Story – The Orange Marble (Part 5/6: The Enemy)

Synopsis: as Michael prepares for the second day of training, things take a turn for the worse.

Michael wakes up, seeing Zoe at the end of the bed putting fresh clothes on.
Michael: hey.
Zoe turns around.
Zoe: oh, hey.
She smiles, Michael responding with a half smile, half zombie thing since he's been awake ten seconds.
Zoe: ready for another day of training?
Michael: I'm overjoyed.
The two head downstairs to eat some breakfast. At the table, Michael fiddles with the watch.
Zoe: still nothing?
Michael: nope. One thing I've noticed though is that we can only travel to 2016 and 2066. Also, the time coincides with real time - so, because we've been here two days, we'll return in 2016 two days after we were last there.
Zoe: huh.
Michael: yeah, I guess the creator was trying to minimise the chances of it being used to damage the space time continuum. Seems pretty futile though, considering I’ve never seen a time travel film that doesn’t feature the universe ending because the protagonist accidentally shat on the wrong blade of grass, or something.
He starts fiddling with his food.
Michael: so, uh, I've been thinking about how to spend the time leading up to the assassination, and then after it, and, um… well, I, uh, I was just wondering if…
The front doors of the settlement burst open. A lookout for the settlement sprints in and starts rambling something to Ben. Ben’s face drops.
The Survivalists members talk between themselves.
Discussion stops.
Michael: the Antipeace? I remember you mentioning them before, they're the bad guys, right?
Zoe remains silent, digesting what Ben said.
Zoe: this is bad. This is really fucking bad.
Ben runs over to them.
Ben: you two, especially Michael, need to leave now. They cannot capture or kill you, you hear me? You're our only hope of a future without desolation.
All of the Survivalists members dash around the room, some getting into position by the door, others heading to get weapons and a few going to inform the other settlement members.
Ben: head upstairs, there's an escape ladder down the back.
The trio head upstairs. Michael and Zoe turn into a hallway while Ben heads to a balcony overlooking the front entrance. The front door begins shaking. Then it stops. Then it shakes. Then it stops. Finally, the doors collapse. Swarms of Antipeace members thud into the settlement. The dining room is lit up with lasers from both sides of the war. Bodies drop left and right, causing blood to mix with the grime on the ground and walls.
Ben: and Michael…
Michael looks behind him.
Ben: good luck. I'm not gonna lie; I doubted you, but I know for sure you have what it takes to do it. You showed me that, and Zoe helped me realise it.
Ben makes eye contact with the duo one last time, saluting as he does. Then, he turns back to the battleground. He sprays the room with his minigun, wiping out over ten of the Antipeace members. A bullet pierces his clothes. The single shot is followed by a barrage, all ripping through his body. On his last legs, Ben takes one last shot, hitting a grenade on one of the Antipeace member's belts. As the grenade explodes, a bullet punctures his head. His body flails to the floor as the settlement doors crumble.
Michael and Zoe: OH FUCK.
Taking his advice, they continue running. A group of the Antipeace members run up the stairs, gunning down every Survivalists member that comes in sight. They open fire on Michael and Zoe. A bullet grazes Zoe’s arm.
Zoe: ahh, fuck!
She grips her arm.
Michael: shit! Are you ok?
Zoe: I'm fine, come on.
She ignores the pain and continues her sprint, successfully reaching the bedroom where the escape ladder is. They look up, seeing the escape ladder hanging in the corner. Michael gives Zoe a boost, allowing her to grab the hanging rope so the ladder can drop down. They begin their descent. The Antipeace barge into the room. Zoe has shut the frame hiding the escape ladder, biding them some time. The Antipeace squadron scour the room. Michael and Zoe scamper down the ladder, managing to reach the escape hangar residing at the bottom. They light some candles so they can see where the vehicles are. They’re not there.
Zoe: shit, where are all the vehicles? There's meant to be some buggies in here.
Michael: so how the hell are we gonna escape?
A beam of light illuminates the ladder. The Antipeace have found the hatch.
Zoe: fuck, we've gotta go.
The two run to the side door, exiting to the wasteland. They flee from the flaming settlement to the sand dunes on the perimeter of the vicinity. Their hands are locked as they run. From the dunes, they look back at the decaying shelter. Parts of it have crumbled in. Parts of it are alight. All of it is the embodiment of the Antipeace’s legacy.

