There was bad country music crooning itself out on the dingy old radio that Katelyn had set next to her lounge chair. She laughed a little at the drinking and cheating and dying that was happening on in the music. The minor chords and heavy violins made everything from dead dogs to drinking because your boyfriend looked twice at another girl seem like the most depressing things in the world. Katelyn's problems seemed like a farce in comparison.
Perhaps what her life was lacking was the proper underscoring.
She closed her eyes and hummed against the music she hadn't heard or didn't bother to commit to even her shortest term memory. A fine mist glazed her eyes over. Her eyelids, so accustomed to staying open the past few days, kept themselves pried apart while her mind wandered through groves of thought and into fields of nothingness. The sun beat down warmly on the back of her neck; summer was approaching.
Something blocked the warmth, and cast a grotesque and gigantic shadow across the cropped grass in front of her. She jumped and the gauze that had slipped over her eyes slid off as she blinked hard against it. The figure was reaching out to her, and Katelyn couldn't turn around and brush it off. She could look to what it was. She was frozen where she sat, like an rabbit with a hawk centimeters above its head.
But she felt the fingers and knew they were Erin's. Like that, the monsters melted away, and her shoulders relaxed against them.
"Here," Erin said softly, pushing a glass into Katelyn's fingers. "Drink some."
Katelyn raised the sweating glass to her mouth and sipped on it. It trickled thickly down her throat, moistening the dry muscles.
Erin sighed and lowered herself onto the bench of a picnic table next to the lounge. "God Kate, you look like hell."
Katelyn didn't bother to respond. She gulped at the drink.
"I can't believe you're drinking that without me harassing you."
"Tastes good," Katelyn murmured. Truth be told, she hadn't tasted it. She hadn't tasted much of anything lately, except the bitterness of Lucy's return and the bile of fear that rose up in her mouth every time she thought about The Council.
"It's tea," Erin said, an edge in her voice that sounded like it was trying desperately to cover her worry.
"It's sweet," Katelyn mumbled.
"Why don't you come in and lay down for a while?" Erin said, abandoning all pretenses and begging outright.
"Kate, please," Erin said, her voice cracking on the edges.
And it was like nature was completely in tune with Erin. A small tree fell over while she spoke; it's roots pulled up through the yard, cracking a small slab of pavement that rested near the house.
The sleepless and fear-drenched spell that Katelyn had been under broke like the crack of a whip. Trees didn't just fall over at your feet. Her instincts were back, for what seemed like the first time in years. She knew when things were wrong, and she knew how to respond.
She was part of The Agency for a reason, after all.
"In the house,"she said, placing one hand on Erin's back and grabbing her hand with her other. She pushed Erin towards the door, checking the sky for anything that she could consider suspicious.
"Katelyn," Erin said with her brows knitted tightly together, "you need to go to sleep. You're acting like a lunatic."
"No, that was not normal," she said, slamming the door shut and letting Erin go.
Erin called out to her as she rushed towards their bedroom, "Kate, that was just an old tree. It's not like at home. Things here get old and give out."
But Katelyn knew that wasn't it, and she was already squatted onto the floor, tinkering with the receptor. She mumbled, "Not like that it doesn't."
Erin stood over her, looking worried enough to do something desperate.
"No signal. Nothing," Katelyn sighed, throwing her hands up in the air and letting out a huff of breath. There was no feed-- no messages, no one from entertainment radio stations from home, no static.
Erin's face changed completely, from aggravated worry to complete panic. "Nothing?"
"Not even white noise." She gulped. "They cut us off."
"What's that mean?" Erin asked, her voice taking flight in its anxiety.
"What do we do?"
"Firstly," Katelyn said, pressing hard against Erin's shoulders, pushing her onto the bed, "we don't freak out. Maybe it's a good thing. Maybe they're letting us go."
There was a ear splitting crash in the front yard, and the whole house began to shake.
"Or maybe not. Stay here," she paused, terrified for a split second to remove herself from Erin's side. She was tempted to crawl under the bed with her and throw the blankets over their heads. Maybe the end of the world wouldn't be so bad if it ended with Erin wrapped around her. But she gathered her courage, looking at the solid lines that Erin couldn't quite set on her face. "I'll go shut the doors. Just listen to the monitor. For anything."
