Chapter 1: Survival
"…And the prince saved his people. They cheered in the streets and lived happily ever after."
Derek sighed heavily and looked at his mother. She was telling the now sleeping Kyle a story, one where everything ended happily. The people were all okay; no one was in danger. There was plenty to eat, no monsters trying to hurt them any more. Derek's mother looked right at him as she finished the story, standing and taking Kyle to his bed, the small cot that for some reason had still remained in the basement where they all now sought refuge.
"Good night, Kyle," his mother said softly, as she covered him with a blanket. "Sleep tight." She brushed his hair away from his eyes and stood slowly.
"It's all over."
Derek jerked his head to his father. "What?" he said at the same time as his mother, who turned, startled. Derek's father rarely spoke any more.
"It's over. We're finished. There's nothing anyone can do about it," he said. He stared at the concrete floor just in front of him, his mouth open a little in disbelief and denial.
"Don't say that!" Derek's mother hissed. She looked terrified. Belief was keeping her alive, and to say that it was over meant giving up. Allowing themselves to give up hope.
"Oh, stop the charade," their father snapped, finally looking at her.
"We'll be all right. We have to be," their mother said, desperately.
"You've seen what's going on out there!" Derek's father half-shouted. "You know what's going on! You've seen what they've done!" He took a deep breath, and continued, "You've seen those – those things."
Derek watched them argue, eyes flicking back and forth between his mother and his father. He knew what his father was talking about. The machines. He'd heard their whispered conversations when he and his brother were supposed to be asleep. Their parents would come back from sneaking upstairs, attempting to find out what was going on, or to get food. They were always terrified, and maybe a little shell-shocked.
"We'll be okay," said their mother. "We have to be."
"Are you blind? You've seen them!" Their father hissed.
He opened his mouth to continue, but Derek interrupted him.
"Stop, Dad. Kyle's sleeping," he said. He nodded at his little brother.
Derek watched his father look at the ground. The suddenly ancient man took a deep, shuddery breath, and put a hand to his head. "What's the world come to, Derek?" he said without looking at his son. Then he glanced at Kyle. "Kyle," he said. He closed his eyes.
"Let him think we have a chance," said Derek. He didn't want to say it. He wanted his parents to stop being scared and tell him and Kyle that everything would be okay. Nothing bad could get them. They were safe. There was never any danger. "He can survive, if we teach him how. We've still got food for another week or so."
Derek's father just stared at the floor. His mother let out a dry sob, and started towards him.
"Oh, Derek," she said, kneeling in front of him. "I'm so sorry," she said, beginning to cry. "You shouldn't have to deal with this. I'm sorry. You're still a boy, Derek."
"Mom, don't cry."
She couldn't stop.
"Really, Mom, please don't cry."
She wiped her tears and threw her arms around her son. "I'm sorry," she whispered. "This isn't fair, to you or Kyle."
Kyle stirred. Immediately, the mood tensed. Derek watched his mother compose herself, and his father try to appear calm.
"Mom?" he mumbled, turning over. "What's going on?"
"Nothing, sweetie. Go back to sleep," she said, going to him and making sure he was covered by his blanket. "Everything will be alright," she whispered, turning to look at Derek.
Derek was certain he was the only one who heard her say, "Right?"