging as well.

She saw Wes and Kim, who had both arrived before her. Kim had a hand to her mouth. Wes was flexing his hands. They were standing still, looking at the roots of a tree that had blown over.

“Where’s Sh—“ Cylee realized she knew the answer before she finished the question. She came around to the side of the tree they were looking at. Shaun, it seemed, had taken his own way out.

The video skipped ahead again. Four hours, it said. It took them four hours to properly bury their companion. Digging a six foot deep hole is never easy. Kim cried the entire time. Cylee couldn’t. Not back then, anyway. She had many times since. Wes seemed to take Shaun’s suicide as a personal insult, grumbling and muttering the entire time about how selfish it was, how the others had all given so much of their food and time and energy…

It was dark when they finally had Shaun fully laid to rest and covered. Although they left the scene mostly hidden, they did carve a single arrow into the side of the tree. It seemed appropriate.

Then Cylee looked around, squeezed Kim’s arm, waved vaguely at Wes, and headed west.

The video ended and Kelly was crying. Tamara had her head down. All three were breathing hard. “I don’t let myself watch that very often,” Cylee said. It was a cruel thing to do to Kelly, she knew, but they didn’t seem to understand loss, they didn’t seem to really know what they were getting into.

“I can understand why you would want to erase that. But why do you ever watch it?” Tamara asked, her voice heavy.

“Because I need to remember where I come from. This world wants me dead, Tamara. It’s not Shaun’s fault he couldn’t handle it; he wasn’t dealt a fair hand. For all I know Wes and Kim are dead now as well.”

“I don’t know where Zeta is, but I’m just fine,”

“Wes?” Cylee turned. Wes was standing in the entrance to the cave, looking at the three of them. He was dressed in combat gear, but not military combat gear. Rather the kind that people who took neighborhood watch schemes to seriously would wear. All black, lots of pockets with complicated closures, and the like.

“Hello Zero. I knew you’ve been visiting this cave and I found the memory storage a while ago. You never even bothered to encrypt it. So I added a little something. Now it notifies me whenever it’s accessed.”

Wes stepped into the cave and looked at the other two. “Doctor Patel, nice to see you paying so much attention to General Vance’s orders. Winning Zero’s trust, bringing her back in from the cold.” Wes’ words were measured, confident, almost friendly, but Cylee was still on red alert.

“And who is this? I didn’t know you had children, Doctor…” Wes stopped. Cylee moved slowly to put herself between Wes and Kelly. Not that it would stop Wes from seeing her, but it would keep him from getting to her.

“Oh, Doctor, what have you done?” Wes said. His face moved to a half-smile, but none of it was friendly. “Wanted one of your very own did you? How did you get it out of the compound, Doctor?”

“Wes, leave them both alone.” Cylee said, but it was pointless. Wes was fixated.

“I want you to know, Doctor, that I’m not mad. Just…disappointed. I suspect I know how you did it now. One of the most recent batch, I think? And you declared this one unviable, and terminated. Well. I’ll just have to make a small adjustment. We want reality to match your report, don’t we?”

Wes pulled a gun out of his jacket and aimed at Kelly. This wasn’t like him. They’d known each other, and his fighting style was simpler, less showy. Also he wouldn’t kill needlessly, that was one thing Pacifica had pressed into all of them. Of course, the last few years had done their pressing as well.

Cylee had all these thoughts in the time it took Wes to get his hand into his jacket holster and back out. By the time his gun was in plain sight she had already started running at him. By the time he had released the safety she was diving at him and yelling “Tamara get Kelly to the car!”

By the time Wes had pulled the trigger Cylee’s body was crashing into his. Which meant thirteen flechettes, each poisoned, stitched into her body. Another   twenty-three hit the back wall of the cave, which, being granite, was immune to the poison. The last few hit the armor in Cylee’s jacket.

Which was what eventually saved her life. More than thirteen would have been trouble. AS it was, those thirteen felt bad enough.

“Blast it, Zero, I was supposed to bring you in alive,” Wes said, somehow still conversationally as she rolled off of him and got back to her feet.

Agent (Cylee): Very bad, this is very bad.

Cylee swung a wide punch at Wes which he dodged, giving her the opening she was looking for. She kicked his knee and he went down to a crouch. He pushed her, trying to get her to lose her balance on the uneven floor, but she stepped back and kept her feet under her. One hand scrabbled on the ground…found it.

“If you stop moving around now we might be able to get the poison out of you before it kills you, Zero” Wes said. Her abdomen was on fire, and though she couldn’t count them individually she could feel every one of those small winged needles in her flesh.

“help…help me out of the cave…” She said. Wes stepped forward, reached out a hand. She took his hand, pulled him down and bashed him over the head with the loose rock she had found.

Wes stumbled, took two steps backward, and Cylee threw the rock full in his face. He went over backwards. Cylee ran out of the cave. She was fully aware she shouldn’t even be able to breathe right now.

Cylee: Mitzi! Mitzi: Cyl? What’s up? Cylee: I’ve been shot, Mitz! I need a cleanroom-equipped safe house, close to my location. Mitzi: Shot? Are you okay? I’m looking for a place now…Can you drive? Should I send a car? Cylee: Yes shot, no I’m not okay, I might die, no I can’t drive, but no don’t send a car, send the directions to Tamara Patel. Mitzi: Don’t you dare die on me, Cyl. Okay, Tamara has the directions. She can see you now, she says. I’ll meet you there.

“Good,” Cylee thought, and everything went dark. The last thing she saw was Kelly, crying and looking for all the world like Kim when Shaun died.