"I was just seven..." she started, her voice more raspy than expected. Wiping her nose and clearing her throat, she glanced to Atom for a second. He seemed completely intrigued, eyes wide and hopeful, yet still a slight worry in them. She looked at the ground. "I was only seven...that's when the trouble started."
Cora Collins was sweet.
Cora Collins was innocent.
Cora Collins was smart.
Cora Collins was the perfect seven year old daughter you could ever imagine.
The young girl grinned as she spun around the lounge room floor, her faded pink tutu fluttering gracefully around her small body and her jet black hair swishing against her cheeks. She felt the close by fire beating on her pale legs as she moved each foot in sequence, step by step. She tried to focus her eyes as the room swirled past her. Smudges of the white couch, cream walls with nameless photographs and the arch way leading into the kitchen.
And then there are her parents. Mr Collins, and Mrs Collins, sitting upon the leather cushion with smiles painted onto their faces. The smiles never faded, no matter how many times they passed Cora's sight as she twirled. That's how it was all the time. She would do whatever they wanted to please them. To see their smiling faces was all the reward she needed. Starting to lose her balance, she came to a subtle stop with a giggle, her parents clapping fondly.
"Well done dear!" Mrs Collins smiled sweetly, slowly sitting up and catching Cora before she could fall, her arms wrapping around her in a warm caress.
"They had my life planned out for me," Cora sniffed, rubbing her nose as her weary eyes scanned over the water. "I was their perfect daughter..." she muttered, slightly shrugging. Atom leaned forward, too intrigued to say anything. She took a deep breath, clenching her hands. "Then came the first day of school," she whispered. "That's when I met...her."
Metro City Area School. The best of the best, for the best of the best. So, being the wealthy people they were, Cora's parents were more than delighted to send her there, for the best education she could have. Cora shrunk her shoulders down as she approached the massive building, feeling rather insignificant compared to the towering walls. Kids of all ages were talking around the outside, laughing or flipping out mobile phones. Her mother placed a hand softly on her shoulder, reassuring her.
"How do you like it so far?" she asked in her sweet tone, kneeling down to the child's level. Cora stroked her bag strap, eyes glued to the ground. She was the one who had wanted to go to public school for the soul purpose to finally meet some other kids. Her parents had previously home schooled her, barely ever letting her out of their sight. But with much persistence, they finally agreed to let her into the life of a normal seven year old.
"It's very big," she muttered. Mrs Collins smiled warmly, lifting her chin to hers.
"But you know you need to go, so you can become one of those great scientists, don't you?" Cora pulled a face, but nodded anyway.
She wasn't overly sure of what she wanted to be in life, but if her parents said that being a scientist was good, then why bother complaining?
Smiling, she gave her mom a hug. "Good bye mommy!" she grinned. Her father chuckled, patting her on the shoulder.
"You work hard, okay?"
"Sure thing." She nodded, walking to the front doors.
"Stay out of trouble!" she heard her mother call.
"I will!" she replied, her small flats clicking on the clean pavement.
"Don't talk to strangers!" she heard her farther behind her. Rolling her eyes, she smiled and answered.
"And have fun!" Mrs Collins yelled across the yard.
"But safe fun!" Mr Collins stated after.
Cora waved back to them before turning and focusing back on the path ahead of her. Around three long stairways were there to get to the entrance, the sides littered with children and some vegetation. She heard the car in which she came from hum to life and speed off down the road as she began to climb the first steps. Her parents were always like that when leaving her on her own (which barely happened anyway). It was like she was nothing more than a china doll, or an extremely fragile glass ornament. No matter what she was doing, they were always there, looking out for her and reminding her how to do things and what she couldn't do. But she liked it that way. It made her feel safe.
Adjusting the straps on her shoulders, Cora proceeded forward to the very front of the school yard, near the many double doors leading into the wide hall. But just as she was about to enter, her ears pricked up at a voice.
"Psst..." she darted her head around. Who would be calling for her? She barely knew any of the other kids...
"Psst!" she flicked her head towards a group of three teenagers, staring at her. There was an older girl, maybe fifteen, with long amber hair with purple streaks hanging in it, with dark brown eyes, almost black. Tugging at her black leather jacket, she nodded to her. "Over here." She ordered. After examining the other girls around her- one with choppy pink hair with white streaks and green eyes, and the other with shaved black hair with crystal blue eyes- she slowly walked up to them. The amber haired one snickered to them before speaking again. "You gotta name?"
"C-Cora..." the small girl replied, frowning at the girl's spiky jackets and ripped jeans.
"Were those your parents?" the pink haired girl asked in a slightly snobby tone. Cora stared at her for a while before responding.
"Yes, they were." They all shared a snicker before straightening up. The first girl put her hand out.
"The name's Lizzi," she said with a smile. Cora politely went to shake it, only for her to press her clenched fist up against hers instead. Cora raised an eyebrow, but looked as the others introduced themselves.
"Finn," the shaved haired one stated boldly. "And she's Amy." She said, shooting her thumb towards the pink girl's direction.
"Rocket," she hissed instead. Cora smiled. They shared a nod between them before Lizzi leaned in close.
"Are you familiar with the word 'suffocating'?" she whispered. Cora reeled back a bit, a confused look on her face.
