Energia, Web Novel

Chapter 36: Coincidence

Energia: Titans of Verità
Table of Contents (For Catching Up)

Once, Anna would have marveled at the sights of the Israeli Sector. The colors, the architecture, all of it would have excited her. She blamed her father for that. After listening to the architect babble on about his work for so many years, she had acquired an appreciation for it, whether she wanted to or not.

But now that she had seen the outside, that appreciation faded. Everything around her was so human. So safe. So boring. Compared to the thrilling world of aliens and danger beyond, Unity just couldn’t compete.

Was this how mom felt? She wondered. She hoped so. It made her feel warm to think that she inherited anything from her.

She yawned as she walked. She only paid half of her attention to her surroundings. Not that she thought she needed to. The presence of an Operative was a diterent in it of itself. Still, she did need to write something in her report aside from ‘walked around for three hours, nothing happened, very boring’.

Anna had always imagined this part of the job to be more thrilling. Whenever an Operative was on the news, they were putting down a riot or stopping one before it began. Every now and then, there’d be a report of a halted attempted murder.

She knew about that one personally. The scar on her face ached at the memory. It wasn’t something she liked to look back on. But something about it tugged at her mind. She tried to place why.

It escaped her when she heard the crying. Loud and high, clearly that of a little girl. Anna stopped, straining to listen and find the source of the sound. It didn’t take her very long.

The little girl couldn’t be any older than five years old. She stood in the middle of the sidewalk, wiping her eyes as she sobbed. Everyone else parted around her, sparing the child only the slightest glance.

A hot anger boiled in her chest. How could they ignore a crying child like that? She wanted to scream at them for it. Of all the heartless, selfish things to-

They don’t think they need to. She realized. That’s what the Operative is for, isn’t it? Well, fine then.

Anna knelt down beside the child somewhat awkwardly. She expected the child to notice her, to stop crying and explain. Instead, the little girl continued to weep as if she couldn’t see her. Anna sighed quietly, realizing that she had no idea what she was doing.

“Um… Hey.” Anna said slowly, taking time to choose her words. “What’s wrong, uh… little girl?” If she had cringed any more violently at herself, she’d have rattled like a ship during takeoff.

The girl sniffed loudly. When she looked at Anna, she shrunk down and backed away a few steps. Her wet eyes became wide with fright.

Her reaction confused Anna. Why be scared of an Operative? It wasn’t as though her suit were intimidating. Besides, kids thought Operatives were cool! At least Anna had thought so when she was the girl’s age.

Assuming that the girl was scared, for some unfathomable reason, Anna threw the hood over her helmet. The armor shimmered and vanished, leaving only the jacket. The little girl calmed quickly at the sight, wonder replacing fright. Anna couldn’t help but smirk.

“Tha’ was cool!” The child gasped. “Was tha’ magic?”

“Actually, it’s a special nanotech that-” Anna cut off, remembering that she was talking to a child. As amazing as she thought the technical aspects of her abilities were, she doubted the kid would feel the same, little weirdo that she was. “Yes.” She said reluctantly, trying not to sound disappointed. “It’s magic.”

“Wow! Tha’s so cool! Are you a princess?”

Anna stopped herself from rolling her eyes. Few things had annoyed her more growing up than girls who went on about ponies and princesses and other girlish things. Especially since those kinds of girls always poked fun at her fashion sense. In response, Anna had knocked their teeth out.

She’s a child. Anna had to remind herself. Be the adult.

“I’m not a princess.” Anna said as gently as she could. “I’m… Uh…” She racked her mind. What would comfort a girl whose head was filled with fairy tales? Eventually, she gave up and said: “I’m a knight.”

“Nuh-uh!” The girl protested. “Boys are knights and girls are princesses! Knights save princesses! Princesses can’t be knights!”

How adorably old-fashioned. Anna sighed silently. “Well, some princesses get bored while they wait, so they rescue themselves.” She said a little indignantly. “Then they go and rescue princesses that knights haven’t gotten to yet.” She felt more embarrassed with every word.

The little girl frowned. “That’s not in the books!”

“They are. Just not in the books you read.” Anna halted her tongue. Am I seriously getting into an argument with a five-year-old? “Forget it. Tell me why you’re crying.”

“I-I’m not crying!” The child protested, wiping her eyes furiously.

“Well, you were. Why? Are you lost?”

The little girl hung her head, sniffing, then nodded. “I-I lost Teddy.”

“Teddy?”

“My bear. A-and I can’t find Eva or Adam.”

“Are they your siblings?”

The little girl nodded again. Her eyes were getting wetter as tears welled up. She looked about ready to start sobbing again.

