CHAPTER THIRTY – Fear

“James, he may have committed a crime against you. Luckily you can say that you don’t want to follow it up. Tell me that now!”

“Okay… Elatio has done nothing wrong and you should not follow this up!” 

She relaxed for a moment. “At least that’s one problem solved. I will contact him personally after this.” I found it super strange why she had to do this and it was a stark reminder to me that Caroline wasn’t completely human. But it relieved me when she took the contents of the message seriously. “If Elatio is right, then you are in a lot of danger out here, James! We need to scan you immediately! Are you wanting to keep your conversation with Elatio secret?”

“There wasn’t a conversation. He just sent me that message.” I said in a panicked tone.

“Okay, request that I check your data for corruption and security issues.”

“What?” 

“Just ask me to check your data for security problems!”

“Caroline, could you check for security problems with my data?”

“Thanks, okay. Oh, no. He’s right! I’m alerting security and requesting scanning drones as a matter of emergency. Damn, we really need to get your data protected better! Who could have done this?” Caroline seemed panicked as she was saying all this. As if her mind was racing at an incredible speed. 

“Are we okay?”

“No, James, we need to sort this out! Someone could be out there right now wanting to kill you and keep you dead!” 

“Caroline, keep your voice down. We are in a tent! I have already heard others talking this morning from in here!” 

We both fell silent to listen to the continued conversations around us. 

“I guess they weren’t listening?” Caroline said as she looked at me worriedly.

“Caroline, could you check your data?” I asked, worried about her.

“Mine has been deleted as well!” she said, panicked and raising her voice slightly. This time conversation from the other tents died down a little. 

“We need to get away from here!” I said in a hushed tone. “It’s not safe for us to be in the group!”

“What, but this forest is so dangerous! There could be anything out there wanting to hunt us!” 

“There is also someone in here wanting to hunt us!” I replied. 

Caroline took a deep breath. “Okay, well security is sending out drones to our location. I have made them aware of the situation. They will disintegrate anyone who attempts to kill us! So maybe we should stay?”

“Are you sure these drones can stop someone before they kill at least one of us?” I asked. 

“Oh, no!” She said. “Most of our companions have guns as well!” 

“Why didn’t we get any guns?”

“I don’t know! Too comfortable?”

That moment the tent flapped open. Me and Caroline gave a gasp and the look of shock on our faces must have been an incredible sight. 

“Eh…” said Fabula, who looked uncertain what sight he was beholding. “Have you read the news?”

“What? No, why?” I asked, changing my expression of shock to confusion.

“Oh, well, there are a bunch of drones out here and security is looking for a potential Annihilator. Are they looking for you?”

“No, they are here to protect me!” I said to him, angry that he could suggest such a thing.

“James, stop talking!” Caroline said to me, clearly worried what I was saying to this journalist.

“How would you know someone wanted to annihilate you?” Fabula asked.

“We’re paranoid!” Caroline said with an acid tongue.

“Okay, so what are you going to do?” There was an awkward pause after that question as me and Caroline looked at each other. We were unsure how we will get ourselves out of this situation. I looked back at Fabula and wondered, perhaps if he had an answer. “You guys don’t know, do you?”

I broke the silence. “No, I mean, even if the drones see someone about to kill either of us. There is still the fact that the drones may not be fast enough to stop the Annihilator. If we go into the wild, the wildlife may kill us. We don’t even have guns!”

“Let me resolve that! I will get you guns and meet you back in here. They will suspect me less. Lets just hope no one saw me come in here!” After that, Fabula was quick and disappeared out of the tent. 

After some time of silence, we heard a loud voice. “Hey Fabula, what are you materialising?” The voice asked.

Fabula responded, “Breakfast! Do you want some?” Me and Caroline looked at each other. Let’s hope the Tuhingan doesn’t say, “Yes!”. Just then, as we were waiting in anticipation, the tent door flapped open again. We stood there and stared at the individual who towered over us.

“What did I do?”

“Nothing Tu!” Caroline said. “We are just wondering what is happening out there!?”

“Yeah, there are all these drones here looking for your James!”

“Why is everyone thinking that?” I said.

“So they’re not here for you?”

“No Tu, they’re after the person who is attempting to annihilate us.” Caroline explained.

“Oh, do you know what you will…” Tu was cut short with his sentence with the sound of a weapon being discharged. Suddenly the tent flapped open and Fabula ran in out of breath. “You are right, the drones aren’t that quick!” He quickly ran behind me and hid. The next thing we saw was one of those cleaning drones entering the tent. 

“Eh, I’ll communicate with security with what happened!” Caroline said. 

“Could you make it quick?” I said as I saw this drone’s EMC turret point towards me and then hovering in such a way to circle me. Fabula consistently moving around me to make sure I was between the drone and him. Another drone came in through the tent flap and instantly fired as it entered. I heard a small shout from behind me, I could hear wind and then see a flash intense from his disintegration. Before it disintegrated him, he had dropped three sets of weapons. 

Caroline went to pick one up. “Hmm, Plasma rifle with a scope! This is exactly what we need!” 

I looked back in shock as I felt shaken up that the drones had killed this person who tried to save us. I felt uneasy that they were still in the tent. 

Tu picked a rifle up. “I suppose he thought he was going with you!?” he cackled. “I never did like that snake, anyway!”