"Suffocating?" she asked.
"Yes, suffocating," Lizzi said, pulling back.
"What does it mean?"
"It means that someone isn't giving you enough space..." Rocket mumbled, placing a hand on her hip. Cora frowned deeply.
"Why should I have to know this?"
"Because your parents are."
"Suffocating you!" Lizzi face palmed. Cora shrunk down a bit, embarrassed for not catching on quick enough. But her head then snapped up.
"What? They're not suffocating me!" she defended. Rocket and Finn snickered while Lizzi just kept a stern stare on the girl.
"Do they let you out the house often?" Cora reeled back, thinking.
"...No..." she answered meekly.
"Do they give you a safety lesson every five minutes?"
"And do they have problems with you making your own decisions?" the small girl stomped her foot on the ground in protest.
"Why do you care?!" she pouted. The teen knelt to the ground, looking her right in the eyes. There was something about her eyes...they stared her down, capturing all of her attention. They were like rings of oily paint, gradually getting darker and darker until they formed small beads of pure blackness. Feeling defenseless against her, Cora slumped a little.
"I care because I was in the same position," she told. "I need your help, and you need mine, by the looks of things." She stuttered on her words.
"M-my help? Why would you need my help?" she asked. Lizzi's warm smile returned as she stood up straight. With an out-stretched arm she roughly twisted Cora around and examined her bag pack.
"Hey!" she yelped. "What are you doing?"
"Reading your address..." she mumbled, flipping out a white tag. After she was done, Lizzi whispered into Cora's ear. "I'll meet you tonight, outside your house. I'll explain everything then." Cora sent her a look, but slowly nodded.
"O-ok..." she quivered.
"Great!" Lizzi grinned with her friends. Suddenly a loud bell rang, telling everyone that it was time for the first lesson. Finn, Rocket and Lizzi slowly made their way into the crowd, leaving Cora to stand there and wonder what to do. "Oh!" Finn called, looking back. "And welcome to Metro City Area School!"
Cora lay in her bed, her arms flung over her head. The day had been the most eventful in her life, filled with excitement and new experiences. But even so, her mind was still focused only on Lizzi, and what she had said. She found herself unable to sleep because of it. She guessed that maybe that was the idea.
Suffocating? She thought to herself. What did she mean? Her parents loved her! That's the only reason why they were so cautious!
But her thoughts were corrupted by a noise from outside her window. Throwing the velvet pink quilts from her body, she ran across the large room and pressed her nose gainst the glass.
With a yelp she pulled back as a rock slammed against it. Frowning, she opened it up and stuck her head out. Sure enough, there was Lizzi, standing in the green patch that was her garden at the side of the house. She was wearing the same cloths as before- a black leather jacket with deep blue jeans with the knees ripped out. She grinned, waving her hand over her head. "Cora!" she addressed. "Are your parents asleep?" Cora gave a sure nod. Lizzi smiled. "Come down here!"
"Okay!" she called, running back across her room. Quickly darting down the stairs and out her front door, she skipped around the corner of the house until the grass met her feet. The night air enveloped her in coldness, tussling at her baby pink night shirt and pants and her long flowing black hair. Lizzi smiled at her from sitting cross-legged in the center of the yard. Cora softly leapt over to her, almost performing a front flip as she tumbled onto her knees.
"Nice entrance, loser," she laughed. Cora pouted, slightly offended, rolling into a sitting position like her.
"What do you wanna tell me?" she asked. Lizzi's face suddenly became focused as she leaned in more.
"I want to help you." Cora reeled back.
"Yes," Lizzi told, her eyes flaring. "You may not know it Cora, but you're in a trap."
"Trap?" she quivered.
"Yes, a trap. Your parents are using you." A slight shock over came the small girl. But a fire built up inside her.
"No they're not! You're a liar!"
"Cora," Lizzi hissed. "Look at yourself. You follow everything they say, and do anything they tell you. They don't let you out of their sight, and you barely have any friends because they keep you locked up inside all the time." Cora stared at her for a long time, registering everything that she had said to her.
Could this be true? Could her perfect world just be a massive trap? A trap that was inescapable? She frowned in confusion, squeezing her knees to her chest.
"What do I do then?" she asked quietly. The teen smiled, lifting her chin up.
"Don't look so glum!" she laughed. "I'm here to help you. You control your own life. YOU control where
you go." Lizzi thumped her fist against her heart. "We are fighters! You with me?" Cora grinned, and nodded.
She had no idea she had just agreed to the death of her childhood.
"Are you sure about this?" the small girl asked, scratching her buzz-cut hair. Finn snorted a laugh.
"Don't tell me your bailing on us!" Cora sent her a scowl.
"Out of all the jobs you've sent me to do, have I ever let out on one?" she asked in a vicious tone. Lizzi smiled, narrowing her eyes as she turned her head back down to the discount store they were raiding.
On the roof, that is. Cora had been sent regularly to be the decoy or woman in action for many heists with Lizzi, Rocket and Finn. They targeted the back-street stores- ones that didn't have high security like the main ones in the Metro City Shopping Square in the center of the town. She had no problem doing the certain jobs they sent her to do. It made her feel independent, and it was the least she could do to thank Lizzi for all she's done for her.
