Crumbling Earth

While we all go about living our lives, a small group hold, possibly, the most important information in the world. The Earth is crumbling.

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6. Chapter 6

Kailen perched on the windowsill, allowing the wind to tug the length of her tangled hair out above the alleyway. She took in a rattling breath and let the lid of the her little box fly open. Out rushed the bewilderment, the curiosity and the memories - the latter impacted her most, in the form of her long-buried mother. A few days previously, she'd been gratified with an aimless life in semi-poverty.

Now, it's all been dredged up again, she observed. At least Dad's not here. He'd go mad if he knew that Mum hadn't just disappeared, but she'd gone to another universe...

What she was yet to figure out was what had happened to her afterwards - why wasn't she in the mirror universe anymore? She scowled at how ludicrous the concept still sounded. Her eyes darted over to Trecia's window once more and disgust reared its ugly head.

 

Lying's my job, she told herself, glowering at the lower window. Then she shoved the emotions back down her throat to analyse her situation. Head bowed, she tucked herself into the window's shape. One hand clutched the frame of the window while the other blindly fumbled about along the wall. It searched for the protruding wood of the ledge. Alas, it found nothing. So Kailen pulled it back to her chest, pouring more of her body into the building. Grey's shrunken figure appeared to still be unaware of her absence, a small reprieve for her. With a slight squint at the distance to the bookshelf below, she disposed of the idea.

Too much noise. She exuded a heavy breath as she faced the street again. But I can't jump, right? I'm desperate, not stupid... Or am I?

The height that stretched out below her had to equal at least three stories, a dizzying number that ran laps through her mind.

Calm down, you've never been scared of heights before. Why give up an old habit? she stammered inwardly, willing her quivering fingertips to remain still. One leg grazed the uneven wall in a search for footholds. She urged one to appear, pushing her foot agitatedly onto each and every brick that jutted out. Satisfied that she'd found a stable ridge, Kailen moved away from the window and began to repeat the process.

Easy, easy, she reminded herself, pausing in her descent for a brief eye roll. Dying young is too cliché for you.

 

With the thought lingering in the recesses of her mind, she continued her journey until a rhythm developed - right, left, right, left. When that beat abruptly ended, unease shook her. A glance at her precarious position ordered her not to move. One foot was still wedged in place while the other swung limply - she crammed it onto the same foothold, teetering as she did so.

"Woah," Kailen whimpered. Both hands tightened their grips on the wall. She swallowed hard, casting her eyes down at the perilous drop. If there were any routes for advancement, they were hiding. The mock climbing frame had begun to imprint shapes on her hands and an ache spread, yet she clung to it. Even as her eyes watered and, contrary to her wishes, sweat trickled across her palms. She bit her lip. And plummeted towards the ground.

Her back rebounded off of the rigid ground, sending shock waves of agony through her bones. Orbs wide with panic, she gulped and started to tally her throbbing limbs.

 

 

Stifling air had begun to converge on Grey's location, smothering him as he stuffed another book back onto its shelf in his fruitless attempts. He marched back down the isle and emerged - as though he'd been living under a rock for days.

At least, I feel like I have, he added, solely for his own ears.

"Kailen, I can't find a thing!" he called out to her. His feet made gentle sounds on the floor, which echoed throughout the building. They weren't joined by the messy yell of a reply - he lingered in the centre of the hall and turned on the spot. "Kailen?"

Where is she? Perfect time to give me the slip... he moaned. Then he began a fast-paced search down each row of books that he hadn't been to in their time there. She couldn't have gone far. We've only been here for twenty minutes and I didn't hear any noises.

At last, he stumbled upon a section with fresh footprints carved out of the fine debris on the floor. She'd been there... He glanced upwards at the trail her dirtied shoes had left - it appeared she'd also left. Then it occurred to him.

Hang on a minute, this place is nearly five stories high. She left through the window, so... He gulped. Before he knew better, his legs had taken on a life of their own. They barrelled towards the exit and sent him on a sprint for the alleyway beside the window. Ground rushed up beneath his feet, unearthing memories of his own streets as adrenaline coursed through his body's pathways. He came to a halt at the opening to the tight space. No sooner had he taken in the form splayed there than he'd swallowed another bolt of speed, and tore for the apartment building.

 

When the entrance of the dining hall burst open, Xander and Trecia had been buried deep in discussion. The deafening 'thump' that the door made almost startled the latter, formality consuming her like armour. Hazel eyes joined Xander's blue ones as they focused on the teenager that had just entered 'kamikaze style'.

