Hey everyone! This is part two of the Alternate Realities Series! (It might turn out to be 8 parts, if you all want to keep reading. Please let me know what you think in the comments! Any advice means the world to me.)
Part Two: the rebels
Anything could work if it meant something. A sign--any sign--would do.
Silas trudged forward, grumbling a string of unintelligible words even he himself couldn’t piece together. It shouldn’t have been taking this long for Ajax to find the exit. Annoyed, Silas grumbled some more and strode forward to where Ajax seemed to be rotating a map upside down, his eyebrows knit tightly in concentration.
“Well?” Silas retorted, pulling at his faded black hoodie. None of this was fair. First, there was the signal for a meeting--hence the map--and now Ajax had gotten them both lost in the middle of a hot reality.
They were supposed to be “where two palm trees scoop up the tide”, but Florida beaches were miles and miles of palm trees! Not to mention that despite Ajax’s overconfidence, they had no idea what that second part meant. And this pathetic riddle was coming from the pathetic association rebelling against the Supervisor of Main Office. The rebel group didn’t even have a decent name or any name at all.
But Silas got dragged out onto this fake beach with its fake palm trees and fake-but-not-that-fake heat. Was his sweat real, or was that fake, too? Great. Now Silas had a pounding headache.
“Well, what? Silas, stop being such a baby. I’m positively sure that the palm trees are some sort of figurative language. We’ll be through the fringe in a few minutes for the meeting; I promise.”
Ajax gave Silas his no-nonsense look accompanied by his blonde hair, blue-eyed, I-get-printed-on-magazine-covers charm. Silas didn’t bother seeing his reflection, though the fake ocean waters were crystalline and cerulean.
All his life he’d been compared with his older brother; Silas already knew what he was in comparison: a round, sweaty ghost-human who had clearly known better days. Of course, there was no end to Silas’s conspiracy theories of what days they had known.
Both he and Ajax could tap into the common knowledge of Before, but not special memories from their real world. The Supervisor had taken more than their memories; that was why Ajax was supposed to know how to solve this stupid palm tree puzzle!
Somewhere out there, their parents were ghost-humans too, eyes far away, recirculating, laughing in their own happy, fake world.
Though it struck a pang of emotion, Silas kind of hoped his parents weren’t happy. Did it make him evil if he wished his parents were looking for him like he was looking for them?
“I’m not a baby. I’m fourteen, and I know you’re lost.”
Silas’s words knifed into the terse silence.
“What did you say?!” Ajax’s tone may have had a touch of bitterness, but Silas continued anyway.
“I said that I’m tired of you--”
“Just shut up, Silas! I’m a whole 4 years older than you, way smarter, and if you want to get killed by a Main Office detective, then go ahead! I don’t have any of the answers, and you should be glad I didn’t leave you back in ‘California’!”
Silas opened his mouth to say something, but the words were lost on his lips as his brother stormed off farther down the beach.
✲ ✲ ✲
Silas didn’t know at what point did his anger redirect from Ajax to the Supervisor, but at some point after standing in the middle of a beach, randomly sorting out unfelt feelings, it happened.
Silas couldn’t remember his favorite color, what his house looked like, or if Ajax had always treated him like trash in the real world, but he definitely remembered the months leading up to the Supervisor’s anonymous reign.
There was war, lots of it, and broken people and crazy politicians and...people dying. Many people were alone, refugees scrambling for safety while others shot missiles for power.
And then, the Supervisor came in small newspaper ads, then TV screens, then application handbooks started circulating. Silas was probably twelve when he and Ajax and his parents went for the new reality, thinking it’d be similar to mental therapy--time worked differently here.
For a while, Silas was happy. Happy thinking a perfect life by his standards was possible. Happy being clouded in the beauties of illusions side-by-side with other humans all the same. Happy.
“Ajax!!” Silas screamed, running along the waves. Fake. The detectives were humans, and the Main Office would execute Silas if he screamed and they found him. But he screamed anyway because if he was in a fake reality, he wanted to be in a fake reality with someone he cared about.
“Ajax, I want to go home too! I don’t care if everything’s perfect; I want it to be real!” God, he sounded like a 10-year-old. Or, a broken fourteen-year-old.
Silas hated the Supervisor. When he found whoever--or whatever--was behind all of this, he’d do something terrible to them. Make them wish they’d never… Never do what, exactly?
The Supervisor made everyone happy and somehow stopped the wars. But the Supervisor had hunted them with detectives strung in their own trap. Were peace and happiness just another trap they’d fallen into?
“Ajax?” Silas called out tentatively, his thoughts scrambled. Had he screamed too loud and the detectives had found their way here? They had known who’d escaped the Supervisor’s control, but the fake reality was massive. Silas should’ve had the upper hand in this case, especially with the meeting with the lame resistance humankind had to offer.
It was better than nothing.
“Oh, this is the best day of my life! Certainly, one of the best days in my entire life, this is!”
