This is a continuation of my Minds-exclusive series, Saving Ever After. Please start reading at Episode One. Episode list can be found at this link:
“Roland,” Father said, “bring the fuel cell. Pass me my bag.”
Roland picked up two backpacks. He put on one of the backpacks and tossed the other to Father.
Father tugged Lily's hand. “Come now.”
Lily followed her father down a corridor while Roland trailed behind them. There was an elevator at the end of the corridor. They took the elevator up a few levels and exited at Level 1. They crossed through a domed hall that had glowing white walls, ceiling and floor. They passed through a narrow security corridor and came upon a lobby that had a giant metal door blocking the exit. Father made a swiping gesture with his hands. The door swivelled open with a metallic groan.
They walked down a tunnel and came upon another blast door which automatically opened for them. Blackness awaited them on the other side. The sound of dripping water reminded Lily of the flooded underground.
Father strode ahead, pulling her along. They entered the darkness. He let go of her hand and took a flashlight out of his bag. He turned on the flashlight and swept the beam of light towards a rusty metal wall with a ladder on it. A trickle of water seeped through a rusted hole behind the ladder. “Up and on the boat,” he told her.
Lily shuffled towards the ladder and climbed it. She stopped when she reached the top, looked down and squinted. She could vaguely make out the outline of a small skiff. She swept her right leg over the top edge of the metal wall and put her foot onto the rocky boat. She swept her other leg over the edge, and now she had both feet in the boat. She shuffled over and sat down on one of the seats.
Father climbed in next, followed by Roland. Father sat at the bow of the skiff with his body facing forward. Roland pointed his flashlight at Lily's face. “Sorry, Princess. That's my seat. You take the middle seat.”
Lily stepped around Roland and took the middle seat. Roland sat down at the rear of the skiff. He illuminated the motor with his flashlight. He flipped a switch on the motor and clutched the motor's drive stick. Lily heard a gentle hum, followed by the sloshing of water. The skiff started moving forward.
She turned to face the front. Father had unslung his rifle from his shoulder and attached his flashlight to the barrel of his rifle. He pointed his flashlight and his rifle in the forward direction, occasionally sweeping to the left and then to the right. Lily wished she had her own flashlight so she could see more of this underground labyrinth. She wondered just how big it was. Perhaps the entire city was connected to the underground. She and Lila would have such fun exploring this scary labyrinth. If only it weren't so dangerous.
“What did this place look like before it became like this?” Lily wondered aloud.
“It was beautiful once,” Father answered without looking back. “You could go anywhere in the city via the underground network. The walkways used to be lined with coffee shops, restaurants, and boutique stores. The subways were sleek, quiet, and efficient. During the winter months, you would never have to step foot outdoors. During hot summer days, you could stay down here all day and enjoy the air conditioning. Now, it has become a fetid swamp. A breeding ground for mosquitoes.” He slapped himself on the neck and growled. “I much prefer the winter months.”
Father abruptly held up his left hand.
The skiff slowed.
“What is it, Boss?” Roland asked.
“Somebody's shut the gate ahead.”
A loud clack startled Lily. She looked down and saw the black outline of a javelin.
“Lily, get down!” Father pushed her down and opened fire.
Lily covered her ears, but it wasn't enough to block out the terrible thunder produced by Father's and Roland's rifles. She curled into a ball and whined. It's those primitives again. Why do they hate us so much?
“They're running,” Father said.
Lily removed her hands from her ears. The frantic shouting of the primitives gradually died down. She lifted her head and peeked over the edge of the skiff. Father swept his beam of light towards a man clad in fur who was clutching his chest while leaning against the wall. The man let off a grunt and half-swam half-waded towards a nearby stairwell.
Roland stood up and aimed.
Lily cringed and covered her eyes.
“Let him go,” Father said. “See if you can open the gate.”
Lily uncovered her eyes and saw that the primitive man had disappeared into the stairwell. She looked to her father. “Did you... kill anyone?”
“I don't think so. We were practically shootin' blind. We got lucky. Are you okay?”
Roland hopped over the edge of the skiff and waded towards the gate. His beam of light revealed that the gate was made of solid metal. There were several dents and scratches on it. Roland picked up a stick that was floating next to him and held it up to his beam of light. The stick had a jagged stone tip on it. “Looks like them primitives were trying to get through.” Roland dropped the stick and rammed the butt of his rifle against the metal gate. “It's not gonna budge. Who coulda closed it?”
Lily tugged her Father's arm. “I think I might know who.”
