“Right well, you all know why I’ve called this small meeting.” Annabeth speaks up, we’re all sat in a circle, ready to discuss Tim’s message and settle the matter once and for all. It’s been two days since he came to us, and we’ve just kept going as normal, ignoring the upcoming alliance to the best of our abilities. Today however, Annabeth had decided that enough was enough. She’d dragged us all over and taken control, tired of pretending like our problems don’t exist. I’m relieved, after all, it was going to have to have happened sooner or later, and Daniel seems to share my opinion...Max however, sits with a cold and closed posture, refusing to make eye contact with any one of us. “In five days time The Resistance and The Rebellium are going to join forces against the government, and we need to decide if we’re with them or not. Now we can’t change the fact that this alliance is going to happen, but we can control how we react to it. We have to be sensible about this, we’re not children in a playground, we’re soldiers lying down in no man's land.”
“It’s all very well acting all good and proper, but we can ignore the obvious. If we side with the resistance, we side against Luci.” Daniel reminds his cousin, keen for us not to fall into the vulgar mistake of shying away from the simple yet devastating fact.
“Luci would side against us any day, if it meant she could get one step closer to whatever it is she wants.” Annabeth shrugs, her sharp honesty clearly hurting Max, who remains completely mute and stiff.
“But we’re not Luci, we’re better than that.” Daniel argues, shaking his head.
“Are we?” Annabeth questions, “Are we really pure little angels tangled in a hellish web of lies and deceit? Or do we belong among the flames with all the other sinners?”
“We belong nowhere.” I speak for the first time, “And yes, we are better than Luci, and we always will be.”
“Okay, say we are, does that then mean we sit back and let her wreak havoc? That doesn’t sound any better than taking her down to me.” Annabeth points out, still firm and confident in her argument.
“So you think we should side with the alliance?” Daniel checks, just to be sure. I think, perhaps, he wishes that his cousin wasn’t being so tactical. It is as if Annabeth’s heart is absent from her, her morals gone, leaving only her own battle instincts to guide her head.
“I can’t see any valid reason not to.” Annabeth nods, “My vote is with The Resistance.”
“Well if we’re all voting then I say mine is with Luci,” Max looks up, his eyes puffy and bloodshot, “I know she tricked and played us, and I know she’d betray us again if it would be profitable to her...but I can’t help it, if she were to die, and I were to play a part in her death, no matter how small that part, then I wouldn’t be able to live with myself. So I vote we ignore the alliance, I won’t be a player in their game.”
“Sorry man, but I’m with Annabeth on this one.” Daniel sighs, “The alliance will be a powerful group, and it would be a lot safer for us to be on the inside, where we can keep an eye on things. I don’t owe Luci a thing, and though a part of me feels reluctant to leave her to their mercy, I can’t cast a blind eye to the obvious benefits of joining. My vote is with the alliance too.”
“Elia? It’s down to you on this one. Vote alliance and we go for that, vote Luci and it’s a draw between the two.” Annabeth turns to me, putting me on the spot.
I glance at the trio sat around me. The heartbroken Max with so little hope left in him I fear he might actually give up on life, confident Annabeth with all her brute opinions, and my Daniel, thinking tactfully under pressure, as always. How will I respond? If I vote alliance I agree to let Luci suffer in the name of the greater good, and if I vote Luci I force us four to find a new way of deciding, still not completely shutting down the chance of us to join, for better or for worse. In my heart I know I should vote alliance, it’s the winning side. With them, we’d be unstoppable. We’d actually stand a chance at taking down the system, and I’d finally belong, me and Daniel could start up Watson & Jackson...everything could be perfect. But when I look at Max, my heart melts, and with it, all my longing to vote correctly. Luci played him so well that even now she has a hold on him. I genuinely believe there is still a part of him that feels for her, despite all that she did. If Luci got hurt or killed Max would be distraught, a ghost of his former self, even more so than now. I can’t allow that to happen, for his sake. If I say the words ‘I vote alliance’, he’ll be the odd one out in the group, he’ll be alienated as well as pitied, and I don’t think he’ll ever trust any of us ever again. As much as I long for a sustainable future, a place where I belong, where me and Daniel can live in peace...I do not wish for a future where Max is no longer Max.
“I vote Luci.” I state simply, offering no explanation for my choice. Both Annabeth and Daniel sigh, unable to hide their petty disappointment. But Max smiles, and for the first time in weeks I get to see his white-toothed grin, which makes it all worth it somehow.
“What do we do now? The vote was equal on either sides.” Daniel asks Annabeth, who somehow seems to have become the leader of the team.
“Well, we only have Tim’s words to go on, so perhaps we need more information? That way our votes can be more educated, rather than just simple value judgements.” Annabeth suggests, thinking productively.