Michael: so where do we go now? There's no way we're able to walk back to where the watch works with all these Antipeace members around.
There's silence.
Michael: Z-Zoe?
Michael glances to his side. Zoe isn't there. He stands up and darts his head around.
Michael: Zoe?
He turns around and sees her. She’s not alone. She's in the clutches of Jacob Axiom, the Antipeace leader. A shotgun barrel is pressed against her chin. Axiom shifts his hand from her mouth to around her neck.
Axiom: so this is the Michael Drake I've heard so much about. The long rumoured “saviour” of the future, the one who will bring balance to the world through some fancy, time travel shenanigans.
Michael: let her go, Axiom!
Axiom: ok, I hear you. And I will let her go… once you hand over the time machine.
Michael eyes the watch.
Zoe: don't do it Michael, save yourself! Save the future!
Michael: I… I… please, just let her go!
Axiom nods his head.
Axiom: I see.
He flicks a switch on the side of the shotgun.
Michael: Jesus, wait, no!
He rests his finger on the trigger.
Michael: stop! I'll give you the watch!
He starts removing it. Axiom watches him with a grin.
Zoe: Michael please, save yourself and the watch! I'm not worth it, get out of here!
Michael tosses the watch to Axiom’s feet.
Michael: there. Now let her go!
Axiom glances at the watch, and then back at Zoe.
Axiom: you know what? I changed my mind, I think I'll kill her anyway.
He raises the gun.
Michael: no!
He pulls the trigger. Zoe pushes the shotgun forward. The shot whizzes past her face. She stomps his foot and elbows his mouth. They wrestle for the shotgun. Axiom shuns Zoe backwards. As he readjusts his grip on the gun, Michael dives at him. The gun hits the sand. Michael swings at Axiom, but he ducks and lands an uppercut. He stumbles back as Axiom reaches for the shotgun. Zoe pulls out a switchblade she has hidden in her boot and throws it at Axiom. It sticks in his leg.
Axiom: Argh, what the fuck!?
Axiom drops to his knees and tries to remove the knife. Michael picks up the shotgun and aims it at him. His hand shakes and his finger refuses to touch the trigger.
Zoe: shoot, quick!
Axiom pounces and flips the shotgun, causing the butt to smash into Michael’s chin and launch him backwards. Axiom steps back and lines up the shotgun shot.
Zoe: no!
Zoe dives in front of Michael. Axiom pulls the trigger. The bullet punctures Zoe’s stomach, causing her to flail to the ground in a pool of blood.
Michael: ZOE!!!
Axiom smacks him with the butt of the gun again, this time knocking him unconscious. Zoe, in her final moments of consciousness, sees Axiom cocking the shotgun again. He puts the barrel to Michael's head. Before she can hear the shot, she fades.

Rain and thunder burst through the smog in the sky. As the Survivalists settlement lies in ruins and the Antipeace head back to their fortress, victorious, the sun retreats. In the Antipeace lair, Axiom is in his office - the one overlooking his battle arena. He’s marvelling the watch beside one of his servants.
Axiom: I must say Bill…
Servant: Andy…
Axiom: Bill, this watch is spectacular. For once, we get a stolen good that is actually, well, good.
He presses a few buttons but the “out of range” warning appears.
Axiom: hmm, need to get that fixed.
He turns to Andy.
Axiom: Bill, inform the men they'll get two skinned cats for dinner tonight instead of one. I'm in a good mood.
Andy: on it now, sir.
Andy rushes out of the room to complete Axiom’s task.
Axiom: uh, where do you think you're going, Bill?
Andy turns around.
Andy: t-to, to inform the men they're getting two skinned cats tonight instead of one for dinner?
Axiom: yes, but you didn't take the courtesy to ask if I wanted anything else done.
Andy: oh, um, well I… uh, would you like…
A bullet rips through his head. The office door opens and another servant rushes in.
Servant: so you want the men informed of two skinned cats for dinner tonight instead of one?
Axiom: yes.
Servant: and is there anything else you'd like done?
Axiom: yes, just answer this one question for me please.
Servant: yes, sir?
A bullet rips through his head. Another servant rushes in.
Servant #2: i-is there anything I can do for you this evening, sir?
Elsewhere, in one of the Antipeace’s prison cells, Michael wakes up. He has been stripped to his underwear and chained to the wall by his wrists and ankles. His knees are red from being on concrete for so long.
Michael: ungh… what… cough… where am I?...
The only molecule of light in the cell comes from the small, barred window above him. Everything else is pitch black. Some rain gets in and washes his back, prompting him to twitch due to the cold. Suddenly, the confrontation hits him like a brick.
Michael: OH FUCK, ZOE.
Michael yanks at the chains. He knows his attempts are futile, but it doesn't stop him from trying. The chains rattle and clank against the wall and each other. Tears begin drowning his eyes. Had he just pulled the trigger, Zoe would still be here. His neck and back arc as he squeals in anguish.
Michael: it's all my fault. She...
He takes a deep breath.
Michael: she took a bullet for me.
He coughs.
Michael: she sacrificed her life for me.
His eyes wince as the tears agitate them. He wheezes over his phlegm, coughing as tears continue gushing down his bruised cheeks.