"Don't get off topic. Now, we need two drums of petrol, kay?" Cora frowned, twisting to her.
"Petrol?" she asked slowly, tugging at her ripped jeans and layered shirts.
"This is the only store that sells pure petrol," Rocket said, flipping onto her stomach. "Other stores won't sell it, so you're gonna nab this one."
"Just me?" she asked. Lizzi smiled, patting her on the back.
"This is the test, little dude!" she said with a bold voice. Cora's eyes lit up.
"Yep!" she grinned, kneeling down. "You do this last job right, and I'll tell you the big secret," she told, leaning on to her face. Cora stared up to her eyes, a smile plastered on her face. "Trust me," Lizzi said. "It's a real treat."
With a nod, she leapt off the roof onto a dumpster, ready to do what she did best.
Cora winced as her Dad slammed his paper on the table, his firm eyes shooting up to hers. "Where have you BEEN?" he hissed. Cora rolled her eyes, folding her arms over her chest. Her mother then came into the room, looking rather frazzled with watery eyes.
"Nowhere, Dad..." she muttered, starting to walk up to the stairs. He quickly got out of his chair, striding over and grabbing her shoulder. Cora quickly spun out of his grasp, facing him. "Dad! I'm fine!"
"No you're not," he growled. "Just in this past month, you've cut your hair without permission, you've destroyed your room-"
"Not destroyed!" she urged, "Just making it suit me!"
"You are too young to make your own decisions, Caroline!"
"My name is CORA!" she shouted, stamping her foot on the ground. "And I AM old enough to make my own decisions!" Mr Collins was fuming.
"How dare you speak to your father that way?" he snapped. "You are seven years old, Cora!"
"That doesn't mean anything!"
"It means," he said, trying to lower his tone, "that we are still here to look after you." Cora's breathing got stronger, shaking her head.
Why didn't they trust her? Why couldn't they see that she was as good as any adult? That she could run her own life? Why wouldn't they just listen to her?!
"You know nothing about me! You don't respect me, or trust me!" she screamed.
"GO TO YOUR ROOM!" Mr Collins bellowed. Cora scowled at him, standing her ground. But in a growl of defeat, she darted up the stairs and into her room, slamming the door behind her. She stomped over to her desk, picking up a portrait of her family. With a small grunt she flung it at her wall, watching as it shattered into a million pieces. Satisfied with her doings, she collapsed on her ripped bed, staring at the ceiling.
What could she do? To them she was just a little girl, still needing help finding her dolls. But she wasn't! If only they saw what she did almost every day with Lizzi and the others! Lizzi was a better parent then them! She taught her that she could do what she wanted if she put her mind to it! She taught her that no-one could tell her what to do, and that she was in her own power to choose where she would go and who she would be.
Cora's eyes snapped over to the hot pink phone. Her mind scanned back to the secret Lizzi had told her after she had successfully stole those petrol drums. It was a deal, one she could agree to any time.
With a shaky hand, she reached out and lifted it from its cradle. She pressed carefully on the speed dial, and waited for the tone.
BEEP, BEEP...BEEP, BEEP...
"Hello?" came the sleepy voice of Lizzi. Cora bit her lip, not saying anything first off. "Hello?" she asked again, becoming irritated. "Cora, if that's you, then would you hurry up and answer already?"
"Sorry," she whispered. She heard a loud sigh from the other end.
"What do you want?" she asked, her tone dying down.
"I..." she took a deep breath, running all her thoughts over in her head again. Could she really do this? Could she? "Of course I could..." she muttered under her breath.
"What?" Lizzi asked, over hearing her mumble. Cora didn't say anything for a long while, scanning her eyes over her scarred quilt.
"I want to agree to the deal," she finally got out. Even though Lizzi didn't respond, she could tell she was smiling. With another deep breath, she finished up.
"I want to run away to the Surface."
Cora wiped her eyes, taking deep breaths. Her feet shuffled, crunching on the rocks and mud. Atom looked to her, his glassy eyes filled with curiousness. "Guess I sound like a pretty stupid girl, huh?"
"No," Atom answered softly. Cora slowly lifted her head to him, resting her chin on the palm of her hand. The boy stared at her for a long while before saying anything. "Everybody makes mistakes." He shrugged lightly.
Cora sniffled, rubbing her nose. "And how would you know?" she asked. Atom looked out to the lake, a thinking expression on his face.
"I just know," he smiled. Frowning, the teenager sighed, looking back to the ground.
"I wish I had known that..." she whispered. "Lizzi was special to me. She was like the greatest parent I never had. She believed in me." She took a moment to take a breath. "Guess it didn't matter what she thought," she hissed, a knew tone to her voice. "It was all a lie anyway..."
Cora never felt so sick in her life. Her stomach was doing cartwheels inside her, and she flinched at any sound. Lizzi rolled her eyes as the tiny girl shuffled her feet and stroke her black hair.
"Stop your shuffling," she sneered, nudging her shoulder. Cora looked to her and tried to straighten up, broadening her shoulders. "E should be here any second..."