"Grey? What's wrong?" she asked, searching his frantic expression.

"K-k... It's Kailen," he mumbled, breaths rasping. Trecia laid a hand on his arm despite the commanding front that he acknowledged, even in his tiring state.

"Did you find her?" Xander interjected. Grey nodded his affirmative.

"I found her and she asked me to h-help her with something. I told her I would and we split up to finish faster," he explained to them. The compressions and expansions of his chest had calmed so he straightened up, seeing the two stood - all but patiently - to hear the rest of his tale. "I went to look for after twenty minutes and she was gone. So I looked in the alley and she was just lying there!"

"And you left her?" Trecia enquired, throwing a pinch of shock into her voice. Her eyes seeked out Xander's and passed along a mystifying look to.

"I didn't have a choice!" Grey protested. "It was either stick by her and risk you not finding us, or come to get you and hope she hangs on."

Xander slipped past Trecia and seemed to take hold of the metaphorical steering wheel.

"Don't worry. We have to get there as quickly as possible, okay?" he instructed them, directing the young man towards the door by his shoulder. "Trecia, can you get Naid to set up their room for when we bring her back? And find the things out of the medical stores, please. You know he's hopeless."

"Okay," she replied and strode off into a section of the building that Grey had yet to be familiar with. Before he could investigate further, Xander had guided him through the door and on his way to the body still lying in against the hard ground.

 

 

Stale scents attacked her nostrils, making them flare at one of the few scents that brought flavour, however putrid, to the dullness. Cold had crept beneath the neckline of her t-shirt, tickling her back unforgivingly. A dreadful silence had fallen since the half-familiar figure had appeared a few feet away from her.

Silence means no footsteps. And no footsteps means no people, she told herself, managing to form a coherent thought after ten minutes of lying on the ground and staring at the arid sky. Or have I been here for ten minutes? What if I've been here for an hour? What if I'm not here at all and I'm dea... Stop it. Don't go there.

Pain held her head against the floor as though a magnet was hidden beneath the surface. Her vision faded in and out of focus - which was no problem, considering that her vision was fixed on one point. The corner of something poked into her side with the rest of its mass spread out in a flimsy rectangular shape across her thigh.

The book, she noted. Still in my pocket...

 

Just then, she sensed a presence and tilted her head forward (with little care). Two shapes were approaching her, muttering words she couldn't make out. It sounded like they were telling her it'd 'be okay'.

Okay? Kailen panicked. I'll be okay? Got to be joking...

"Ge' me out o' 'ere," she spluttered, attempting a grin when she achieved her goal - she had their undivided attention. As her view cleared, she realised that one of them was Xander. She began to squirm, ignoring the agony it incited within her. A hand gently took her by the arm and she found herself looking into Grey's similarly blue orbs. She ceased her movements and allowed them to lift her cautiously away.

When they were some way out, Xander stopped - Grey pulled Kailen into his arms.

"Look, I'll carry her. No offense, but I've lived in better conditions for longer. And I need to build my strength," he told the older man as he came to a stand-still beside him, shoving a strand of chestnut hair upwards with a puff of breath.

"Alright," Xander agreed. "Just don't drop her."

Kailen would've rolled her eyes if they would follow her commands and open. But she settled for inwardly snorting, thinking of all the times she'd heard 'fall down the stairs' jokes. Soon, their journey resumed and, one monotonous chunk of time later, they arrived at their destination. Grey elbowed the door of their apartment open, head suddenly filling with fretful presumptions. He was met with the black-haired siblings as they rushed about the apartment. Naid was pouring over a tray of equipment but Trecia has abandoned her task and approached him.

 

"Just put her on the bed, carefully," she ordered. Grey nodded, shuffled over to aforementioned object and placed her on it. He fought against concern - Trecia cast him an assuring look. A sword to repress what he couldn't handle. He grabbed it eagerly, with both hands, and stepped back, allowing those with more experience to take over.

"Hello..." Trecia muttered in an attempt at warmth between them. However, Kailen simply slapped her hand away and scowled. "I'm trying to help you."

"Help yourself," she grumbled. "Or someone else. I don't need help from you. "

"Let her help you." And, in a rush, Grey was there. His face implored her to listen to him; he didn't fancy the idea of his friend being the kind of person that was usually the result fall from a window. For the second time that days, his wishes caused her to pause. And, in that moment, Trecia took the chance to begin her procedure (even if Kailen stared daggers at her shoulder).

