Alrighty, Adventurers! Last week’s voting was all over the place, but the majority chose B. Go with Chance up into the ceiling. Hopefully he can tell you more about “the incident,” plus you can spy on the activities of the robotic School Masters.

So prepare to do some more crawling, and this time? Let’s try to be more quiet, okay?

Chapter 11: Does This Thing Need a Reboot?

You make a quick decision and turn to Chance, “I’ll be up in a second.” before looking back to Cain. The look on his face lets you know you made the right decision: he’s angry.

“What are you doing?!” He still hasn’t let go of your arm, and although in any other circumstance you wouldn’t be complaining, it’s starting to really stir your anger center. It’s funny how since you left Cain earlier, you haven’t been able to stop thinking about him, but now that he’s here, although a part of you still wants to replicate some of those memories of the two of you together, (especially that one on the blanket outside, ’cause whew! Did someone just adjust the temperature controls in here?!) a larger part of you is flashing a red warning light. You recall his earlier exclamation about where you were ‘supposed’ to be when you and Rolex showed up, and that makes your eye twitch a little bit. Boy talking to you like he owns you? Bettaquitit. You wonder where that word came from, and wish, for the millionth time in the past few minutes, that you could have your memory back.

You give Cain your best smirk and reply, “Trust me,” before beginning to climb up into the ceiling where Chance is waiting. Your grip on the ventilation shaft slips a little bit, and you find yourself both relieved and embarrassed when Chance grabs you by the seat of your pants and hauls you up. You scramble to turn back around and reach for Rolex. “Hurry!” you tell him. Rolex’s eyes are wide behind his glasses, and he shakes his head. “No time, Chief! I’ll go with Cain.”

You’re not sure Cain is super trustworthy at the moment, and from the look in his eyes, you know that Rolex feels the same way, but he’s right. As you hear the sweepers swiftly approaching, you know you’re all running out of time.

“Be careful.” Then you smile at both of them before closing the vent. You hear a crashing sound as Cain breaks the window, and you mentally cross your fingers for both him and Rolex, as you begin to follow Chance in a silent crawl back the way you came.

Other than a terrifying moment when the sweepers pass underneath you, the monotony of crawling calms your pulse down considerably, and after a while you begin to wonder where Chance is leading you.

“Where are we-” you begin to ask, but he “Ssshhs” you, pausing in the dark to look back at you, shaking his head for complete silence. You sigh, and continue following him, until finally he signals you to stop, as he begins removing a grate to climb down. Chance disappears down the hole, and then you peer over the edge. It’s almost complete darkness, but as you swing your legs out of the opening, you see Chance’s profile as he reaches up to help you, and your stomach does a little flip.

You slide out of the hole silently, and realize you are in a tiny closet of sorts. There’s barely room enough for the two of you to stand, and you do mean barely, as you realize your chest is leaning on his chest, your legs are tangled up, and his arms, which helped you down from the ventilation shaft, are still around you.

“If you wanted to get me in a closet—” you joke, but Chance covers your mouth with a hand, shaking his head furiously and motioning with his head to the small round window in the door. You stretch up to your tiptoes to see what Chance is seeing, and realize he’s brought you to the school masters’ wing. This is where the robots monitor the student’s activities, choose lesson plans, and whatever else it is that they do.

You’re glad Chance hasn’t quite removed his hand from your mouth, because what you see makes you gasp. Tiny!!! Your old lab partner is lying on a table with electronic devices and wires hooked into the open circuits in his head.

“We have retrieved the final transmission.” The metallic voice of one of the robotic school masters sends chills up your spine. You remember watching the little red light go out when you knelt over Tiny, and realize that the last image he would have recorded would have been… your face. The robots focus on a screen to the side of the wall, and you have to lean even closer into Chance to see it. Sure enough, there is Cain, hooded and mysterious, then the vid crackles a little as Cain thrusts the knife into robot Tiny’s stomach. You see the night sky as Tiny crumpled to the ground, and then you hear running footsteps approaching, and know you’re about to be exposed as a student out of bed, at the very least. But the screen crackles again, and the face you see leaning over Tiny is not your own, but Chance!

What could this mean? Was Tiny still… whatever the robot version of alive was? Was he… protecting you? But sacrificing Chance in your place? Chance places his mouth against your ear and sends a different type of shiver down your spine as he whispers, “Tiny and I had a deal to keep you from being discovered.” You pull your head away from his, and look questioningly into his eyes. “It’s okay, as the president’s son, I do get a few special privileges.”

