I lean back and stretch, cringing slightly at the loud popping noises that come from my shoulder. I'd put up a code that effectively hid the Internet from public view. By my count, the program should last about three days, plenty of time for people to worry, but not enough to make any serious damage.
I stand up from the concrete floor, gingerly testing my weight on my right leg. A slight pain shoots up my shin, and I wince.
The screen on my tracker flashes. A new message. My tracker looks similar to a smartwatch form the old days but is actually a locator and a message receiver. I had it fastened onto my wrist when Boss took me in; I haven't been able to take it off since. Boss put it on me as a security precaution, and I can't say I blame her. I've been trying to run away ever since I found out that I had to work under her like a servant.
I tap the screen of the tracker and a hologram fades into existence before me.
Go get food. There's nothing in this house, and I don't have time to get it myself. You know how busy I am.
I sigh irritably. Busy. All she does is sit around watching her virtual koi pond. I like koi and all, but her obsession with them is entirely different. It's slightly unsettling at times.
I step out of the house and walk down the street to the closest convenience store. It's about twenty-five minutes away by walk because Boss likes living in the outskirts of our community. The same view surrounds me as always, never particularly changing no matter how many times I come here. Buildings in various states of disrepair are scattered across the land, like seeds thrown out for pigeons. Stray vines creep up many of their walls from unknown depths.
I keep my gaze ahead, though. I don't need any more reminders of the time I nearly died. As if on cue, the pain in my leg flares up again, and I'm forced into a limp. I lean heavily on my left side, wincing every time my weight falls on my right leg.
I look into the distance to see a gnarled, blackened tree that looks like it fell from hell. A long gash runs through the center and the tree looks as though it might fall apart. By some miracle though, it doesn't.
I make a sharp right at the tree, and continue until I am standing in front of a wall. The cracked bricks make me think of the irony of it all. Here we are, in the highest era of technology known to earth, and this is what we have to show for it?
I push at the center, where red graffiti marks the space with words.
Why did you do this?
Have you seen my daughter?
Life is horrible.
And the worst one: I won't be here tomorrow. Goodbye world.
I shut my eyes briefly against the images, then push harder. A hologram of a door appears beneath my palm, the darkness of the illuminated stone starkly contrasting against my pale skin. I tap my watch three times and hold it in front of the door so the program can scan my ID. The door flickers out of existence, and the ground beneath me drops, taking me with it.
There is a heavy darkness here, stifling me. I gasp for air. I can't breathe. My left hand finds a wall next to me and I force my feet to move forward. It is smooth, but when I lift my hand for a moment, my palm sticks slightly to the wall. I feel nauseous. It would be so easy to just stop right here, to never get back up. Beads of sweat fall from my brows, and I put all my concentration into keeping my feet moving forward. My hand on the wall. The musty scent of being underground, the sharp tang of a smell unknown to me.
Anything besides this horrible darkness.
At last, my toes hit something solid. I tentatively step up, and sure enough, there is a staircase. One flight later, I find myself at the surface, blinking into the daylight. I wipe the sweat from my forehead. Nothing quite like being grateful for light after spending fifteen agonizing minutes in the dark.
I see the store ahead of me. It looks like a typical convenience store, with its unassuming front and bolded signs. I step through the door, and it slams shut behind me. I start walking through the store, looking for anything that might be useful to Boss and I. There are the food and grocery aisles, with one whole section dedicated to instant noodles.
Obviously, I go there first.
After picking up about six month's supply of ramen, I am ready to make my way back, when I stop dead in my tracks.
Ashe looks around, clearly confused. She like a slightly older version of her photo; in the picture, she looked about twelve, now she looks almost fifteen. Her wide eyes blink once, twice, thrice, before she nods slightly to herself and makes her way to the noodle section. Her shoulder bumps into mine, and I hiss in pain from my shin when my leg collides with a shelf.
"Oh, I'm so sorry. Are you alright?"
She reaches out and steadies me, her voice soothing yet clear. As I nod in response, our eyes meet. There is kindness in them, but also fire. A hard determination that she will find the person who stole her work. She briefly smiles at me before leaving, and the light in her eyes is hidden away once more. I gaze at her retreating back, frozen. The fire I saw in her eyes was powerful, strong. I don't think she recognized me--if she does, I have a distinct impression that, put plainly, I'll be screwed.
I shake my head sharply to focus. I need to get through that hellhole of a tunnel again to go home.
I need to be careful because although she seems nice now, she won't be when she finds the culprit.