Eager to avoid having a child shriek in her ears, Anna spoke quickly. “It’s okay!” She hoped she didn’t sound desperate. “I’ll help you find them! So don’t cry anymore, okay?”

The girl didn’t cry, but she did shrink away from Anna. “I-I dunno… Mama and Eitan say I shouldn’t talk to strangers.”

Anna tried not to roll her eyes. You only remembered that after you- she blinked. “Wait. Did you say Eitan? As in Eitan Avidan?”

The child’s eyes grew wide. “You know my big brother?”

Brother? Anna looked at the girl with renewed interest. At second glance, she did notice a resemblance. The same hair, same eyes, and same sharp features. Although the girl had slightly darker skin, larger eyes, and her cheeks were puffy and soft.

“Sort of.” Anna answered honestly. “We’ve talked a few times. I wouldn’t call us friends, but I do know him.”

That seemed to comfort the child. Her expression brightened, softening with relief. Anna wondered if the girl understood what she had just said.

Unsure what else to do, she offered the child a hand. “I’m Anna. What’s your name?”

The child looked at the hand and took it awkwardly. Her’s was less than half the size of Anna’s. “I’m Aila.”

“Alright, Aila. Let’s get you home.” She stood up, ready to go, then paused. The realization that she had no clue what to do next made her feel stupid, which annoyed her. “Do you remember where you lost your siblings?”

Aila shook her head, sniffing loudly.

Should’ve expected that. Anna stopped herself from saying. Instead, she said: “Nothing for it, then. We’ll have to retrace your steps. Which way did you come from?”

Aila looked back and forth down the street uncertainly, then pointed. “That way. I think.”

Again, Anna had to keep a wry, annoyed comment to herself. She didn’t like how uncertain the kid sounded. But she calmed herself, thinking there was a fifty percent chance that she was right. May as well flip the coin and trust her luck.

What to do about her? Anna thought, eying Aila. She didn’t like the idea of carrying the girl on her back and doubted that it would even be that comfortable. Holding hands was equally distasteful to her. Besides, she couldn’t risk crushing her hand.

Before Anna could decide, Aila reached a hand towards hers. She pulled away by reflex when the child’s fingers brushed hers, though she could hardly feel it through the armor. The motion made the child shrink back, tears welling up in her eyes. Seeing that, Anna knew she was out of options. Gingerly, she reached down and took the child’s hand, leaning a bit awkwardly to the side to make up for the height difference.

Together, Anna and Aila worked their way through the Israeli market. Aila would frequently stop, looking around to find something familiar. If she didn’t, they went back the way they went and tried again. When the girl recognized something, they followed it like a fish follows the stream.

Anna quickly grew annoyed with Aila. The girl would stop for far too long and spend too much time scanning the same places. Whenever she couldn’t find a familiar landmark, she’d start to sniffle and cry again. When she wasn’t doing that, she would be staring up at her like she had come from an alien planet.

Still don’t think I’m a knight, do you? Anna felt stupid for getting annoyed. She knew she shouldn’t let a little girl get under her skin. But god dammit, this girl was good at pulling at her nerves!

Their wandering took them to the outer edge of the sector. Rows of large warehouses lined the outer wall. Anna thought it must be some kind of industrial yard. But there was no one here. It was as though the yard were abandoned.

“We’re lost.” Anna blurted in a bout of annoyance. “Even more lost then before.”

Aila didn’t answer. She hung her head, sniffing loudly.

Anna heaved a sigh. Don’t tell at the kid. She thought. You sound stupid. “Well, nothing for it. Let’s go back and-“

A dull thud rang through the yard, just loud enough for her to hear. She froze partway through turning to go. Did something fall in one of the warehouses? That didn’t sound like metal.

Another sound, this one a loud thump. It was much closer, much louder. Anna’s body stiffened, her instincts preparing for something, anything.

Thump.

“What is that?” Aila’s voice squeaked, small as a mouse.

“Shush.” Anna whispered. She leaned down, instinctively shielding the girl with her body.

Thump. Thump. Louder. Closer. Almost like the rhythm of a drum.

Thump. Thump. Thump…

CRASH!! The door to a warehouse at the end of the yard flew forward, clattering loudly as it bounced across stone. A roar echoed through the yard, like a lion and a gorilla were having a shouting match in one voice.

From within the warehouse emerged a monster with glistening white fur. Its thick head darted from side to side, spraying froth across the ground. Its eyes were red with fury.

Anna felt her jaw drop. You’ve got to be kidding me!

Beside her, Aila shrieked in terror.

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