Chance points upward, indicating that it’s time to go, and you silently join him back in the ventilation shaft. You crawl for what seems like a waaaay long time more, before he stops again, and this time disappears through a lighted opening. You follow, grateful for his hands guiding you to the floor, for balance, and, er, because it feels nice.

You realize you’re in Chance’s room, but, this room, or suite, you think the word is, is way better than your room. You guess maybe this is part of the ‘special privileges’ he was talking about. Chance opens a compartment that you swear just a second ago was smooth wall, and starts pulling things out: a vid screen, and some various tech you don’t recognize.

He turns his blue eyes to you, holding out the vid screen. “You can use this to find your way back to your own room,” he pauses, gaging you for a second, as you try to swallow around that lump that has appeared in your throat.

“But what about you?” There are so many questions you still have no answer to. “They think you found Tiny…”

He gives you a half smile. “They’ll try to wipe me again.” Wait, again? “Because of who I am, or, more importantly, because they are using me as insurance to keep my father in line, they won’t hurt me. With any luck, they’ll think I’m just confused, they think my wipe after what happened in Unit 25 was successful. They don’t know Tiny was working with me, since they assigned him to spy on me in the first place.”

“Wait, so you… what? Rewired him to work with you?”

Chance chuckles. “Naw, Tiny’s special. He, uh, evolved, I guess you could say. Developed his own thoughts. He’s the one who gave me this.” He gestures to the tech in his hands. “Keeps the wipes from being successful.”

“So… Tiny’s a good robot?” Chance nods.

“What happened in Unit 25?” You really hope he’ll answer you, because this not knowing is starting to bug the hell out of you.

“They’ve been doing… experiments… in Unit 25.” He looks down to the floor. “You had decided to stop them… permanently. We were going to blow up the whole system… Take over the school… But somebody in our party had tipped them off, so they were waiting for us.”

You feel the blood drain from your face as memories flash before your eyes. “C-Cain?” You hope your guess is wrong.

Chance shrugs. “That’s what I’ve been trying to figure out.” He starts fastening some of the tech around his own head, and you watch in horror. There are needles. “Tiny rigged this for me.” He seems to struggle to put some of the pieces in place. “Help, please.” You follow his instructions to help fasten the tech in place, then watch, dumb, as it works, a needle inserting itself into the base of Chance’s skull. Then the electrodes start sending impulse flashes into his head, and you gasp as Chance grimaces against the pain. It stops after a few moments, and the needle extracts itself. Chance sinks onto his bed shakily and you help him take off the contraption. He takes a shaky breath and you kneel in front of him.

“Not the most fun thing, but it protects me against the wipes.”

“Will they come to wipe you now, now that they’ve seen your image in Tiny’s memory?”

“No, they’d probably chalk my presence with Tiny up as part of the bond they supposedly implanted in my psyche.” He pauses again, “But they’re going to try to reprogram him, as a part of his rebuild, and I can’t let that happen. I’ve got to go rescue Tiny, and if they catch me, that’s when there’ll be a wipe for sure.”

“Oh my god.” Your brain is spinning. “Can I help?”

Chance shakes his head. “I think you should just go back to your room.” He gives you another half-smile. “If I succeed, I’ll see you tomorrow.” He pushes the vid screen back into your hands. “Go on,” and he boosts you back up into the ventilation system. Boy, after tonight, you would never complain about the stale air in the hallways again.

“Be careful.” You call back to Chance.

“See you,” he says and places the cover back on the vent.

You start crawling before you remember you have no idea where you’re going, and pull out the vid screen. As you boot it up, you see a complete map of the school. You could go anywhere.

You think of Chance, off to rescue his friend, and you wish you could help. But then you think of Rolex. Did he and Cain escape? And can you trust Cain? The thought of your excitement earlier at being reunited with Cain brings bile into your throat. Did he betray you? And if he did, what does that mean for Rolex? You turn away from the direction of your own room, realizing you have a decision to make.

Do you:

A.  Take the vent that will allow you to get outside, then try your luck at finding Rolex and Cain?

B.  Find Aunt El? She had something to tell you, and maybe she’ll have some good ideas about what to do next.

C.  Head back to the school masters’ wing? If there’s any way to help Chance and Tiny, you want to be there to do it.

D.  Go ahead back to your room and get some sleep, if you can? You need to talk to Sev, and there’s probably nothing you can do for Chance or Cain tonight.

Have your say in the comments, then tune in next week for another installment of CYOA!

Jenny grew up on a steady diet of Piers Anthony, Isaac Asimov and Star Wars novels. She has now expanded her tastes to include television, movies, and YA fiction.