The next day, Axiom heads to the prison cells. The watch is on his wrist. He asks Servant #11 for a specific room. After the servant forgets to, as a follow up question, ask if there's anything else Axiom wants and is shot dead, Servant #12 informs Axiom of the room and prisoner he's looking for. Axiom enters the cell and tells Servant #12 to lock it. He turns his attention to the prisoner in question. At the end of the room, in their underwear and chained to the wall, is Zoe. Her stomach is bandaged and her heart is still beating, but she’s yet to regain consciousness. Axiom crouches down and raises his gun to her ear. He fires it at the wall, causing her to jump awake. Axiom stands and puts the pistol away.
Axiom: morning, Miss Piper.
Zoe looks up at him. Her hair is blocking some of her face.
Axiom: huh, “monster” is pretty tame compared to some of the other things I've heard, I'll take it.
Tears drop next to her red kneecaps. He crouches down again, becoming eye level with her. He removes the watch and cradles it in his claw.
Axiom: now, explain to me how this works.
Zoe remains silent.
Axiom: I'm talking to you, Piper.
He pushes her chin up. As they make eye contact, spit launches into his eye. He stands up and cleans the saliva with a grin. 
Axiom: okay.
He grabs his baton from his belt. He walks back and forth, wall to wall, allowing Zoe to notice its sharpened tip.
Zoe: you know what? Just do it. The one thing I had to live for is gone now anyway. You killed Michael, you killed everyone in the Survivalists settlement, you killed my parents… you may as well just kill me too.
Axiom stops to contemplate her words. After some time, he looms towards her. He navigates her body with the tip of the baton, sliding it across her exposed skin. Zoe tries watching it from the corner of her eye, but her tears are still blurring her vision. Axiom crouches to eye level once more. He inspects her face. Then, he spits on it. Zoe winces by surprise.
Axiom: I have a better idea.
He prods Zoe's stomach with the baton, causing her to tense in pain. He stands up and asks the servant to open the cell. He exits, shuts the door and plummets Zoe back into darkness.

Back in Michael's chamber, Michael is thinking over the events of the past few days. The tears under his eyes are now just dry fragments. He dwells on his future, or rather, his lack of one, thinking of everything he could have done and imagining everyone's reaction to him never returning home. And yet, despite Marie, Wendy, the rest of his family and the few friends he has all flashing in my mind, his thoughts always return to Zoe. Not just on the guilt he has for (supposedly) causing her death, but just on her as a person. Their relationship started off uneven to say the least, and yet it's developed to the point where, even in what could be his final hours, she's all he can think about. His train of thought is interrupted by the door opening. Axiom’s silhouette veers into view. Two servants enter and release Michael's shackles from the wall. They chain them together behind his back, so they're like a pair of handcuffs, and escort him out of the cell. They put a red mask over him as he's led out, which has "Survivalists" printed in large font on the front of it.
Michael (with a muffled voice): what are you doing with me? Are you killing me?
Axiom: am I killing you? No, actually, I'm not.
The servants escort him down the corridor. Axiom heads back to his office and sits at his desk. He turns the chair to face the battle arena the office is overlooking. 

The battle arena, much like a stadium, has seats surrounding a central field that are filled with Antipeace settlement members. Three pillars are set up in the center as the settlement members hotly await the action. Three people are brought onto the field, wearing coloured masks like Michael. They're chained to a pillar each, back to back, each wearing a different colour mask with the name of their settlement imprinted on. Axiom speaks into a microphone on his desk, announcing the three people will be opening the show by participating in a free for all. Their chains are released so they can fight to the death. The winner is promised freedom. The trio stare at one another, not willing to make the first move.
Axiom: oh, fuck this.
Axiom presses a button on his desk. A chip, attached to each of their ankles, is activated. It electrocutes them. Their corpses collapse to the cheering of the crowd.
Axiom: alright, next act!
Michael, after having a likewise chip equipped to his ankle, is escorted out to the arena. Two pillars are positioned in the center (the third is taken out). The other way another Survivalists member, also in a mask and equipped with the chip, is brought out. Unbeknownst to Michael, the other Survivalists member is Zoe, and vice versa. They both look down, glum, as they're pushed to the center. They're tied back to back to their respective posts.
Axiom: this round is to see if the Survivalists members can live up to their name. Bloodthirsty tigers, lions and more will be unleashed into the arena, and the duo will have to defend themselves against the threat. And best of all, they also have to escape the rope tying them to the pillars!
Michael and Zoe: Sigh, great.
The crowd cheers as tigers, lions, bears and a beaver for some reason are led out. The servants remove their leashes and stand to the side by the arena entrances/exits. A horn sounds, signifying the start of the battle. The animals dash towards Michael and Zoe. Neither of them move.
Michael and Zoe: what's the point of even trying?
Axiom's voice is heard through the microphone, taunting and mocking them. This fuels a desire to escape the pillars. They both get the idea to rub their rope against the other. Moments before the tigers pounce, their ropes snap from the friction and drop to the ground. A lion dives at Zoe but she kicks it away. Her foot hits the lion's mouth, which causes it to bite down. Zoe's ankle tag catches on one of the lion’s teeth, causing it to be ripped off of Zoe's ankle. The tag malfunctions, prompting the electrocution function to activate by itself and zap the lion to death. Michael glances over while running away from a bear, seeing everything that happened. Getting an idea, he turns to the pillar and dives at it, shifting his way to the top of it. The bear that's chasing him swipes at his legs. As it takes a swing, Michael lowers his foot. The claw grazes the back of Michael's leg, leaving it bleeding.
Michael: AHH, FUCK.
The bear swipes again. This time, Michael turns his leg at the right moment. The swing rips the tag clean off and, once again, leads to the electrocution of the animal. 