Silas jumped at the sound of a voice, but not a detectives’...The world froze for a second and Silas was caught in a web. His web of curiosity.
Ajax had never allowed Silas near anyone ‘consumed’ during their search for answers. Since the first rebels were executed, more and more conspiracy theories found their way into Silas’s imagination. He himself was intrigued by the fact that rebels had no need for food, while the reality hazed humans gorged all the time.
None of them made sense, really, but his main concern was his parents. When he and Ajax found their parents, then things would begin coming together. All Silas knew was that he knew nothing, and the world he’d been living in for a long time, wasn’t real.
“This is the best day of my life, and the water is so clean, and Ma is getting my favorite dinner today…”
“WAIT! Who are you?!”
✲ ✲ ✲
“Me, my name’s Alaia. You aren’t supposed to be here; I like privacy when I’m having the Best Day.”
Silas bit his lip, edging a little closer to a tall, slender girl with short, dark brown hair hanging wetly over her eyes. She appeared to be floating in the water, that same faraway look in her eyes of utter, complete bliss.
All of a sudden, Silas felt a pang of jealousy, and words tumbled out of his mouth with no censor.
“I haven’t had a Best Day in forever.”
And that was it--even though he was grateful he was in charge of his own limbs, a big part of him yearned for that eternal happiness, gratification, love. Even if it was fake, facing a fake reality was better than the real world. War, death, destruction.
Still, Silas hated the Supervisor, hated Alaia, and hated the detectives for ruining everything. How could Silas ever feel joy again if the only joy he’d known was fake?
“The world you’re living in is fake.”
Alaia stared right through him and Silas slumped to the ground, defeated. He knew Alaia couldn’t see it, but the way the sand felt wasn’t real at all. It was almost digital. Silas saw the glitchy apparitions in the city, in the water, and in the beachfront homes. The only problem was, how to get out? What were their chains, and when would the leash be cut?
Ajax had warned him, and he guessed this was his punishment. A loss of innocence, a sense of defeat--and the probability of finding the solution to the riddle was literally 0.000001%. Silas’s unintelligent brain didn’t need an infinite amount of time to figure out that one.
“If you won’t get out of my way, then I’ll just have to have my Best Day with you trailing along. Ugh.”
Alaia got out of the water, attempted to dry her soaked-through hair, and walked casually further down the beach. Silas almost didn’t get up off the fake glitchy sand, despising the way his eyes stung. He wasn’t a baby. He wasn’t afraid of things not working, or the unknown, or the horrible past, present, and future in store for him.
Or was true cowardice pretending you weren’t afraid?
“Hey; I’ll leave you alone, but I was wondering if you happened to know-”
Alaia was obviously not listening to anything Silas was saying, that faraway look in her eyes coming back as she perched on two oddly bent palm trees...PALM TREES!
Silas didn’t trust good fortune as much as he used to, but he couldn’t deny the facts. Two palm trees curved, lapping up the ocean’s tides, Alaia lying on her back beside them. His back ached, mouth parched, sweaty, sweaty, sweaty, imperfections. But it was there. There it was. A sign.
Silas threw his head back and yelled with every ounce of energy he had left. “Ajax! I found it!” He hoped the reality haze beach didn’t stretch out for miles.
✲ ✲ ✲
Ajax wasn’t as far down the beach as he thought. In truth, he couldn’t bear leaving Silas for more than 20 minutes without having a full-blown panic attack. Silas could be a pain, but Ajax wasn’t getting anywhere with the riddle. So, when he heard Silas’s screams, he took off like the world was ending, because maybe, his world finally had.
Ajax, unlike his brother, remembered a few significant traits about himself which he never told anyone. He’d always assumed the reality was different for everyone trapped inside it, and it was. When he’d gotten out of the system, he instantly felt all the emotion suppressed over his years in the realities.
It wasn’t his intention to escape. Nobody got him out. Nobody had ever interacted with him in his so-called perfect reality; in fact, everyone seemed to mind their own business, probably oblivious to their own little bubbles.
From what Ajax knew, imperfections or guilt got him out of the system.
It was just a regular boy walking down the street with his older brother, both of them laughing like they had no care in the world. And then, Ajax saw them and woke up on a glitched-out mess with one name echoing down, down, down. Silas.
Because Ajax wasn’t like those protective older siblings who cared, and that was the problem. The first twelve years of Silas’s real-world life equaled twelve years of Ajax trying to stay as far away as possible. Ajax woke him up simply by standing there two years ago in California, but Silas didn’t remember those years of scorn.
With both of them together, and that note from the resistance they saw tacked on the wall one day, Ajax thought he could try it again. Try to be happy.
✲ ✲ ✲
“Ajax, thank God you’re here--there was this girl who was, you know, still in that reality haze and she showed me these palm trees which actually match--”
Ajax forgot about his racing breaths and the worry squeezed in between. Instead, he shoved his hand into one of the palm trees, and it disappeared!
A fringe. The fringe.
They were going to get answers, after all.