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Max adjusted his sensor glasses. He had been running for fifteen minutes when a stray twig hit just the right spot to cause his glasses to lose focus. He lost his target. He turned a knob attached to his glasses' frame as if turning up some music only he could hear. A beeping sound came on after a few minutes.


           “Gotcha,” he said.


           Max can see the outline of the man he was chasing. He was about half a mile away, but Max didn't see any attempt to flee. Must’ve thought he’s lost me, he thought. He kept running towards the direction of his target, never losing sight, slightly increasing his speed as he got closer. He knew he got him. Max ran the last few feet, but just as he was almost able to see the man with his own eyes, his target disappeared.


           “How the hell?!” He exclaimed as he was taking his sensor glasses off. “How could he just disappear in thin air?”


           Max started walking forward, extending his arm and waving it around as if he was looking for an invisible enemy. A couple of steps ahead, he felt the ground below him tremble for a few seconds. Before he had the time to think about it, he started falling.


"AAAAHHHH – " His yell was cut off by his feet hitting the ground. Somehow, he imagined it to be a long drop. He looked around to look for his sensor glasses that dropped during the fall. He found them on the ground, smashed. His levitation shoes were also damaged by the fall. So the drop was long enough to damage by tools, but not enough to kill me. Great.


         He looked around and noticed that he was in some natural cave. It was difficult to determine the size of the cave because his only light source is his lit-up armor. He started walking when he heard heavy breathing. Max took out his gun from its holster, activated the flashlight, and pointed it in front of him. A pair of eyes were illuminated by this light. The rest of the face was concealed with a mask, and the head was covered with a hood.


           “Don’t, please.” The hooded figure pleaded.


           “Can’t run now. You’re dead.” Max flipped the safety, cocked his gun, and was about to pull the trigger when the hooded man yelled –


           “Max!”


           He walked closer towards his target and asked, “How do you know my name?”


           “It’s me, Johnny.” He said as he took off his mask and lowered his hood.


           Max paused. It took him a moment to realize who this man is claiming to be. “No, no, you can’t be. Johnny’s dead.”


           “I’m not.”


           “My mom said you died during the war of 2035.”


           “I almost did. But the rebels rescued me.” Johnny walked towards Max, gun pointed in his face.


           Max kept the gun pointed at Johnny. He knew that even without advanced technology, the rebels had reliable intel. These rebels must have found my file and connected me to Jonny, he thought. There was only one way to find out.


           “What did I tell you the first time we met?”


           Johnny chuckled, “Do you wanna play tag? You’re it.”


           Max slowly lowered his gun and carefully walked towards Johnny. When he was only a few inches away, he stared at Johnny for a minute, still in disbelief. He placed his hands on Johnny’s arms and then held him on a tight hug. "You're alive," he kept saying as he taps Johnny's back as if reassuring him that he's still alive.


           “I almost wasn’t, if you’d pulled that trigger. Look, I have to sit. I scraped my knee when I fell.” Johnny stepped back and sat on the floor, leaning against the cold wall.


           “We gotta get out of here. Do you know where we’re at?” Max asked as he sat beside Johnny.


           “I think I do, but I really hope I’m wrong. Right after the war of ’35, rebels dug burrows where they could hide. When they did, they also dug some decoy using natural caves. I’ve only heard it from the rebels who survived the war. They said they built it so whoever falls can’t go back up. Y’know, let ‘em die from lack of oxygen, hunger, or just let ‘em go crazy.”


           “Well, this might be one of the ones they built for hiding. There has to be a way out of here. And if there’s not, they’ll go looking for me when it’s time to get more data for my chip implant.”


           “No, they installed some kind of device that interferes with the chips, practically rendering them useless. I heard that despite updates to the chip, they still couldn’t figure out how to bypass the interference. Of course, the ones who built the interference devices were killed during the massacre of 2040. We never found the blueprints.”


           “You mean the Victory of 2040?”


           Johnny shot him a look of disbelief.


           Max then looked at the chip implant on his arm. He was 16 when he got it. It was a technological advancement like no other. The chip was able to automatically produce hormones, manipulate chemicals, elevate blood pressure, and allows add-ons. Max was only able to afford sensor glasses, light-up armor, and levitation shoes, he was saving up for protective shield.


