SHADE (for writelongandprosper)

Yellow for mild swearing and some scenes of a sensitive nature.

To the north, there lies the old lake. South, the mountains. The west of the city is bordered by desert. To the east, there stands a wall.

Myles Lakeman is 18. He is a man, and it is time for him to receive his mission. His mission? Survive the night.
Myles must capture the rebels, conquer the landscape and most importantly, escape the elusive Shades... but along this journey he meets a girl, a girl with a mission of her own: she must find her brother.
Together, they discover that their world is hiding so much more than they once thought: what are the Shades and where do they come from? What are the rebels doing? What is on the other side of the wall?

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7. Chapter 6: Myles

Myles steps out of the lift and walks through the vast, empty space of the atrium. The edges of the room are lined with tables. On one side they are laden with clothes and shoes, but the tables on the other side of the room are empty but for two huge blue barrels with taps set into the front. His footsteps echo in the empty space, the weight of his gun familiar and yet unsettling on his shoulders.

For a brief moment, he considers turning back around, hiding in his old bedroom and running back to mission control first thing in the morning, but he knows they’ll find him. The tracker in his neck will make sure of that. Instead, he presses his wrist against the silver panel in the middle of the huge reinforced metal doors that lead to the outside.

The sky is dark, lit only by the pinpricks of light cast down from the stars above. A slight breeze whips past him, blowing a scattering of dust across the linoleum floor behind him. Bandit would be keeping tabs on him, and he rubs the sticking plaster on the back of his neck nervously. The doors close behind him with a solid, echoing bang.

The other soldiers all set out the second the sun vanished beyond the horizon, but Myles was held back. His mission was explained to him in more depth, clues and hints given about the sinister creatures that patrol the streets at night: there are more things to worry about in the city than just the rebels.

He realised then that he’d never been given the chance to reject the mission- but it was too late. A tricorder had been installed in his chest, a tracking device inserted under the skin in his neck. His hair had been shaved off, the brown of his eyes replaced with shining silver disks. While he still felt the same inside, he couldn’t help but feel that he had lost a part of himself, and for that reason, he knew he could never go back.

As soon as his mission was explained, Bandit led him to the armoury. She thrust a gun into his arms and pushed him towards the elevator bank, where he stumbled into one of the rumbling metal contraptions and waited in the silent darkness as he ascended to ground level. The lift spewed him into the dimly-lit atrium, and then he was alone.

His mission, he had been told, was to survive the night. The gun he holds contains tranquilizers and a heavy belt around his waist is clipped with a small bag containing enough darts for a refill. There’s another firearm tucked into the belt, a small handgun, loaded and flicked to safety. Bandit told him not to use the handgun unless he had to. Whether he catches rebel or Shade, he is to bring them back alive.

 A scurrying hiss sounds from the shadows and his raises his tranq gun, his back pressed against the solid doors of City Hall. His heart pounds furiously in his throat, his fingers pressing lightly on the trigger.

He’s never been out in the city before- and never expected to. He had never really given much thought to what his future would entail, and though he had always hoped he would get the opportunity to explore the world beyond City Hall, he never thought he’d be doing it with a gun in his hands.

The shadow moves, a long and slender limb melting from the darkness and appearing to materialise in front of him. Myles hesitates, his eyes darting back and to between the creature and the open space of the road before him.

First comes what some people might be tempted to call an arm. Next, what he supposes must be a leg, followed by the thin, bumpy torso of something at least twice his height. The skin of the creature is dark and leathery, almost liquid and shining in the moonlight. It is tall and skinny, as though one simple kick to the abdomen could cause it to snap in half.

Myles watches in horrified anticipation as the creature moves out of the shadow enough for him to see its head. The leathery skin stretches tight over a thin, bony skull somewhere halfway between horse and human. When the creature opens its mouth in what could, in some universe, be considered a grin, Myles knows he has to move. Long, ivory teeth ooze with acid poison, a substance sticky and red dripping down over its lips and splashing onto the floor. The creature slowly unfurls its hand, and he catches a glimpse of the moonlight reflect in the long, talon-like claws extending from each finger.

Finally, the instinct to run kicks in. Myles grips his gun tight in his trembling hands and takes off down the street, his feet pounding heavily against the pavement as he tries desperately to outrun the creature behind him. Only when he feels like he can run no longer does he chance turning around, but the creature is still stood at the top of the street, watching. Silently, it slinks towards the shadows and melts back into the darkness, no evidence it was ever there but for the sticky red splashes on the ground, too far away now for Myles to even see.

He turns down an alleyway to his right, creeping silently through the darkness until he comes to a stop outside a crumbling warehouse. Beneath the white canvas of his uniform and the sticking plaster on his chest, his tricorder bleeps.

The stars glisten above as he fumbles with his LIFEPAK, unhooking the small bag from his belt and withdrawing an energy bar from within. “Army Issue, High Energy Protein Bar: Chocolate Flavour” Is written on the front in black writing. There’s two of these stuffed into the bag, as well as a bottle of water and a handful of meal replacement pills. Enough supplies to easily last a couple of days if you were careful, maybe longer if you could find more water.

