Chapter 2:

One Man's Trash is Another Man's... Bracer?!

The Leigh Theory

If I was going to escape, I shouldn’t be afraid to get violent.

I meant actual and planned violence, not just some weak thrashing and screaming.

Back when I was younger, our parents gave each of us a round locket. As a kid, I didn’t give a damn about jewelry or anything along those lines; I was just happy to receive something from them. Little did I know that the locket would be able to give me a new kind of resolve.

I didn’t always have a hopeful or positive outlook on life as I became a miner. Well, I mean life was already shit but I tried to accept my fate and continue living as a mindless worker.

There came a time, a few months since working as a miner, that I was about to descend into madness. I guess the overall feeling in the mines was kind of contagious because you can’t avoid hearing the grievances of other people. As a developing adolescent, I was prone to absorbing all of the negativity around me…

And that almost made me insane.

One night, I wasn’t able to sleep in my windowless, dark room and kept on tossing and turning. I wanted to cry, scream, and laugh hysterically at the same time but I couldn’t. I didn’t understand what I was supposed to feel but I think it was a general feeling of anguish.

I held my locket as I sat down on my bed, with tears rolling down my cheeks, and made a hopeless smile. I then apologized to my parents and brother for being weak and for wanting to give up. I was so close to thinking of going to where my parents were.

I stood up and closed my eyes, with the locket in my hand. I thought that the first step was to get rid of my only connection to this world. Out of frustration, I threw the locket to the ground with all my strength. I heard a metallic sound as it hit the floor and suddenly…

Blue light passed through my closed eyelid.

I initially thought that I was having a hallucination due to hunger and fatigue but as I opened my eyes, I saw a blue light on the ground. I went towards it and realized that the blue light was coming from the locket that I threw down.

The locket that my parents gave to me opened, revealing the Arq Shard hidden inside of it. Using some of my unused clothes, I carefully transferred the shard to a glass container.

That was my ‘light at the end of the dark tunnel’ moment, literally and figuratively. I instantly recalled the time when our mother was teaching my older brother about the Arq Shards. I was thankful to my younger self because I kept on bothering my brother as he was trying to answer our mother’s questions. I also wanted to thank my old self for always bothering my father, who was a literal jack of all trades, every time he was doing electrical work and fixing broken things in our house.

I had my eureka moment.

Ever since discovering that my locket had a shard in it, I spent my succeeding days walking around the mining facility, looking for materials to work on. My restlessness turned into some kind of a positive feeling of uneasiness. I looked around and scoured the scrapyard for some electrical wires. The guards didn’t mind me at all because they knew that the miners have no access to any form of energy source to even make use of the wires.

Whenever I had the chance, I would always try to ask the guards if I could take some of the discarded and torn mining uniforms and gloves. I told them that I needed the orange uniforms as an extra layer of fabric during the night even though, in reality, I always sweat myself to sleep.

For the last piece of the puzzle, I would always try to sneak some pieces of metal from the scrapyard, and during my scavenging, I found a rather interesting thing inside the restroom as I was killing a cockroach.

Upon entering, you were greeted by a sink. Right beside it, on its left side, was a faucet for the bucket of water, and a dipper. If you face to the left, you can see the toilet bowl, and to its left side, facing the bowl, were the thin tissue papers.

While fighting with the cockroach, I accidentally hit the right-side wall, facing the toilet bowl and two long metal plates suddenly got removed.

I then accidentally discovered a space behind the restroom.

The space was formed due to the unorganized stacking of the metal scraps and other discarded objects and to enter it, you just have to remove two metal pieces from the wall beside the toilet bowl. Surprisingly though, it was spacious enough to fit, at least, three people.

I thought that the restroom will be one of the most important locations to be considered for my plan.

One thing that I observed with this mining facility was that the security on the inside during nighttime was too lax and the guards didn’t care what you were doing. They were pretty confident that the miners didn’t have anything dangerous to get their hands on.

However, the opposite can be said with the guards around the fences. Take one step near the tall, barbed wire fences and approximately two to three guards would point their laser guns at you.