Initially, only the rich and famous could afford it. Around 2032, two years after the revolution for equality in technology, the government started requiring everyone to get the implant. Some were thrilled to get the implant. Others, not so much.


           “I still can’t believe you let ‘em implant you,” Johnny said as he tore cloth out of his robe to wrap around his scraped knee.


           “It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to humanity, Johnny. Our lifespans are getting longer, we’ve eliminated most of the diseases, and we’re so close to harnessing more energy from the sun because of the advancement this chip gave us. It could’ve helped you.” Max looked down, wishing he never brought up Johnny’s issues.


           “But the government gets to control you, y’know? They can track exactly where you are, know what you ate for breakfast, hell, they can change your hormone levels whenever they want.”


           “But they don’t, because they want the best for us. Why would the government want to hurt its own people? You’re one to talk anyway, you people are the ones pillaging our towns and harassing us.” Max was obviously getting more frustrated with their argument.


           “What? When the hell did we ever do that? And I thought we were friends. How come I’m just “you people” now?” Johnny asked, confused by the allegations.


           Max looked at him with disgust, “don’t act like you’re innocent.” He then got up. “We can argue about this later, I’m sure you’ll get your time in court. Let’s first get out of here.” He held out his arm and helped Johnny get up. Max gave him an emergency light stick. The two went separate directions, looking for a possible way out of the cave. Being a tiny cave, it only took them ten minutes to look around. Finding no way out, both returned to their spot.


           “I didn’t see any holes for air to enter. The hole where we dropped is shut. I guess this is one where they let those unlucky enough to get stuck here die from lack of oxygen.” Johnny chuckled at his own misfortune. “You don’t happen to have an add-on for that, do you?”


           “No. Only those tasked to go underground or to fly are –“


           “Max, Max, I was just teasing ‘ya," Johnny said, cutting off Max's explanation. His smile seemed to affect Max as he chuckled a little bit. "So, what were you ramblin’ on about us attacking your towns and harassing you?”


           Max’ frown returned. “You can’t pretend to be innocent of all this. The governors told everyone how you frequently ambush our carriers and attack the outskirts at night, killing the adults and kidnapping the children. I can’t believe you’re part of a group that does that.”


           “Oh, that’s just not true. We’ve been hiding because your militia had been attacking our farms and stealing our crops. We’re trying to live peacefully, but you won’t let us. Is this why you’re out here chasing me?” Johnny asked.


           Max stared at Johnny, confused. “Yes, they told us there was a rebel right outside our fence, they think you might be spying for a raid. How do you explain why you’re here?


           “Ah, I guess I can tell you. There’s a group here that wants to run away, join the rebels. They wanted to know the closest camp they can join. I got sent by our mayor. It’s my first time out of our camp. I usually just work at the farm. I was just waiting for sundown to meet one of the men when you started chasing me.”


           “Run away? Why would they want to do that?”


           “The letter said they heard a couple of soldiers talk about how they burned some camp for sport.” Johnny looked at Max. Upon seeing the disbelief and disappointment in his face, realized he shouldn’t have dropped such heavy news without caution. Well, we don’t have much time anyway, he thought.


           “I – I had no idea. You must know, they told us…” Max was unable to finish his sentence. He bowed his head, ashamed. "I wasted so many years following orders from corrupt people. My entire belief system against rebels, built around lies and deceit. I don't understand. Why? What are they gaining out of this?"


           “They wanted to control everyone. I think they’re afraid of those that they can’t control. They can’t just tell them where to go or, I don’t know, can’t just shut ‘em down. And you know, in some twisted way, I get it.”


           “Johnny,” Max looked up and placed his hand on Johnny’s shoulders, “you can’t get it. You’re the least controlling person I know. I’m sure you remember that one time, Chad, the Great Bully of the South Side, asking you for tickets your mom got for the baseball game, remember?”


           “No. Can’t say I do. My memories from before the war seem to be spotty. I don't know; it must be one of my meds, or I just didn’t wanna remember that part. Do I wanna hear this story?"


Max chuckled, "Oh yeah! Anyway, he was begging you for the tickets, saying he would give do anything for you. You could've asked him to do something embarrassing or asked him to stop bullying out, I would've. But you just gave it to him."