“How do we do that? Tim’s gone now, and we don’t have any other contacts.” I remind her, confused over her plan.
“Tim slipped me this before he left,” Annabeth reveals, pulling out a white paper slip from her pocket, “It’s a phone number, we could ring it and see who picks up?” I take it from her, examining the scrawny digits written out in messy black biro.
“There’s no name.” I bite my lip, a little unsure over whether or not to go ahead with the call. “We don’t know who we’d be calling, what if it’s a trick? They’d know that if we called the number then we were having second thoughts, perhaps it’s a police number? They might be trying to get us arrested, a sort of ‘with us or against us thing’.”
“You really think they’d do that?” Daniel finds it hard to believe.
“The resistance, no, but the rebellium, yes. I wouldn’t put it past them to pull a stunt like that, and I’ve learnt to never underestimate them.” I explain, handing the slip of paper back to Annabeth.
“Elia’s right,” she agrees, “We can’t trust this number, not for now anyway. Tim will be back before the week is over to collect our verdict, we can ask for more information then.”
“What do we do in the meantime?” Daniel stands up, not happy with just sitting around.
“What we’ve been doing for the past three and a half months,” Annabeth decides, “Hiding, and surviving.”
Daniel gives in, shrugging his shoulders and going to lie down on one of the dusty mattresses. Max also goes over to relax, emotionally exhausted. Annabeth heads outside because ‘she needs some air’, leaving me alone. Bored, I resort, as always, to tidying, kneeling down and folding all my clean clothes, well, most-clean clothes. It’s been hard to remain a decent standard of cleanliness whilst on the run, and I’ve learned to be a lot less fussy about many things, such as the point at which a top is too dirty to wear for a further day. I lift each item up as I fold them, sniffing to test how they’re holding up smell-wise, I have a cheap spray I bought to disguise the muddy smell with a more floral one, but it ran out a week ago and they’ve been growing smellier by the day. I don’t mind feeling filthy, but smelling it is a whole new obstacle to overcome. Daniel says he doesn’t mind the aroma, but I can tell it bothers him slightly, almost as much as it bothers me. I pick up my hoodie and start to fold, and as I do a white object falls from the pocket, drifting side to side as is floats to the ground. Confused, I pick it up. It’s another slip of paper, similar to the one Annabeth had. On it is a message written in the same handwriting and ink as the other note.
He wants to talk to you.
A theory forming in my mind, I walk over to where we were all sat just a few minutes ago, where the slip with the phone number on it lies on the ground, picking it up. Both slips have rough-edges where they’ve been ripped, and when I put them together they fit like two jigsaw pieces. I was sat next to Annabeth when Tim was over, in between herself and Daniel...perhaps he mixed up the two pockets? Maybe the number was meant for me?
Acting casual, I walk over to where the phone is kept, inconspicuously picking it up, not that I need bother, both Max and Daniel are staring straight up at the ceiling. Wanting to avoid Annabeth at all costs, I go out the back entrance. Once I’m out of earshot, I take out the phone and dial the number. It gets answered after the first ring.
“What was the first thing Charles said to Elia when he met her in the alleyway?” The voice at the other end of the phone asks, her tone stiff and formal. I think back to the alleyway, trying to recall his words.
“Are you armed?” I recite, hoping that my memory serves me correctly.
“And how did she respond?” The voice continues her security check.
“I don’t even own a gun.” I remember, unable to stop myself from smiling slightly. So much has changed since then, like for instance, now I do own a gun. The phone clicks, and a new voice speaks, one I am familiar with.
“Elia, I’m glad you phoned.” Charles says, “I’m guessing you need some more persuading before you join the resistance-rebellium alliance?”
“We need more information.” I confirm, trying to sound stern.
“Well then, I’d be more than happy to comply.” His confidence alarms me, but I keep my breathing regular, “There are some important files being held at a facility nearby your little hidden camp. They contain some really juicy information that I’m sure would sway you, and I’d be more than happy to fund a little mission for you and your team to go and fetch them.”
“What sort of information?” I ask, not about to head of on a dangerous mission for nothing.
“Information that could bring down Xander Moore once and for all.” Charles keeps it brief, trying to entice me.
“Haven’t you heard? Xander isn’t my dad.” I remind him, snapping slightly.
“But he is the man who murdered your mother,” Charles slurs, “Now if I were you, I’d want my revenge.” I think for a moment, a lump growing in my throat.
“We have a leak inside the facility who told us they’re in Locker 210, the code to get in is 3700. You four go fetch them, read them, then give me a call.” He briefs me, before I can hang up he speaks again, “I look forward to working with you in the near future.”