Phase Two by Aubrey Lackey

The end was actually just the beginning. I woke up sweating one morning because I had a dream that the world was about to end as we know it. My palms were sweaty and I could barely stand as I went over to my touch pad to order water from our personal robot who cooks and cleans for us, programmed specifically to our house. I always have bad dreams, the worst nightmares, but this one felt all too real as if it was a sign for the future. I am constantly in my head. I genuinely feel as if my life is just a book, and I am the tiny voice in the back of my head dictating how my character, Ivy, moves and talks and lives her life. My body doesn’t feel like my own, and my thoughts seem to vary from everyone around me. I am different, and I know it, but for some reason I am scared for anyone else to find out.

“What your city now needs from you, more than ever, is certainty. Each of you look deeply within yourself and ask, am I certain? Do you love your city?” Lillith paused for effect and let her question reverberate throughout the crowd. “Finally,” she broke the silence, “you must ask yourself, do you love me enough to give your life for me?” 

The crowd roared their affirmation. I did as well. I didn’t know where the sound came from, somewhere within me. I never felt normal in the crowd of die hard believers, and apparently someone else felt disconnected from the praise too because the man next to me blurted out, “Why do we have to do this? Why do we have to praise one person when none of what is happening is even real? Toby is his name I think, and he was stunned when he realized what he had just said. 

An unbearably narcissistic man on the other side of the crowd roared in protest of what Toby said. The robot guard’s eyes turned red and were shouting, “BRING ME TOBY! BRING ME TOBY!” while running over the crowd trying to find him, but before they had a chance to grab him, I took him by the hand and we started off in a hot pursuit for somewhere safe to hide. I looked back at Lilith; we locked eyes and I felt my heart sink to my stomach; she was not going to stop until she found the two people who disrupted her “perfect” system. 

Toby and I ran until the breath was ripped entirely from our lungs and it felt impossible to go on. We stopped right at the wall that has been on every edge of the city since I could remember, and it almost felt like we didn’t even need to speak to each other; we just understood each other on a different level. Toby thanked me, and we got to talking about what we were supposed to do next. I was scared to say what I was thinking, and Toby noticed that and grasped my left arm, pulled my chin up with his other hand, and told me I could tell him; that there was no bad idea because we both know something about this city isn’t real. I sighed and gave in, it’s hard not to when he has such big dreamy eyes, “We should jump the wall” I rolled my eyes and sulked, not knowing that Toby had been thinking the same thing. He grabbed my hand and hoisted me up on the wall so I could help pull him to the top where I was perched. The view from the top of the wall was incredible and surprisingly easy to get up and over; I’m assuming that’s because Lilith has everyone in the city so brainwashed that none of them would even dare to think about if something was on the other side of the peculiar wall. 

Toby looked me in the eyes so full of hope, the mutual understanding of each other was indescribable, but didn’t last for long because we both felt a net wrap around us and as we were captured and blindfolded I got a small peak of Lilith smiling down on me, prideful in the fact that she had just won. My eyes opened but everything was blurry and I had no idea where I was, Toby was out of sight. I tried to move my arms but I was tied to a pole, hands behind my back and knees bent on the ground. Lilith emerged from the shadows and grabbed me by the neck, forcing me to look up at her. 

“What do you know and how do you know it?” 

“I have no idea what you’re talking about Lilith.” 

“DO NOT LIE TO ME IVY! How did you know this was all a simulation?”

I smirked, finally what I had been feeling was validated and I was right all along. 

“ I didn’t know before, but now I do, so thank you kindly you evil bitch.” 

Lilith slapped me across the face so hard my cheek began to drip blood onto the metal floors. 

“Fine, be difficult. Remember though, Toby can only last so long underwater.” Toby was revealed to me in a tank, like a wild animal, begging to breathe. 

“Fine! I only knew something was off because I have always felt out of place and dissociated with everything and everyone in this city. I question what you all try to hide because it is my human nature.” Gasping for air after saying this all so quickly I felt a gun cock right on my temple and my whole body froze, I was about to die. 

The gun pressed firmly against my head and the man behind the gun, one of Lilith’s followers I’m sure, laid his finger on the trigger. I closed my eyes, preparing for death when all of a sudden I heard the gun go off, except it wasn’t at me, it was at Toby as he broke from the glass and started to tackle the executioner. Toby took the gun and shot everyone in the room, except Lilith who had escaped. He told me to run and jump the wall, to go be free. I looked back at him, expecting him to be following closely behind only to find him lying on the ground, bleeding directly from the heart. Dropping to my knees I grabbed him, “NO TOBY! DON’T YOU DARE LEAVE ME! Don’t you dare…” I wrapped my arms around his dying body and right before he closed his eyes for the final time he kissed me, it was his way of saying goodbye. I held him for a few moments longer before realizing that if I didn’t leave now I would never make it out of here. I stood up, looked at Toby one last time, my most brave man, and took off for the wall. 

There were a few men following me, shooting at me, and directing me to stop, but I was heartbroken and enraged at the world, so I didn’t hear a thing except the sound of my feet hitting the ground, knowing I was one step closer to freedom. I hurled myself over the wall, dodging a bullet that skimmed the side of my leg, leaving a mark, and landed feet first on untouched terrain. I sprinted through the forest that I had landed in, hoping to find something on the other side, but when I came to a clearing in the woods all I saw was thousands of people, lined up in the stadium that surrounded them with popcorn and candy. The city I used to call home was displayed gigantically on a hologram, so everyone there could see the war breaking out due to Lilith’s complete and utter rage. I dropped to my knees as someone placed a medal around my neck and said the most bone chilling sentence I have ever heard, “Welcome to phase Two.” 

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