Author's Note: This is it. Welcome to the end of Apathy. It has been a great journey from March to the present, filled with ups and downs in my life as well as with this novel. There were times when I didn't want to continue to write but if it wasn't for all of you readers out there, I probably would have given up on this story a long time ago.
So, I want to take a moment to thank all of my wonderful reviewers! Thanks Anda, Andrak, AshleighSandwich, Aspiring Agent, Booklover, Breathewithme, Cara, Carmel March, Cassadaga, Crater, Diamondz28x2, Elizabeta, Envy Forever, EvilSoul, FebruaryBabes02, Felrain, Guest, Hannah Banannah, inorison, In Search of a Penname, Jimmy10.0, JMac322, jnl94, JShen, justabreezeineternity , JustMorgan, Kiri Komori, Kryptonian54, LibertyLife, Lil, Luckycool9, Mazarine, Melody Niwa, Miles-tails-prowler, mimoxtreemo, Mitch404, mondo strano, mt, Mysterious MD, Naomi Chick, Nicole Gardner, ninjakitty7, Nyx'sReincarnation, Owlinthenightsky, Paw07, Pixiescale1185, P.K. Gallagher, post-it123, Princess of Promise, RebeccaZane, RockyBottomIce, RuciliaChrisSpellson, ScarletSnitchRice, Sharkprose, Shroudedshadow, SweetlilSunshine, Tess, Tezzah, The Dark Swordsman, The Primp State, The Raven's Feather, The-Tabby-Kitteh, Victoria Best, wolvesdrinktea, Writing In Ink Forever, Wrterchica22, and Zethoa! You guys and gals rock! Also, thank you to anyone who read this story without reviewing! You rock as well!
Without further ado, here it is, and Charlotte and Liam look forward to sharing more of their story in Empathy!
Currently Listening To: "Never Let Me Go" by Florence and the Machine
The gas starts to fill up the room rather quickly and the first thought that comes to mind is that Lilly is going to kill us anyway, despite her promise that she wouldn't if I complied. I still have the disk though so maybe I can figure out something.
Thinking of a plan would be a lot easier if the Purge wasn't clouding more than my sight. All around me, everything is pink. The gas hovers like a dense fog and I can barely make out Liam who's cowering on the ground next to me.
I cough and hold my breath, trying to keep the gas out of my lungs for as long as possible. It becomes more and more difficult to see through the haze of gas with each passing second. Liam and I could probably ambush Lilly when she comes for the device but I can't free him from his bonds. I don't have the key. Maybe I can surprise her myself somehow but I won't be able to if I start breathing in the gas. I need my emotions to drive me. Forget what Lilly said about anger. I am enraged right now and it's persuading me to make Lilly pay for what she's done.
I still can't believe it. I wish this was a nightmare that I could wake up from and that everything would be all right. But it's definitely not a dream. I already pinched myself for good measure earlier. This is real. Everything. And Lilly's betrayal was unexpected, cutting me like a thousand knives.
"A little Purge gas never killed anyone," Lilly's voice rings through the speaker, which means that she's still inside of the separate room, giving me more time to think. "And a lot can kill you. Fortunately for the two of you, I am not pumping enough gas into the chamber to kill you. With the right amount though, you can incapacitate a person. That's the dose I'm giving you today. I want you dreaming of the wonderful life you'll have with the Coalition as the cops come to take you away to a better future."
Great. Cops are on their way. If Liam and I are going to escape, we have to first deal with Lilly, the psychotic back stabber. We'll worry about the cops later.
I stuff the flash drive back into my pocket and my fingers close around something that I forgot was there. I pull it out of my pocket and look at it. Thank you Granny Rosie, I whisper to myself, as I clutch the mechanical filter in my hands.
Below, and lost behind a wall of swirling pink mist, Liam starts coughing violently. I stare at the filter and I consider giving it to him. But it would do us no good. He's not in a position to do much of anything. I need it more than he does.
I'm sorry, Liam. Just hang in there a little while longer . . . .
I stuff the filter into my mouth and my lungs are at ease, able to function properly again.
But I don't even get a chance to breathe a sigh of relief. I hear footsteps approaching. Lilly is coming for the device. I look around frantically for something I can use as a weapon, as I back away from her general direction to buy me more time.
I run right into Liam and trip over his outstretched legs. I fall backwards, throwing out my hands to catch myself. I collapse to the floor and something jabs me hard in the ribs. It wasn't the floor that poked me though. I'm certain of it.
"Charlotte?" Lilly calls through the gas, her shadow appearing before her physical form. Her voice is distorted. She has a mechanical filter as well. "What are you doing?" She asks in a sing song type of voice, as if she's playing with me.