E was their driver that was supposed to be coming that night to pick them up. Lizzi had told Cora to climb out her window at around midnight and wait with her out the side of her house until the car showed up. As the two stood there in the cold night, Cora's mind fled to the others in Lizzi's gang. Lizzi hadn't mentioned if Rocket or Finn were going to be with them on the ride from Metro City to the Surface. But she was sure that she had told them where they were going...I mean, they were all good friends, right?
Rubbing her shoulders from the cold, her mind switched from the gang to the Surface. What would it be like there? She thought to herself. Had Lizzi ever been? The only thing she knew about the Surface was that it was a land of junk. Yet that was what her parents told her...Lizzi told her it was a land of adventure and new beginnings. According to her, there were grand cities and sweet old towns, and the people there were always nice and didn't make expectations about people. It seemed the Surface was the perfect home for her.
She glanced up to Lizzi, who's stern face scanned the silent roads. Cora's house was right on the corner of the road right in the center of the patterned out houses and yards. A large patch of grass was at the side of the house, leaving a nice resting place for the two while they waited. Tired of the silence, Cora started up a conversation.
"Have you ever been to the Surface?" she asked. Lizzi took a deep breath, shooting her a smile.
"Yep!" she grinned. Cora's eyes lit up.
"Uh-huh," she nodded. "There's a service station near the out skirts of the Centre Globe. That's where we'll be stopping."
"Centre Globe?" Cora asked, perking her head up.
"Well, for every section of the Surface, there's a different name. The Centre Globe is what they call the shadowed bit directly under Metro City. We'll be stopping at a petrol station there." The small girl nodded, but frowned soon after.
"But...weren't those petrol drums I stole be used? We could save the stop..." Lizzi chuckled.
"Eagar to get away, are we?" Cora managed a small smile. To be honest, she had no idea what she was doing. But she decided if she ever missed home, she could come back...right?
"We're not using the petrol drums until we get to real hard ground. There's a stretch of the Waste Lands we have to get past. Really barren piece of crap..." Cora giggled, smiling for the first time that night. "Anyway, once we pass that we're on a sure streak to Sunset City!"
"Oh, you don't know the half of it!" Lizzi performed a large gesture, a grin on her face. "It's far better than Metro City! The robots there are not that 'fancy' crap, they're good old rusty bots- the ones you can trust! And the betting, and money, and the hotel suites!" she laughed. Cora tried to laugh with her, but inside she felt a rock sink down.
Sunset City? Hotels, gambling, bets? It sounded like the worst place to put a kid in... I won't stay for long, she told herself firmly. I'll let my parents worry for a bit, then return. Then hopefully they'll treat me better, and everything can go back to normal-
Her thoughts were corrupted by a loud horn. Soon a rusty looking hover car came squealing around the corner with a wobbly serve. As it screeched to a stop in front of them, she noted the scarred sliver coating and cracked windows with a tilted number plate. Inside was an older teenager, maybe seventeen or eighteen, with white blonde hair drooping over his eyes and wearing a black hoodie. The front window was littered with hanging ornaments ranging from skulls to lightning bolts. The man kicked open his door, a few beer bottles falling out and rolling on the cement. With a grunt he pulled himself out of the car, stumbling onto the sidewalk.
Cora shrunk down at the sight of him- beer bottle in hand and a cigarette stuck in his mouth. E slumbered over to them, almost collapsing on Lizzi.
"Lizzi!" he blurred out, waving his beer in the air. "You devil! I thought I'd never see you again!" Lizzi rolled her eyes, pushing him away.
"E, you're DRUNK. You said you were ready to drive!"
"I am ready babe!" he laughed, taking a puff of smoke. Cora edged a little closer to the house, fear filled in her eyes. She had never been around a drunk before, and the way he was acting was scaring her.
"Lizzi..." she called quietly. The teen shot her head towards her.
"Shut it," she said. " If you're scared by him then you might as well not go. Almost everyone is like that on the Surface, so toughen up." Cora took a deep breath, nodding and straightening up. E slumbered over to the side of the house, taking his cigarette out and flicking it into the grass. Not bothering to stomp on it, he walked back over to Lizzi, who had started to pack the car with her bags.
"Where're we headin' again?" he slurred.
"The Surface, moron." She growled, slamming the boot. E grinned, nodding.
"Ahhh yeah! It's coming back..." Lizzi smiled, darting forward and snatching the beer from his hand. Taking a slurp, her face scrunched up.
"Is that off or something?" she coughed. E grabbed it back, drinking some himself.
"Well brewed..." he grinned. Cora rubbed her shoulder, watching her bag get thrown in the back. Suddenly her thoughts were invaded by a smell.
A burning smell...
With a gasp she twirled around to see where E's cigarette had been thrown. A patch of grass was now burning away, turning to black ash in front of her eyes. It was starting to climb to the walls...
"Lizzi!" she screeched. Both the teenagers spun around to her. As soon as the flame met their eyes, E raced into action.
"E, you are an IDIOT!" Lizzi screamed, stomping her foot on the ground. The boy laughed, spinning and walking backwards for a few seconds.
"You're the one who called for me!" he snickered. Cora just took a few steps from the small fire, starting to walk over to Lizzi. E smiled at her. "Don't worry love! I'll save the day!" he slumped a little, taking a swing of his beer.
