Unsung Heroes: Devon, 2300 AD Chapter 4
A New Friend
By Average Joe
Devon found that the ghosts of the past did not bother him quite as much since traveling with Red. Though he still felt as if persons unseen wandered with them speaking words unheard, Red's confidence had become infectious and he did not notice them as much.
Devon tried engaging in conversation with the boy, to get him accustomed to speaking with him. Though responses were usually one word answers, words started coming more readily, and Red's response time increased dramatically since their first encounter at the dome where Red had saved Devon's life.
"So, Red," Devon said indifferently, straddling a rock as he attempted to get across, "how'd you get here?"
Red's expression contorted again as he watched the older Devon try to climb over a corner of fallen skyscraper wall that the more agile boy would have merely jumped on top of and hopped down from.
"...Dad... bring." he muttered in his typical one-word-at-a-time fashion.
"And your mother?"
Red turned away, silent.
Devon inhaled sharply, suddenly wishing that he had not asked the last question. "For what it's worth, I'm sorry."
Red nodded. "Okay. Long ago."
Devon fell on his side, unable to land correctly from pulling his other leg over the rubble. Red heard the noise, turned and snickered at seeing Devon sprawled on the ground before helping him to his feet.
"So why'd your dad drag you all the way out here? This isn't exactly the best neighborhood..."
"...Don't... know. Dad... sad... when leave. We leave not long... after Mom..." Red's eyes began to tear.
Devon, realizing that the boy was feeling a great deal of grief at mentioning his parents, stepped closer and put his arms around him to try to comfort him. Red jumped back slightly at first, but after a moment's hesitation he threw his arms around Devon and buried his face in Devon's chest. Sobs racked the boy's body.
As Red cried, Devon put together what he thought might have happened. Red's father and mother loved each other very much. After she died, Red's father must have gone through serious depression. On either a suicide attempt or seeking help from Arris dome, he headed through Lab Sixteen, dragging his young son along with him.
Devon decided to test his theory. "Where's your father now?" he said softly. Red only cried harder, tightening his grip. Devon patted the boy on the head with sympathy.
Dead. If Devon's theory was correct, it was a suicide run. The monsters at the southern end of Lab Sixteen usually attack all who enter, according to the trio of teenagers who visited Arris shortly before he left. It would have been common knowledge to the residents of Trann, who were much closer to the south end of Sixteen than Arris. Red's father must have figured it would be easier to go that way than take his own life and leave his son to live in sorrow without parents. Unfortunately, Red was much hardier than his father accounted for.
"So you're all alone here?" Devon queried softly.
Red shook his head, pushing away from Devon. Devon tried to wipe his tear-soaked shirt dry, but to no avail.
"So who lives with you, then?"
Again, Red shook his head. Devon, beginning to think that his curiosity was going a little too far, did not push the matter further. But the thought still hung in the back of his mind, quietly, in the dark, like a forgotten skeleton in the back of a closet.
"C'mon, kidd--" Devon stopped himself from using the word his older brother Toma had always used on him. "C'mon, Red, let's get moving again." This boy, whom Devon had known for no more than half of a day, seemed more and more like a little brother to him, and Devon had difficulty trying not to become his brother Toma.
Red wiped the last remaining tears from his eyes with his entire forearm, in the same fashion that Devon envisioned that he had done during his talk with Toma about sneaking after him under the Information Center, about the ghosts of the past, and the Levine tradition. Devon smiled faintly and started moving south, following Red's slightly less energetic march.
Darkness settled in to the clouds overhead as the sun dipped below the horizon. The perpetually overcast sky threatened to drop ash on the pair as they wandered southward through the detritus. A quietly malevolent breeze sank its icy teeth into Devon's skin as he gazed upward.
"Hey, Red," Devon called out to his companion, "you know of any decent places to set up for the night? It's getting kinda late..."
Red turned, rubbing one forearm briskly with his other hand. He nodded, switching arms. "We'll go... to my... resting place," he stated haltingly. "Is not far. We'll be there... soon." Red again turned, moving slightly faster than he had before. Devon had to jog to keep up, his parcel flapping slightly on his back as he followed the youth.
"So, what is this... resting place of yours?" Devon huffed.
"A... place where... rocks still stand."
"Well aren't we poetic," Devon muttered sarcastically. "Is it where you live?"
