Ch. 1 Another Vacation- Saving Lizzie
Posted By: Harbringer352<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 31 March 2010, 2:36 am
"Come on, Nathan! Last one to the hill is a rotten egg!"
The young boy gasped, trying to force air into his heaving lungs. His little sister, Lizzie, stood ten feet ahead of him, at the top of 'the hill'. She was wearing a pair of scruffy overalls, a baggy Army t-shirt, and no shoes. Her pig-tails flew like banners in the slight wind. She crossed her arms triumphantly.
Nathan smiled slightly at his sister. She laughed, a sharp, barking laughter that carried on the wind. She stumbled down the hill, tripping slightly over the thick grass. When she reached Nathan, she heaved him to his feet and tried hauling him up the hill. "Come on!" she encouraged, giggling.
"I'm coming, Lyra May," Nathan insisted, using his sister's nickname. Lizzie screamed in excitement at hearing her own title, one she kept with pride.
When they reached the top of the hill, Lizzie stopped giggling. Nathan's breathing slowed and the stitch in his side slowly ebbed. He stood up straight and grinned.
From there they could see the city of New Mombasa, glistening in the setting sun's light. The horizon was a warm, crimson color, bleeding into the skyscrapers' glass windows, reflected a billion times over. Already the noise of the city was piggy-backing on the wind and shifting through the air. Here in the suburbs, it was like listening through a seashell to the ocean.
"What an amazing view!" Nathan exclaimed. "This was definitely worth that climb."
Lizzie grinned like the Cheshire Cat. "Uh huh," she agreed, and with mischief in her voice, added: "Now it's your turn to show me something cool."
"I don't know
maybe I can't top this," Nathan said in mock-concern.
"You're going to have to," argued Lizzie. "You promised. You have to keep your promises."
"You swore that you'd show me something cool. Something that would change my life!" she cried, hands thrown in the air as she rapidly grew excited. Her brown eyes glistened with child-like innocence.
Nathan, already fourteen years old, laughed at his sister. "I know, little Bird," he said. "I promise, tomorrow, you will be blown away."
If you listen really hard, you can hear a lot.
Take right now. From my spot on my bed, I can hear the traffic, thirty stories down; I can hear Miss Orthella Anderson talking animatedly on the phone with her recent boyfriend. A helicopter drones in the distance; the window's blinds buzz as it nears. My artificial leg hisses as it decompresses. The cat, Simon, at my feet purrs explosively in his sleep, curling into a furry, tan ball and releases out a pleasant sigh as he drifts back to the unreal.
But across the hallway, there is only silence.
Lizzie used to live in my apartment, but after a while I rented out her own space. Naomi helped pay.
My phone vibrated violently and I broke out of my musing. I picked it up and thumbed the talk button.
"Hello?" I answered.
"Nathan?" asked a woman's voice. She sounded tired.
"The one and only," I retorted.
"Don't get smart with me, Birdbrain," Naomi said, her voice firm: hers was a voice I'd gotten used to hearing orders from. After all, she'd been my CO during the Human-Covenant War. "I just got an e-mail from the higher-ups."
"Oh no, am I finally getting a raise?" Sarcasm was a trait that had come too quickly with the disability. That, and a permanent pessimism toward the universe in general.
"No, you're on another business trip," she said shortly. I groaned and was going to complain about my boss (using my extensive, colorful vocabulary) when Naomi interrupted me.
"Well, to be precise, this time you're getting sent to some of the newer, Outer Colonies. You'll be (and I quote)
"arousing morale and generally obtaining more recruits for the UNSC forces, fighting for the good of humanity and the protection of Earth and all her colonies". Basically you get to hobble around and praise the jolly old UNSC."
I grumbled. "I can't leave Mombasa," I argued. "I have to stay here and take care of Lizzie."
Over the phone, I could hear Naomi shifting papers around and the gentle clacking of the keyboard. "I don't sign this crap, Nathan," she said, sighing heavily. "I just pass it on."
"You're a tool!" I said dramatically, donning a Shakespeare-like persona. "You are being used---it's time to break your chains and be FREE!!"
"Yeah, I'll keep that in mind."
My persona was brushed aside. "Do you know how much positive energy that took up? I won't be able to smile for years."
I recognized the familiar I can't talk to you anymore little boy, please go away and leave me alone tone of voice so I mumbled a quick good-bye and turned off the phone.
I'd been sent to colony after colony in the fifteen years after the War. And every time I had to leave Lizzie, my PTSD sister, alone at home. Naomi took care of her when I was gone. I had to do something about my sister, who had lost the interest in anything, let alone her future. She was on meds, and PTSD symptoms only lasted, at most, some years. But fifteen years had passed, and nothing had changed in her.
Naomi was the receptionist at the Army Recruitment Office, so she knew most things before I did. She knew that now, fifteen years after the Human-Covenant War, not too many people were too excited about joining up and "exploring the unknown." It was my job, as the HR spokesman, to "rouse morale."
I was excited.
That was sarcasm.
Nathan felt the blood pounding in his head as he ran toward his sister. The bully that had just shoved her to the ground hadn't noticed the fifteen-year-old coming up behind him. By the time he did, Nathan was already swinging a punch. The bully didn't have time to duck; Nathan neatly clipped him in the jaw.
He hopped back, avoiding the lazy, almost too slow, counter-punch. He formed his hand into a shovel and jabbed the bully in the gut quickly and swiftly. The bully grunted and bent over in anguish, hacking and spitting.
Nathan kneed him in the face, and the bully fell over, clutching his face.
Nathan went to his sister, whose hair was in a tangle around her tear-stained face. She choked and held back a sob. Nursing her hand, she peeled back her sweater to show Nathan her scratches.