I’ve been trying to figure out a way how to be discreet in coming up with a contraption that would help me escape this facility. I’ve spent countless days and nights trying to be as quiet as possible when welding and cutting things. I once accidentally dropped a large piece of metal, causing quite a disturbance. One guard, who took a piss, heard the noise coming from my house and came to check. He told me to open the door so I quickly hid the shard, opened the door, and acted like I hurt my head. I was so close to getting caught but thankfully, the guard didn’t bother to inspect the room further.

And yes, no first aid was given to me. The guard just ignored me when I told him that I hit my head on the wall.

It was also during this time that I met LX-96.

One day, while I was sitting on the floor and was busy setting up electrical connections, I accidentally turned and hit the table, making a small metal plate fall and wound my right upper arm. I had no choice but to just wrap it with any cloth that I could find and call it a day.

While having an anemic breakfast, someone suddenly sat next to me and asked what happened to my arm. Almost every male was wearing a brown tank top so the scar on my right upper arm, which extended to near the elbow, was seen clearly. He also pointed out the islands of burns on my hands.

I couldn't think of a better reason so I lied and told him that I accidentally slipped in the mines a few days ago.

This person wanted to talk to me for a very long time because he said that I looked like someone his age but he couldn’t think of a way to start a conversation. I respect his honesty because I didn’t have the guts to even think of talking to someone else.

I have waited for two years and the device that I put my heart and soul into, along with my hopes and dreams, was finally finished. I snuck into the secret space one night to transfer the device, covered it with tattered clothes, and brought a bottle of water.

A few more days have passed and finally, the day of my escape has arrived.

I went by my usual morning routine; woke up to the siren and headed to the cafeteria. As I was eating a spoonful of disappointment, I saw my friend from the distance, waving at me with one eye open.

I was stuck in a dilemma.

Should I tell him about my plan or should I just leave him here? I only managed to create one device for my escape so I don’t know if both of us can survive.

As I was having a heated debate in my head, my body stood up and walked toward him. It was too late when I realized that my subconscious was the one taking control; my body had already brought me in front of him.

“Dude, are you awake, or are you still in dreamland?” he asked me while rubbing his eyes.

I knew that I couldn’t leave my friend behind and I didn't want to make the same mistake as I did with my brother. So, without hesitation, I went closer to his ear and whispered.

“If you want freedom, don’t enter the mines today.”

He made a lot of questionable faces as soon as I said those words. He was still probably half-asleep and it might have not made sense for him. In the back of my head, I was silently begging that he must understand the words that were coming out of my mouth.

“Go to the restroom if you want to escape,” I added to my statement and immediately left him from where he was standing. As I was walking away, I saw that he was scratching the back of his head. It felt kind of painful because I might haven’t properly relayed my words to him. I knew that guilt will strike me soon.

But I shouldn’t waste my time.

I went to the restroom and saw a guard that must have been patrolling the area. I called for him and asked if he could check something inside.

Surprisingly, he was one of the more reasonable guards, so he followed me.

As soon as both of us went in, I hit his neck to knock him out and dragged him to the secret space behind the walls. He was heavy and I almost had a hard time bringing him to the back because his thick uniform was in the way.

I honestly thought that the red stripes on the shoulders of their black uniforms were so cool but unfortunately, the way they treat their workers wasn't something to be admired.

I had hoped that my friend understood what I said to him so I have to look for something that he could probably use as we escape. The laser gun from the unconscious guard should be enough.

A few moments later, as I was preparing my device and tying up the guard, somebody entered the lavatory and called my name. Thankfully, it was a familiar voice so I opened the secret passage and told my friend to hurry into the space.

“Hey man, look. I am a straight guy,” he said as he looked directly, with all seriousness, into my eyes.

My jaw dropped as I squinted at him, while slowly leaning my head forward. I believed that I looked more confused than when I was talking to him earlier while he was still half-asleep.

“Excuse me, what?” I asked as I blinked and shook my head in disbelief.

“You said that If I wanted freedom, I should go to the restroom. You’re my friend, so I trust you. I just didn’t expect that you swing the other way, which is totally fine and I accept you for it.” he explained to me while looking confused as he stared at the unconscious and tied-up guard, which wasn’t helping the situation.

