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The Ambiguous Thief

by Liberty Steng 5 months ago in fact or fiction

A city can only hide so many secrets…

     The world didn’t end with a bang or a whisper. But rather, one scream at a time.

  No one knows why 97.5% of the world’s population disappeared. Or where they went. They just-left.

       I don’t remember what happened either. I was barely seven. All I know is that I’m alone now. I’ve been alone for almost eleven years. Fending for myself. Trying to survive. I’ve been starving more times than the sun has risen in the East. I’ve slept on dirt more times than a person would make their bed.

       But this is my life. I’ve grown used to it.

       I’m London Hendrix: a lonely girl with no family and barely any hopes of surviving the cruel world. Some might call me a homeless thief. I like to think of it as a wanderlust soul.

       I’ve tried to be a good citizen of Char, the city we live in, but I have to eat to survive. I might’ve stolen a loaf of bread here and there, but I wouldn’t have done it without great cause. I might’ve snuck into a market where I’ve been debarred from, but only because I needed something inside of it. The only time I disobey the rules is when I absolutely need to. Which is half of the time.

       Today is October 16th, 2188. The day I always make the most of.

       Once a year, every October, the President of our government comes out and greets the people of Char. Sometimes he blesses the newborn babies, sometimes he gives to the elderly. Most times he just sits and allows people to gaze upon him. I don’t waste a second to look at him. I take the opportunity that the Citadel Tower-the place where the President lives-is empty. And it’s all mine. I can get whatever I need out of it.

       I slip through the busy crowd, keeping my hood above my head. You never know if the government’s decided your face would look good on a wanted poster. I’m surrounded by a rainbow of colors, shades of light and dark that blend me in. The market is busy closing up for the day, eager to go get a glimpse at the President.

       I could care less.

       Clutching my backpack tightly, I make my way to the bottom of Citadel Tower. There’s a hatch on the backside of the building. It’s never guarded. You can barely tell it’s there. The further I get from the Central Market, the less people crowd against me. I allow myself to breathe normally when the streets finally fizzle out being noiseless.

       I can hear the chants from farther away, but no living soul is within twenty yards of me. Good, I think, it’s better this way.

       I reach the small hatch at the Citadel Tower. As always, no soldier guards the outside of it. I open the small vent quietly, stepping inside and putting it back. I’ve never heard or seen any alarm go off when I open the hatch, but I walk quickly away from it anyway. My boots make me inaudible. I leave my hood on.

       I turn corners carefully, making sure I check for any signs of a soldier before stepping out in the open. I decide to go to the kitchens first. Food’s always crucial. I know where it is by heart. Turning several more corners, I make my way to the open room where electronic kitchenware and food lay in abundance. Stuffing my backpack as much as I dare, I eat a few pieces of apple and cheese along the way. My stomach growls for more, but I don’t allow myself the pleasure of stopping. I look at the clock at the far-side of the room. It’s five to three in the afternoon. The President’s conference ends at three. I’ll need to get out of here before then.

       I conclude to get some blankets and necessities for the upcoming winter. I leave the kitchen as quietly as a lion stalking its prey. I don’t exactly know where to find the essentials I need, but I figure guessing would be better than just looking from room to room. I take the elevator to the second floor.

       Still, not a guard in sight. They’re all protecting the President outside. I can still hear the faint roars of cheer.

       The elevator opens and I take a left turn. I suppose I’ll find something useful in a storage cabinet or-

       I duck under a swinging fist that comes my way. A grunt comes from above me and I dodge another blow, my hood flying off in the process. I stand a good distance away from the attacker. A tall soldier stands in front of me, chestnut hair swept to the side. Where did he come from?

       He’s in a full soldier uniform, showing me that there are clearly soldiers in the tower this year. I was wrong.

       I bite my lip as he pulls his gun out and points it at me. Now I’m stuck here. My only way out that I know of is blocked by a soldier.

       “And what do you think you’re doing up here?” He asks, the look on his face staying composed and reserved. The muzzle doesn’t fall off of my chest.

       I suck in a deep breath. Stay calm. Don’t panic. “I might ask you the same question. You could’ve knocked me out with that swing.”

       He shrugs. “That was the point, yes.”

       I don’t flinch at his sarcasm.

       “My question still stands.” He says again, taking deep, steady breaths.

       I lift my hands, swinging my backpack back onto my shoulder. “It’s none of your business.”

       He steps forward, closing in the space between me and the gun. “Actually, it is seeing as I’m the Lieutenant of the Citadel Tower.”

       A soft “oh” escapes my lips but I don’t think he hears it. I try to keep my confident stance.

       “Well, if you must know, I was getting some things.” My hands turn white as the grip on my backpack tightens.  

       “Who gave you the right to ‘get some things’?” He goes on, making a point to emphasize his words.

       Why hasn’t he shot me yet? I try to stay collected.