"Yeah, well just hurry up." Lizzi snapped. "I don't want to attract any attention..." E chuckled drunkenly, facing the small flame with a cocky smile.
Then, with an arch of his arm, he threw the beer bottle right into the fire.
"NO!" Cora screamed, taking a staggering step forward. But it was too late. In an outburst of heat and flames, the fire exploded into a hot pit of burning rubble, climbing up the house wall. E was thrown onto the bonnet of his car with a grunt. Lizzi's eyes grew wider than ever before.
"E..." she quivered. "What...have...you...done...?"
Cora couldn't move. Her legs just froze into place. All she could hear was the crackling of the wooden frame being burnt to the ground. E wiped his face over with dreariness, looking at the fire that was arousing.
"Ooo..." he cooed. "That's not good..."
"Water!" Lizzi screeched, flipping the boot open and madly scanning through the bags. "We need water!"
"MOMMY!" Cora immediately burst into tears, taking a step towards her house. "DAD!"
"Shut up, Cora!" Lizzi hissed, "We don't want to wake the whole neighborhood!" Cora didn't listen to anything she had to say, running up close to the flames.
"Whoa, dude!" E went to grab her, but Lizzi held out her arm.
"NO! Leave her..." she muttered, slamming the boot. The faint sounds of sirens sounded from across the city, hitting her ears like a bullet. "Shit!" she cursed, slamming her fist on the car roof. "Fire Brigade. Lets get out of here..."
Cora felt her skin over heat as the fire grew higher and higher, clinging onto the walls and traveling inside. Her parents were on the second floor, still sound asleep. "MOM! DAD! WAKE UP!" she screamed at the top of her lungs. She didn't want to run away. She'd do anything to see them run out of the door right now. More tears flooded onto her cheeks as she pleaded in her mind. I won't steal...I won't disobey...I'll be your perfect little girl again...just please, please make it out...
She remained idle as the fire truck came rushing around the corner. Her head turned slightly as three men climbed out with masks over their faces. Lizzi and E's car wasn't there.
The tiny girl flicked her head to the burning house. It used to be quite grand, with its' cream wood walls matching the picket fence, and the three stories of time and brilliance.
Now all used to feed the monster, eating away at the wood with its flames.
Then she saw it.
Two pairs of hands, banging their fists on the window of the second story. She recognized them straight away.
The fire man placed a hand on the girls shoulder as they both watched three enter the building. Cora wasn't in distress, she knew those super heroes in yellow coats could save them.
But the pounding on the glass continued.
A face appeared, black soot covering it, mixing in with the drench ness of the tears. She gasped. "Mummy!" Then dear farther showed, his glasses cracked and sizzled. Cora stepped forward, but the large gloved hand tightened. She looked up to him. He sadly shook his head. Tears started to form on her eyes and she looked back to her parents. They kept on pounding on the glass, looking at their little girl from the hell that was burning.
The three fire men suddenly escaped from the house, coughing and spluttering. "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!" she screamed. "THEY'RE STILL IN THERE! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!" With a final look to her parents, she made out the mouthed words before the entire house came crashing down.
'We love you'…
Cora stared out to the glistening lake, letting the tears running down her face. It was the piece of her past that kept coming back. The part that she wished had never happened.
If I had never agreed to that deal, she thought bitterly. If I had listened to my parents, then they might still be alive right now. Then everything might still be normal.
With a shaky breath in, she wiped her eyes and glanced to Atom. He just stared at her, his face pulled into one of empathy towards her. "I'd never felt...so..."
"Scared?" Atom finished. She shook her head, brow creasing.
"Guilty. Guilty. It all could have been prevented. I could have prevented it..." Atom shuffled his legs, sitting a little closer to her.
"Cora," he addressed, causing her to lift her chin to him. He looked her right in the eyes, capturing all her attention. "It was not your fault." More tears streamed onto her face as she squeezed her eyes shut, turning away. "It was NOT your fault," Atom repeated. Cora sniffled, wiping her nose.
"You can say what you want..." she murmured, a small scoff of a laugh escaping her mouth. "But there's no way a robot could convince me of that. Not even I can convince me of that..." Atom opened his mouth as if to say something, but closed it shortly after. A long silence passed over.
"They put me into the Metro City Orphanage," she said after a while. "I had never felt so useless...so alone...I barely moved from the window still..."
"What happened to Lizzi?" Atom asked. Cora sighed, cradling her head for a bit.
"She called me. She offered to keep the deal."
"And you agreed?" he asked, slight shock in his voice.
"I had nothing left, Atom," she said with a shrug. "I was alone, broken...Lizzi's deal was the only sign of a fresh start I had." The two both looked over the water as a small wind picked up, making small ripples of water wash down at their feet. "So, after however long I waited, I climbed out the window and we fled to the Surface."
She stared out the car window, eyes scanning over the dark lands they were passing. With a small breath she glanced to the dash board at the front, which read 1:56am. Sighing, Cora pressed her back against the worn out leather seat, dull eyes focusing on nothing in particular. Ahead of them was nothing but piles of junk, illuminated by the cracked head lights as they zoomed along the land. She wasn't excited about where she was. She wasn't sad. She wasn't...anything. She didn't feel anything. All she could do, was breath. Live. And have that small hope that life was going to get better.