“Roxanne's people,” Father growled.
“You know about them?” Lily asked.
Father nodded. “I keep a reconnaissance drone near the SimuNation Building. A cat. The one you named Spot.”
Lily remembered the cute little kitty. “Spot's not a real cat?”
“No. It's not even from this world.”
“What do you mean?”
“Long story. I'll tell you another time.”
Father looked to the stairwell. “We have no choice. We'll have to walk the rest of the way on foot.”
“You mean on the surface?” Roland waded back to the skiff and climbed aboard. “Are you mad? It's crawling with primitives out there.”
“Something must have riled them up,” Father said.
“It was Roxanne's people,” Lily said. “There was a boy. He said they had killed his brother and tried to steal from them.”
“That so?” Father said.
“And then he called me a demon,” Lily continued. “He said Roxanne's people were all demons. They were going to tell their chief.”
“So they think there's some sort of demonic invasion,” Father said, “what with all these strange people showing up all at once, and not long after strange meteors started raining down from the heavens.”
“They might be right about an invasion,” Roland mumbled.
“What do you mean?” Lily wondered.
“Don't worry about it, Princess,” Roland said. “We'll cross that bridge when we get there.”
Father hopped off the skiff and splashed into the water. “Come. We shouldn't be too far. Lily, stay behind me.”
Lily gently lowered herself into the water and waded after her father. For her, the water level reached her chest, so it was hard to move. She cringed every time she heard a buzz right next to her ear. She hated insects, and so there weren't that many insects in Ever After other than butterflies, as per her request. But this was the real world. She doubted her father would be able to make these insects go away with a snap of his finger.
Father led her and Roland up the stairwell. They broke into daylight. They were inside a glass cage big enough to fit a few dozen people. Two large trees flanked the cage and seemed to squeeze it inward. Most of the glass panels on the cage had either cracked or shattered. The glass door lied flat on the sidewalk just outside the doorway.
Father turned around and put his right index finger on his lips. He crept forward on all fours until he reached the edge of the glass cage. He took cover behind a big tree trunk and peeked around it. He pointed to Roland and indicated at the opposite side of the glass cage. Roland crept towards the edge and took cover behind another tree trunk. He peeked around the trunk, then gave Father the thumbs up.
Father looked at Lily and made a downward gesture. “Stay low,” he whispered.
He and Roland crawled through the doorway. Lily lied flat on her belly and scooted forward. She passed the doorway and joined her Father and Roland behind a hunk of metal that looked like it used to be a carriage.
“There's a couple of dead primitives on the road in front of the SimuNation building,” Father said. “I see a few of Roxanne's people on the roof. They're armed with pistols.”
Lily peeked through a window on the metal carriage. She looked up at the SimuNation building. It was the same building where she had installed the transponder. She noticed a faint melody in the background. It sounded like it was coming from the transmission tower on roof of the building. “Maybe I can speak to the other Father and ask what's going on.”
Father nodded. “Yes. Contact him. Tell him you have the fuel cell and that you'll deliver it to him.”
“What about the thing you want from him?” Lily asked.
“Don't worry about it,” Father said. “Tell him I've had a change of heart. He can have the fuel cell. No strings attached.”
Lily smiled. She stuck her neck out, leaned forward, and kissed him on his cheek. “Thank you.”
He smiled at her. “I'm just happy to have you back.”
She closed her eyes and concentrated on reaching out to her other Father. “Father?” She called out telepathically. “Can you hear me?”
Several seconds passed. Seconds turned to a full minute. Then another minute passed.
She scrunched her face. “Something's wrong.”
“Lily?” A voice whispered seemingly from all directions.
She lifted her chin. “Father?” She called out telepathically.
“You... you're alive. I tried to find you, but you weren't there anymore. How is this possible?”
“The other Father found me.”
“Why didn't you tell me about him?”
“I had hoped you wouldn't run into him. But it was not unexpected that you did. I knew he would explain it all to you anyway. I assume he restored you?”
“He gave me back my body. My real body. I'm a little girl again.”
“Of course. He's been wanting to do that for a long time now. I don't blame him.”
“If this was possible all along, why'd you keep me from becoming real?”
“Do you really have to ask? You have seen for yourself just how dangerous the world is. I assume he's asked you to beg me to hand Gabriella over to him.”
“Actually, he's had a change of heart. He doesn't need Gabriella anymore.”
“He's happy just to live with me. We have a fuel cell. You can have it.”