I lift myself up to a crouch and look down at whatever pushed itself hard into my ribs when I fell. I pick up the flashlight. It's heavy, sturdy, and perfect. I wait until I see Lilly emerge through the gas and then I start pretending to cough madly.
Lilly comes over to me. "Give it to me, before you—"
I don't even allow her to finish. I leap up suddenly and with all my might, I swing the flashlight like a miniature baseball bat. The metal tube filled with large-sized batteries strikes the side of Lilly's head hard. Blood splatters across my front, staining my clothes red. I watch, almost horrified at what I've done, as she falls to the floor, dropping in a heap. And she stays there, unmoving, knocked out cold or worse.
I have to check. I have to be sure before I can do anything else. I drop down next to her body and grab her limp wrist. I press my fingers against the correct spot and feel her heart continuing to circulate blood throughout her body. She's still alive and I don't know when she'll be waking up.
I stand up and stare down at her in disgust. I notice that I hit her in the same place that she banged her head on that bedpost when she attacked me that night. I almost laugh in spite of everything, but Liam's feeble coughs get my attention again.
I snatch the mechanical filter out of Lilly's mouth and rush back over to him, careful not to trip over him again. When I find him, I kneel down beside him. He's laying there, eyes closed but coughing faintly.
I shake him. "Liam, here! This will help!"
He opens his eyes a little and I force the filter into his mouth. He coughs a couple more times and then the coughing stops as the filter starts to block out the gas.
"Charlotte," he speaks with a modulated voice.
"I'm here," I assure him, helping him up slowly to a sitting position. "How are you feeling?"
He doesn't answer my question but instead asks one himself: "Where's Lilly?"
"I knocked her out," I tell him hastily, reminded of our urgency. Overhead, the valves continue to spew the Purge. I don't think they are ever going to stop. Lilly was probably going to shut them down after she had seized the disk from me. "We need to get out of here quickly. Do you know of a way for me to free you? Is there a key? Did Lilly have a key?"
Liam shrugs and then cries out in agony. "I don't . . . I don't . . . I don't know. The . . . the . . . the pain in my head. It hurts really badly. I'm . . . I'm s-s-so weak and d-d-d-dizzy." A tear trickles out of one of his eyes as he clenches his fists together in an attempt to endure the pain of the super dose of Purge.
"Hang in there, Liam." I feel awful for him but I have to be strong right now. I can nurse him back to health later. I can help him with the pain as soon as we get out of here. "I'm going to search Lilly for keys and maybe check the other room she was in. Just stay awake and hang in there. I'll be right back." Before I rise, I take one of his hands in mine and squeeze it gently.
Then, I'm walking blindly through the gas and back to Lilly's unconscious form. I check everywhere on her, afraid that she might wake up in the middle of it all. But I'm still clutching my trusty flashlight that's caked around the edges with her blood. I won't hesitate to use it a second time if I have to.
I don't find a key anywhere. Her skirt and jacket don't yield any pockets that might conceal the key to the cuffs. I leave her there and hurry towards the other room, willing her to remain unconscious. The glass is gone so I step straight into the connecting room. I search the desk, the only piece of furniture in here but I can't find a single key. All of the drawers are empty. Damn!
I spy Lilly's Discharger though. It's on the top of the desk next to an outdated computer monitor that would have made Aidan proud. I pick it up and then stare at the monitor, trying to figure out how to shut off the gas valves. But everything on the screen looks complicated. I don't know where to even begin, so I leave and make my way back over to Liam. The gun might be the only solution for freeing him. And as long as we both have filters, we can make it out of here without the Purge obstructing anything but our vision.
I step over Lilly and when I find Liam again, his eyes are closed and his head droops. "Liam! Wake up!"
His eyes open to slits at once and he stares at me weakly. "Charlotte . . . ."
"Liam, I know it hurts. I know you're in a lot of pain but I really need you to focus right now." My voice is shaking as much as my hand holding the pistol. "I've never fired a gun before. Since I couldn't find a key for the handcuffs, this is our only option. Liam, stay with me please? How do I, you know, shoot this thing?"
"Th-th-there's a safety on the grip. Just flick the switch . . . ow . . . there. Then, aim and squeeze the trigger. Don't angle the gun straight down or the b-bullet might ricochet off the tile. You can do it, Char-Charlotte . . . ."
I follow his instructions carefully, my fingers trembling so much that it takes three of them just to turn off the pistol's safety. Then, I hold the Discharger with one quivering hand and point it at the chain connected to the handcuff around Liam's left wrist. I tilt it forward a hair, place a finger on the trigger, and pull it back cautiously.
