When people think about the end of the world, they usually think about giant balls of fire crashing into the ground or an earthquake tearing the planet apart. But, that's not what it's like at all. There aren't any panicked crowds running through the streets. You won't hear the constant blaring of police sirens as they rush from building to building evacuating frightened children. In fact, everything looks normal on the outside. Most people don't even know the world is ending, and that's just it. Our world is full of terrible secrets, like an apple that looks beautiful and delicious on the outside, but has a core full of worms. And by worms I mean the Overlords.
The Overlords is another name for our government. They're a small group of powerful leaders from around the world who pose as kind, caring representatives of the people. They aren't nearly as nice as people think they are. They are the reason I am on the run. You see, my parents were part of the Resistance, a small band of people who are trying to keep the world from becoming the Overlords' puppet.
One day, someone told the police about my parents. The other Resistance members found out and told us to get out of the house before the police came, but my parents knew we would never be able to get out in time. So, they sat little 9-year-old me down on the couch and told me that I had to go into hiding.
“And take Ellie with you, she will protect you.” my mom told me as she helped me into a long, worn-out blue coat. Ellie was my robot companion. Her full name is EACP-M7, or Electronic Assistant for Companionship and Protection Model 7, but I call her Ellie for short.
I ran upstairs to power up Ellie, who followed me in complete silence except for a soft humming noise coming from her engine. Dad was waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs with a necklace in his hand: a metal cross on a shining silver chain. He slipped it over my head and told me to show it to the first Resistance member I saw. “It's our family symbol,” he explained quickly, “This way, they'll know who you are. They will take care of you.” With that, he and mom rushed me outside into the chilly night.
I waved goodbye to my parents as Ellie began to lead me down the empty street, unaware that this was the last time I would see them. I turned and let Ellie lead me along the street, past old, rundown apartment buildings and fading billboards (The Mark: everyone has it, get yours today!) until I couldn't see my house anymore. We kept walking, hiding in the shadows, checking each corner for roaming packs of Projects. The gravelly, worn-down roads hurt my bare feet, and I wished I had the money to buy a pair of boots. However, the only people able to buy anything anymore were the ones with the Mark, and my parents had forbidden me from getting it. I didn't really understand why I couldn't get it, but I trusted that they had a good reason.
After we had gone about twenty blocks, I heard sirens off in the distance. The police, I realized. I stood still for a moment, listening and trying to tell myself that my parents were going to be okay. Shouts echoed off the buildings, then a few rounds were fired, then silence. Until...
A long, angry scream shook the buildings. I had never heard Dad make a noise like that. My legs began to tremble as the shouts and shotgun blasts pounded on my skull again. The tumult continued for only a few more seconds before it faded into a dead silence. Something trickled down my cheek and froze in the cold air. I brushed my fingers against it and realized I was crying.
Ellie tugged on my other hand. “Young mistress, there is a 98.4% chance that the sounds you just heard will attract Projects. We must get to a safe place as soon as possible.” Her monotone voice was completely devoid of any emotion, as if the events that had just taken place were simply part of a TV show.
I couldn't talk, so I simply let her lead me farther into the night. My throat felt like I had tried to swallow my food without chewing first. My grief drowned out everything around me. I neither saw the abandoned houses we passed, nor heard the crows crying out from the rooftops. I felt lost, with no one to care for me. Ellie was programmed to help me, but a robot isn't the same as a living, breathing human. Humans are warm, they understand emotions and know how to comfort you. Robots are empty and cold.
Ellie and I set up camp in a train car near an old quarry. It was still in good condition; the door wasn't rusty so I could open and close it on my own. It was still kinda hard to move it, but I was always rather strong for my age. I would explore the streets during the day, beg for food from passersby, and dumpster dive when no one gave me anything. It may sound like a terrible life, in fact, the people who lived in the area began to refer to me as “that poor orphan”. But, in truth, it was the best life I had ever had. I had always wanted to explore the outside world, but my parents never let me out. Now I had the freedom to do almost whatever I wanted. The only thing stopping me was Ellie. Ever since we left home, she had begun to act more and more like my Mom.
“Young mistress, there is an 87% chance that you will be arrested if you steal food. Since avoiding the police is our number one priority at the moment, I suggest you refrain from doing this.” she said for what seemed like the millionth time.
“Ellie, why do you even care? You're a robot! And don't call me 'young mistress'!”
“What would you like me to call you?” came the monotone response.
I sighed, wishing yet again that robots had emotions. I almost wanted her to get angry at me, but the logical side of my brain reminded me that the emotions update wasn't compatible with her system. She was too old.