Katelyn stepped into the living room, shutting the screen doors and bolting the locks in a frenzy. She stopped to stare out of the picture windows in the front of the house before pulling down their thick, old blinds. Outside the sky was a mess of curling, purple clouds, rolling like the tumultuous sea before it swallowed a ship whole. She stood mesmerized, like she was watching a train wreck or her own wounds ooze with blood. There was something about it that was too familiar, like she was going back to some world she had almost forgotten, or feeling the first bite of snow after a long, hot summer.
Erin's voice snapped her out of whatever daze or fantasy she was trapped inside. Katelyn heard her name and ran, barely pausing to shut the blinds and lock out all signs of the outside world.
"What happened? What's the matter?" she asked, shutting the door tight behind her.
Erin's eyes were shut tight as she nodded at the monitor. Katelyn settled her breathing so she could hear it springing from sharp pangs of silence to ear-shattering jumps of static. As she listened, she wrapped one arm around Erin's tiny waist and kissed her softly on the temple.
A voice rang through the white noise, speaking in the low tones of orders, with the slightest hint of compassion, and maybe a bit of panic. “Tarver? Sanders? Am I coming through? It’s Fellows. Do you read me? Do either of you read me?”
Katelyn clambered her limbs around to press the transmission button, “We read you, Mr. Fellows.”
Erin spoke up, a flood of terror in her voice, “What’s going on?”
“Schneider—he found out that there are members of The Rebellion on the planet. He said something about ‘getting back at them and stopping what they plan to do to us.’ He’s ending it.”
“He’s ending the planet? He’s just going to kill everyone because of some tiny plan to take over the world.”
“No. Just people like us-- like you. He’s going to kill every single one of you. He is killing every member of The Rebellion, and he called both of you collateral damage. He's already removed all of the other agents. He doesn’t know that I’m telling you this,” he paused drawing in a deep breath while the machine waved with fuzz. “He’s gone rogue. He won’t listen to any other member of The Council. We’ve tried to calm him or lock him up, but he won’t listen. He’s hell bent on getting rid of everyone.”
The machine went silent, and all Katelyn could hear was Erin’s ragged breathing.
Scott’s voice blared to life again, “Get out of there. As fast as you can.” The machine made a high-pitched squeal for a few seconds before it fell silent. Katelyn tried to adjust the dial, but it was burning to the touch.
“We’re cut off now,” Erin said, her voice shaking.
Katelyn grabbed her hands and turned to her, “Erin, you need to get out of here. Right now. Take a few things and leave. You have to go. Now.”
“Go. What do you mean I have to go? Why aren’t we leaving together?”
“Listen,” she said, feeling sick as the words left her mouth, “I can’t just let Schneider kill Lucy. But you have to hit the atmosphere. I love you, and I will find you, wherever you are. But I have to save her first.”
“Katelyn, I can’t leave you like this. I just can’t. What if you don’t make it out?” she said, her eyes filling up with tears at the thought. “I can’t leave you here to be exterminated by that fucking dictator.”
Katelyn grabbed her hands, and pulled her close, kissing a tear that had rolled down her cheek. “You listen; I’ll be fine. I know where I’ll find her. It won’t take me long. But I can’t do it unless I know that you’re safe. I need to know that you’re safe.”
This was supposed to be easier. Katelyn wasn’t supposed to be out for hours looking for Lucy. Lucy was supposed to be easier to find. Katelyn was still supposed to understand the places Lucy hid.
But Katelyn wasn’t so sure that she ever had understood the places that Lucy went.
It didn’t matter as much anymore that their love had always been so fucked up, or that Katelyn had never been able to see it because it was getting too hard to breathe. The only thing that Katelyn had time to worry about was finding Lucy and saving both of their lives. She had to find her to do what was right. She had to find her so that she could live with herself.
But she needed to get back to Erin.
“Lucy,” she screamed, standing on the beach, and turning around and seeing the trees behind her melt, their leaves melting off like snow in California. “Lucy,” she said, gasping around the thick acidity of the air, “Lucy, you need to get out of here. We need to leave. All of us. Please, just come out. We can talk about everything as soon as we leave.”