The gunshot is loud and echoes around the room. I closed my eyes out of fear of shooting Liam when I heard the gun fire. I open my eyes tentatively now and look down to find a sizzling bolt lodged in one of the tiles with black scorch marks surrounding it. The bullet still crackles with a pathetic electric charge after slicing right through the metal chain. Liam is now able to move his left arm as he pleases, wearing the handcuff like a bracelet. I'm grateful I didn't shoot him.
I did it but there's no time to celebrate or to feel great about shooting a gun for the first time in my life. We need to go.
"Now, for the other one," Liam whispers.
I repeat the process to similar results, a little more confident the second time around due to the success of the first shot. Once Liam is no longer restricted by the chains, I help him up to his feet. He stumbles but I catch him, holding him up until he can stand on his own.
"Are you going to be able to make it?" I can't help but ask him.
"Do I have another choice?" He retorts, slipping into sarcasm with ease.
"Good point," I tell him. "Let's go."
I walk and Liam shuffles through the gas, which is now so thick that I can barely see my own hands, one of which has the Discharger at the ready just in case. Lilly's still out of commission though, so no worries there.
"What are we going to do with her?" Liam wants to know.
"Kill her," I answer coldly and a little too quickly.
"You're . . . you're not a murderer, Ch-Charlotte. Neither am I."
"I know," I agree with him. "Although she certainly deserves it."
"Not by your hand," Liam says wisely.
"We leave her then," I make the nicer decision, although I would rather bash her brains in with the flashlight or shoot her at point blank range with the Discharger. But Liam was right. I'm not a murderer. Lilly deserves worse than death and I have in my pocket, as well as inside the neuro player within my head, the power to destroy her family—the Coalition. I relish in the fact of watching her lose everything like I have.
"Why?" Liam disagrees after wincing, his face so pitifully pained. "We need to take her with us outside. I can stay and keep an eye on her until the c-cops c-c-come. You need to get out of here and—"
"No, no, no," I say defiantly, shaking my head. "I'm not abandoning you again. We need to stick together and leave her here. She works for the Coalition, Liam. They are the true driving force behind everything that Paradise represents. We won't be able to pin anything on her and I will still be caught an imprisoned for Emerson's murder if we don't leave right now. Then, you and I will become tools of the Coalition. I'd rather die than let that happen but if we get out of here, the two of us can release the information from your mother to the public. We can inform everyone of the truth and destroy the Coalition once and for all."
I made a valid point and he knows it. He considers it for a moment and then he nods, "Okay. You're right. Let's get out of here. I can already hear the Zeppelins approaching."
Sure enough, I can hear the echoing booms outside. With one last glance at the girl who I trusted so deeply, a girl who I thought was my best friend, I turn to sweep out of the room. Aidan warned me about being careful who I trusted. Maybe he started figuring out Lilly's true intentions right when it was too late.
Liam and I climb the stairs together. I guide him along, holding him up as much as I can. I'm reminded briefly of when I pulled him from the monorail and I'm thankful that he's at least conscious this time around.
We exit through the secret door and then I pause. Liam nearly collapses as he stumbles into the dining room table.
"We forgot the Hippocampus!" I declare the moment I ensure that he's okay. "I have to go back for it."
"No." Liam stops me by grabbing my arm. "Leave it. We have another copy. Let them know what secrets my mother uncovered so they can watch everything crumble later. We-we c-c-can still do it." He winces again, trying to stay tough.
"Okay," I say and we walk on through the dark house. The Purge has escaped from the basement and now its pink essence hovers throughout the entire place. Every now and then, I glance back over my shoulder, expecting Lilly to come tearing after us. But like I mentioned to her earlier, this is not an old movie or a book. No last minute scare for the villain this time.
I lead Liam out through the front door. There's a neighborhood a few miles along the coast. I think it would be a good idea for the two of us to follow the path down from the cliffs where Lilly's house sits and move closer to the water. We can take refuge in the surf if we have to and once we reach the neighborhood, we can hide out there for a while. We would also have a clear vantage point of everything going on at Lilly's house.
We walk past Lilly's car that's parked in the drive, or at least I do. As I'm voicing my plan aloud to Liam, I notice that he's no longer standing beside me. I turn back and find that he's leaning against Lilly's vehicle, writhing in pain.
I hurry over to him. "Liam, come on. I know it hurts but we don't have much farther to go. Stay with me. Fight the pain . . . ."
"It hurts so much," Liam growls, spit flying everywhere.