Axiom leans forward, realising both their tags have been taken off. He grabs his personal mic, used to contact his servants, and tells them to put new tags on them. Michael and Zoe climb the pillars to get away from the remaining animals. The guards get closer while wondering how they're going to get the tags on them. Suddenly, some of the animals sense their presence and turn. The guards raise their rifles. The animals attack, leading to them opening fire.
The remaining guards, standing by the exit doors, run out to help. Animals are gunned down and guards are mauled across the arena. The crowd cheers. As most of the guards and animals are killed, Zoe notices a chance to strike. As one of the remaining guards takes out a bear, she jumps off the pillar and lands on top of the guard. The guard shoots and squirms as Zoe clings on to him. He elbows her still-bandaged stomach and pushes her backwards. She drops to the floor as the guard aims his gun at her. Michael lands on him from above and tries to hold him down. Zoe grabs the pistol from his belt and shoots under the guard's chin, executing him on the spot. She picks up his rifle, tosses it to Michael and opens fire on the other guards. A few minutes later, every guard and animal is defeated. Zoe takes a keycard from one of the guard's bodies and, with Michael, sprints for the exit. The settlement sirens begin droning, triggering the crowd to disperse to stop them. The duo reach a door and swipe the keycard, granting them access to the corridors. They find two ladders leading up to the settlement roof, each taking a ladder and clambering towards freedom. Michael reaches the top first and locks the hatch behind him. He runs out to the fortress rooftop, glancing out from the front of the settlement at the red sky and fresh air. Tears escape his eyes.

He looks down to find the emergency ladder. There's a click behind him. He turns around, seeing Axiom pointing a gun at him.
Axiom: going somewhere, Mr. Drake?
Michael: oh, you're fucking kidding me.
Axiom: this is usually the part where I'd give you a monologue and rub in your defeat…
He cocks the gun.
Axiom: but at this point, I'm done with your bullshit.
Zoe pounces from behind. Axiom staggers around as she clings to his back. As they squirm, Michael rushes forward and tries to grab his gun. However, he's booted to the side. Axiom stumbles to the edge, managing to land a series of elbows to Zoe's face. The strikes knock her mask off. The mask wafts down with the wind, landing on a flagpole protruding horizontally from the base. Struggling to defend herself due to her bullet wound, she loses her grip and falls off the roof. Michael lunges at Axiom but is countered with an uppercut with the pistol. His mask tears off. Axiom kicks Michael's bear claw mark and creases the back of his leg, causing him to drop to all fours. He yanks Michael's head by his hair and places the pistol on the back of his temple. Bang. A bullet whizzes through Axiom's brain. Axiom’s body drops next to Michael. Zoe, who stopped her fall by grabbing the flagpole, is hanging onto the ledge with a fired pistol in her grip. 

Michael sees her face as she looks back at his. They stare for a few seconds, wondering whether their minds are playing tricks on them. Smiles ignite their faces. The two approach each other at a quickened pace. Zoe throws her pistol to the side. They meet and pause. They look each other up and down.
Michael: Zoe I…
Zoe: I thought you were dead!
Michael: I thought you were dead!
They chuckle. Their lips connect. The kisses become increasingly passionate as sunlight bursts through the black skyline. They pull away and appreciate one another's face. Then, they turn and look at Axiom’s body, realising their second biggest threat has been eliminated. Their second biggest. Zoe puts her arm around Michael and pulls the rifle off his back, holding the X27 in her hand. Michael glances at it and then back at Zoe.
Zoe: well, you ready to finish this?
He takes the rifle and overlooks the wasteland. 
Michael: I am.
They descend the ladder and hit the sand at the bottom. Their journey back to 2016, to assassinate the president, has commenced.

End of episode five.

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