       “I did.”

       He laughs. It sets me off-edge. “You did? And who might you be?”

       Real name? Or a false name? My thoughts fight against themselves as I juggle the answer in my hands.

       “London Hendrix.” It comes out faster than I mean it to.

       His eyes grow wider and his jaw goes slack. “You’re-no, you can’t be…she’s missing…no…”

       I can’t be what? I knew it, there is a wanted poster sign with my name on it. That’s why he’s shocked. I’ve waltzed right into his hands. Me: a wanted criminal.

       “You need to come with me.” He grabs my arm before I can protest and leads me away.

      

 

       I wake up, a shock pulse vibrating through my body. When did I fall asleep? Where am I? The room is dark, I can’t see a thing. I don’t like this feeling of-vulnerability. I grasp the necklace at my neck. It’s a locket I’ve had ever since I can remember. Even though I hate the shape of its silver heart, it’s all I’ve got of whatever family I might have had.

       “Good morning.” A cool voice says.

       It’s female, I can tell. Not the guard who brought me here.

       “Morning,” I reply, not sure of what to say.

       A dim light comes on. I’m in a room, lying on a cot. The woman sits on a chair in front of me. She can’t be much older than I am. Her brown hair sits straight, falling around her shoulders and down her back. Her hazel eyes pierce my blue ones.

       “What am I doing here?”

       It’s not the right question. I can tell that the moment it’s said. But she answers it anyway.

       “You’re here because we have a few questions for you.”

       “Okay…”

       She stands up, holding a holographic device in her hands. I sit straighter on the cot.

       “Let’s start with your name.” She begins, rapidly typing her fingers away.

       “London Hendrix.” I reply, trying to determine whether to trust this person or not.

       “And how old are you?”

       “Five months past eighteen.”

       “Where did you get your necklace?” She questions, not looking up.

       My head snaps up. I expected to be interrogated. Questioned the essential, typical questions. But not this.

       “Why do you need to know about my necklace?” I finger the metal in my hands. It’s not even a smooth heart. It’s a rigid-cut outline that faintly resembles a heart.

       “Just answer the question please.” She meets my gaze, her lips pressed firmly together.

       “I’ve had it for as long as I can remember.” That’s the truth. I don’t tell her that I’ve tried to take it off and it won’t come off. I don’t tell her it’s stuck to my neck without a reason to be. I just tell her I’ve had it. It’s a half-truth.

       “Come with me.” She orders, turning on her heel and walking out of the room.

       I get off the bed, noticing the soreness in my arms. That guard must have pulled me on the floor. What choice do I have? I could stay in this room forever and possibly get put in prison for all the crimes I’ve committed. Or I could follow her and figure out what’s going on.

       I choose the second option.

       Out in the hallway, I catch a glimpse of her walking towards my right. I follow her quickly, looking all around me to see if I can remember where I am and possibly get out. No use, I have no idea where I am.

       We stop in the elevator. She clicks the button to go up. We’re silent as we float upwards. A robotic voice announces when we’re at the chosen level. She steps out, motioning me to go ahead of her. It’s a single hallway, so I follow it as slowly as I dare.

       When I reach the end, the woman walks up, swipes a card, and tells me to go in.

       “What’s on the other side?” I ask.

       “Something you’ll want to see.”

       An unexpected answer. It makes me curious. I step through the door.

       The minute I do, I see how high in the building we actually are. Stories above the city below, I catch a glimpse at some clouds that float by, carefree. I begin to admire the room. It’s architecture is extremely unusual with the strange, white curves.

       There’s a man in the middle.

       “Good evening.” He says. “I am President Sept.” Then he turns around, getting a good view of me. His eyes float down to the necklace around my neck: it suddenly feels very heavy. “You must be London Hendrix.”

       I nod. “I am, sir.”

       Sir? Is that how you would address a President? Your Highness doesn’t sound much better…

       “Are you aware of why you are here today?” He asks, stepping closer to me.

       I shake my head, no words forming on my tongue.

       “You are here-” he starts, pulling up a hologram of thousands of pictures and videos, “-because you are of great importance.”

       “Me?” I blurt out. “Of great importance?”

       He nods once, gesturing to the pictures. They’re pictures of a family. “I have to admit to you: I am not the rightful ruler of Char.”

       I hold my breath. All this time everyone has practically worshipped this man and he’s not the rightful ruler?

       “Then who is, sir?” I say, eyeing the pictures. The little girl in the photo… Why is she so familiar?

       “Judging by your emblem,” he gestures to the heart around my neck, “and the proof of recognition in the pictures,” he looks at the screen, then back at me, “you are.”

       The girl in the photo: it’s me.

       I’ve been called many things in my life: thief, vagabond, exile, outcast, orphan, rebel.

       Now I would be called a leader.

fact or fiction

Liberty Steng

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Liberty Steng
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