"Pull over here..." she heard Lizzi order as a lit up service station came into view. E nodded, turning the wheel into one of the pump lanes. The station had barely anyone walking around inside, only having a lanky blonde woman leaning over the counter, looking like she'd rather be somewhere else. A click of a door rose as E leapt from his seat, flicking his cigarette onto the pavement. Cora winced, looking away from the small ashes that rose up into the air. To see that would be far too much for her...
"Cora," she heard Lizzi call quietly. She slowly lifted her head up to the teenager with dreary eyes. Lizzi gave her a smile, nudging her head to the station. "Could you nab us some snacks? A chocolate bar?" Cora stared at her for a long while, not saying anything. Lizzi leaned more over the seat. "Don't worry- this is the Surface. Barely any security is around." The girl still stared at her, not making a move. "Please?"
With an inhale through her nose, Cora slowly pulled the handle on her door and slid her legs out. "Thanks!" Lizzi beamed, getting comfortable once again. Cora didn't respond, dragging herself through the double doors and into the clean, cool service station. An ice cream display was along the wall with racks of magazines, chips, chocolates and sodas. But something caught her attention. A scruffy looking boy was on his hands and knees, scanning under the displays as if looking for something. His hair was black, a tinge of blue in it, and brushed over his eyes. He wore an oversized leather jacket that tumbled over his knees, along with a pair of ripped jeans.
"Anything...?" she heard him mutter, stretching his arm across the floor. Stepping past him, she slumbered over to the chocolate bar stand. Grabbing two bars, she stared at them for a long time.
"Wonder if these would do..." she murmured to herself. Wiping her face over she turned back to Lizzi and E.
The car was gone.
"No..." she whispered to herself. "No..." she shook her head, the chocolate bars dropping to the floor. They left me...the thought screamed in her head. They left me...how could they have left me?
"NO!" she screamed, kicking the chocolate stand. The small boy took a startled glance up, edging away. Cora didn't notice him, her sight being blocked by tears. With a cry she burst out of the station, clenching her fists and kicking up old cans and bottles. She felt her back hit the side of the small building as she slid down to the ground, burying her head in her knees.
Why was this happening to her? She should be at home right now! She should be with her parents! Why did she agree to come here? Why did she agree to trust Lizzi again? Why? Why did life HATE her so much?!
Exploding in tears, the small girl stayed there, knees pulled to her chest. She didn't know how long it was. She didn't know how long she stayed there, crying her heart out. She barely even realized the small tapping on her shoulder...
With a gasp she shot her head up. There, looking at her with curiosity etched on his face, was the scruffy looking boy. He cocked his head to the side, frowning at her. Cora frowned as well, staring at him. Lifting her hand to wipe some tears from her face, she took a breath in.
"Why are you crying?" he asked, squatting down to her. Cora stuck out her lips, looking away.
"I don't have anywhere to go..." she whispered. The boy smiled.
"Sure you do!" he beamed. Cora looked at him, a look of fake hope in her eyes.
"No, I don't." She said surely, making the boy snicker. He stood up, gesturing to himself.
"I'm Zane," he grinned, thumbing his chest.
"C-Cora..." she muttered, sniffing her nose. Zane smiled, reaching his hand out. Cora stared at it for a while, before locking onto his arm. Zane pulled her up with a small grunt.
"Cora, huh? Well, Cora, I know the perfect place for you!" Cora shot her head up to him with wide eyes.
"Really?" she asked. He nodded.
"Are there kids there?" he snorted.
"Only a couple hundred! And there's candy floss, and rides, and a warm bed for you!" Cora grinned, nodding.
"I'll go with you then! Where is it?" she asked. Zane smiled.
"Everywhere," he answered. Cora frowned at him, not catching on. Zane just smiled. "It's a circus!"
Atom looked at Cora, who was finally starting to smile at her memories. "So...you and Zane have known each other since...forever, really," he said. Cora nodded, almost all of her tears gone.
"I have to get back to the circus," she whispered. Atom wondered whether she was talking to herself or to him. "That circus if my life. Without it I would probably be dead..." she smiled a bit, looking to him. "When life hasn't been kind to you, you just...you hold onto those things that mean the world to you..." Atom found himself frowning, his mind wondering.
"I don't think..." Cora lifted her head to him. "I don't think I have that..."
"A will to live?" Cora asked. "You're not supposed to. You're a robot."
"Could you maybe stop bringing up that word?" he asked. Cora looked at him for a while, but smiled and looked over the water instead.
"Sorry..." she muttered. Atom raised an eyebrow, not expecting the apology. "Sometimes I wished I was a robot," she smiled, making Atom's eyes bulge. "I know it sounds like a stupid wish," she said, noticing his shocked expression, "But I would rather have the weight off my shoulders. Having a purpose instead of trying to find who I was. Being able to delete memories, and not have any emotions..." Atom shuffled in the mud, obviously uncomfortable with what she was saying. Noticing the slightly offended expression, she quickly blurted, "I don't mean robots like you, though!" she said quickly. "I mean like, other rusty old robots that don't have the stuff that you have! I mean-"
"Cora," Atom said. The teen looked up to him, biting her lip. But her face fell when she saw that he was laughing. "I get it," he snickered, amused by her frazzled behavior. Cora punched him softly on the shoulder, rolling her eyes with a smile.