“Listen. I am going to escape today and I asked you earlier if you wanted to escape with me.”

“Oh, word? I’m in then!” his concerned face suddenly changed into his usual, upbeat look.

“I mean, I’ve always wanted to escape. But how are we going to do it?” he asked while looking around. “And how did you discover this place?”

I slammed the guard’s laser gun and a wide metal plate, with a handle, on his chest. He was irritating but I was relieved that he understood my message. Kind of.

“Alright, I understand the laser gun and this shield-looking thing, but what the hell is that funky-ass bracer? Seems kinda heavy,” he asked as he pointed at the thick, large piece of metal, equipped to my right forearm.

“Just take the shield and gun, will you? Oh, and use this to cover your face.” I said in an annoyed voice as I handed over a piece of cloth. I also covered my face and then strapped a bottle of water to my waist. I didn’t know how long we were going to spend our time in the barren lands and as much as I hated drinking the facility’s water, that was our only choice to stay hydrated.

We left the guard inside the secret space and went our way to the door of the restroom. I slowly opened the door and checked the surroundings. When I was roaming around the facility to look for materials, I found out that the southern area was the least guarded spot and there was a one-way path, surrounded by more scraps, leading to an unguarded fence.

We sneaked out of the restroom and made our way to the south, just opposite the entrance to the mines. As we were about to reach the one-way path, I saw two black uniforms rushing toward us.

I knew that those two guards were looking for both of us. I've been preparing for this moment and luckily, I wasn't alone.

I immediately told my friend to prepare for a battle as I pulled a long piece of metal from the right side of my bracer, folded it as it reached the tip of my pinky finger, and formed a handle with five buttons; one for each finger.

The guards told us to stop but the two of us kept on running. My friend was having trouble with the laser gun as had no idea how to use it. While he was figuring out how to operate it, one of the guards, aimed his gun at us.

I immediately pressed and held the thumb button, then sequentially pressed the button for the middle finger. I then released the buttons and in an instant, pieces of metal started moving from the top part of my bracer. As soon as the guard fired his laser gun, my bracer transformed into a crude shield and I was able to block the shot.

“How the fu–” my friend was interrupted by another blocked shot, which was aimed at his upper body.

“Use that metal plate to protect yourself if you still don’t know how to use the gun!” I yelled at him as we kept on backing up towards the one-way path.

I got it!” he exclaimed as he turned to me and fired the laser gun at the back of my shield. I frowned at him and he immediately apologized.

He then tried to aim at the two guards and fired a laser beam. Unfortunately, he missed but on his second try, he was able to destroy the laser gun of one of the guards. Lucky shot but it was better than nothing.

We finally reached the one-way path and as soon as we entered it, I saw a lot of guards that came out of the LX main building and from the other sides of the fence to pursue us. I told him to hurry to the fence so that he can cover me while I made an opening.

I reset the settings of the bracer by pressing and holding the thumb button again, then I pressed the button for the ring finger. The shield shrunk and reformed the upper part of the bracer then the upper-front portion opened, pushing out a serrated disk. I then pressed and held the ring finger button and the disk started spinning at a very high speed. I began to cut the thinner parts of the fence while my friend covered my back.

As I was cutting the fence, I saw that the guards were about to enter the one-way path. I glanced at my friend and saw him in a rather efficient position; he kneeled on his left knee, facing east, crouched his body so the entire metal plate can somehow cover him while utilizing the top portion of the plate to aim and fire. I saw that he was able to hit every single guard that entered the path. With a smile.

Freedom was within reach as I finally kicked the fence down. I grabbed my friend on the back of his shirt and I told him to keep running no matter what, as I covered him from behind with my transformed shield.

“I have a lot of questions–” he said as he panted “--for you later!”

Life beyond the facility was going to be a little bit unimaginable and foreign to me. I initially envisioned myself wandering alone in the barren lands until I reached civilization and lived quietly among them. Unfortunately, a loud, obnoxious, and irritating person tagged along…

And I looked forward to how we were going to live our new lives.

It might sound a little bit selfish but, even though my friend was a tad bit annoying, he was living proof that I was able to save someone…

Someone whom I brought along as I escaped hell.