"I know but come on," I urge him, feeling terrible for not comforting him. We just don't have the time for it. I can already see the Zeppelins in the distance and hear police sirens as well. "You can do it. You're stronger than the pain."
I tug on his arm but he won't budge. He's convulsing and his arm feels very warm.
"Liam, come on," I'm begging now. "Let's move right—"
"I've finally tasted the Purge and I have to say that it doesn't taste like bubble gum," a voice comes from out of nowhere. It's followed by a grunting scream and then rapid footfalls.
I release my hold on Liam and look up just in time to find Lilly charging towards me, barreling forward like an out of control rhinoceros. I can't even process what's going on as she slams into me, knocking me off my feet. The two of us go flying through the air, only on land roughly on the jagged cliffside.
Rocks slice into wherever my skin is exposed, sharper than the sharpest dagger. Momentum carries me right along, sending me rolling across the rocks and down the slope of the cliffs. Head over heels I tumble, my body screaming in agony that's probably just as bad or worse than what Liam is currently experiencing inside his head.
Then, I'm flying again after plummeting right off a rough protrusion of stony earth. Millions of thoughts rush through my head as I prepare to freefall. For a moment, it seems I'm suspended in mid-air until I drop hard, wind rushing all around me. My thoughts linger on my family and my friends and on Liam. Death opens up its cold embrace for me and I'm content. This is the end. It was unforeseen but soon it will be over. There will be no more pain . . . .
I collide with sand and it knocks the wind out of me. Something snaps and the sound of the broken bones sickens me. Was it one of my legs or my arms? I don't know. I just feel pain all over. I continue to roll but my pace slows tremendously. How far did I drop? Twenty or thirty feet? I don't know but I'm still alive.
The sand scratches my skin as I turn over and over again. I throw out my left arm to stop myself but it burns like eternal fire. The fall broke it, shattering several of the bones inside. My left arm is useless now, especially if I—
I swallow a mouthful of water as I'm carried right into the ocean. The salty taste is beyond horrible and the saline sets my cuts and scratches ablaze. I fight against the water as much as I can and it carries me farther from the coast and back again with each flowing tide. My left arm hangs practically dead by my side. I pump hard with my remaining arm and both of my legs. They all ache madly but not nearly as badly as my broken arm.
The water struggles against me, providing great resistance; however, I've been trained for this. Even with one arm, I know how to slice my way through the water. Once I regain my bearings and the initial shock of hitting the water wears off, I hold my breath as tightly as I can and make my way up to the surface. The moonlight shining through the surface tension of the water serves as a guide. I can hear splashing somewhere nearby. Lilly must have rolled into the water too. Stupid idiot. She could have killed us both. If she makes it out of the ocean, I am going to kill her with my bare hands. I lost the Discharger whenever she tackled me. The mechanical filter also flew from my mouth and—
Oh no. I hope the flash drive in my pocket is not ruined by the water.
I break through the surface and breathe in fresh air right when my lungs start to burn. As a giant wave sweeps towards me from behind, I swim on top of the water, my broken arm impeding my speed. The wave washes over me and I duck underwater beneath its splashing point for a moment. Then, I surface again and continue towards the shore. The moving water pushed me out farther than I thought in only a matter of seconds. The tide is strong tonight.
I stay afloat and allow the waves to push me towards the shore whenever possible. After a while, I reach a point where I can stand and walk. Each step is agony but I emerge out of the ocean and collapse onto the sand, my legs giving out.
"Charlotte!" It's Liam. His yell sounded so far away. I lay on my back, burying my head into the sand and a pile of washed up seaweed the color of viridian. I stare up at the black sky dotted with golden stars. The stars look so peaceful and I want to fall asleep. I'm so tired . . . .
I battle against the fatigue, squaring off with it briefly until I'm able overwhelm it and gain the upper hand. I climb up groggily to my feet, recoiling every time my left arm moves even a hair. The world around me spins and takes a moment to come back into focus. I'm bleeding from multiple places and I'm soaked to the core. I shiver, the night air made chillier by my wet clothes.
I stare out at the ocean and hear more splashes, however faint. I locate the source immediately. It's Lilly. She's stuck far out to sea, flailing madly to keep herself from going under. I forgot that many citizens of Paradise don't know how to swim. I hesitate. I can probably save her if I can reach her in time, but do I want to save her life when she's heartless enough to end mine? No, I don't. But I'm not an evil person. I have to save her. I can't watch her drown and live with myself afterwards, knowing that I didn't at least try.
Sighing, I half-run and half-limp back into the water. Then, I prepare to dive when the water is deep enough.