"When I'm not... looking for... food, yes." Red continued to rub his arms as he ran. Apparently Red was as cold as Devon was.
"Night always brings the chill," Devon thought. "Speaking of food," Devon yelled back, "is there any at your 'resting place'?"
"Some. Not much. That's why I was out. When I... need food, I look for food."
Devon began to wonder what kind of food Red could be searching for. There was not exactly anything but rocks and debris to be found in Lab Sixteen. Well, there was that one strange creature that had taken his pack... Could Red be hunting creatures like that for food? Devon shuddered at the thought of gnawing on the leg of such a hideous beast.
He tried to put the thought out of his mind as he spotted a spire silhouetted by the last of dusk's light. It stood like a fist pointing an index finger into the night sky, as if pointing to the origin of the creature that demolished the planet centuries ago. Devon tried to make out what it was, but it only seemed to be a hollowing out of the black clouds. Perhaps it was not a semi-intact building after all.
Red stopped for a brief moment to look at the shadow that Devon had been staring at. He raised an arm and pointed a finger at it, and from Devon's perspective Red's fist was almost perfectly outlined by the shadow.
"We go there." The night wind hesitated as Red spoke, as if weary of his words. Devon felt a slice of cold travel up his spine to rest at the nape of his neck, setting hairs on end.
"Uh, you sure it's safe, Red? It... Well, it looks kinda..." Devon's voice was subdued, his hands trembled and he almost lost his grip on the pack slung across his back.
"You... Fear? You... scared?" Red turned to look Devon in the eye. Devon smiled faintly and Red shook his head, shrugging his shoulders. "I live there most. I keep food there. Is just out of..." Red paused, rethinking his sentence. "Is hard for..." Again, Red tried to reword his thought. "Most don't go that far."
"Most what? I've only heard of a couple of people ever coming out here. So what w--" Devon stopped abruptly when Red turned, running toward the immense shadow. He struggled to keep up, and was beginning to fall behind when the last of the ruins between the pair and the base of the building were passed. Red quickly dashed inside, leaving Devon to slowly approach the entrance, staring up at the decrepit building.
It was a dark grey building roughly five stories high, though only two stories remained mostly intact. A handful of windows remained intact in a corner of the second story, whereas all other windows were either broken or completely gone. The entrance was level with the ground, and as Devon approached it he noticed that two of the doors still clung by the base hinges to the doorframe. Inside was completely dark, and his breath and heartbeat echoed in the silence. Something clattered in the far side of the room, and suddenly a light filled a rectagonal area on the far wall. Devon shielded his eyes.
"You coming?" Red called. Devon lowered his arms and looked at the light. It was the bottom of a stairwell, and Red peered around the corner where the stairs led up.
"Y-yeah, I'm just a bit spooked, is all." Devon walked forward, scanning left and right in the dark.
"Is okay. Nothing here. We go up." Red vanished up the stairs.
"Right..." Devon whispered. He could feel the ghosts surround him again. He hated places like this: places where spirits lingered. It boggled his mind how Red was able to ignore it.
Devon made his way up the stairs, pulling himself up with the handrail. He met Red at the top of the first flight, and followed him down a corridor to a closed door. Red pushed it open and gestured for Devon to enter. He sighed, and then did. Red followed him in after shutting the light off in the hall. The room was dark save for what little light was afforded through the windows, and an eerie glow that came from the far side of the room.
Devon felt his way forward carefully with his feet, then set his pack down in the middle of the room and sat down. He heard a creak and a few clicks behind him. Red flipped a switch turning the light on shortly after. The room was cold, and almost could have been described as "sterile" had it not been for a few overturned chairs and desks scattered around the perimeter of the room. The floor was carpeted, and had Devon ever been knowledgeable on the subject, would have described it as a medium-grade carpet typical of an informal office-like setting. As it was, Devon was content to call it warm, soft, and blue.
Red sat down in a chair next to a glowing computer terminal and leaned back, cracking his fingers. Devon suddenly felt the urge to do the same. Instead he leaned forward, grasping his own shoulders with his hands to massage the tenseness in his muscles. He began to hear an incessant tapping noise just as a headache was beginning to form. He looked over in Red's direction to discover that it was he who was doing the tapping at a computer terminal.
"Would ya cut that out?" Devon complained, massaging his temples with his fingertips.
"No," was Red's simple answer.
