I watched as the last light in the city was extinguished. The curfew was in place.
Richter dropped into a crouch beside me, running his gaze over the buildings below.
“Looks like it’s our time,” he said. “Have you checked in with the others?”
“Not yet,” I replied.
Richter’s face illuminated as he opened a small screen; floating between us like a flame. He read through the conversation. Place names, code names, half snippets of sentences. We were careful. Paranoid. We had to be.
“What’s the target?” I asked.
“The National Archive.”
I sneered. The truth had been erased from that place, replaced by their lies and propaganda. Loaned out, served to schoolchildren. Rewriting history.
“What’s the plan?” I asked.
He touched my arm. “We’re reinstating the truth.” He looked back at the screen, scrolling through the message history. “There’s several coordinated attacks for other parts of the city to act as a distraction. Empty buildings. No casualties.”
I sighed. “Good. We’ve had enough bloodshed already.” I shook my head, attempting to dislodge old memories. Old ghosts.
Richter snapped the screen shut. “Make sure you stay in contact. We might get separated, so you’ll need access to your orders.”
I slipped my comms visor from my pocket, and lowered it over my eyes. The chat hovered at the edge of my vision. I looked over the list of names. My friends. My comrades.
Richter stood up, squeezing my shoulder firmly. “We’ll free everyone. We’ll put an end to the tyranny.”
I pushed myself to standing, struggling under the weight of my rucksack. “Will we succeed?”
“We have to.”
Turning towards the distant Solitary District, I kissed my fingers and held them up, letting the wind carry the gesture away.
“We’ll free them,” Richter said. “Your family, and mine.”
I swiped a tear from my cheek. These people didn’t need my sympathy. They needed our action. They called us ‘The Dissonant’, and we wore that name as a badge of honour.
“What’s the security like, Richter?” I asked, clattering down the stairs behind him.
“Minimal,” he replied over his shoulder. “One fat, old guard at the front, one younger guard at the back.” He stopped, leaning on the banister to give me a wink. “He was easily bribed, and he came pretty cheap.”
“People are desperate,” I said.
“It’s a big risk for him to take, and for not very much at all.”
I shrugged. “We all have our price, I guess.”
Richter seemed to be amused by the transaction. Triumphant, even. I just found it sad. This was a city where people would trade their children for a sandwich.
I took a deep breath and flexed my fingers. They ached from being screwed into fists. They were like that more and more often these days.
More people logged into the server, messages reeling past in the corner of my vision. I had found it dizzying at first; everyone did. But now, I didn’t miss a step: one eye on the ground in front, one on the chat.
People were moving into place. In just a few minutes, we’d hear the first explosion. My body was taut, and when Richter touched my arm, I almost knocked him out. I was too tense. Too coiled. I needed a release. I reminded myself that my fist in his face wouldn’t be an appropriate one, no matter how much I might enjoy it.
“Are you alright, Nelly-Noo?” he asked.
“Don’t call me that,” I hissed. “My name is Nelshara, and you lost any right to cute pet names when—” I bit back the rest of the sentence.
“You really are tense tonight.”
I looked at him, any expression hidden behind his comms visor. His eyes were probably cold and vacant, like usual. I didn’t need to see them.
“If you haven’t noticed,” I said, “there are not many Dissonant girls. I could name all of them without having to even think about it. I don’t need you patronising and undermining me with stupid nicknames that you think are cute.”
“But you are cute.”
My response was obliterated by the first explosion. Probably a good thing. Four more blasts came in quick succession.
“Let’s move,” Richter said, setting off across the alleyway towards the rear of the National Archive building.
Flattening himself against the wall, he gestured for me to open the door. I placed my hand on the metal handle, a shot of panic rising from my stomach. Something was wrong. I looked at Richter, but couldn’t pick his shape out of the darkness. Had he turned away from me? Was he even still there?
I let go of the door and took a step back. The shadows were too deep. Too still. Too flat.
“Richter…” I whispered, but I already knew that I wouldn’t get a response.
I stepped back again, easing the rucksack from my back. The one he’d given me. The one I hadn’t looked inside. I set it gently onto the ground. And then I ran.
I was two streets away when it exploded, coordinated with another burst across the city.
Crouched in a doorway, I flicked open my keypad.
Richter betrayed us, I typed. My finger hovered above the send button. I couldn’t organise my thoughts. I couldn’t pick past the anger. Or the fear. I deleted the message. I didn’t know who I could trust anymore.
Screwing my eyes closed, I squeezed the awaiting tears from them. Those would be all the tears I shed over Richter. He wasn’t worth any more than that.
I opened my eyes, and saw an invitation to a new server. I accepted, and found the chat reeling.
Nelshara? Are you alive?
Yes, I replied. I’m fine.
We had no idea. Half the Dissonant are with Richter.
He tried to kill me. I was numb as I typed the words. Disbelieving. Not Richter. Had he been pretending all along?
I couldn’t dissect it now. I needed to move. I needed to get somewhere safe.
Is there sanctuary? I typed.
A location dropped, and my screen lit with a directional arrow.
Standing, I turned my back to it, walking in the opposite direction. If no one had known about the betrayal, the mutiny, the coup, they wouldn’t have organised a sanctuary. Not this quickly.
I was alone. I knew that now. I was the only true Dissonant, and I had a sanctuary of my own.
I pulled off my visor, and tossed it across the street. I didn’t need their childish rebellion. Wars weren’t won with bombs and guns these days; this was a whole new world.
Pulling back my sleeve, I ran a finger over the inside of my forearm. The implanted screen lit. A new server. One that those amateurs would never discover.
I’m ready, I typed.
After a moment, the reply came. We’re waiting for you. We knew you’d come.
Let’s burn this world, I replied.