“Just call me Karla.” I grumbled before climbing into the train car and shutting the door. I sat there in the dark, wondering what it would be like to have a normal life like everyone else. A life where you could go outside and play without worrying about going hungry or getting caught by the police or running into a pack of Projects. I felt around the dark floor for my flashlight, but found nothing. I blindly made my way over to my bed, which consisted of a pile of leaves covered by a thin, worn blanket. My stomach was rumbling, but I didn't care. I just wanted to sleep and escape from life for a few hours.
When I got up the next morning, I found a note wedged under the crack beneath the train car door. It was from a new friend of mine, Russel, who hung out at a bar down the street called Late Night. I had found Late Night a few days after I left home. The smell of good food drew me in, and I got to know a few of the people there. I knew my parents had told me to stay away from bars because drunk people were unpredictable, but Late Night soon became my favorite place in the neighborhood.
I stepped outside into the morning sunlight and read the note. I was a little disappointed to find that it just an invitation to visit the bar. Then again, I thought to myself, since when does Russel send me invitations to hang out? I put my coat and necklace on, powered Ellie up, and made my way to the bar. Ellie followed wordlessly; she, like my mom, did not approve of bars.
By the time I reached the bar, my feet felt like they had turned into ice sculptures. When I opened the door, however, warm air came crashing over my body. I smiled and ran inside.
“Hey, Karla! Over here!” I turned and saw Russel and his buddies waving at me. When I walked over and sat on a stool next to them, I noticed there was a new guy sitting across the table from me.
“Karla, meet my best friend. Besides you, of course.” Russel gestured towards the man. “His name's Ryan.”
I looked at Ryan. He wore a faded green flannel shirt with long sleeves rolled up to the elbows, and skinny jeans that emphasized just how thin he was. His messy, jet black hair made him look like he had just crawled out of bed. Bright blue eyes looked at me from behind thin glasses.
He gave me a lopsided grin. “How are you, Karla?” he asked.
Whoa, I thought, he has an amazing voice. I stared at him for a few moments before realizing my mouth was hanging open. I snapped out of my trance and tried to remember how speech worked.
“You look like a lumberjack.” I said before I could stop myself. Russel choked on his drink and disappeared under the table in a fit of giggles. My cheeks turned pink with embarrassment.
Ryan laughed a musical laugh. “A lot of people say that. Anyway, Russel tells me you live by yourself.”
“No, I live with my robot.” I pointed at Ellie.
Ryan raised an eyebrow. “That's a pretty old model. Does it still work properly?”
“Yeah, she works fine,” I replied, “The only problem is that she's starting to talk like my mom.”
“Your mom...” a look of realization crossed Ryan's face. “Did she give you that necklace?”
I looked down at my necklace, which I realized was hidden under my coat. How did he know I had it? “Yeah,” I said quietly. Ryan held out his hand, and I dropped the necklace into it. For a moment, I thought I saw a blood stain on his arm before he withdrew his hand and sat back in his seat, studying the necklace.
“The metal cross on a silver chain...” he thought out loud. “If I'm not mistaken, Karla, your last name is Resning?
“How did you know that?” I asked. I tried to remember a time when I had told anyone my last name, but nothing came to mind.
“You have heard your parents talk about working in the Resistance, right?” I nodded. “Well, the Resistance was my idea. I am their leader.”
I kept my eyes fixed on Ryan, unable to believe my luck, but he continued to study the necklace. A look of grief lingered in his eyes, but only for a moment before he looked up with a smile.
“Well then, I suppose it's my job to take care of you then! Would you like to come and see our headquarters, Karla?” he said cheerfully.
“S-Sure.” I stuttered, caught off guard by his change in mood.
“Sweet.” Ryan rose from his seat, retrieved a small duffle bag from under the table, and gestured towards the door. “Shall we, my dear?”
“I giggled and felt my cheeks turn pink again. Russel got up and followed us outside with a knowing grin on his face. A light flurry of snow filled the air around us and tickled our noses. At first I enjoyed the snow, but after a few minutes of walking in it barefoot I felt like I was frozen to the ground.
Suddenly, I got the feeling that something was wrong. I glanced around, thinking that maybe we were being followed, but there was no one in sight other than Ryan and Russel.
“Where's Ellie?” I asked. Ryan stopped suddenly, apparently he had just noticed she was missing as well. I felt a sense of dread creeping down my spine; Ellie never left my side willingly.
“I'm pretty sure I saw her leave with us...” Russel said.
