Chapter 34 – More Alive
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The ache was always there…

I can't remember a time when the ache wasn't there…

It was like my heart would forever remain wounded by things I could never phantom…

My heart was born broken… shattered in pieces that could never be repaired…

Every day was like discovering you got married, lived a happy life, and then your wife died unexpectedly…

The experience of years was condensed into one measly day, and I felt that way all the time…

Thoughts that weren't my own… revelations that weren't my own… experiences that weren't my own… and hatred that weren't my own…

Yet, it all still belonged to me as well… Not me - me, but me nonetheless,

Confusing right?

Welcome to the life of Omari Crawford…

It was like Schrodinger's cat met Murphy's Law and they just picked me to fuck with!

A rock and a hard place?

No… more like you have two siblings and you have to decide which one gets to live, and which gets to die…

Those are the times when your true character reveals itself…

Maybe, you could just pick 'John' to die, because 'John' is a common name, and ridding the world of one less 'John' leaves millions more…

So if you have a brother named 'John', then maybe the choice would be easier…

The choice would be even easier if you had a brother named 'Jesus' because… well, let's be honest, Jesus came back from the dead so we can just blame his name or hope for a miracle…

No admission of guilt and we get to blame the Christians…

Most people would be like 'take me instead' but I was never such a person…

I only ever had Aurora… and she was all I ever needed…

Rocky was Rocky so… nuff said.

Religions preach that nobody is born broken, that everybody was born equal and everything since birth, is an act of freewill…

Even if the choices were between a quick death and a slow death, it was a choice nonetheless…

I think everyone experiences that sense of helplessness at some point in their lives…

Like something is just wrong, something is terribly wrong and you just can't figure out what it is…

"You okay?" Rocky questioned, punching my shoulder to garner my attention…

And he did get my attention… one look at Rocky and I was thrown into the deepest recesses of my mind…

'This has been happening a lot lately…' I noted.

---------------------------

"ha…ha…ha…hew…ha…hew"

"ha…ha…ha…hew…ha…hew"

"ha…ha…ha…hew…ha…hew"

There was running… a lot of running…

A wild guess would put me around twenty people running through a small patch of forest… I could tell it was still the slums, just a bit more aged judging by the vegetation around…

I was older… not that much older, but I would say somewhere around fourteen… it wasn't just me…

Everyone was a bit older…

Rocky, on my left, looked like a hardened veteran… Aurora was old enough that she could now barely fit in my arms as I carried her, running from whatever was snarling close behind…

Linzi was behind me, acting like a guard to stop any unexpected attacks from reaching Aurora… she looked sane, unlike her usual dirty, ill self.

I could spot many familiar faces in the crowd: Slim, Kim, Shady, Agne, Ida, Eliza, Erin…

Some were already dead, while others I just didn't care about…

"Are you sure this is the way?" Kim shouted at Rocky.

"Just in front…" Rocky replied, causing everyone to speed ahead.

There was no one that wasn't terrified… we were all in hospital gowns of some kind… some of us even had tubes still attached to our bodies…

Thankfully, Rocky, Linzi, and Aurora all seemed fine…

"You sure?" I asked, unwilling to endanger Aurora and Linzi.

"I am more than sure!" Rocky replied, pushing the bushes aside to enter a less dense area, searching for a tunnel of some kind.

Mosquitos swarmed the area and I could see the critters piercing through the thick clothing of everyone.

Super-Mosquitos I guess…

We were mostly thin, so we probably needed the blood more than the fattened mosquitos. Still, we marched on, following every circle Rocky made in the forest.

Nothing chased us into the bushy area, but I could hear the occasional snarls hidden in the darkness.

Then Rocky stopped, and we stopped also… he scratched his head embarrassingly, and we mimicked that action as well…

Apparently, judging by the fact that I was following Rocky around, it meant I had grown a lot dumber…

Still, as much as I was here, in this memory, I could not do anything aside from following a script that had already been decided…

Thirty minutes and more mosquito bites later, we started to move once more…

'Some fucking mosquitos' I thought, glaring at Rocky in front 'This idiot doesn't know his left from his right…'

Finally, Rocky stopped and gestured in front to a rough patch of earth…

Everyone began dinging and soon, we found a hatch that was quickly removed to reveal a wide tunnel…

The tunnel smelled of freedom, whether that was freedom in the form of death or peaceful life, we didn't know…

Us, slum-dwellers, were gamblers after all…

Everyone rushed inside…

When it was my turn, Rocky dragged me aside, Aurora in my arms and Linzi holding my hands, were dragged along with me…

"Not that way…" he whispered sadly, pulling me further through the bushes to another, more conspicuous, tunnel.