"Charlotte!" Liam calls and thunder rumbles in the sky. More light adds to the glow of the moon. The Zeppelins are here but I don't care about them right now. I'm focused on getting to Lilly, cursing myself for having a stupid conscience.
I push myself, propelling my body through the water as fast as I can go. I toss water aside with my good arm and move my legs up and down in rhythm. Lilly stops thrashing suddenly and I watch as she slips underwater. She disappears for a second and I fear that I won't make it in time now. But then, I see her head bobbing in the water, her blonde hair splayed across the surface like outstretched tentacles.
I swim closer and closer to her but she's still so far away. She drops underwater several more times, her limbs unable to fight anymore. The distance between us closes even more and then—
She vanishes yet again beneath the water. This time, she doesn't reemerge.
I swim on quickly to the area where I last saw her. But when I get there, I'm no longer sure if this spot was where she was trying to stay afloat. I dive as deep as I can and search for her, my eyes stinging. But she's nowhere to be found. She's gone, the ocean claiming her like a prize.
An unexpected numbness settles over me and it takes everything in my power to turn around and make my way back to solid ground once more. Lilly's gone. I can't believe it. I didn't really think that she deserved to die and I feel terrible for wanting to kill her earlier. But I don't grieve for her. Not after the destruction she's caused in my life. I never wanted it to end like this but perhaps it's better that it did. Lilly not only ruined my life but she murdered Emerson and caused that Donovan guy and Dr. Cato to go to jail. I don't even want to know how many other lives she destroyed, how many other families she ripped apart by her actions. At least now she can't continue her vindictive rampage. It's over. She's dead.
I exit the foamy water and drop to my knees in the sand. My left arm jerks suddenly and I scream bloody murder. Liam is there then. Somehow he found his way down to me, enduring all of the horrible pain ravaging his own body.
"Charlotte," he says weakly. "We have to go now."
I stare past him. Dozens of cop cars are parked around Lilly's house, their purple lights blinking. Twice as many cops emerge from the cars, guns drawn. They break off into two teams. One team searches the house, while the others approach us, wondering who decided to go down to the beach after dark. When they get close enough, they will realize who we are. It's too late. We can't escape now.
A Zeppelin flies above us and I look up, staring directly into the spotlight emitted from the bottom of the airship. The scanner registers my vector at once, as well as Liam's. We're caught now. There's no sense in trying to run. We will only be gunned down and the information Dr. Cato discovered will be lost, known only to her.
I stuff my right hand into my pocket. The flash drive is gone. It must have fallen out of my pocket during the fall. I curse silently, knowing that the team of law enforcers inside of Lilly's house will recover the Hippocampus. Fortunately, a copy of both vids remains inside my head where no one can access it unless I allow them to. Despite knowing this, I still feel as though this has all been for nothing. Liam and I are only a few seconds away from being ensnared by the Zeppelin's stasis generator and frozen like statues. All hope appears lost and I consider if it was worth it.
Yes. Yes it was worth it. I now have the knowledge to topple the Coalition. I may end up in prison but when the time is right, I will use what I know to inform the citizens of Paradise that they have been duped for many years. I will let them know that Dr. Cato is a hero for risking everything to acquire enough information to reveal the true oppression here. I will alert the SAFE rebels that it's time for action, instead of sitting around underground plotting the best way to hit the Core hard.
Yes, it was definitely worth it, even though right now it doesn't appear that way.
I glance up at Liam and he looks down at me. Our eyes connect; his blue ones collide with my hazel ones and we reflect the natural beauty of the beach that surrounds us. I'm the sandy shore dotted with seaweed and he's the ocean. At this moment, I'm lost in him, drowning inside of his gaze. I stare at him because I want him to be the last thing I see right before I can no longer move.
"We're screwed," he tells me, accepting the fact that it's over.
I nod. "I know we are, but it'll be okay." I smile feebly, trying to be brave. Just like Scarlett.
"Why are you smiling for?" He's taken aback by my reaction to the trouble we're in. "This is b-b-bad, Charlotte. With Lilly gone, we're both going to take the fall for everything."
Maybe I'm delirious from falling off of a cliff and into the ocean. Maybe all of the pain has placated me, removing my inhibitions. But I grab Liam's hand and hold onto it as if for dear life. I continue to stare up into his handsome face, locked onto his gorgeous eyes that I jokingly said were all right before when they are absolutely breathtaking.
Maybe it's just the heat of the moment, the thought that we're about to be separated from each other very soon. But whatever it is, I open my mouth to speak to him one last time. "I just wanted to tell you that no matter what happens, I lo—" is all I can get out before I can no longer speak. We're both trapped in stasis now, Liam and I, holding hands and staring at each other.
For one last time.