I still felt in shock as I stood there staring at the others. Everyone seemed to just act like this was normal. “Someone has died right in front of us!” I explained loudly.

“James, quiet. What has got into you?” 

“Why are you both so cold about this?”

Tu looked at me in a confused manner, “You can have drinks with Fabula after all this is over! Knowing him, he is probably heading to his newspaper headquarters as we speak.”

“James, I know death on Earth marks the end. But you should know by now what it means here!”

“I still can’t get used to this, it seems.” I just felt like a bunch of psychopaths surrounded me.

“I will escort you both to the forest. We should get these drones to follow us!” Tu said in an excited deep tone. At that point, I felt more unsafe with the drones and Tu in our tent, then I did at the prospect of being among the Annihilator out with the group.

Tu immediately went into action as he dragged out a knife, approaching the back of the tent. He began cutting through the fabric and making a hole big enough for us to go through. “We go through here little man!” He said as he turned to look at me. I just agreed.

“James, pick up the rifle and lets get moving!” Caroline said as she was heading for the hole. I stood there paralysed, then looked down at the rifle. Caroline continued to look at me. “James! Come on!” I then picked up the rifle and followed.

We went out the back of the tent and all stood close with our back against it. The drones soon followed through the hole and hovered low with us. 

“We are going to have to run!” Tu said as he looked out at the stretch of clearing that stood out in front of us. “You two first, me behind and the drones behind that.”

“Perhaps the other drones can help distract. I’ll contact security!” It seemed it was becoming Carolines catch phrase. She then turned to me. “Are you ready, James?” she asked.

I looked at her, unsure what they expected. I felt numb inside and unable to concentrate. She grabbed the rifle and placed it on my back using the strap, then grabbed my hand and ran, pulling me behind her.

I stumbled to begin with, then picked up my feet and keep with the pace. I briefly looked behind myself to see what I left behind. The drones had all flown quickly from one part of the camp to the other in a disorganised fashion. They would then impede anyone approaching our position and knock them back. The two drones that were with us were following close behind Tu. Tu found it easy to keep up with us all. His long strides made it look like he was somewhere between a run and a walk. 

We were soon in the bush and regrouped. Tu and Caroline agreed we must keep moving and we immediately began going deeper into the bushes. This time, keeping close. After we ran a while, we slowed and sat to catch our breath. Aware that no one was following us. Caroline gestured towards the drones to scan the area and they went back the way we came to check if someone followed us. They didn’t.

However, there was a low grumbling growl that came from the bushes. Everyone grabbed their rifles and looked in different directions. The drones rushed to get back to our position. 

“Do you think we need more drones?” Tu asked.

“I think that would advertise our position when they arrive!” Caroline said 

“Ah! Maybe we should keep moving?”

“Where would we go?”

“Let’s find the child!”

Tu surprised Caroline with his comment and Caroline looked at Tu briefly. “What? Why not back to the wall?”

“That would take a day! The child is closer.”

“But the child is probably dead!”

“Nah, I think the child is in hiding!”

I looked at Tu at that moment, realising that he may have been cleverer than I originally gave him credit for. 

“Why do you think that, Tu?” I said as my senses came back to me after running for so long.

“The mother cared more about the image of the child than the child herself!” 

“What, this is crazy! We should go back to the wall!” Caroline remarked, surprised by our conversation.

“How far is the last known location of this child?” The bushes rustled close to us and we pointed our rifles in that direction. 

“I think they are circling us! Checking us out!” Tu said in a hushed tone. “Her last location isn’t far, less than an hour’s walk!”

“What if we were running?” I was wary that this would probably be a day of cross-country sprinting.

“With your limp? About the same!” Tu said while focusing on the bushes. I forgot about my limp. I guess it was the adrenaline rush that caused me to forget I even had a problem with my leg. Of course it was visible to everyone else. “Let’s get moving!” Tu suggested and both me and Caroline agreed.

“Anything but here!” Caroline said as we slipped away with our backs facing each other and our rifles facing outwards. It was difficult to walk in that way, so we were soon having to walk in a conventional way. However, we had the luxury of having the drones cover our backs with powerful lights lighting our behinds. The creatures seemed wary and not to be getting too close.

Occasionally I would see a flash cross my vision and I shot my weapon into thin air once. However, these creatures were not deterred and continued to follow and circle us. We all had a sense that they were all wanting a taste of us.

Eventually Tu stopped, “This is the last known location!”

“Oh, I’m hungry!” I said as we stood there in our pyjamas.

“We all are!” Tu responded.

I sat down, feeling exhausted. We had been travelling for a while without food, water and I still had problems with my legs. Caroline attempted to comfort me, however that didn’t really help with the pain. 

We were also hearing rustling coming through the bushes. We knew that whatever was following us earlier was still following us. I looked up and could see glowing eyes in the bushes. As soon as one of the drone’s lights went on it, the creature quickly went back into the bush. It appeared to be avoiding the light from our torches. The animal was probably never used to intense light, such as the torches we had. Since it lived in darkness, they probably blinded it.

We heard rustling around us intensify and then growls coming from the bushes. We assumed it must have had been a fight between two of the creatures. We wondered out loud together. Perhaps they were starving and fighting over us?

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