She felt fully refreshed after getting that all out, to tell her past. To release her darkest shadows. Far better than shouting out to the sky, or keeping it locked inside her. Good to share her secrets with a friend.
WAIT. Did I seriously just call a robot my friend? She frowned a tad at her thoughts. But she glanced to Atom, seeing him smiling over the water, dipping his boots in the small puddles that were forming around the shore. No matter how she told herself that he was annoying, she truly enjoyed his company. She noticed that when he was in trouble, frozen or not working properly, she felt scared for him. Not because they might lose a fortune, but scared that she'd loose a friend.
There it was again! Calling Atom, a robot, her friend. She ended up smiling despite her thoughts, glancing to him again. He smiled back at her, a sort of glistening in his eyes. She tried to sort out the feelings in her stomach, but it all came to one thing...
She was friends with a robot.
"You wanna know another cool thing about robots?" she heard Atom ask, his voice slicing through her thoughts. She frowned at the boy, not liking that slight devilish look to him.
"Nope," she muttered, watching him jump to his feet. "But go ahead, tell me something else that makes humans look pathetic," she smiled. Atom snickered, looking out to the water.
"The boat is right over there..." she heard him murmur. With a stretch of her legs she climbed to her feet, dusting off her hoodie and wiping the last bit of moisture from her face. She came up next to Atom, placing a hand on her hip.
"So? What is so great about robots?"
"Oh, not all robots..." Atom smiled. He thumbed his chest. "Just this one in particular." Cora let out a laugh, rolling her eyes.
"Cos you're not full of yourself at all..." she said sarcastically. He shrugged meekly, looking back to the glossy lake once again.
"Okay, I need to know one thing...can you swim?" he asked.
"Can you swim?" Cora took a few steps from him, a look of deep confusion across her face.
"Y-yes..." she answered unsurely. Atom nodded, a thinking expression on his face. Cora eyed him. "Why?" she asked.
"Uhhh, no reason..." he mumbled, circling back so he was behind her. "Just keep looking out to the water," he ordered. Cora frowned, but did as he asked, looking out the lake. Scarlet Lakes was still up in lights, and seemed further away than ever. How can we ever make there? It would take AGES to walk all the way around the lake! And we still have to get to the train, and through Green Fields! And then Sparks...and who knows, the circus could be somewhere else already!
Sighing, her mind was diverted to Atom. "You ready?" he asked. She rolled her eyes, wanting this guessing game to be over. She wasn't in the mood for surprises...
Suddenly, the breath was knocked out of her. Two hands grabbed around her shoulders, and then...
She was lifted off the ground.
"OH MY GOD!" was all she could scream out as the water suddenly came rushing below her, the wind hitting her like a brick wall. Shock filled her body as she was paralyzed for a second, until the feeling returned to her body. She waved her arms everywhere, searching for something to grab onto. Her fingers locked around the neck of a baggy jumper while her legs kicked franticly.
"Cora! Stop moving!" came the annoyed yell from...Atom. With a gasp she felt the wind against her face cease and someone twirl her body around. With a heaving chest she came face to face with him. She quickly pulled him close, wrapping her arms around his shoulders and lifting her legs to her chest.
"Oh my god! Oh my god! Oh my god!" she gasped out as she glanced around her. A few meters away was where she previously was standing. But instead of the shore being underneath her, there was nothing but still water, black and seemingly bottomless. She took another couple deep breaths as she noticed Atom's feet...
That's all she saw.
"YOU'RE ON FIRE!" she screamed, panicking again.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" he comforted, grabbing her shoulders and pulling her off him. "I'm not, Cora. This is one of the things I can do now! I can fly!" Cora just stared at him, unable to say anything at first. Slowly, she lowered her legs back down so they dangled aimlessly in the air, just trickling over the water.
...I'm hovering...in the middle of a lake...
"How on earth are you doing this?!" she scoffed, shaking hands scrunching his jumper for comfort.
"Well, you know that fire from when I fell from that spring trap?" he asked in an excited voice.
"Y-y-yes," she answered, wide eyes scanning her surroundings.
"Well, I kinda practiced, and now look! I'm flying!"
Suddenly one of his rocket boots glitched out, making them drop a little. Cora screamed, clinging onto Atom as he adjusted the flames. Becoming leveled again, Cora slowly looked up to him with a scowl.
He hunched his shoulders.
"Uhhh, I still need some practice..."
"You're going to drop me!" Cora screeched, grip becoming tighter.
"I won't!" he told surely, starting to angle his legs and move more into the center of the lake.
Cora squeezed her eyes shut, fear gripping her as she felt the cold wind wrap around her. Her chest was thumping, her heart pounding against her ribs as if trying to escape. She stayed that way for a long while, making her body as small as possible and keeping her eyes closed. Until Atom wrapped his hands around hers.
"Cora, just look around." He whispered into her ear. She quickly shook her head.
"N-no. I don't want to fall." She said firmly.
