1Here goes my second attempt at a story. This one will probably be more of a tragedy then my first, and at first it will probably be a lot more violent. Fear not, though, for like all my stories, this one will have a silver lining and a happy ending.

Enjoy!

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Staring around at the dark and formidable trees pressing in on us for what felt like the fiftieth time since the sun went down, my exhausted mind couldn't resist a lame attempt at humor. Turning to her friend as she plopped down on a moss-covered rock and throwing up her hands, she sighed, "Why oh why didn't I take the blue pill?"

Jonas snickered and shrugged off his backpack with a grunt, sitting down next to her.

"Cause they ran out during the half-price sale at Walmart." She snorted and took off her own backpack, fumbling around in the twilight for her lantern. As she flicked it on, the small clearing was bathed in a dim, suffusing sphere of light that made the looming trees appear even more dark and foreboding in contrast. At least now though they could see what they were doing.

"Do you think they'll wait until after they've found us and brought us home to kill us or just do it right here?" She asked ruefully, now working on getting her blistered and swollen feet out of her hiking boots.

"The key there Neera is IF they find us... Which they might not, considering how hopelessly lost we are now..."

Neera rolled her eyes at Jonas as she popped her first shoe off, wiggling her toes with a sigh of relief. He wrinkled his nose leaning away from her on the rock.

"Geez Neera, do you have to take off your shoes?"

The blonde-haired girl glared at him with her soft gray eyes.

"YES. My feet are killing me. Would you rather have to put up with me complaining?"

Jonas- wisely- didn't answer. He stared off into the inscrutable darkness, the hair on the back of his neck prickling with the cool breeze that stirred the pine branches, ticking his nose with the scent of ozone. That coupled with the stagnant humidity of the black air told him that it was going to rain. Out of the corner of his eye Jonas saw a second shoe pop off.

"Hey Neera? I think we should find some shelter. I have a feeling it's going to rain."

She looked up at the dark, starless sky, agreeing with Jonas' instincts, seeing as he was usually right.

"Wouldn't it be great if we had made it back to the school cabins by now? How much you want to bet that they haven't even noticed that we're gone?"

He nodded, a smile tugging against his depressed frown.

"Or worse, assumed that we're making out somewhere."

"Ugh!"

"Exactly." He stopped, something catching his eye in the light of the lantern.

"Hey, do you see that?" Neera looked up at him curiously from wiggling her blistered toes.

"See what?" Jonas didn't answer, but slowly stood up and walked across the clearing, moving a pine branch out of the way. Half buried beneath the pine straw was a green, pulsating rock-thing. He backed up slowly, the hairs on the back of his neck standing on end.

"Neera, I think you should see this..." Curious, Neera picked her way barefoot over to where Jonas stood entranced. Her brows knitted together at the sight of the green rock, wonder over riding fear.

"What is it?" She asked, kneeing down and reaching out a hand to it.

"Don't touch it Neera!" But his warning came too late. Drawn almost against her will, Neera laid her hand on it and tried to pick it up. Finding it was half buried, she dug away at the dirt around it until it came free, then sat back on her heels examining what looked line a hexagonal plate. The fingers of her right hand trailed over some raised markings on its front.

Suddenly, pain exploded in her head as electricity surged up her arm from the glowing green panel. Neera cried out and tried to drop it, but couldn't. Jonas started to yell her name and she realized that she had fallen to the ground. Darkness rapidly enveloped her, blotting out all feeling save for the strange sensation of a presence trailing gently over the surface of her mind. The last thing she saw was Jonas' worried face above her, and behind him, a helicopter soaring towards them just as an icy curtain of rain fell to earth. Then, she knew no more.

A voice cackled nearby, answered by a scream. There was the sound of scrambling, and then Jonas' hands tugging at her, pulling her urgently into the woods. Another voice echoed through the clearing, high-pitched and whining, as the sound of helicopter blades whooshed overhead, buffeting her with currents of air. Jonas kept dragging her along, and she dimly became aware of the cold rain striking her face and arms, turning the ground beneath her to mud.

The voice laughed again as something rushed by her overhead. Suddenly Jonas was gone, and she was alone again. After a long while of drifting through the blackness, she heard a tortured scream pierce the night like a jagged pike in her mind. Jonas! Neera tried to move, but her limbs wouldn't respond. Strong, unfamiliar hands came down and lifted her out of the mud. Darkness descended again, and she drifted once again beneath the icy waters of unconsciousness like a swimmer drowning at sea.

Cold. Neera's whole body was cold. She started to shiver violently under her sopping wet clothes, hugging her arms around herself to get warm. Her eyes resisted being opened as though they had been clamped shut, and she had to blink furiously to get them to stay open. Neera wondered why she had bothered, as it was as dark with her eyes closed as it was when they were open.

She moved her arm and found that it resisted lifting, restrained as it was beneath the weight of a thick blanket. A shiver racked her body again, and she pulled the blanket closer around her. Pain pressed in behind her eyes as though a bad migraine was coming on, and she buried her face in her arms, squeezing her eyes shut to try to ward it off.

Despite how strong she had always tried to be, everything that had happened finally caught up with her, and Neera sobbed openly into her arms, just wanting to go home.

A soft noise came from behind her, as light as the footfalls of a mouse, causing her to tense abruptly.

"Don't be afraid."

The gentle presence brushed over her mind again, and Neera flinched away instinctually.

Don't be afraid

The words were spoken softly within her mind, and the presence slowly encircled her mind

like liquid warmth flowing through her, easing her shivering. She hesitated, and the presence, sensing her fear, withdrew quietly from her mind, leaving her feeling strangely empty. Neera turned, but couldn't see anything through the darkness.

"Whose there?" She asked, her voice cracking. The thing shifted, and a dim glow lighted the area, revealing it to be the inside of an enormous cave. What caught her attention though like an icy fist around her heart was what the thing was.

It was a robot.