“We have to go find her!” I cried. “She might get attacked by Projects!” I tried to rush back towards the bar, but Ryan grabbed my hand.
“Hold on, Karla. Russel, will you carry this please?” He handed Russel the duffle bag, then picked me up and set me on his shoulders piggy-back style. “We'll make better time this way. The sun is getting pretty low.” he explained.
Sure enough, the sun was sinking rapidly behind the buildings as we searched the streets. Ten minutes later, we could only see a faint glow lingering on the horizon. Ryan stopped for a moment to catch his breath. “It's no good,” he panted, “There's nothing here, and the Projects will be on the prowl any minute now. We should head back, Russel... oh.” He turned to see Russel frozen in his tracks, staring at a pack of at least thirty Projects who were heading straight for us.
Ryan looked around the area, trying to come up with a plan. His gaze came to rest on a motorbike propped up against a dumpster, and he got an idea.
“Russel! Grab that motorbike, go back to headquarters, and get some backup! I can hold them off until you get back!” he yelled. Russel looked a bit uncertain, but he grabbed the bike and sped off, leaving the duffle bag behind. Ryan scooped me up in his arms and ran over to the dumpster. “Karla, I'm really sorry about this, but you're gonna have to stay in here for now. Those things are blind, so they find you by sniffing you out. The garbage will mask your scent.”
I wrinkled my nose in disgust, but agreed to stay in the dumpster.
“Good girl.” Ryan said before turning around and picking up the duffle bag. The Projects were five feet away from him before I heard the sound of an engine starting and the first of the monsters fell at Ryan's feet.
I could not believe my eyes for a moment. A chainsaw?! That's what he was hiding? 100% lumberjack, I thought to myself. Then I made the mistake of looking down, and had to clap my hand over my mouth to keep from screaming.
Ellie's body was laying in pieces around me.
I probably would have cried, but I was too scared at the moment. I just hid in the dumpster until Ryan had cut down the last Project. Suddenly, I heard him swear loudly and peeked out to see what was happening. He was looking at one of the monster corpses, which had a blinking red light on it's chest. A tracking device.
Sirens began blaring, and in a few seconds the street corner was surrounded by police cars. Ryan seemed to know he was hopelessly outnumbered, he lowered the chainsaw and greeted an approaching police officer.
“How's it going?” he said in a mock friendly tone.
The officer simply smirked. “Looks like it's finally our lucky day. We've been trying to find Resistance members for ages and now we have their leader.” He motioned with his hand, and several rifles were aimed at Ryan. “I don't see any need to bring you to the station. I say you either tell us where your base is, or you're a dead man.”
Ryan let out a short laugh. “Like that's gonna happen.”
A low rumbling sound vibrated the buildings, then turned into a dull roar as Russel appeared around the corner with about twenty other Resistance members behind him.
“Well, well, what do we have here?” the officer said, his voice filled with glee.
“Let him go, sir,” Russel demanded, “Or we'll take him by force.”
“I don't think you will get him back at all!” the officer yelled. “Fire!”
“No!” I screamed, but it was too late. I watched in horror as bullet after bullet ripped through the air and Ryan's green shirt turned crimson. Then suddenly everything went quiet. No one could do anything but stare as Ryan staggered back a few feet before collapsing onto the pavement in a motionless heap.
It was as if all hell had broken loose. Russel let out a yell of rage, and the Resistance rushed towards the police like a tidal wave. The fight only lasted a few minutes before every police officer lay on the ground either dead or badly injured. A few Resistance members had been shot down, but most of them were still alive.
I climbed out of the dumpster and ran over to Ryan. He was still alive, but I could tell he was on his last breaths. I knelt next to him and sobbed, unable to keep the tears at bay any longer.
A hand gently cupped my face and brushed my tears away. I blinked a few times, and Ryan's smile came into focus.
“Karla, please... don't worry...” he said. His voice was barely louder than a whisper. “It will be all right...”
“No it won't!” I found it hard to talk. “You're gonna die! It's not gonna be all right!”
“Yes it will. You're... still alive, aren't you?”
I stared at him, unable to speak anymore.
“Karla... I'm glad I got... to meet you...” Ryan's cerulean eyes slid shut, and his arm fell back onto the ground. I laid my head on his blood-soaked chest and let my tears fall silently.
Russel came to visit me after the funeral. When I opened the train car door, I saw a robot standing next to him.
“I heard that you lost your EACP-M7, so I got you a new one. What do you want to call it?” he asked.
I looked into my new robot's electric blue eyes.