He unwraps the energy bar and stares down at the unappealing mess in the palm of his hand, his new eyes more than making up for the lack of light. The bar is made from cereals, seeds and nuts, and stuck together with something sticky but not sweet. It’s coated on the bottom and drizzled on the top with something solid and brown, which he supposes must be the ‘chocolate’. Half of him considers wrapping it back in the foil and shoving it in his pocket for later- at least with the MRPs, he knows what he’s expecting. He breaks off the tip of the bar with his thumb and forefinger and places it on his tongue.

Behind him, something stirs. He reaches for his gun and holds it at arm’s length, and the second the shadows at the end of the alleyway begin to move, he fires. The recoil shocks him and he stumbles backwards, choking on the mouthful of energy bar sitting on his tongue. He spits it out, seeds and chips of nut hitting the dusty ground below his feet.

Only then does he register that the shape emerging from the darkness had been distinctly human. He looks down at the gun to find the pistol from his belt, still smoking in his shaking hands. Slowly, he pushes the gun back into its sling and swings the tranquiliser gun from his back, holding it out in front of him, ready to aim as he walks slowly up the length of the alleyway, towards the dark mass slumped on the floor.

The body belongs to someone tall and thin, a man with burning red hair and bright blue eyes that stare deep into Myles’ soul. The centre of his chest is marked with a clean red hole, only now beginning to seep blood onto the fabric of his shirt. There is no fear in his face, and Myles hopes that he didn’t have time to registers what was happening to him. He wonders who this man will leave behind- perhaps a wife, children, siblings… if those things even exist out here. This was me, he thinks. I did this. This is my fault.

He gags, covering his mouth with his hand as he backs away into the darkness. The other soldiers will have heard the gunshot, the creatures too, and he couldn’t be caught at the scene of the crime. He needed to find a rebel, sedate them and take them back to base. Then his mission would be over, and he could try and forget.

An all-too-familiar slithering sounds from the shadows and he swears, panic rising in his chest. He ducks into a crumbling building and into a fireplace, clambering up the rough bricks inside the chimney until one of his hands grasps around something soft and warm. A girl screams and kicks out, solid wood colliding with Myles’ face as he hauls himself onto the upper floor of the building.

The girl is shorter than he is, with dirty blonde hair hanging in limp waves either side of her face and a thin blanket draped around her shoulders. She breathes heavily, her chest rising and falling heavy and fast. Her back is pressed up against one of the walls, her eyes burning a hole through the floor at his feet.

“Are you going to kill me?” She asks. Myles notices now that the thing that collided with his face was her leg: a wooden appendage secured to a ragged stump of flesh with a set of dirty and frayed canvas straps, just visible through a tear in her jeans. The skin around her stump is red-raw, blistered and bloody. Her face is smudged with dust and tears, her hair sticking to the sweat on her forehead in clumps.

He rubs at the drop of warm, sticky blood running from his nose. It smears across his olive skin, leaving a red streak along his cheekbone. “No,” He responds, dropping his gun at his side and lifting his hands in surrender. “I’m good.”

“How can I be sure you aren’t like them?” Her voice is quiet, but her words are packed with venom. She takes a step forwards, her wooden leg tapping against the concrete floor. She’s tough, her past marked in the scars and scratches up her arms and lining her face.

Myles opens his LIFEPAK and withdraws the rest of the protein bar, holding it out towards her and using his other hand to shield his face from further attack. “Take it.”

She picks the bar from his hand and peels away the wrapper, looking blankly down at the green ink printed onto the foil. “What is it?”

“It’s food. A high energy bar, with nuts and seeds and chocolate…” he starts, watching as she lifts it carefully to her face and takes a cautious sniff. Then she pinches a small amount of the sticky bar between her thumb and finger, breaks off a portion no bigger than the tip of her little finger and slides it into her mouth.

He watches as she chews it, trying not to think about the handgun sitting in his belt or the man lying dead at the end of the alley. She finishes one bite and takes another, this time lifting the whole bar to her mouth and taking a mouthful, until the bar is all gone. She lets the wrapped flutter to the ground and pulls the blanket tighter around her shoulders, looking at the gun lying on the floor.

“How are you different? What makes you different to them? Those monsters.”

“I…” Myles starts, not really knowing the answer. Was he really any different? “Monsters?”

“They… people like you… they killed my father. They took my brother. That’s the kind of person you are. The kind that kills people and takes them away from their families.”

Myles shakes his head, closing his eyes and feeling the warm pulse of the blood pouring from his nose. It splashes onto his uniform, red poppies blooming against a field of snow. “That wasn’t me. People like me, yeah, but… I don’t kill people.” His heart twinges painfully in his chest, his tricorder bleeping away beneath the bandage. He falls to his knees, letting his hands fall to his sides. His eyes burn, his tears hot against his cheeks. “I don’t kill people.” He sniffs and looks up through a web of tears. “I’m not like them.”

“Who are you?” She asks, stepping closer to him and kicking his gun out of arms reach with her prosthetic leg. “What’s your name?”

“Myles,” his voice shakes, his hands trembling as he presses them into his eyes. Pull yourself together. He pulls his hands away and looks up at her, trying to ignore the dust ticking at his nose. “What’s yours?”

“Lydia,” her face twists into a smile, but it looks forced. Her shoulders slump in defeat, her fingers drumming out a solo on the side of her thigh. “Lydia Pederson.”

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