"Well, I guess I wasn't that smart, huh."


           “No, no… That’s not my point. You’re a good friend, even to your enemies. So there’s no way you relate to the government.”


           “Max, all I meant is that I get how they’re afraid of what they can’t control. Somehow, even aspects of my life that cause me pain or inconvenience don’t bother me, ‘cause I can control how I behave with ‘em. But sometimes I can’t control my thoughts. Sometimes, a thought sneaks in and I imagine me just going away or disappearing, you know?” Johnny smiled.


           “I’m sorry.”


           “I hadn’t shared that with anyone else. I guess I was waitin’ for my best friend. Have you seen him anyway? He was chasin’ me with some stupid glasses?” He giggled.


           Max lightly punched him in the arm, “shut up.”


The silence that followed allowed the two men to realize that they had to exert a bit more effort than usual just to breathe. Johnny started to feel dizzy, and he leaned his head back against the wall. This is happening too fast.


Unknown to both, the cave had micro-suctions swiftly pulling out all available oxygen as soon as it’s activated by the pressure plate.


"We had missed so much time to be together. Since we’re apparently pouring our hearts out, I gotta tell you. You know, I didn't believe them when they warned me not to trust anyone I meet, not even the group who wanted to run. They told me everyone that's been implanted has been brainwashed.”


  Johnny paused and looked at Max, "I told myself, no way Max could do that. My friend will see through the lies. After all, you were the only one who didn’t leave me after –“ He paused to swallow a lump on his throat, “after everyone found out I was bipolar. You know, when everyone saw me as a ticking time bomb. I kept thinking, no, Max is a good man, he wouldn’t do that. There’s gotta be more of them out there.


           “And I know, I know, the chip could have helped me. But I didn’t want to be controlled. At 15, I just felt like there were only a few things I can control without the help of pills, or therapy, or… Anyway, I just didn’t want what’s left of me be controlled by the government.”


Max just stared at Johnny as he explained himself. "I didn't know," was all he could say. He could feel a wave of guilt crashing against the remaining walls holding him together. "So much I didn't know," he sobbed. He felt as if a massive boulder was suddenly placed on his shoulders, one impossible to lift.


           “Hey, I didn’t tell you that to make you feel guilty. I still think you’re a good man. If you knew the truth, I know you would’ve started looking for me, joining our rebellion. I know you, Max.” In so few words, Johnny lifted the boulder on Max’s shoulder, he turned the tall waves into a peaceful ocean. He finally had a friend – again.


           Johnny smiled and said, “Do you remember when we would chase fireflies every summer? Our parents would watch us from our porch, talking about their jobs, competing on who’s had the most stressful day. It was so simple back then.”


           Max chuckled.


“What’s so funny?”


           “Lightning bugs,” Max interjected.


           “Huh?”


           “They’re not fireflies, those were lightning bugs. We argued about that for hours one night. It’s so silly, you know.” Max explained in between chuckles.


           “Yeah, it was.”


           “No, no, not that. The things people fight about, it’s so silly. A stupid chip separated us for years. Silly little chip turned me to some hunter.” Max laughed at the foolishness of it all, before suddenly stopping. “I hurt people, Johnny. If you knew, you wouldn’t think me so…kind.”


           The beads of sweat forming on both men’s forehead seem to have increased as they’ve been wiping their brows more and more. Their breathing, more audible. Max’s dizziness, inducing nausea. He’s never felt so ill before. He looked at his chip – useless; much like how he feels.


           “Don’t say that,” Johnny replied. “The man who hurt people was brainwashed for years. You were trying to protect your people. You were there during my worst times.” Johnny paused and winced, the pain of his scraped knee, seemingly worse than before.


“Max, you gave me hope,” Johnny’s breathing was getting shorter.


“I wanted to survive to be there when you finally find your way to us, cause I knew you will. I never questioned your kindness, neither should you.”


           Johnny rested his head on Max’s shoulder.


“Max? Don’t fall asleep, we gotta catch fireflies.”


           “Lightning bugs,” Max whispered, the peaceful waves lulling him to sleep.

May 06, 2020 02:19

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