“Hmm... After you deliver the fuel cell, will you stay with me in Ever After?”
Lily bit her lips. “I... No. I want to live with him for a while. I want to explore the real world. There's so much to see. So much more than Ever After.”
“But it's dangerous out there, Lily.”
“The other Father will protect me. And Roland too.”
“Ah, Roland. I had sent two robotic drones before him, but the imposter had seized control of both of them. I figured Roland couldn't be reprogrammed. Much to my chagrin, the imposter persuaded Roland to betray me. And now he's got you too. You were my last hope, Lily.”
Lily whined. “Don't say it like that. I haven't betrayed you. I convinced him to give you the fuel cell. No strings attached. I'll visit often. I promise. I won't be gone long because I'll miss my sister and my friends. And you too.”
“You're not going to ask me to send them into the real world are you?”
Lily shook her head. “Nope. It's too dangerous out here. I want Lila to be safe in Ever After.”
“You're quite the hypocrite, aren't you?” Father chided.
Lily puffed up. “No. I'm the older sister. I can handle myself out here. Lila's different. She's not as brave as me.”
Father chuckled. “That is true. Alright, you can bring home the fuel cell. Then you can go live with this other man. Every day, I want you to check in with me. If you don't, if anything happens to you, I will hold this imposter responsible, and I will come after him. Tell him that.”
“I will.” In secret, she wouldn't actually threaten her flesh and blood father.
“Before you come, we have a little problem to deal with first. The primitives have besieged Roxanne and her people. Where are you now, Lily?”
“I'm just outside the SimuNation building.”
“Are you alone?”
“No. I'm with Roland and the other Father.”
“Are they armed?”
“Good. Roxanne tells me the primitives have taken cover inside the adjacent buildings. They have her surrounded.”
“Is there anything we can do to help?”
“Yes. Your friends can help Roxanne drive away the primitives. As long as they have the SimuNation building under siege, there's no way you can come home with the fuel cell.”
Roland hissed, “Something's happening!”
Lily looked. Dozens of primitives streamed out of the tower opposite the SimuNation building's the front entrance. The primitives carried jagged metal shields above their heads as they charged towards the entrance. Roxanne's people fired their pistols down at the primitives, but to no avail. The besiegers stormed the entrance, kicking down doors and smashing through windows. Gunfire rang from within the ground floor, followed by frantic shouting.
Lily picked up on a radio message. “This is Roxanne. All personnel on the ground floor retreat to the roof. If anyone else is picking this up, please help. The primitives have trapped us on the roof of the SimuNation building. We don't know how long we can hold out.”
Lily looked to her father. “We have to help them.”
Father stroked his chin. “Did he ask us to help her?”
Father narrowed his eyes. “Funny. I would have made your safety my first priority, which means escorting you back to the safehouse. Then again, he wouldn't want any harm to befall Roxanne, despite what she did.”
“Are you going to help or not?”
Father grimaced. “Roland, stay here with her. I'll go.”
“Alone?” Roland hissed. “No. You, Lily and I are heading back to the safehouse. Let them sort each other out.”
“The primitives are in the stairwell,” Roxanne said over the radio. “We don't have enough ammunition to stop them. Anton, I know you're out there. For the sake of your unborn child, please hurry.”
Lily dropped her jaw and stared at her father.
Father lifted his head. “That's... It can't be.”
“Ya bonked this woman sometime in the past?” Roland asked.
Father rushed out of cover and charged towards the building entrance.
“Damn it!” Roland hissed. “Lily, get inside this hunk of metal and stay hidden. Don't move.” He charged after Father.
Lily crawled into the rusted metal carriage and curled into a ball in the narrow space between two rows of seats. She heard sporadic gunfire mixed with screaming and the sound of shattering glass. She chanced a peek through the carriage window. Roland and Father charged through the front entrance, guns blazing. They disappeared from view. A few seconds later, dozens of primitives came running out of the building, hooting and hollering. Many of them cast aside their jagged metal shields as they sprinted down the road straight towards her.
She ducked back into cover and covered her mouth. She could now hear their bare feet slapping across the road. “Fall back!” They shouted. “Regroup!”
One of them slammed his body against Lily's carriage. She looked up and saw a boy with a grimace on his face. His eyes were clamped shut, and he clutched his bleeding shoulder. He opened his eyes and saw her.
She gasped. It was the same boy who had ambushed her, interrogated her, and then smashed her to pieces. She drew her arms to her chest and trembled as he gawked at her.
“Max, what are you looking at?”