"Knew my mum..." she babbled. Her words were jumbled but they stilled the elder woman's hands.

"What did she say?" Trecia asked, looking to Grey for a translation. He hesitated and grasped for a credible solution.

"Err... She asked you when you'd be done. Like, 'when you done' or something," he lied (and prayed it didn't show on his features). Trecia's mouth made a little circular shape and she returned to her work. He released a breath he wasn't conscious of holding, propping himself up against the wall. Somehow, he doubted that it would end there.

 

 

Naid and Xander had shuffled out of the room, chatting almost animatedly about an early lunch. Trecia was still altering machines and assisting a now-snoozing Kailen. Stepping forward, Grey took her arm.

"You can stop now, it's nearly 11am. There's nothing else you can do," he reassured her. "You don't need to blame yourself."

Much to his surprise, she did as he told and moved to face him properly. The skin around her eyes had turned pink with concentration while her shoulders had slumped.

Wow... I've never seen you like this, Trecia, he thought. I've never seen you much...

"Come on, sit with me." He gestured over to his bed, seating himself, as he waited for her. The covers liberated her aching body when she took a seat. Their backs were rested against the wall at the side of her bed and the solid object convinced her body that it was acceptable to drift off. In a matter of seconds, her head had found the support of a shoulder. At first, she wasn't bothered in the slightest about who it belonged to - then she recognized it through her fluttering eyelids and promptly drew away.

"Sorry, I'm not usually so quick to trust. Or sleep on people's shoulders," she chuckled half-heartedly, still hovering close enough for him to see the tiny pigment changes in her complexion. It enthralled him. "We don't see many people here, with it being a disaster and all. Just good to see a new human face, if you get what I mean."

"Yeah..." he replied, letting her words circle in his head and knowing only some of it was true. "Look, maybe you should go and have a nap. I'm sure one of the others will come and find you when it's time for lunch."

"Okay." Trecia eyed Kailen one last time before she slid off the bed. "I'll see you later."

 

"Bye." As soon as the door closed, he stood and moved over to Kailen. He dug gently around in her pocket, easing out the flimsy book. It didn't have a printed or grand cover - it was just bound in plain black leather and was only just thicker than his thumb. He flipped the cover open, surveying the inside. "It's a diary."

He ran his eyes over the text, picking out little snippets of the scrawled handwriting.

"Merge... Infection spreading... Isolating Namardea... Marie? Execution?!" His voice, increasing in volume as he absorbed each paragraph of the author's life, stirred Kailen. He hurriedly closed the book - apparently too late, as she zeroed in on him.

"Could you keep it down? I'm trying to sleep," she complained and shifted around on the narrow bed. Grey sighed, barricading his shell-shocked expression behind a wall that a bed-ridden person certainly couldn't climb.

These people had a disease from something called 'the merge'... They cut off the city and then Kailen's Mum visited. Someone was executed... He turned the facts over and over inside his mind. Meanwhile, the fifteen-year-old girl in front of him narrowed her eyes.

"Did you say my mum's name?" she queried, watching with tunnelled vision as he vigorously shook his head. "No, you said her name. Don't lie!"

"Kai-" he began to refute the accussation, only to be interrupted by her shrill tone.

"Did you know they knew her?" She glared at him, all her hatred directed towards a victim of collateral damage - or so it seemed.

"Who?" His brow creased and he leaned a little closer. A disconcerting feeling of déjà vu set up camp inside him.

"Them. Not some weird government organisation, Trecia and her lot," she elaborated. "They knew Mum. And I'll tell you what that execution part was about - it was her. I bet they killed her."

"Bets are useless, Kailen. We can't just ask them for proof and, without it, we're just grasping at straws," he stated. "As far as I'm concerned, she could've died of this 'disease' they're talking about."

"No," Kailen retorted, her stubborn mask placed firmly on. Denial thrived just beneath the surface of her skin.

No, no, you're can't be right! she wailed internally, mirroring her words. Just because your parents are fine...

"I've got to go, they're talking about lunch and I'm starving. Don't do anything stupid," Grey warned her, standing and approaching the door. Kailen offered him a thumbs-up and a tiny, devious smirk.

"Oh, I will. Trust me." And, with a click of the hinge, the door swung shut.

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