Devon sighed and grunted as he pushed himself to his feet. He then walked over to peer over the boy's shoulder. Words, numbers, figures, and pictures flew across the screen. "What's all that?" Devon asked.
"Things. This... is my..." Red pondered things for a moment and definitions of words started scrolling up the screen.
"Your... computer?" Red shook his head as he pulled up the definition of the word. "Your..." Devon paused an unusually long time, and started asking himself questions.
"Could this be one of the AIs?" he thought. "Perhaps this is what he was talking about when he said that no one lived with him but he didn't live alone. Maybe I'm going out on a limb here, but maybe this is his..." He moved his thoughts to words.
"Your... friend?" Devon watched as a definition of "friend" scrolled up the screen. Red brightened and bounced a bit.
"Yes, yes. This is my... friend." Red turned to look at Devon. "And you are my... friend."
Devon chuckled nervously. Artificial intelligences were as unpredictable as people. Perhaps this one was benign, or perhaps not. He had not seen any sign of robots around during the time he had spent with Red. But then again, he had not been searching for them. He spent more time trying to keep up than worrying about something following them.
"Does it... control any robots?"
Red punched a few numbers into the computer. "No. Is just him. Him and me. And now him and me and you."
Again Devon chuckled nervously. "Well then, w-would you like to... to introduce me?"
Devon turned back to the screen as Red did the same. He watched as Red pulled up the definition of "introduce," nodded, and typed in: <I would like you to meet my friend,> Red paused. "Devon, how do you... spell your name?"
"Dee, ee, vee, oh, en." Devon replied.
Red finished his sentence on the computer. Instantly the computer flashed a line: <Hello, Devon. It is nice to meet you. How do you feel?>
Devon smiled weakly as Red turned to hear and enter the reply. "Hungry."
Red nodded and said, "Me too," as he entered it.
<Food used to be able to be purchased at the cafeteria on the 23rd floor, but I am informed that there currently is no 23rd floor. I apologize, but you must fend for yourselves.> The computer had the no-nonsense, matter-of-fact attitude that was the trademark of all artificial intelligences.
"I have some... in one of those." Red told Devon as he pointed at a desk on the far side of the room. "You must... open..." Red shrugged, unsure what the next word he wanted was.
Devon walked over to the desks. "You didn't talk to that thing much, did you?" he asked.
"Why talk? It can't hear. It's been... a long time..." Red's eyes began to mist. "I should have... talked by myself. To... try to remember. To..."
"Practice?" Devon offered.
Red nodded. "Yes, practice. But I haven't had anyone to talk to. Only him." Red patted the computer with the hand opposite Devon. Red smirked. "He doesn't talk much."
Devon chuckled with genuine mirth. "So I've heard," he replied, pulling open desk drawers. "Or haven't heard, as the case may be."
"No, no. I think it's that one." Red swung one arm around the back of the chair to point at an upturned desk that Devon had not yet checked. Devon moved over to it, pulling up one of the drawers.
"Yeah, that one." Red then returned to his computer.
Devon tried a couple of drawers before finding a couple of pieces of dried cooked meat in the bottom corner. He stopped himself from considering what sort of creature it could have been before it became dinner. He had seen an animal native to the area, and did not want to think about eating that. He put it out of his mind as he handed a piece to Red.
Red began gnawing on a corner of his meal as Devon asked him a question. "Hey, Red, is there any water about?" Devon watched as the words blurred past on the screen, far too fast for him to read.
"Water? Water?" Red thought for a moment. "Drink. Down... there. That way." Red gestured toward the door, then swept his arm toward the left side of the door, away from the stairway. "It's in a box about this big..." Red's chair swooped around as he set his hands about two feet apart, and then held one hand roughly waist high parallel to the floor. "There's a button on it. Water comes out. I don't know where it comes from, I'm just glad it's there." Devon thought about this for a moment and realized the logic in the statement. Who cares how it gets there? The important thing is it's there, you can drink it, and hopefully it won't run out.
"You'll need light," Red stated as he swiveled his chair back to the computer. "I'll... fix." In a moment the darkness beneath the door vanished, replaced by light. "And the door won't open now. I'll fix that, too." The door clicked.
"Hey, thanks Red. Thanks," Devon said, making his way to the door.
Red struggled to remember the customary response. "You... You're... You're welcome."
Devon nodded, opened the door and stepped out into the hallway, shutting the door behind him.
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