The sky looked like it was breaking apart, and there were pieces of ash dripping down like a trickle of rain. She started to cough, her lungs rejecting everything that was happening. A radio was blaring at a small snack shack nearby, about the rough storm that was coming in over the little town.
They didn’t know the half of it.
“Lucy,” she cried again.
“Still can’t find her?” came Erin’s voice from behind her, it's tones waving with the wind. Katelyn turned around sharply; Erin’s skin looked sallow, and her eyes were sunk in, dark circles clinging to her eyes. She looked haggard and hard, like she could fall apart at the seams any minute.
“You’re supposed to be gone.”
“And you were supposed to have found her by now. I’m not leaving without you. I can either help you look for Lucy, or you can come with me right now. And I know which one you’re going to pick, so just accept my help so we can all get off of this planet.”
“Okay,” Katelyn said, biting her tongue about how much she hated this. Katelyn couldn’t get over how much this felt like putting Erin and Lucy against each other. She wasn’t going to choose whose life she had to take, and not even Dan Schneider was able to make her.
Katelyn walked down the beach, her feet feeling like bricks on her legs as they combed through the sand. She was so tired; she needed to get out of here so she could lay her body down. The ash that was falling down began to sting at her skin. She tried not to think about what had to be happening to Erin and Lucy. She didn’t want them to suffer like she was.
“Lucy,” she called, choking on the word. “Lucy, where are you, sweetie? Please. Just. I’ll tell you anything you want to hear if we can just find you. Come on out from wherever you are.”
Katelyn didn’t want to think about Lucy not being on the beach at all. She didn’t want to think about being completely wrong about where Lucy was staying. She didn’t want to think about what that meant for all of them.
The waves were crashing higher and higher on the shore. If they kept growing at the same rate, they were going to start to hit Katelyn’s ankles. She knew if they did that, she was going to belong to them. She would be drowned for real and for sure.
But there was a tiny shack that she saw in the distance, and she knew immediately that Lucy was there. She walked faster, trying to find her determination to get there, knowing she could take everyone out of the horrible planet once she did.
She opened the door without knocking, finding Lucy on the floor, curled up in a little ball, tears pouring down her face and dripping onto the dirty wooden floor. “We’re getting out of here. All of us. Now,” Katelyn said firmly, offering a hand down to Lucy to pull her up.
“What’s happening?” she said weakly.
“I’ll explain later. We have to get Erin, and we have to go.”
They walked out of the shack, making their way as quickly as they could down to Erin. But it was getting harder to breathe, no matter how much Katelyn wanted to attribute it to the adrenaline of it all. They were walking slower and slower with every step, and Erin wasn’t on her line of vision yet.
“Erin, I found her. Erin, come on. Come back to me. I need to find you. Erin,” she screamed, her voice cracking. “Erin.” Tears pricked against the ash that was falling into her eyes.
As Katelyn reached the top of an incline, she saw Erin’s thin frame moving towards her. “Erin,” she called, beginning to laugh.
Erin’s voice didn’t sound right from across the beach. It was tight and narrow and small as she shouted Katelyn’s name. Lightening cracked across the sky and made a shadow out of her tiny frame. As the thunder rumbled, Erin fell to the ground, the sand below her spraying up and hitting her.
Katelyn found her strength again and sprinted across the length of the beach to where Erin’s body was laying still and heavy. The waves were crashing on her feet. Katelyn felt like the beach stretched out forever between their bodies, like she was running on a conveyer belt backwards and trying to reach nothing more than a picture in the distance. Her body was beginning to wear out and every part of her was crying out against every movement that she forced it to make.
Finally, she reached Erin’s body, and crashed down onto her knees. Her hair was filled with grey ash and Katelyn tried to wipe the sand away from her face. Erin was breathing in tiny shallow breaths under her fingers, but nothing could wake her up. Katelyn knew that she didn’t have the energy to transmit them both out of there. She wrapped her body around Erin’s, feeling the water begin to take them.
The world dropped out from under her and everything was black.