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"Lucy’s Tether" by Kalvin Madsen

Lucy stepped on an ancient landmine outside Girvetz Hall. I talked to her Brother, Suvin, about it while we were on the beach, and Lucy was treated in the aid center.

“If it had been one of those new ones, I’m not sure there would be any Lucy left.” He said.

Across the sea, the single oil platform stood proud and sturdy, impressing us from miles off the coast. The green, littered waves came lazily ashore in a way that almost made them look safe.

We continued down the beach to the old Goleta pier, where the brown city river meets the green sea. I noticed a bow of barbed wire peeking from the sand and pointed it out for Suvin to avoid.

“This seems like a place for a landmine, right? Never seen one here though,” I said.

Suvin was kicking at some brittle shells when he replied, “Yeah, but they would have gotten washed away by now.”

He looked around with narrowed eyes, “we should head back.”

I was feeling it, too, and he knew. Another storm would start soon. The dull sky was getting thicker, and the air was becoming rough on the throat. We pulled up our breathers taken from the labs.

We took the road back to Campus City, through the main entrance gate where angels clothed in white dresses and suits used to pose for photographs. We needed to check on Lucy.

As we went by the roundabout, I envisioned a busy confusion of cars making their way in and out. I could almost hear them in my mind, hidden by the building breeze.

We heard chatter from up the road — it sounded like Warren and Ethan. We dropped our guard and continued on to catch sight of them. When we did, we all waved and met in the street. Warren and Ethan seemed to be dressed for a long walk, both with baggage.

“Where you going?” Suvin asked frankly. “There is a storm coming.”

“Yeah,” Warren started, his voice coarse and low. “We’re just coming to realize that.”

“What was the plan?” I asked.

“Supplies from cottage hospital,” Ethan said, looking at the clouds.

“For Lucy?” I asked.

“For Lucy,” Ethan said.

“What does she need?”

Warren and Ethan were busy, peeking at the sky and deciding about staying or going.

Ethan put his hand on Warren’s shoulder and said, “What about those Hazmat suits in the Life Science building?”

“No,” Warren said. “Bro, my dad made that suit out of the X-ray protection aprons from the clinic. That might be our best bet.”

I had heard about this suit Dr. Ambrose assembled. A heavy suit of armor practically.

“The lead suit?” I asked.

Warren smiled, “Ya I could do it.”

Suvin was growing disinterested, looking at the road ahead.

“We have to get going, I need to check on my sister.”

We left Warren and Ethan debating their course. It seemed to me they would have to wait out the storm.

We cut through the rubble of Henley Hall to reach Phelps Hall, the old building that had recently become Campus City’s primary care facility. Adrian Bravo, Lucy’s husband, was sitting with his thoughts out front, hardly hearing our approach.

“Any news?” Suvin asked.

Adrian looked up at us slowly. “She lost her tether. That's for sure.”

It was the only good news he could conjure—news that was hardly news at all. Those tethers are fragile, especially to shockwaves. Everyone knows.

“I’m going in,” Suvin said hastily, already walking off. But Adrian took his arm.

“She’s in surgery. You think I would be out here if I didnt have to?”

Suvin was disarmed and shook away his frustration with an odd shutter.

“At least they won't be able to use her again,” I said.

Adrian looked up at the sky.

“They don’t deserve to have eyes down here. They should come face it themselves instead of waiting and monitoring.”

“They aren’t in the sky.” I said. “Ambrose said they are in the ocean. Underwater city.”

“Probably would make more sense,” Adrian admitted—a common debate. “What about Ethan and Warren, did you see them on your way in?”

“Yeah,” I replied. “I think they are going give up, on account of the storm.”

“I hope they do. We need the supplies, but we need them more.”

A moment of silent contemplation reminded us of the sharp air.

“Let's wait this out inside,” Adrian said. “I think Anika is making soup.”

It was true, and we ate watered-down canned tomato soup in a classroom while we waited for news. The whiteboard at the head of the room had been permanently marked with a fire and maneuver diagram. Combat logic.

“What class was this?” Suvin joked.

“One of the last.” Adrian replied.

It was all any of us said during that lunch. We mostly watched the storm building outside, with the thick air becoming more green. We went about closing all the windows, and I went off and closed some in adjacent rooms. Eventually, a nurse came to our classroom and reported Lucy’s consciousness.

“But it’s not her,” She said.

We were shocked. In under a minute, the three of us were at the door to Lucy’s inpatient room, a transformed classroom, knocking at the door and looking through the small window.

“Hey, let us in!”

Dr. Ambrose opened the door to room 1001.

“Calm, calm. Take it slow,” he said as we entered.

There was an odd ambiance in the room. I felt it in my chest. Two masked nurses stood by Lucy's bed. Lucy was rolling her head on the pillow and groaning. She had lost her feet in the blast.

Suddenly, Lucy shouted, “Oh god! Please! How do I get out of here?”

Her voice was accented, though I wasn't sure where to associate the accent with. All I knew was that it wasn't Lucy.

She looked to us in a fit of pain and said, “I’m sorry. I was just trying to make observations.”

It turns out Lucy’s tether hadn't broken after all.

Adrian wasn't as entranced as me and was able to respond. He had become familiar with the tether some years ago when they took control of Lucy for the first time.

“I know what you were trying to do, you goddamned lizard! Where the hell did you all go anyway, the ocean or orbit?”

“I have only stayed to apologize,” they said through Lucy’s mouth. “I was using this body when I found that landmine. I should have remembered this was an active battle space. Regardless, knowing where we are will do you no good. But rest assured-”

Again, they become overcome with a fit of pain, reeling and groaning.

“Please give this body some painkillers. I can’t think straight.”

“Rest assured what?” Adrian demanded.

“We won't use this body anymore. These injuries will only hinder our observations. But the day is coming when earth will be habitable once more. On that day we will return.”

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