22 - C O N F O R M

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"I wonder if she knows where he is," a boy's voice says.

Then a pause.

"No. I know what you're thinking, but tampering with her microchip will wake her right up," rejects a female.

"Got any better ideas? We need to find him," the boy argues.

"Should we gather up bots to search for him?"

"I know I'm not going—" a new, materialistic voice reverberates in my ears, sounding entirely uninterested.

"Calm down, Xena. None of us will go. It's too dangerous for that. We still don't know what's out there."

"What if he's hurt somewhere? Do you think he left the compound?"

"I don't know, but I'd give him another day before we send an army out there. Besides, didn't you guys say that he's done this before?"

I hear a sigh. "Well, yes, Zeriah. But with that said, we never actually find him. He just always comes back."

"Why do you think he leaves?"

"I don't know," multiple voices reply, coming to a consensus.

An ignorant grumble fills the room, and then a voice shouts, "She said she wants the lights off!"

There's silence for a while as I fall back into unconsciousness.

...It's raining out. I feel each warm drop of water splat onto my skin as I get more drenched by the second. My arms are open wide, letting the pouring rain engulf me. It's the closest thing to a shower I've had in weeks. It feels amazing. Beyond amazing.

The hands on my hips twirl me around and make me yelp, but it's only Travis, so I smile.

"Sorry!" he whispers in a raspy voice. "I didn't mean to scare you. I thought you'd heard me."

Travis goes to wash up, and when he returns to me, he tugs me into him and I leap into his arms to give him a kiss. His rough, progressive nature makes me want him that much more, so I push myself to give him that extra degree of satisfaction. He carries me toward the barn and we crash into the wall, our mouths engaged.

When he sets me down, I give him a playful shove, causing him to plunk into a heap of mud. Mere seconds pass before his arm snags my ankle and he yanks me down alongside him. But when I land next to him, he doesn't move. I drag my hand along his icy chest, but am quick to snap it back with a gasp.

I lean away to further inspect him, and see his eyes are not moving. His heartbeat silent. Sickly pale arms and legs are limp.

He's dead...

I spring awake.

My eyes open to a human figure standing at the foot of the bed I'm lying in, and I wince. "Travis...?"

The figure materializes and takes my hand the way my mother would, though the girl can't be more than five years older than me. When she comes close, her green, vivacious eyes make me naturally lean away.

The dream I've been living isn't a dream at all. This is my new reality. This...world of colors and robots and...

"Aurora, how do you feel?" Stella wonders, her voice almost a whisper; it's soft and gentle like a feather.

Another voice steals my chance to reply. "She's definitely out of it." My head flops to the left. Zeriah sits at a chair, thumping his leg up and down anxiously.

Next comes Xena's comment, as she leans away from the wall on the opposite side of the room, twirling her perfect hair with a gloved finger. "So she's not dead. Can I leave now?"

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