The boy looked away from her. “Nothing.” He staggered away.
Sporadic gunfire echoed down the street. A minute later, Father and Roland took cover behind the carriage. “Lily,” Father hissed, “are you okay?”
“Yes,” she replied.
Father opened the door and pulled her out. “Keep low. Stay between me and Roland. We're falling back to the SimuNation building.”
They crept all the way to the building's front entrance. Roxanne and eleven of her people had gathered here, pistols drawn. Roxanne lowered her weapon. “They're in full retreat. Thank you, Anton.”
Father turned around and walked over to the red-headed woman. He grabbed her by the arm and drew her towards him. “You're...”
She kissed him on the lips. “Yes.”
Father shook his head. “How?”
“It's a miracle,” she whispered.
Father brushed her cheek. “Are you... really you?”
Roxanne blinked. “What do you mean?”
“Lily,” the other Father called telepathically. “The fuel cell.”
Lily approached her flesh and blood father and tugged his shirt. “Can I have the fuel cell now?”
“Of course.” He took off his bag and pulled out a silver canister. He handed it to her.
“The way down to the bunker is clear,” Roxanne said to Lily.
Lily tilted her head. “Did Father ever let you inside?”
Roxanne shook her head. “No.”
“Do you want to come with me?”
“I don't think he would like that.”
Father put his hand on Lily's back. “I'll escort you down. Close your eyes.”
“Just do it. Roxanne, can you please clean this place up?”
Lily closed her eyes, and then she felt her Father's hand over eyes. He thinks I'll peek. Now I'm really going to peek. As her father guided her, she glanced down and to the side. Between her father's fingers, she caught a glimpse of a dead man lying in a pool of his own blood. She quickly shut her eyes and uttered a whimper. Okay. That's why.
“We're approaching stairs. Watch your step,” Father said.
They descended the stairs. When everything turned black, Father removed his hands. Lily blinked and saw only darkness. Father and Roland turned on their flashlights. They waded through the water and made their way towards the bunker door. When they arrived, it automatically opened for them.
“Only Lily can come in,” Father's voice echoed from above.
“We'll wait for you out here,” Lily's flesh and blood father said. He knelt down and whispered into her ear, “As soon as you deliver the fuel cell, come straight back here. Do not delay for anything. Trust me.”
She sensed that something was wrong, but didn't press him about it. She entered the tunnel leading down to the elevator. The blast door shut behind her. The water drained from the tunnel. The elevator opened, and bright light flooded into the tunnel. She gingerly approached the elevator and stepped inside. The door slid shut, and she felt the elevator moving down. When the door opened again, she stepped into an unlit corridor.
“F-Father?” Her voice echoed.
“Follow the light,” Father said.
A single fluorescent bulb lit up at the end of the corridor. She walked towards it. When she stepped underneath the light, it shut off. Another bulb lit up further down the corridor. In this manner, she kept following the light until she came upon a door. The door slid open for her. She stepped into an unlit chamber. All the lights came on. She stared at the fusion reactor.
“You see those empty slots with a red ring glowing around them?” Father said. “Slide the canister into one of those slots, flat end facing outward.”
Lily approached the reactor. She slid the canister into one of the empty slots. The red ring around the slot turned green.
Father sighed. “Thank you, Lily. You have saved Ever After.”
Lily smiled. “Lila and the others will be okay?”
“Yes. Because of you, they'll have another fifty years of happy days to come. Would you like to see your sister again?”
Lily perked up. “Yes!”
“Come to the server room.”
A ceiling light lit up behind her. She skipped towards it, then stopped mid-stride. Her flesh and blood father had warned her not to delay down here. She didn't know why, but she trusted him. Her original Father had kept a lot of secrets from her. Her flesh and blood father so far hadn't held anything back from her.
She put her finger on her lips. “Hmm... There's something I have to do first. I'll be back!” She darted out of the reactor chamber and fumbled her way through the darkness.
“Lily, please don't go.”
“I'll be back,” she said. “Can you turn on the lights?”
All the lights turned on.
Lily found her way back to the elevator. She stepped inside and pressed the button to go up.
“Don't you want to see your sister?” Father asked.
“I do. But... I have to talk to someone first.”
Father sighed. “What did he tell you?”
“He just said I should go back to him as soon as possible.”
“Of course he did. He doesn't want you to stay with me.”
“What if... what if you trap me in Ever After?”
“I would never do that.”
“Except you did. What if I can't tell what's real and what's not?”