"Who was that?" asked Nathan softly. Lizzie just shook her head and choked. He gently rolled back her sleeve and frowned at the plethora of plum-colored bruises that peppered her arm.
"Come on," he said, rolling the sleeve back down her arm. "Let's go home." He led his sister away from the school parking lot.
"When I'm older-" the ten-year-old whispered. "I'm going to kick his ass." Nathan laughed and bet she would.
After work the next day, I came stomping into my apartment room, as fast as my leg would allow. Making my way to the bedroom. I found my phone on my bedside table and called Naomi. When she answered, I'm pretty sure I cursed out my boss using all my favorite words.
"Calm down, Nathan!" Naomi ordered. "It's just another trip to the colonies. It's practically a vacation. And don't worry about Lizzie."
"But it's not a vacation," I insisted. "And I have to do something about Lizzie, maybe send her —"
Naomi sighed. "You can't be serious. You can't do that to her."
For a few years now, Naomi and I had been considering placing Lizzie in a home of some sort. Lizzie didn't do anything, she couldn't work, and was becoming nearly suicidal. She was breaking any rules or regulations about PTSD. Right now, the only thing that seemed reasonable was to find somewhere she'd be given constant attention.
"I don't like it any more than you do," I muttered. "But I can't keep doing this. I'm thirty-five, I have an artificial leg, and I've only left the New Mombasa area to go to another planet."
There'd been hundreds of these phone calls, in which Naomi would tell me I had to make a decision. I'd explain to her I don't want to just stay rooted here for the rest of my life, taking care of an unresponsive victim; the smartest thing to do was what hurt the most.
"She's PTSD," Naomi insisted. "She has been for longer than believable. There might be something else, something mentally, wrong with her."
"Look, Naomi," I argued. "I don't need a bunch of shrinks examining my sister like she was a damn dead frog on a dissection table!"
"Nathan," Naomi said. "Make that final decision, and consider who benefits from this and why. I can't keep doing this for you. I have my own life."
And she hung up. She left me staring at my phone in confusion and mounting guilt.
I left my apartment room and went across the hall.
The scratchy carpet made my remaining foot start to itch uncontrollably. God, I hope I don't get an allergic reaction to this damn shag, I thought. I'd already had a reaction when we'd first moved in. I did not need that today.
I stood in front of Lizzie's plain, wooden door. It had a number seven on it, a gold designation that was nailed to the wood. I examined the scratched metal seven that in some places was worn down so much that it showed the true iron underlying layer. I brought a fist up to the wood, but hesitated from knocking. In a huff my arm dropped to my side.
"Lizzie?" I called out. Of course, no one would answer. I rapped the door quickly and just as quickly regretted doing so; I felt the splinters embed themselves in my fist. Wincing, I waited for a response.
I tried opening the door, but the chain kept it from opening too far. I peered inside and leapt back in surprise when I found myself face-to-face with a wide, analytical eye. "Lizzie?" I asked again. The eye narrowed and her brow furrowed.
"You're leaving again," she said simply, frowning.
There was no hiding anything from Lizzie. I frowned and looked away. "I'm sorry, Lyra," I tried. "I'll be leaving around midnight tonight after some work in the office. Naomi will be around at six o'clock to make sure you eat. I'll be gone a few days at most, alright?"
Lizzie didn't seem convinced. The frown deepened and a brush of hair fell across her face. The eye blinked and the door slammed shut; the doorknob clicked as she locked it.
"I'm sorry, Lizzie," I said to no one in particular. I knew she was listening on the other side of the door. "Please
please remember to feed the cat, alright?"
Silence. I cursed under my breath. Then I noticed Miss Orthella was watching me from the threshold of her apartment room, cigarette poised between her thin, spider-like fingers and her mouth. She was wearing a gray t-shirt (depicting some hard rock band), thick, leather, iron-toed boots, and a pair of jeans that looked like she'd let a wolverine at them. She also looked surprised, with her eyebrows disappearing into the scruff of the violently pink mullet and her eyes wide in surprise.
"Yeah?" I asked sarcastically. "What are you looking at?" I turned toward her, distantly hearing my leg hiss in response.
The nineteen-year-old punk shrugged and blew a cloud of smoke into the air. "Nothin', Sarge," she said disarmingly.The punk always called me "Sarge" after she found out I'd been in the UNSC during the Covie War. She grinned, revealing filed teeth. I tried to keep from staring at them, a habit that I had forced into myself, especially after knowing what it was like to be stared at. I was still confused why today's teens filed their teeth. It didn't seem to form any sort of defense purpose, at least none that I could think of.
"I just figur'd you been too mean to your little sister," she continued. "Ain't her fault she's---" she twirled a finger around the side of her head suggestively.
I scowled. "She's not crazy," I defended. "She's just—she's just really scared, alright? She's seen too much."
"Too much of what, Sarge?" she asked. "What she seen that would scare her that bad?"
"Plenty of things," I said mildly. "Anything could scare someone that bad. She was in the war too, you know."
"You're her brother," she pointed out, taking another puff on her cigarette. The smoke dissipated in the cool air. "Shouldn't you know what scared her that bad? Besides, what happen'd to 'er platoon, or whatever. Don't she have any witnesses?"
"No. No, I don't think so."
"'S what I'm saying, Sarge," Orthella said. "You got your sister, who come out of that war all traumatized and whatever. But you don't know why. And why you leavin' your sister here anyhow? You gonna leave her alone to her own whatchamacallits?"
"Of course not. She's staying with—" I stopped. "What's with all the questions?"
The punk shrugged and ground her cigarette into her own door, leaving a round, ashy blemish on the wood about half-way up. "No reason, man," she said, flipping a forelock of pink hair from her eyes. "Just want to know."
I scowled and dismissed the punk. I headed to my room to pack.