"I won't drop you," he said. "I promise. Just look around..." Cora took a few deep breaths, shaking her head. "Cora," Atom addressed. Slowly, she finally lifted her head to him, eyes squinting a bit against the...light?
"Look..." he smiled. With a quick breath she outstretched her legs, lifting her head up and taking a look around.
They were in the direct center of the lake. The water below her was like a sea of diamonds, sparkling in the moonlight above them. The rays of pure white bathed down on her face, illuminating her skin, giving it an eerie glow. The air softly tussled her hair against her cheeks and swung her legs gingerly as the heat of Atom's rockets beat down on them. She turned her head to Scarlet Lakes.
It seemed closer than ever now.
The lights ranged from bright red, to yellow to white. She could see the docks at the shore, along with small houses and large banners. She was completely entranced, looking at the surreal scene for what felt like forever. Soon she glanced to Atom, a grin plastered onto her face. He smiled back.
"Told you," he smirked.
"This is...amazing!" she exclaimed. "I can't believe you can do this! It's just amazing!" she breathed. Atom nodded, smiling.
"I can't go very fast, but at least I can hover a bit." He grinned. Cora laughed in amusement, swaying her legs around in the air.
This is unreal! How could this little robot be able to do so much? To think that we thought he would be useless when we found him...
Suddenly her head snapped up to him in sudden realization. "The boat!" she gasped. Atom nodded, glancing across the lake.
"Yep," he muttered, angling his legs once more. Cora clung onto his neck again, but not because she was scared. She felt the air hit her face as they slowly started moving again, plastering her skin to her skull. She let out a long laugh into the night, Atom chuckling with her as they swiftly glided, flew, straight towards the boat.
"WHAT DO YOU MEAN, LOST IT?!"
Dr Oshay slammed his hands down on his desk in a fury of anger.
Detective Tawashi proceeded into the large office despite the aggravated doctor's behavior. He almost wanted to smile at the sight of the man- he hadn't seen him in almost a week, as his cases involving Tenma were piling up. He scanned over the pristine white lab coat that the doctor was almost always seen in. His small clouds of hair on the sides of his head had gotten greyer, but his face had stayed the same. A large nose planted in the center, along with two kind eyes, rimmed with hope. In such contrast to his old partner...
Oshay cleared his throat, sitting back down at his sleek blue desk. His personal assistant Yuri ceased tapping at her laptop, her short red hair brushing at her pale cheeks and powder blue eyes.
The office was a rather large one, with stretched out windows letting in plenty of light. Computers and desks filled up the space, along with messy trashcans, scrunched up papers and reports scattered along the smooth floor.
Tawashi confronted Oshay, his thick brow lining his eyelids in a scowl that barely ever left his face. "I'm afraid so, Oshay," he said in an emotionless tone. "Tenma is gone along with the robot, and the Metro City Police Department have decided to hunt both down." Oshay rubbed his temple for a moment, thoughts mixed in his head.
"When they find the robot, what have they voted to do with it?" it was then Tawashi smiled.
"Melt it down and completely wipe out its existence."
"WHAT?" the man blurted, rising from his seat once more.
"Detective, doesn't that seem a bit irrational?" Yuri asked from her seat.
"It would be irrational to let that thing wonder around the Surface!" Tawashi exclaimed, gesturing. "Who knows what havoc it's causing!"
It was true that Tawashi hated robots. No-one knows exactly why, but he's never had a house bot, never wanted any robotic assistance what so ever and barely even goes near any sort of machine- unless it was the one that brewed coffee. So, with that hatred in his mind, he was more than happy to hear that Mr Vendigo had agreed to do whatever it took to get rid of this robot a quickly as possible.
"That is absurd," Oshay mumbled. "You don't even know what the robot is like!"
"Atomic robot, Dr Oshay," Tawashi snorted. "I think that's all the information we need." The doctor sighed wearily, wiping a hand over his face. Yuri rose from her desk, small shoes clicking as she walked over to the detective.
"Very nice of you to stop by, Mr Tawashi, but I think it's time for you and Mr Finnegan to leave." She told politely. Tawashi nodded, turning on his heels and walking back to the office door.
"Very well," he grumbled, walking out the office. Dug smiled at her before following after him. Oshay groaned, slumping back in his seat, resting his chin on his hand. Yuri looked to him, her face pulled into one of worry.
"It's just wrong..." he muttered. "Many of Tenma's creations have made wonderful advances to Metro City, sufficiently and technically. How do they know if this robot would be any different?"
Yuri took a deep breath, folding her hand behind her back. "I'm sorry doctor, but that's just how things work around here. Tenma's mental health wasn't at its greatest when the robot was created. You must understand their concern." Oshay huffed, eyes scanning across his desk.
"I suppose..." he murmured. "But I still find it wrong..."
"Perhaps you could fight for your view point when they find the robot." Yuri suggested, her tone lightening. Oshay nodded, lifting his head. "If they find it..." she mumbled after. He smiled, spinning on his chair to look out to the city.
"They will." He said, watching the liveliness of the city. Looking out the tall, modern buildings usually made him calm, to see the daily proceedings of the floating world he helped create. To see the hover cars and smiling people, to know that they were safe, and he had a part in making sure of that. But one thing in his mind didn't flinch.
"And that is what scares me."