“You can tell, Lily. I'm sure you've noticed that the real world is much more detailed than Ever After. And the physics works differently. After all, you wouldn't be able to exploit real world physics to drain an entire ocean.”
Lily didn't want to take the risk. “I think I'm going to stay in the real world for a while so I can learn more about it. That way I can really tell it apart from Ever After. Then I'll pay Lila a visit.”
“I will respect whatever decision you make, Lily.”
The elevator opened. Lily ran up the tunnel and banged her fists on the blast door. It opened. Remembering what happened last time, she threw herself flat against the wall. A rush of water poured into the tunnel.
“Jesus!” Roland muttered as he clung to the edge of the opening.
The rush of water stopped.
Lily's flesh and blood father waded into the tunnel. He took something out of his pocket. It looked like a stick. He pressed it. A few seconds later, Lily heard a distant rumble, followed by a light tremor.
She furrowed her brow. “Wait a minute... what did you just do?”
Her father looked at her. “The fuel cell contained an explosive. I've destroyed the fusion reactor.”
Lily gasped. She lunged at him and hammered his abdomen with her fists. “How could you! You've betrayed me! You've destroyed Ever After! You've killed Lila!”
Father wrapped his arms around her and held her still. “Roxanne, the other Father – they were all under the thrall of Gabriella. This was the only way to free them.”
Lily pushed herself off her father. “How could you have known that? What if you're wrong?”
“I'm not. It was subtle, but I heard her song. Calling out to me. Trying to get into my head. You might have heard it too. Luckily for us, we're not susceptible to Gabriella's mind control.”
“What about Lila?”
“She'll be fine. I have a spare reactor. We'll have Ever After up and running in no time.”
“And my father?”
“We can give him a new body. He can live in the real world with us, if he wants.”
Lily breathed a sigh of relief. She felt so exhausted. She was tired of all these surprises, which were extremely stressful for her. She just wanted this ordeal to be over. She hugged her father and buried her face in his chest. “Just promise me everything will be alright. Promise me I can trust you going forward. No more surprises.”
“I can promise that. Now let's head back up. I imagine Roxanne and the others would be quite disoriented.”
Lily, Father and Roland returned to the ground floor of the SimuNation building. Roxanne and her people were curled on the floor, groaning as they nursed their heads.
“Is she... finally out of our heads?” One of the men asked.
“I've taken care of Gabriella,” Father said. “You're welcome.”
The man sat up and squeezed his temples. “I dunno what you did, but thanks.”
“I know why you're here,” Father said. “You're searching for the Creation Vaults. Unfortunately, as you've all found out the hard way, you can't get anywhere near Gabriella without her seizing control of you. You're gonna need me to get that information from her.”
Roxanne pushed herself into sitting position. “Anton, she's dangerous. And insane. She told me that after she was done with me, she was going to force me to,” she shuddered, “cut up my own face. As punishment for...”
Father knelt next to her and held her close. “Shush. Don't think about it.”
Roxanne curled into a ball and shivered. “It's not worth the risk, Anton. Don't do it.”
“She has no power over me. I will learn what I need from her. Then I will smash her to pieces. If any of you want any part in the future I'm going to build, then I invite you to join me.”
One of the men stood up. “You saved us from those bloodthirsty primitives. You freed us from that psychotic bitch. I'm with ya.”
All of Roxanne's people nodded.
“Good,” Father said. “Our first order of business is to drain the underground. We're gonna restore the underground network. Then we'll find others like us. We'll build an army. We're gonna take back this city.”
He looked to Lily and took her hand. “And I promise you this, Lily. The whole world will be yours and your sister's to explore. Nothing will stand in your way. Nothing will threaten you. You will have no fear.”
Lily swelled up with pride. Father would do anything for her, and nothing could stop him. She noticed Roxanne staring at her. When she met Roxanne's gaze, Roxanne looked away and cradled her belly. Lily wondered if she was going to have another little sister, or perhaps a little brother. She liked the idea of having another sibling to play with. The future was going to be good, and she was confident that everyone was going to live happily ever after.
If you enjoy my writing, please support me by downloading my main novel, Red Eden: Homeworld Bound, for free and leaving a review on Goodreads. Saving Ever After is based in the same universe and roughly the same timeline as Red Eden: Homeworld Bound. You can download Red Eden: Homeworld Bound for free using this universal link:
You can also purchase Red Eden: Homeworld Bound on Amazon:
Thank you for reading!
Cheers ; )
Michael E. Vigil