"What was that?" I asked angrily, frightened by the thought that I already knew what he had done.

"There are things in these tunnels so we can't travel by groups… this tunnel is the safe way…"

"You betrayed our friends?" I asked appalled.

"NO!" Rocky replied "All my friends are here…" then he paused and gestured "And Linzi…"

Linzi grumbled at the remark but she was thankful that Rocky could keep a cool head even after abandoning everyone to their deaths…

I grumbled but didn't really care since I had given Eliza and Erin a tracker to follow me earlier. They weren't as close as family but they had important skills I required.

'Remember 19-05-16-23… there are some important things we can get in here that will be of use to us later…'

With the discussion over, Rocky, Linzi, Aurora, and I entered the tunnel… All I could remember afterward was darkness, greed, and terror…

Then, maybe a familiar taste of freedom…

--------------------

"You okay?"

"You okay?"

"YOU OKAY?" Rocky shouted once more…

His loud shout spurred me from my daze, reawakening me to reality.

My mind was fuzzy and I shuffled on my feet a bit, trying to find an internal balance, physically….

Yup! My mind was a blender…

A strange sensation assaulted me for a couple of minutes before I smiled bitterly "I have to go get Aurora…"

"Aurora?" Rocky questioned.

"My little sister…"

"I never knew you had a little sister…"

"Nobody knew, but maybe some could guess…" I replied tiredly, heading for the door.

Rocky grabbed my shoulder "You heard them earlier talking about some bunker right? They are probably already there by now… going would be suicide…"

"SHE IS FAMILY!" I yelled angrily.

"AM I NOT YOUR FAMILY TOO!" he yelled back, tears in his eyes.

It was then that I noticed the problem "You are afraid?"

Rocky nodded "We have always struggled to get benefits, but it was a safe struggle… now, it is a death struggle and we have no plans to get out…"

"We do have a plan out…" I corrected Rocky "Let me show-"

Rocky raised his hands to stop me, and pulled me close for a manly hug "Let's go find our little sister first…"

Translation: They are probably some good stuff at the bunker we can use…

I choked, tears welling up in my eyes, and even though I knew what he meant, I appreciated his words still "Thanks, brother…"

"Can we come with you?" Rena interrupted, carrying a sobbing Agne on her back.

Both Rocky and I frowned, we were not about to take some deadweight on a very likely suicide mission… it would only make the mission more 'suicid-y?'…

Seeing our reluctant gazes, Rena wasn't discouraged, instead, she placed Agne on the ground and walked to the nearby wall.

She punched through the wall with ease and pulled out a small box.

"I can offer information… boxes with valuables and many more things… My mom was a Receptionist with access to all sorts of information… when we were preparing to run, she diverted many assets and hid a lot of wealth…"

"And you know it all?" I inquired doubtfully.

"Yes…" Rena replied with confidence, placing Agne on her back once more "And if you leave me here, I am dead anyway, so a suicide mission won't change much for me and my sister at this point…"

"Deciding how you die, huh?" Rocky mocked, but he was already searching through the contents of the box on the ground, pocketing anything shiny.

Rena shook her head in disagreement "I am not choosing the way I die…" she said, gesturing to the bodies around "I am gambling that the two of you will somehow survive…"

"Here!" Rocky shouted, tossing a phone, the only tech he found inside the box, at me.

I caught the phone and instantly grew surprised.

"Is it something good?" Rocky asked, a greedy look on his face that showed he was ready to snatch it back at any moment.

I tucked the phone away inside my pocket "Not something I want in your rough, sketchy hands…"

"Let's go…" I whispered to Rena, but my eyes were trained on the now sleeping Agne on her back.

I spun around, took a single step and a mind-splitting headache assaulted me…

I stumbled a bit until Rocky's hands held me firm, then the headache left as swiftly as it came…

"I'm fine…" I assured him "Let's go…"

"Not exactly the best vote of confidence…" Rena mumbled to Rocky as I exited the door.

Rocky shrugged "He has always been crazy, and that kept me alive… now that he is even crazier, that means I'll be more alive…"

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